This is the fourth article in a series that looks at the five best players at each position for the Detroit Tigers. In this installment are the outfielders.
The list of best outfielders in Detroit Tigers history features a little bit of everything. There are leadoff hitters, table-setters, run producers, power hitters, and fantastic fielders. However, the star of the article is on the shortlist for the greatest player in Major League history.
The Best Outfielders in Detroit Tigers History
Honorable Mentions – Matty McIntyre won four fielding titles during his seven seasons with Detroit (1904-10). Although he did not appear in the 1907 World Series, the speedy leadoff batter played in nine games in the Tigers’ other two triples, totaling two runs and four hits. In 1908, he led the American League with 105 runs to go along with 168 hits, 25 RBIs, and 20 stolen bases. Overall, he had 412 runs and 783 hits in 795 games.
Larry Herndon spent seven seasons with the Tigers (1982-88), amassing 765 hits and 364 RBIs in 684 games. He had back-to-back years with at least 20 home runs and 80 RBIs in 1982-83. Herndon had three runs, nine hits, two homers, and six RBIs in 10 postseason appearances with Detroit, and he went 5-for-15 with a home run and three RBIs in the 1984 World Series.
Bob Fothergill was one of those table-setting outfielders during the 1920s, and he batted .300 or better eight times in nine seasons with Detroit (1922-30). His best season was 1927 when he hit .359 and set career hits with 93 runs, 189 hits, 38 doubles, nine home runs, and 114 runs batted in. Overall, Fothergill ranks third in franchise history with a .337 average and has 380 runs, 823 hits, 182 doubles, and 447 RBIs in 802 games.
Charlie Maxwell was a two-time All-Star who had at least 20 home runs and 80 runs batted in four times each during an eight-year stint with the Tigers (1955-62). “Sunday Slugger” won four fielding titles and batted .268 with 415 runs, 723 hits, 133 homers, and 455 RBIs in 853 games.
5. Bobby Higginson – He played his entire 11-year career (1995-2005) with Detroit and split his time between left and right field. He played more games (696 to 666) and posted better numbers in his five seasons in left field (1996-97 and 2000-02). Higginson never earned an All-Star selection or led the league in any offensive category, but he led the league twice in assists at each of his positions. He batted .272 with 736 runs, 1,336 hits, 270 doubles, 187 home runs and 709 RBIs in 1,362 games.
4. Rocky Colavito – He earned four All-Star selections in four seasons with Detroit (1960-63), with all his honors coming when MLB held two All-Star Games a year in the early 1960s. Colavito hit at least 30 home runs and drove in at least 100 runs three times during his short stay with the Tigers. However, his best year came when the best performances of several players were forgotten.
In 1961, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle were chasing Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record. Detroit first baseman Norm Cash won the batting title and led the league in hits, while Colavito batted .290 with 45 home runs and 140 RBIs, a mark that ranks fifth in team history. Most years, those states would put a player in the short conversation for MVP, but in the 1961 American League race, Colavito finished eighth.
Overall, Colavito batted .271 with 377 runs, 633 hits, 139 home runs, and 430 RBIs in 629 games, and he also won two fielding titles with the Tigers.
3. Leon “Goose” Goslin – While he was best known for his time with Washington, he had some solid years with Detroit at the end of his long career (1934-37). Goslin was an All-Star in 1936 and he hit .315 with 24 home runs, 125 runs batted in, 180 hits, and a career-high 122 runs. He batted .297 overall with 345 runs, 582 hits, 50 homers, and 327 RBIs in 524 games.
Goslin played in consecutive World Series with the Tigers, totaling 13 hits, four runs, and five RBIs in 13 games. He returned to the Senators for one final season before ending his 18-year career in 1938. Goslin was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1968.
2. Willie Horton – He spent his entire 15-year career with Detroit (1963-77), earning four All-Star selections and a fielding title in 1965. Horton hit 20 or more home runs six times and drove in 100 runs or more twice. He did all this despite being a superstitious player who used only one batting helmet his entire career (and painting it when he changed teams).
During an era of racial unrest, Horton was a calming influence, even pleading with other African Americans to stop the violence and looting during the 1967 riots in Detroit. He played in 12 postseason contests, totaling six runs and eight hits. He hit a home run and drove in three runs in the 1968 World Series.
Overall, Horton ranks fifth in franchise history with 262 home runs, and he also batted .276 with 671 runs, 1,490 hits, 211 doubles, and 886 RBIs in 1,515 games. Horton spent his final four seasons as a DH, even winning the Designated Hitter of the Year Award in 1975. He played one game in 1977 before being sent to the Rangers. He played for five teams before retiring from the Major Leagues in 1980, then played in Mexico before becoming a minor league instructor and coach.
1. Bobby Veach – He was almost overlooked among the number of talented outfielders the Tigers had, especially early in their history. Although he was overshadowed by Cobb, Crawford, and Heilmann, Veach became a star in his own right. He batted better than .300 eight times, drove in more than 100 runs four times, led the league in RBIs three times, led the A. L. in doubles twice, posted more than 200 hits twice, and led the league with 191 hits and 17 triples in 1919. The following year, he became the first Tigers player to hit for the cycle.
Veach batted .311, scored 863 runs, hit 59 home runs and had 2,653 total bases in 1,604 games. He ranks fifth in franchise history in triples (136), eighth in stolen bases (189), ninth in hits (1,859), and tenth in doubles (345) and RBIs (1,049). In addition, he won three fielding titles and finished twice two other times.
Veach spent 12 seasons with Detroit (1912-23) and retired in 1925 after splitting his final two years between the Red Sox, Yankees and Senators. Much like during his playing career, Veach suffered from a lack of respect from the Hall of Fame voters. He received just 0.5 percent of the vote in 1937 and never appeared on the ballot again.
Honorable Mentions – Henry “Heinie” Manush made his became a star with the Browns and Senators, but he got his start with five seasons in Detroit (1923-27). His best season was 1926, when he won the only batting title of his 17-year career, hitting .378 with 14 home runs and 86 runs batted in.
Manush ranks sixth in franchise history with a .321 average, and he had 386 runs, 674 hits and 345 RBIs in 615 games. He went to St. Louis and was the runner-up in MVP voting in 1928. He was a 1934 All-Star and finished third in the MVP race twice with Washington. Manush retired in 1939 and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1964.
Curtis Granderson spent six seasons with the Tigers (2004-09), earning an All-Star selection in his final year with the team. Before he became the “Grandy Man” with the Yankees, he was winning a fielding title with the Tigers in 2006 and leading the league in triples twice, including a career-high 23 in 2007.
In Granderson’s All-Star season, he hit just .249 but smacked 30 home runs, drove in 71 runs and stole 20 bases. Overall, he batted .272 with 435 runs, 702 hits, 102 homers and 299 RBIs in 674 games. He added eight runs, 12 hits, three home runs and seven RBIs in 13 games, and he helped Detroit reach the World Series in 2006.
5. Chet Lemon – He spent six of his nine seasons in Detroit (1982-90) patrolling center field. “The Jet” earned an All-Star selection and won a fielding title in 1984, then helped his team win the World Series. Lemon had six runs, 10 hits, two home runs and five RBIs in 13 postseason games and went 5-for-17 with an RBI and two stolen bases in the win over the Padres.
Lemon batted .263 with 570 runs, 1,071 hits, 218 doubles, 142 homers and 536 RBIs in 1,203 games. He was forced to retire after team doctors found he had a blood clotting disorder called polycythemia vera. Lemon eventually recovered after a long hospital stay and became a high school baseball coach and AAU president near Orlando.
4. Ron LeFlore – In his own words, “stealing was my specialty.” Unfortunately, the stealing LeFlore was referring to had nothing to do with baseball, but with trying to survive on the streets of Detroit. His crimes eventually escalated, and he went to prison after robbing a bar in 1970. A chance meeting with a friend of Tigers manager Billy Martin got him a tryout and eventually a contract with Detroit.
LeFlore, who had never played organized baseball before his time in prison, got to try a different form of stealing and use his speed to create problems for other teams. He led the league with 126 runs and 68 stolen bases in 1978, and the steals mark ranks third in team history. He also had a movie come out about his life called One in A Million: The Ron LeFlore Story. Two years later, he stole an astounding 97 bases with the Expos.
LeFlore played six seasons with the Tigers (1974-79), earning an All-Star selection in 1976 and ranking fourth in franchise history with 294 stolen bases. He also batted .297 with 532 runs, 970 hits, 51 home runs and 265 RBIs in 787 games. However, his old habits came back, with drugs and women proving to be his downfall as no-nonsense manager Sparky Anderson traded him to Montreal.
However, issues including drugs, alcohol, anger management and an overall poor attitude ended his Major League career after nine seasons when the White Sox released him in 1983. He bounced around to different jobs, found a few leagues for retired players, faced felony charges for possession of a controlled, was arrested after a ceremony marking the final game at Tiger Stadium 1999 and lost his right leg due to arterial vascular disease in 2011.
3. Mitchell “Mickey” Stanley – He spent his entire 15-year career in a Tigers uniform (1964-78), winning four gold gloves and posting a perfect fielding percentage twice (1968 and ’70). He was better known for his glove than his bat, but he had 100 or more hits six times.
Stanley had 641 runs, 1,243 hits, 201 doubles, 117 home runs and 500 RBIs in 1,551 games with Detroit. He appeared in 11 postseason games and totaled four runs and six hits during the victory over the Cardinals in the 1968 World Series.
2. Al Kaline – Although he was primarily a right fielder, he spent five seasons patrolling center field at Tiger Stadium (1953, 59-60 and 65-66). During that time, he was selected to six All-Star Games (twice each in 1959-60) and won three gold gloves. Kaline’s best offensive season was 1959, when he posted a .327-27-94 stat line. He batted .295 and had 328 runs, 577 hits, 90 home runs and 324 RBIs in 580 games in center.
1. Ty Cobb – Throughout the first quarter of the 20th century, he was the greatest player in the game, and he is still in the conversation as the all-time greatest player. After spending his first three years in right field (allegedly because he hated McIntyre), he and Sam Crawford switched spots. Cobb spent the next 19 of his 22 seasons in center field with the Tigers (1905-26), and his accolades are almost too numerous to list.
Cobb scored 100 or more runs 10 times and led the league five times. He had at least 200 hits nine times and led the league eight times. He led the league in doubles three times, triples four times, drove in more than 100 runs seven times and led the league in four seasons. Cobb stole 50 or more nine times and led the league six times. He led the A. L. in slugging percentage eight times, on-base percentage seven times and total bases six times.
Cobb’s .368 batting average is the best in franchise history and includes three seasons over .400, 21 seasons hitting .300 or better and 12 batting titles in 13 years. Counting the two seasons spent with the Philadelphia Athletics at the end of his career, his .366 mark is the highest in Major League history. He won baseball’s fourth Triple Crown in 1909 after leading the American League with a .377 average, nine home runs and 107 runs batted in.
In 1911, it’s easy to see how he won the MVP Award. You just have to go across his stat line and see all the league leading totals, including a .419 average, 148 runs, 248 hits (all franchise records), 47 doubles, 24 triples, 127 RBIs, 83 steals (second-most to the 96 he had in 1915), a .630 slugging percentage and 367 total bases.
In addition to batting average, Cobb holds virtually every major offensive record in franchise history, including runs (2,087), hits (3,900), doubles (665), triples (284), RBIs (1,811), stolen bases (869), on-base percentage (.434) and total bases (5,466). He also ranks second in games played (2,806) and fourth in walks (1,148) and slugging percentage (.516).
In Major League history, he ranks second behind Rickey Henderson in runs (2,245), second behind Pete Rose in hits (4,189), second behind longtime teammate Sam Crawford in triples (295), fourth in doubles (724), fourth in stolen bases (897), sixth in total bases (5,584) and ninth in RBIs (1,944).
Detroit played in three straight World Series events from 1907-09, and Cobb had seven runs, 17 hits, four doubles and nine RBIs in 17 games. He was inducted in the first class of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936.
For all of his accolades, though, he was also quite troubled. Despite being nicknamed the “Georgia Peach,” Cobb certainly wasn’t sweet. He was quick-tempered, physically fought with umpires, went into the stands to attack a fan (which set off many of his teammates almost getting banned for refusing to take the field in a show of support), spiked opposing fielders on slides and having an overall sour disposition (I guess this scene from Field of Dreams wasn’t too far off).
Many of Cobb’s issues could be traced to his youth. He left home at 17 to play ball in an effort to win his father’s respect, but his father was killed by his mother (there is some confusion over whether or not it was in self-defense) the following year.
However, by far his most controversial moment came in 1926 when former pitcher Dutch Leonard named himself, Cobb and fellow stars Smokey Joe Wood and Tris Speaker as part of a game-throwing scandal during the 1919 season. Cobb and Speaker were forced to retire by Kenesaw Mountain Landis, but the commissioner reinstated them when he had found no wrongdoing. He did, however, force them onto new teams, with Speaker going to the Senators and Cobb to the Athletics.
After his playing career ended in 1928, Cobb made shrewd investments and survived the stock market crash the following year. He tried to clean up his image by donating $100,000 to a local medical center, starting an educational fund and advocating for former teammates to get into the Hall of Fame (Crawford and Heilmann in particular). However, when he passed away in 1961 at the age of 74, he was still such a negatively polarizing figure that only three baseball-related people attended his funeral.
Honorable Mentions – Ervin “Pete” Fox was a four-time fielding champion during his eight-year run with the Tigers (1933-40). His best offensive season was 1937, when he hit 15 home runs and set career highs with a .331 average, 116 runs, 208 hits, 39 doubles and 82 runs batted in. Fox batted .302 with 670 runs, 1,182 hits, 222 doubles, 59 homers, 492 RBIs and 107 stolen bases in 997 games. He had 18 hits in 14 World Series games, and he was a key player in Detroit’s victory over the Chicago Cubs in 1935, totaling 10 hits and four RBIs.
Vic Wertz earned three All-Star selections over his nine-year Tigers career (1947-52 and 61-63). He finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting in 1949-50 when he batted at least .300 with 90 runs, 170 hits, 30 home runs and 120 RBIs in consecutive seasons. Wertz batted .286 with Detroit and amassed 443 runs, 798 hits, 109 homers and 531 RBIs in 836 games. However, many people remember him as being the player Willie Mays robbed with his over-the-shoulder catch at the Polo Grounds as a member of the Indians during the 1954 World Series.
Jim Northrup spent eight of 11 seasons with Detroit in right field (1964-74), and he registered 100 or more hits eight times. Overall, he batted .267 and had 571 runs, 1,184 hits, 204 doubles, 145 home runs and 570 RBIs in 1,279 games. Northrup had 12 hits and nine RBIs in 12 playoff games with the Tigers, and he amassed seven hits, two homers and eight RBIs in the victory over the Cardinals in the 1968 World Series.
Bobby Higginson played 11 seasons with the Tigers and, despite spending more seasons in right field, he played more games in left. Higginson led the league in assists twice as a right fielder and totaled 329 runs, 578 hits, 77 home runs and 291 RBIs in 666 games at the position.
JD Martinez – He played four seasons with the Tigers (2014-17), batting .300 with 257 runs, 509 hits, 99 home runs and 285 RBIs in 458 games. His best season was 2015, when he earned All-Star and silver slugger honors and hit .282 with 38 homers and 102 RBIs. He had three hits, two home runs and five RBIs in a loss to the Orioles in the 2014 Division Series.
Martinez was traded to the Diamondbacks in 2017, left in free agency and spent the next five years with Red Sox, helping them win the World Series in 2018. He is in his first season with the Dodgers.
5. Magglio Ordonez – He was a two-time All-Star during his seven-year run with the Tiger (2005-11). His best offensive season was 2007, when he won the batting title with a .363 average, led the league with 54 doubles, hit 28 home runs, set career highs with 117 runs, 216 hits and 139 RBIs, earned All-Star and silver slugger honors, won the fielding title and was the runner-up for the MVP Award.
Ordonez batted .312 with 452 runs, 989 hits, 186 doubles, 107 homers and 533 RBIs in 847 games with Detroit. He had nine runs, 18 hits, three home runs and eight RBIs in 18 playoff games and went 2-for-19 with two runs scored in the Tigers loss to the Cardinals in the 2006 World Series.
4. Kirk Gibson – Over his first five seasons, he started at each outfield position and designated hitter before settling in right field. Although Gibson never earned an All-Star selection, he got some MVP consideration, including 1984, when he hit .282 with 92 runs scored, 27 home runs, 91 runs batted in and 29 stolen bases.
Gibson topped 80 runs, 20 home runs, 75 RBIs and 25 steals in each of the final four years of his first stint with the Tigers. After three years with the Dodgers (in which he earned the National League MVP Award and hit a dramatic walk-off home run in Game 1 of the World Series in 1988), he spent a year each with the Royals and Pirates before returning to Detroit for three seasons as a DH beginning in 1993.
In 12 seasons with the Tigers (1979-87 and 93-95), Gibson batted .273 with 698 runs, 1,140 hits, 195 home runs, 668 RBIs and 194 stolen bases in 1,177 games. He had 11 hits, six runs, three home runs, nine RBIs and four steals in eight playoff games, earning the ALCS MVP Award and helping Detroit win the World Series in 1984.
Gibson joined former Tigers Lance Parrish, Lou Whitaker and Jack Morris on the 2001 Hall of Fame ballot. He only got 13 votes and was removed from future ballots after his first year, along with both Parrish and Whitaker. Gibson won the Manager of the Year Award after leading the Diamondbacks to the playoffs in 2011.
3. Harry Heilmann – He turned a bookkeeping job into a long major league career after taking over for Crawford and becoming one of the most productive players of his era. Heilmann spent 12 of his 15 seasons with Detroit (1914 and 16-29) in right field (and 1918-20 at first base. He won four batting titles and amassed 100 runs batted eight times (including seven straight years from 1923-29) and100 runs scored and 200 hits four times each.
After Cobb (as manager) began coaching Heilmann, he became one of baseball’s most feared hitters. He led the league with a .394 average and 237 hits (second in franchise history) in 1921, hit .403 (the third-best mark in team history) in 1924, led the league with 45 doubles the following year and topped the A. L. with a .393 average and 134 RBIs in 1925. Two years later, he was the runner-up in the MVP voting after winning his final batting title with a .398 mark to go with 106 runs, 201 hits, 50 doubles, 14 home runs and 120 runs batted in.
Although he was nicknamed “Slug” due to his lack of speed, Heilmann certainly did not disappoint as a hitter. He finished in the top 10 of the MVP race five times and hit .300 or better 11 times in his career. Heilmann ranks second in franchise history in batting average (.342), third in RBIs (1,446), fourth in hits (2,499), doubles (497) and triples (145), fifth in total bases (3,778), seventh in runs (1,209) and ninth in games (1,990) to go with 164 home runs and 111 stolen bases.
After Heilmann retired as a player he, like many in that time, saw his savings decimated by the stock market crash. He spent 17 years as a broadcaster for the Tigers in the early days of radio before he had to retire when he developed lung cancer. Cobb fought to get him into the Hall of Fame in 1951, when the All-Star Game was being held in Detroit and Cobb could present him with his plaque. Heilmann died the day before the game and wasn’t officially inducted until the following year.
2. Sam Crawford – He teamed with Veach and Cobb to create one of the most formidable outfields in baseball history. Crawford spent 12 of his 15 seasons with the Tigers in right field (1903-17). He played in center during the team’s three pennant-winning seasons, then moved back to his natural position with Cobb moving to center.
He spent four seasons with the Reds before jumping to the fledgling American League for more money. However, he had signed contracts with both Cincinnati and Detroit, leading to a legal battle that the Tigers eventually won.
“Wahoo Sam” (nicknamed after his hometown in Nebraska) was an excellent power hitter during the “Deadball Era” who also had plenty of speed. He led the American League in triples five times and runs batted in three times. Crawford hit better than .300 eight times drove in 100 runs five times and scored 100 three times. In 1914, he finished second in the MVP voting after hitting .314 and leading the league with 26 triples (a team record) and 104 RBIs.
Crawford was a five-time fielding champion who batted .309 with 70 home runs and ranks second in franchise history in triples (249), fifth in hits (2,466), sixth in games (2,114) and RBIs (1,262), seventh in total bases (3,576) and eighth in runs (1,115) and doubles (402). Counting his first four seasons with Cincinnati, he is the all-time Major League leader with 309 triples.
Crawford had seven runs, 17 hits, five doubles, a homer and eight RBIs in 17 postseason games. He led the National League in home runs in 1901, topped the A. L. in 1908 and was the only player to win titles in both leagues for nearly a century before Mark McGwire joined him in 1998. Crawford umpired after his playing career ended. Thanks to Cobb’s lobbying effort, he was eventually elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1957.
1. Al Kaline – Ty Cobb might be the greatest player in team history, but Kaline in the most loved and respected. How else would he get the nickname, “Mr Tiger”? Kaline came to the Tigers out of high school and spent the next 22 years with Detroit (1953-74), earning 18 All-Star selections and 10 gold gloves. He finished third in the Rookie of the Year race in 1954, was in the top 10 of MVP voting nine times, was the runner-up twice and finished third in 1956.
Kaline had many great statistical seasons through the years, but arguably his best was 1955. He finished second in the MVP race, replacing Cobb in the record books by becoming the youngest player to win the batting title (at age 20) with a .340 average. He also led the league with 200 hits, set a career-high with 121 runs, hit 27 home runs and drove in 102 runs. He went on to hit .300 or better eight times, blasted 20 or more home runs nine times and drove in at least 100 runs on three occasions.
“Mr. Tiger” is the all-time franchise leader in games played (2,843), home runs (399) and walks (1,277). He ranks second behind Cobb in hits (3,007), RBIs (1,582) and total bases (4,852), third in runs (1,622) and doubles (498) and sixth in triples (75) to go with a .297 average and 137 stolen bases. He appeared in 12 playoff games and totaled nine runs, 16 hits, three home runs and nine RBIs. During the 1968 World Series, he had six runs, 11 hits, two homers and eight runs batted in.
Despite never winning an MVP award, Kaline took home quite a bit of hardware during his career. He won the Lou Gehrig Award in 1968, the Hutch Award the following year and the Roberto Clemente Award in 1973. He finished off his career as a designated hitter in 1974 and doubled off Baltimore’s Dave McNally on September 24 to join the 3,000-hit club. Kaline joined the Tigers’ broadcast team after his playing career ended, and he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1980.
Detroit Tigers Catchers and Managers
Detroit Tigers First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Detroit Tigers Second Basemen and Shortstops
Detroit Tigers Outfielders
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