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 Tigers began the 1940's decade with their sixth pennant in franchise history. They battled the Indians and Yankees (winners of four consecutive pennants) to the wire eliminating both on the final weekend. The clincher came on the third to the last day of the season when obscure rookie Floyd Geibell out dueled future Hall-of-Fame fire baller Bob Feller on the third to last day of the season. The Tigers finished 90-64, a game ahead of Cleveland and two games ahead of New York.
Manager Del Baker juggled the Tigers line-up at the beginning of the season, moving Rudy York from catcher to first base and Hank Greenberg from first base to the outfield and inserting Birdie Tebbets as the full-time catcher. The Tigers had their usual powerful offensive results leading the league with 888 runs scored. Hank Greenberg led the junior circuit with 41 homers, 150 RBI and a 171 OPS+. York added 33 round trippers, 134 RBI and a 145 OPS+. They also received strong contributions from second baseman Charlie Gehringer (119 OPS+) and center fielder Barney McCoskey (124 OPS+).
Detroit finished fourth in an eight-team league with a 4.01 ERA. The colorful and much traveled Bobo Newsom had his finest season finishing second in the AL with a 2.83 ERA and 164 strikeouts in 264 innings. Tommy Bridges (141 ERA+) and School Boy Rowe (137 ERA+) also had strong seasons. None came close to Feller who won the triple crown with 27 wins, 261 strikeouts and a 2.61 ERA.
The Tigers then faced the Reds in the World Series, a drama which centered around Newsom. Newsom's father died of a heart attack shortly after watching his son win game one of the series. Despite his tragic loss, Newsom made the decision to keep pitching in the series. Pitching with a heavy heart, the tough-minded Newsom hurled a three-hit shutout in game five putting the Tigers up three games to two.
The Reds proceeded to tie the series at three games apiece thanks to a five-hit shutout by ace right hander Bucky Walters in game six. It would come down to Newsom and Reds starter Paul Derringer in game seven. The Tigers led 1-0 through six, but the Reds broke through with two runs in the seventh to take a 2-1 led. That would be the final score as the Reds took the series four games to three.
It was certainly a sad finish for Newsom and the Tigers. In retrospect, it still ranked as one of the most entertaining seasons ever for Tigers fans.
Some of data for this article were gathered from Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org