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 season can be found here.
If there were a time machine which could place me in any period in baseball history, the first teams I would watch would be the Tigers of the mid-1930s. Between 1934-1938, no fewer than six future Hall of Famers would wear the Olde English D. These teams won two pennants, one world championship and had four of the five highest-scoring teams in franchise history. You can be sure that this span will be well represented in the top 20.
The 1937 squad was one of the most explosive Tigers teams ever. They scored 935 runs, a total surpassed only by the 1934 team's 957. They were led by two of the future Hall-of-Famers - second baseman Charlie Gehringer and first basemen Hank Greenberg. Gehringer, won the American League MVP after batting a league-leading .371 with a .458 on-base percentage. Greenberg batted .337 with 103 extra-base hits and an amazing 183 RBI, the third-highest total in MLB history.
The supporting cast was also impressive. Rookie catcher Rudy York belted 18 home runs in the month of August, an MLB single-month record that would stand for 61 years until it was broken by Sammy Sosa in 1998. Big Rudy ended the season with 35 homers and a .651 slugging average in 104 games. In addition, outfielders Pete Fox and Gee Walker each contributed over 200 hits, giving them four players above that milestone.
Unfortunately, the Tigers lacked the pitching depth of their pennant-winning 1934-1935 teams and finished seventh in an eight-team league with a 4.87 ERA. Their top pitchers were Eldon Auker with a 120 ERA+ in 253 innings and Tommy Bridges with a 115 ERA+ in 245 innings, but they had little beyond that. The staff suffered a big blow when the popular Schoolboy Rowe missed most of the season with a sore arm.
The end result was a 89-63 record and a second place finish, 13 games behind the Yankees. Still, this extraordinary offensive team deserves a spot on a list of best Tigers seasons ever.