Sunday, January 08, 2012

Tigers Top 20 Seasons: #13 1961

In reviewing the history of the Detroit Tigers, I often think about the best seasons to be a Tigers fan.  So, I am writing a series of posts listing the top 20 seasons in Tigers history.  There is no specific formula for determining the best seasons, but there are some criteria which I consider carefully.  Playoff appearances, especially those leading to world championships are, of course, important.  Team dominance as measured by winning percentage and run differential also carries a lot of weight.  

While most of the teams on the list did win a lot of games, this is not simply a ranking of the best teams statistically.  Sometimes, a non-winning season stands out because of great individual achievements or because the team was unique in some way.  I wanted every decade to be represented and since the Tigers have had a couple of poor decades, this was a challenge.  However, the Tigers have managed to put together at least one campaign each decade which was memorable even if it was not a great year in terms of wins and losses and some of those seasons will also be included.   

The entire list of 20 seasons can be found here.

The 1961 season was the beginning of a new era in baseball with the American League going from 8 to 10 teams, the first MLB expansion in 60 years.  Additionally, the schedules in both leagues were increased from 154 to 162 games.  It was also the year of the most famous record in all of sports: Yankees outfielder Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth's 34-year-old home run record with 61 blasts.  It was controversial then because of the increased number of games.  For different reasons, it is still part of a controversy today. 

The 1961 season would be a good one for the Tigers as well.  After winning just 71 games in 1960, they went 101-61 tying them for the third highest win total in franchise history.  They dominated offensively scoring 841 runs, a total eclipsing that of even the powerful Yankees (827).  The Tigers were pretty good at run prevention as well finishing third in the league with 671 runs allowed.  Unfortunately, the Yankees staff was a little better and the Tigers finished in second place eight games behind.

Detroit's high-octane offense was powered by first baseman Norm Cash, who had arguably the best hitting season in the club's history.  Stormin' Norman's 85 Batting Runs was the highest total for a Tiger ever.  His 201 OPS+ was surpassed only by the great Ty Cobb  with 209 in 1917 and 206 in 1910.  Cash led the AL with a .361 batting average, .487 OBP and 1.148 OPS.  Right fielder Al Kaline typically dazzled with his all around play batting .324 and finishing third in the league with 8.3 WAR.  Another Tigers slugger with an outstanding season was left fielder Rocky Colavito with 45 homers, 140 RBI and a 157 OPS+.

The Tigers pitching staff was led by a trio of excellent starters.  Left-hander Don Mossi finished third in the league with a 2.96 ERA in 240 innings.  Right-hander Frank Lary had a 127 ERA+ and finished second in the league with 23 wins.  Future United States congressman Jim Bunning posted a 129 OPS+ and 194 strikeouts (good for third in the league).

The only thing that was wrong with the 1961 campaign was timing as the the Yankees had an even better season.  Other than that, it had all the ingredients of a special season - a great all around team, a high win total and one of the best individual seasons in club history. 

Some of data for this article were gathered from Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org

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