This is the third article in a series that looks at the five best players at each position for the Detroit Tigers. In this installment are the second basemen and shortstops.
The all-time middle infield starter spots for the Detroit Tigers both feature position battles. Second base is the tighter of the two contests, with a Hall of Famer edging out a player many fans feel should be in the Hall as well. At shortstop, one-half of the greatest double play combination in team history gets the nod over a star who played in the last of the Tigers’ three straight World Series appearances in the first decade of the 20th century.
The Best Second Basemen and Shortstops in Detroit Tigers History
Honorable Mentions – Eddie Mayo played five seasons with Detroit (1944-48), totaling 586 hits, 23 home runs and 229 RBIs in 587 games. He earned his only All-Star selection and finished second in the American League MVP voting in the war-torn 1945 season after hitting .285 with 10 homers and 54 runs batted in. “Hotshot” had seven hits, four runs and two RBIs in the seven-game victory over the Cubs in the World Series that year.
Damion Easley earned All-Star and silver slugger honors in 1998 after hitting .271 and setting career highs with 161 hits, 38 doubles, 27 home runs and 100 runs batted in. The two-time fielding champion totaled 456 runs, 803 hits, 104 homers and 400 RBIs in 841 games over seven seasons with Detroit (1996-2002).
Ian Kinsler was selected as both an All-Star and a Wilson Defensive Player of the Year in 2014 after hitting .275 with 100 runs, 188 hits, 17 home runs and 92 runs batted in. Two years later, he won a gold glove, scored 117 runs and posted a .288-28-83 stat line. In four seasons with the Tigers (2014-17), Kinsler batted .275 with 401 runs, 681 hits, 78 homers and 300 RBIs in 607 games. He played in two World Series with the Rangers and was a part of the Red Sox team that won the title in 2018.
5. Frank Bolling – He played six seasons with the Tigers in the late 1950s (1954 and 56-60), missing all of 1955 while serving during the Korean War. Bolling won the first gold glove by a Tigers infielder and had his best statistical season in 1958, when he hit .269 with 14 home runs and set career highs with 91 runs, 164 hits and 75 runs batted in. Overall, he had 382 runs, 761 hits, 64 homers and 312 RBIs in 785 games with Detroit. He passed away after a battle with cancer in 2020.
4. Placido Polanco – He was a solid hitter and a spectacular fielder during his five-year stay in Detroit (2005-09), and his .993 fielding percentage is the best all-time among second basemen. Polanco had his best offensive season in 2007. He was an All-Star and also won a gold glove and a silver slugger after setting career highs with a .341 average, 105 runs, 200 hits and 26 doubles. Two years later, he won a second gold glove and posted a .285-17-72 stat line.
Polanco batted .311 with 393 runs, 806 hits, 37 home runs and 285 RBIs in 841 games with the Tigers. He was the MVP of the 2006 American League Championship Series after hitting .529 (9-for-17) with two runs score and two RBIs. In 16 postseason games, Polanco had 16 hits, five runs and four RBIs, but the Tigers fell to the Cardinals in the World Series.
3. Dick McAuliffe – He was a steady offensive presence who was selected as an All-Star three times during his 14 seasons in Detroit (1960-73). McAuliffe led the league with 95 runs in 1968, and he went the entire season without grounding into a double play. He totaled 856 runs, 1,471 hits 218 doubles, 70 triples (eighth in franchise history), 192 home runs and 671 RBIs in 1,656 games.
McAuliffe was a key part of Detroit’s 1968 championship team, amassing six hits, five runs a home run and three RBIs in the victory over St. Louis. Overall, he had eight runs, 10 hits, two homers and four RBIs in 12 postseason contests. The Tigers traded him to the Red Sox in 1973 and he retired two years later to run a coin-operated laundry business in Connecticut. McAuliffe passed away in 2016 after battling Alzheimer’s disease.
2. Lou Whitaker – He and Trammell became the most decorated double play combination in baseball history, spending the entirety of Whitaker’s 19-year career (1977-95) together. He earned the Rookie of the Year Award in 1978 after hitting .285 with 138 hits and 58 runs batted in and he only got better from there.
Whitaker earned five All-Star selections, four silver sluggers and three gold gloves. Although he never led the league in a statistical category (other than 109 games in the strike-shortened 1981 season), he amassed at least 80 runs and 150 hits six times each and hit 20 or more home runs four times. Whitaker set career highs with a .320 average, 206 hits and 40 doubles in 1982 and posted career bests with 28 homers and 85 RBIs in 1989.
“Sweet LouS ranks third in franchise history in games (2,390), fourth in runs (1,386), sixth in hits (2,396), doubles (420) and total bases (3,651), seventh in home runs (244), ninth in RBIs (1,084) and tenth in stolen bases (143). In 13 postseason games, he had 13 runs, ten hits and a home run. Whitaker contributed five hits and a series-high six runs in the five-game Tigers victory over the Padres in the 1984 World Series.
Whitaker retired in 1995, one year before Trammell. Somehow, he received just 15 votes in his only year on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2001. Fans can only hope that one day he will join his longtime teammate in Cooperstown.
1. Charlie Gehringer – Very few second basemen can boast his accolades. He was a six-time All-Star despite the first game not being played until halfway through his 19-year career (1924-42). Gehringer won a batting title, led the American League in runs, hits and doubles two times each and won seven fielding titles.
He was nicknamed “Mechanical Man” by Yankees future Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Gomez because he said, “you wind Gehringer up in the spring and turn him off in the fall and in between he hits .340.” The statement was pretty much true, given that he finished in the top ten in MVP voting eight times. In 1937, he won the award after leading the league with a career-high .371 average along with 133 runs, 209 hits, 14 home runs and 96 runs batted in.
Gehringer hit better than .300 an astounding 13 times and scored 100 or more runs 12 times during his career. He also amassed seven seasons with at least 200 hits, seven with at least 40 doubles (with his 60 in 1936 being the second-best mark in team history), seven with at least 10 triples and seven with 100 or more RBIs.
Gehringer hit 184 home runs for the Tigers, and he ranks second in franchise history in runs (1,775) and doubles (574), third in hits (2,839), triples (146) and total bases (4,257), fourth in games (2,223) and RBIs (1,427), seventh in average (.320) and ninth in stolen bases (181). He appeared in the World Series three times, totaling 12 runs, 26 hits, a home run and seven RBIs in 20 games. He had nine hits and four RBIs in the win over the Cubs in 1925.
Gehringer retired in 1942 and joined the Navy during World War II, eventually reaching the rank of lieutenant commander. After the war, he started an auto parts business and later came back to lead the Tigers as general manager and vice president. Gehringer was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1949 and passed away in 1993 at age 89 due to complications from a stroke.
Honorable Mentions – Johnny Lipon saw his baseball career affected by his wartime service in more than one way. Not only did he miss three seasons while serving, but when he returned, both Lipon and the Tigers were hampered by the rule that teams could not send players who served to the minor leagues unless they passed through waivers first. After being used sparingly in 1942 and ’46, he was finally able to get some seasoning with Double-A Dallas.
Lipon returned to the big leagues for good the following year and had his best season in 1950, when he set career highs with a .293 average, 104 runs, 176 hits 27 doubles and 63 runs batted in. In seven seasons with Detroit (1942, 46 and 48-52), “Skids” batted .268 with 307 runs, 609 hits 10 home runs and 234 RBIs in 611 games.
After being traded to the Red Sox in 1952, Lipon played for three teams in his final three seasons and retired in 1954. He spent the next 30 years as a coach mostly in the minor leagues, but he did have an 18-41 record with the Indians in 1971.
Jhonny Peralta was a two-time All-Star who hit .299 with 21 home runs and 86 runs batted in. He batted .275 with 463 hits, 53 homers and 242 RBIs in 460 games in four seasons (2010-13). Peralta played 34 postseason games with Detroit, amassing nine runs, 33 hits, eight doubles, six home runs and 14 RBIs. He went just 1-for-15 during the Tigers’ sweep at the hands of the Giants in the 2012 World Series, but his only hit was a two-run homer that accounted for one-third of Detroit’s runs in the series.
5. Carlos Guillen – He earned three All-Star selections in eight seasons with Detroit (2004-11). Guillen hit 19 home runs, drove in 85 runs and set career highs with a .320 average, 100 runs, 174 hits and 20 stolen bases in 2006. The following year, he hit .296 and posted career bests with 21 home runs and 102 RBIs.
Overall, Guillen batted .297 with 469 runs, 892 hits, 186 doubles, 95 homers and 449 RBIs in 817 games. He helped the Tigers reach the 2006 World Series, totaling six runs, 17 hits, five doubles, a home run and four RBIs in 13 postseason games.
4. Billy Rogell – He spent 10 seasons with Detroit (1930-39) and won three straight fielding titles as part of the imposing “Battalion of Death” infield of the 1930s that included Greenberg, Gehringer and Marv Owen at third base. Rogell had his best season at the plate in 1934, helping the Tigers reach the World Series by hitting .296 with career-best totals of 115 runs, 175 hits and 99 runs batted in.
Rogell batted .274 with 670 runs, 1,210 hits, 227 doubles, 64 triples, 39 home runs and 533 RBIs in 1,207 games. He played in 13 World Series games, totaling four runs, 15 hits and five RBIs. Rogell used his great range and throwing arm to help the Tigers beat the Cubs to win the World Series in 1935.
3. Harvey Kuenn – He played eight of his 15 seasons with Detroit (1952-59), earning eight All-Star selections and leading the league in hits four times and doubles three times in that span. Kuenn was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1953 after hitting .308 with 94 runs, 48 RBIs and a league-leading 209 hits.
He finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting three times, including 1956, when he hit .332, led the A. L. with 196 hits and set career highs with 12 home runs and 88 runs batted in. Three years later, Kuenn won his only batting title with a career-best .353 mark and also led the league with 198 hits and 42 doubles.
Kuenn ranks tenth in franchise history with a .314 average, and he has 619 runs, 1,372 hits, 244 doubles, 53 home runs and 423 RBIs in 1,049 games. He played with the Giants in the 1962 World Series (a loss to the Yankees) and, as a manager, turned the 1982 Brewers into “Harvey’s Wallbangers.” Milwaukee went to the World Series, where they fell to the Cardinals in seven games.
2. Donie Bush – He spent 14 of his 16 seasons with Detroit (1908-21) and led the league in walks five times and runs twice. After a brief call-up as a rookie, Bush became a full-time starter in 1909 and had seven hits, five runs and three RBIs in a seven-game loss to the Pirates in the World Series. He was the leadoff hitter and table-setter for a trio of outfielders that was among the best group in baseball history (Crawford, Cobb and Heilmann).
Despite hitting just .252, Bush finished third in the 1914 MVP voting after amassing 97 runs, 150 hits, 32 runs batted in, 35 stolen bases and a league-high 112 walks. Overall, Bush stole 30 or more bases eight times, scored at least 100 runs four times and had 150 or more hits in three seasons.
One of the better fielding shortstops of the Deadball Era, Bush won the fielding title in 1910 and finished second two years later. He ranks second in franchise history in steals (402), fifth in games played (1,243), seventh in triples (73) and tenth in games (1,871). Bush also totaled 1,745 hits, 181 doubles and 436 RBIs.
He spent two and a half seasons with Washington before he retired in 1923, then amassed a 497-539 record in seven seasons as a manager with the Nationals, Pirates, White Sox and Reds. Bush spent more than six decades in baseball as a player, manager, scout and owner. He died at the age of 84 while still working as a scout for the White Sox.
1. Alan Trammell – He spent his entire 20-year career with the Tigers (1977-96), appearing in his first game on September 9, 1977, alongside Whitaker, who was also making his debut. The two would go on to play 1,918 games together. Trammell was a star, earning six All-Star selections, four gold gloves and three silver sluggers. He hit .300 or better and had 150 or more hits seven times each and scored 100 or more runs three times.
Trammell’s best season offensively was 1987, when he helped the Tigers reach the playoffs and set career highs with a .343 average, 109 runs, 205 hits, 28 home runs and 105 RBIs to go along with 21 stolen bases. Overall, he batted .285 with 185 home runs and 1,003 RBIs, and he ranks fifth in franchise history in games (2,293) and steals (236), sixth in runs (1,231), seventh in hits (2,365) and doubles (412) and eighth in total bases (3,442).
Trammell was the MVP of Detroit’s victory over San Diego in the 1984 World Series after going 9-for-20 with five runs scored, two home runs and six runs batted in. He appeared in 13 career postseason games, amassing 10 runs, 17 hits, three homers and 11 RBIs.
After his playing career ended, Trammell became the manager of his longtime team for three seasons (2003-05). His first season was one of the worst a team has played in modern history, with the Tigers setting an American League record with a 43-119 mark, and Detroit had to win five of its final six games just to avoid the Major League record for losses (120 by the 1962 Mets). The Tigers improved in the next two years, but Trammell was let go in favor of Jim Leyland, who led Detroit to the World Series in 2006.
Trammell also had a 1-2 record for the Diamondbacks in 2014 after another former Tiger, Kirk Gibson, was fired in the final week of the season. Trammell was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 2018.
Detroit Tigers Catchers and Managers
Detroit Tigers First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Detroit Tigers Second Basemen and Shortstops
Detroit Tigers Outfielders – coming soon
Detroit Tigers Pitchers – coming soon
A look back at the Colorado Rockies
A look back at the Cleveland Guardians
Cleveland Guardians Catchers and Managers
Cleveland Guardians First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Cleveland Guardians Second Basemen and Shortstops
Cleveland Guardians Outfielders
Cleveland Guardians Pitchers
A look back at the Cincinnati Reds
A look back at the Chicago White Sox
Chicago White Sox Catchers and Managers
Chicago White Sox First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Chicago White Sox Second Basemen and Shortstops
Chicago White Sox Outfielders
Chicago White Sox Pitchers
A look back at the Chicago Cubs
A look back at the Boston Red Sox
A look back at the Baltimore Orioles
Baltimore Orioles Catchers and Managers
Baltimore Orioles First and Third Basemen
Baltimore Orioles Second Basemen and Shortstops
Baltimore Orioles Outfielders and Designated Hitters
Baltimore Orioles Pitchers
A look back at the Atlanta Braves
A look back at the Arizona Diamondbacks
Arizona Diamondbacks Catchers and Managers
Arizona Diamondbacks First and Third Basemen
Arizona Diamondbacks Second Basemen and Shortstops
Arizona Diamondbacks Outfielders
Arizona Diamondbacks Pitchers