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 1920s decade was not one of the Tigers most successful. They won no pennants, finished as high as second place only once, and never won more than 86 games. However there was was no shortage of individual batting stars playing in Detroit during the period. The decade spanned the end of Ty Cobb's legendary career and the beginning of the Charlie Gehringer era. Other Tiger greats during the time included Harry Heilmann, Heinie Manush and Bobby Veach. They lacked the pitching required to win championships, but it was an exciting decade for those who love offense.
The Tigers only second place finish was in 1923 when they went 83-71. Unfortunately, it was a distant second, 16 games behind the powerful New York Yankees. A total of 911,377 Navin Field fans watched a team featuring three future Hall of Fame outfielders in Cobb (also the team's manager), Heilmann and Manush. They finished second in the league with 833 runs scored and batted .300 as a team.
This was the year Heilmann took over for Cobb as the team's best hitter and what a season he had. Slug had probably the best year of his fantastic career winning his second of four batting tittles with a .403 batting average. He had incredible numbers across the board finishing in the top five in almost every offensive category - 2nd in on base percentage (.481) and slugging average (.632), third in homers (18), hits (211) and RBI (115), and fourth in doubles (44), runs (121) and total bases (331). It was one of the most amazing individual hitting performances in franchise history.
Heilmann had a good supporting cast on a team which had five batters finish in the top 15 in on base percentage. The 36 year old Cobb slipped from a .401 batting average in 1902 to .340 in 1923, but still managed a .413 OBP and 134 OPS+. Manush started his illustrious career with a .334/.406/.471 batting line in 109 games. Other on-base leaders included catcher Johnny Bassler (.414), first baseman Lu Blue (.402), shortstop Topper Rigney (.389) and Bobby Veach .388 (in 339 at bats).
Like most Tigers teams of the twenties, the 1923 squad was held back by their pitching. All-time franchise wins leader Hooks Dauss won the team pitching triple crown with 21 wins, a 3.62 ERA and 105 strikeouts in 316 innings pitched. Herman Polycarp Pillette was their second best starter with a 3.85 ERA in 250 innings. They had very little beyond that finishing seventh in an eight-team league with a 4.09 ERA.