MLB Top 5: Detroit Tigers Corner Infielders and DHs

This is the second article in a series that looks at the five best players at each position for the Detroit Tigers. In this installment are first and third basemen as well as designated hitters.

The Detroit Tigers have seen some of the greatest power hitters in Major League history don their uniforms and trot out to first base. The third base and designated hitter spots have had some solid run producers as well, including one popular recent star who will make an appearance at all three spots on this list.

The Best First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters in Detroit Tigers History

First Basemen

Honorable Mentions – Lu Blue had at least 150 hits in three of his seven seasons with Detroit (1921-27). He scored a career-best 131 runs in 1922 and posted a .306 average and a career-high 94 RBIs in 1925. Blue batted .295 in 926 games and totaled 670 runs, 1,002 hits, 407 RBIs and 66 triples, which ranks tenth in team history.

Dale Alexander played just four seasons, but he made the most of his brief time with the Tigers. In 1930, he batted .343, led the league with 215 hits and set career highs with 110 runs, 15 triples, 25 home runs and 137 RBIs. After being traded to Boston early in the 1932 season, he overcame a slow start to hit .367 and win the batting title.

Alexander injured his leg sliding into home during the Memorial Day game in 1933. The Red Sox trainer tried a revolutionary new method of healing known as diathermy, in which a machine used electric currents to create heat and reduce inflammation. Unfortunately, Alexander was kept in the machine too long and his leg ended up badly burned, and he didn’t return to the big leagues after that season. “Moose” ranks fourth in franchise history with a .326 average.

Jason Thompson spent five seasons with the Tigers (1976-80), earning two All-Star selections and totaling 565 hits, 98 home runs and 354 RBIs in 615 games. His best season was 1977, when he batted .270 and set career bests with 31 homers and 105 runs batted in. Thompson was traded to the Angels during the 1980 season, and he also spent time with the Pirates and Expos.

Darrell Evans spent eight years each with the Braves and Giants before spending a five-year stint with the Tigers (1984-88). Nicknamed “Howdy” due to his resemblance to television character Howdy Doody, Evans hit at least 20 home runs four times with Detroit and led the league with 40 in 1985. He had nine hits and two RBIs in 13 playoff games during the 1984 postseason and went 1-for-15 in the World Series.

Current Major League Baseball Players’ Association executive director Tony Clark spent seven years in Detroit (1995-2001) and was named an All-Star in his final season with the Tigers. His best year was 1997, when he hit 32 home runs and set career highs with 105 runs scored and 117 runs batted in. “Tony the Tiger” had 156 homers and 514 RBIs in 772 games in the Motor City.

5. Cecil Fielder – After a mediocre start to his career with the Blue Jays, he spent the 1989 season with the Hanshin Tigers in Japan. Fielder blossomed into one of the most feared power hitters in baseball upon his return. He led the American League with 51 home runs (which is the second-highest total in team history), 132 runs batted in and 339 total bases in 1990 and finished second in the MVP voting. On the downside, his 182 strikeouts both led the league and set a team record.

Fielder ended up in the same spot the following year after smashing 44 homers and driving in 133 runs, with both totals leading the league once again. In 1992, he led the league in RBIs for a third straight season, this time with 124 (to go with 35 home runs).

“Big Daddy” totaled 558 runs, 947 hits, 141 doubles, 245 home runs (sixth in franchise history) and 758 RBIs in 982 games. While with Detroit, he earned three All-Star selections and two silver sluggers, and he won the Babe Ruth Award in 1996.

After signing Fielder to the richest contract in baseball history, the Tigers fell in the standings and their star first baseman asked to be traded. He got his wish when he was traded to New York in 1996, spent the following year with the Yankees and split 1998 between the Angels and Indians before he retired.

4. Miguel Cabrera – He split his career between the three positions in this article, but his overall numbers will be explored here. Cabrera has spent nine of his 16 seasons with Detroit at first base (2008-11 and 14-18), earning five All-Star selections and winning a fielding title in 2017. He hit at least 30 home runs five times at the position and drove in 100 or more runs in six seasons.

Cabrera won two batting titles, led the league in doubles twice, and he also topped the circuit in home runs (37) and total bases (331) in 2008 and RBIs (126) in 2010. Overall, he ranks third in franchise history in home runs (327), fourth in total bases (3,889), fifth in runs batted in (1,353) and doubles (440), seventh in games played (2,065), eighth in hits (2,319) and ninth in runs (1,098).

While Cabrera has a .304 career average with Detroit and has eight seasons each with a .300 or better average, at least 180 hits and more than 100 RBIs, he also holds the dubious distinction of having the most strikeouts in Tigers history (1,505). In the 2011 playoffs, Cabrera totaled 11 hits, seven runs, four home runs and 10 RBIs. He went 3-for-7 in the ALCS loss to the Rangers.

3. Rudy York – He was an MVP at multiple levels in the minor leagues before joining the Tigers as a catcher after Mickey Cochrane had to retire after being hit in the head by a pitch. York proved he belonged, setting records by hitting 18 home runs and driving in 49 runs in August 1937.

He moved to first base in 1940, which turned out to be one of his best seasons. York hit 33 home runs and set career highs with a .316 average, 105 runs, 186 hits, 46 doubles and 134 runs batted in. Three years later, he finished third in the MVP voting after batting .271 with league-high totals of 34 homers, 118 RBIs and 301 total bases.

York was a five-time All-Star who batted .282 with 738 runs, 1,317 hits, 236 doubles, 239 home runs (eighth in franchise history) and 933 RBIs in 1,268 games over 10 seasons (1934 and 37-45). He played 14 World Series games, totaling 11 hits, four runs a home run and five RBIs as the Tigers fell to the Reds in 1940 and beat the Cubs in 1945. York played for the Red Sox, White Sox and Phillies over the next three seasons before retiring in 1948 to become a coach for Boston and then a firefighter in Georgia.

2. Norm Cash – After two seasons with the White Sox, he was traded to the Indians (for Minnie Minoso), then was sent to the Tigers a few months later. He spent the next 15 years (1960-74) in Detroit, earning five All-Star selections. Cash finished fourth in the MVP voting in 1961 after leading the league with 193 hits, a .361 average and a .487 on-base percentage (which is also a team record) to go along with career highs with 119 runs, 41 home runs, 132 runs batted in and 354 total bases, but his performance was overshadowed by the Mickey Mantle vs. Roger Maris home run record chase.

“Stormin’ Norman” ranks second in team history in home runs (373), eighth in games played (2,018) and RBIs (1,088), ninth in total bases (3,233) and tenth in runs (1,027) and hits (1,793) while batting .272. The two-time fielding champion had 10 hits, five runs scored, a homer and five RBIs in the 1968 World Series and played in 12 postseason games overall.

Cash was a two-time Comeback Player of the Year (1965 and ’71) and chose baseball over the NFL, where he was selected by the Chicago Bears as a running back in the 13th round of the 1955 draft. While he was sailing in 1986, he slipped, hit his head on the boat and drowned, passing away at age 51.

1. Hank Greenberg – He was a fantastic leader and power-hitting during his 12 seasons in Detroit (1930, 33-41 and 45-46), and the five-time All-Star would have been even better had he not been the first major leaguer who enlisted for service. He was originally discharged in late 1941 but reenlisted after the attack on Pearl Harbor and served for three more years.

Greenberg won two MVP awards, with his first coming in 1935. He hit .328 and led the league with 36 home runs, 168 runs batted in and 389 total bases. After moving to the outfield to make room for York, he captured the award again in 1940, this time with a .340 average and league-high totals of 50 doubles, 41 homers, 150 RBIs, a .670 slugging percentage and 384 total bases.

“Hammerin’ Hank” also finished third in the MVP race twice and arguably had better seasons than when he actually won the award. In 1937, he hit .337 with 40 home runs and a team-record 184 runs batted in. The following year, he batted .315, led the league with 143 runs and also set a club-best with 58 homers. He also smacked a franchise-best 63 doubles in 1934.

Greenberg scored more than 100 runs in a season six times, reached the 200-hit mark three times, reached 30 home runs four times and drove in at least 100 runs in seven seasons. He is the all-time franchise leader in slugging percentage (.616) and ranks fourth in home runs (306), seventh in RBIs (1,200), eighth in batting average (.319), ninth in doubles (366) and triples (69) and tenth in total bases (2,950). Greenberg also has 975 runs and 1,528 hits in 1,269 games.

Greenberg played in four World Series, winning two titles while batting .318 and totaling 17 runs, 27 hits, five home runs and 22 RBIs in 23 games. He spent one season with the Pirates before retiring in 1947. He became general manager, first of the Indians and then the White Sox, building both teams into pennant winners in the 1950s. Despite all of Greenberg’s accolades, it somehow took the writers 10 tries to vote him into the Hall of Fame, which they finally did in 1956. He passed away in 1986 after a long battle with cancer.

Third Basemen

Honorable Mentions – George Moriarty stole 30 or more bases five times in seven seasons with the Tigers (1909-15) and his total of 193 ranks seventh in franchise history. He won the fielding title in 1909, then totaled six hits, four runs and an RBI in a seven-game loss to the Pirates in the World Series.

Ossie Vitt was a light-hitter who won two fielding titles and had a career-best season in 1915, when he scored 116 runs, drove in 48 and stole 26 bases. However, Vitt was best known for his stint as manager of the Indians. When the Cleveland players got tired of his control, they had a closed-door meeting with owner Alva Bradley. News of the meeting got to the press, which labeled the players the “Cleveland Crybabies.” Although Vitt wasn’t immediately fired, he was dismissed after the 1940 season.

Ray Boone was part of a baseball family that saw his son and two grandsons play in the Major Leagues. Ray was a two-time All-Star who led the league with 116 RBIs in 1955. He batted .291 with 350 runs, 723 hits, 105 home runs and 460 RBIs in 682 games.

Don Wert won the fielding title in 1965 and earned his only All-Star selection three years later. “Coyote” totaled 415 runs, 927 hits, 77 home runs and 363 RBIs in 1,090 games. He also went 2-for-17 with a run scored and two RBIs in the 1968 World Series.

Tom Brookens had a solid, but unspectacular, 10-year run with Detroit (1979-88), totaling 445 runs, 871 hits, 66 home runs and 397 RBIs in 1,206 games. Despite starting for most of the season, Brookens came off the bench during the 1984 playoffs. He went hitless in 18 postseason at-bats including an 0-for-3 stint in the World Series victory over the Padres.

Brandon Inge was a converted catcher who appeared in the 2000 MLB Futures Game then spent 12 seasons with the Tigers (2001-12). He was an All-Star in 2009 when he hit 27 home runs and drove in 84 runs, but he also set a career-high with 170 strikeouts, one of six times he fanned more than 100 times in a season. Inge had 527 runs, 1,083 hits, 212 doubles, 140 homers, and 589 RBIs in 1,408 games. He had six hits and an RBI in the loss to the Cardinals in the 2006 World Series.

5. Aurelio Rodriguez – He was known more for his glove than his bat, winning two fielding titles and a gold glove in 1976 during his nine seasons with Detroit (1971-79). In 1,241 games, he totaled 417 runs, 1,040 hits, 193 doubles, 85 home runs and 423 RBIs despite hitting just .239. Rodriguez went hitless in 16 at-bats during the 1972 ALCS, which ended with a loss to the Athletics in five games.

4. Michael “Pinky” Higgins – He spent seven seasons with the Tigers (1939-44 and 46), missing the 1945 season due to military service managing a Navy baseball team. He played just 17 games with Detroit the following year before getting traded to Boston. Higgins was an All-Star in 1944 after hitting .297 with 161 hits and 76 runs batted in.

Overall, Higgins batted .280 with 415 runs, 878 hits, 60 home runs and 472 RBIs in 857 games. In the 1940 World Series, he hit .333 with two runs scored, three doubles, a homer and six RBIs.

3. Travis Fryman – He was a solid and consistent performer during his eight seasons with the Tigers (1990-97). Fryman was a four-time All-Star, but his best offensive season did not earn him a selection. In 1997, he hit .274 with 22 home runs and 102 runs batted in. He also won two fielding titles and earned a silver slugger in 1992.

Fryman smacked at least 20 home runs five times with the Tigers and drove in 100 runs twice. He batted .274 with 607 runs, 1,176 hits, 229 doubles, 149 homers and 679 RBIs in 1,096 games. Fryman was traded to the Diamondbacks after the expansion draft and was sent to the Indians two weeks later. He spent his final five seasons with Cleveland before retiring in 2002.

2. Miguel Cabrera – How do you earn this high of a spot despite only playing two seasons at the position? Simple, win the MVP both years! Although Cabrera is in his 16th season with the Tigers, he spent most of that time either at first base or designated hitter.

In 2012, he won his first MVP after becoming the first American League Triple Crown Winner since Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 when he led the league with a .330 average, 44 home runs and 139 RBIs (along with a .606 slugging percentage and 377 total bases). Cabrera followed that with a second MVP award in 2013, topping the A. L. with a .348 average and totaling 205 hits, 44 homers,137 RBIs and 353 total bases.

Cabrera earned All-Star and silver slugger honors both seasons and led Detroit to the World Series in 2012. He went 3-for-13 with a home run and three RBIs, but the Tigers fell to the Giants in the Fall Classic.

1. George Kell – He earned five All-Star selections, three fielding titles and batted .300 or better six times during his seven seasons with the Tigers (1946-52). Kell barely edged out Ted Williams to win the batting title with a .343 average in 1949 and led the league with 191 hits and 36 doubles in 1951.

However, his best season came in between, when he batted .340 with career-best totals of 114 runs and 101 RBIs and led the league with 218 hits and 56 doubles in 1950. Kell’s .325 average ranks fifth in franchise history, and he totaled 502 runs, 1,075 hits, 210 doubles and 414 RBIs in 826 games.

After his playing career, Kell spent 30 years as a Tigers broadcaster, replacing legendary outfielder Mel Ott after he died in a car accident. Kell was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1983 on the same day as Brooks Robinson, who he mentored during his final season as a player in 1957.

Designated Hitters

5. Kirk Gibson – Before he hit a home run to win Game 1 of the 1988 World Series for the Dodgers and long before he was the manager of the Diamondbacks, Gibson was a designated hitter when he wasn’t in the outfield during his 12 seasons with the Tigers (1979-87 and 93-95).

The three-year stretch in the 1990s was when Gibson played most of his games at DH, but he also was the primary starter at the position in 1983. His best season was 1994, when he posted a .276-23-72 stat line. As a designated hitter, he had 230 runs, 346 hits, 59 home runs and 220 RBIs in 412 games.

Gibson moved on to Los Angeles after his first stint in Detroit. Not only did he hit that World Series home run, but he won the National League MVP Award in 1988.

4. Dmitri Young – After stints with the Cardinals and Reds, he came to Detroit in 2002 and earned his first All-Star selection during his five years with the Tigers (2002-06). Young hit .297 in 2003 and set career highs with 167 hits, 29 home runs and 85 runs batted in.

Overall, he batted .279 with 255 runs, 500 hits, 82 homers and 267 RBIs in 487 games. Although Young played in 48 games during the 2006 season, he was not on the Tigers’ playoff roster when they went to the World Series. He was facing several issues including domestic abuse allegations, a divorce and alcohol abuse and depression.

Young moved on to the Nationals in 2007, earning an All-Star selection and winning the Comeback Player of the Year Award. He played one more season with Washington before he retired in 2008.

3. Daniel “Rusty” Staub – He made his mark with teams such as the Astros, Expos and Mets throughout his 23-year career and his four-year stint in Detroit (1976-79) was no exceptions. Staub earned an All-Star selection in 1976, then put up consecutive seasons in which he hit 20 home runs and drove in 100 runs. He won the Designated Hitter of the Year Award in 1978 after posting a .273-24-121 stat line.

“Le Grande Orange” batted .277 with 264 runs, 582 hits, 70 homers and 358 RBIs in 549 games with Detroit. He was traded back to Montreal during the 1979 season, spent one year with Texas, then returned to the Mets, where he spent his final five seasons before retiring in 1985.

2. Miguel CabreraAlthough he has been Detroit’s primary designated hitter for the past five seasons (2019-present), he is nowhere near the player he was during his prime. Cabrera’s best season was 2021, when he posted a .256-15-75 stat line, and he was selected as an All-Star injury replacement last year when it was thought to be his last season.

Cabrera returned in 2023 to play out the remainder of his contract, and he has just three home runs in 88 games at age 40. Overall, he has batted .262 with 489 hits, 45 homers and 243 RBIs in 523 games.

1. Victor Martinez – He played his first nine seasons with the Indians and the Red Sox primarily as a catcher, but he converted to designated hitter when he came to the Tigers in 2011. After hitting .330 and driving in 103 runs in his first season, Martinez tore his ACL during offseason training and missed all of 2012.

He had a decent return season before exploding offensively in 2014. Martinez earned All-Star and silver slugger honors, won the Edgar Martinez Award (best DH) and finished second in the MVP voting after driving in 103 runs, setting career highs with 188 hits, 32 home runs and a .335 average and leading the league with a .409 on-base percentage.

Martinez missed parts of 2017 due to multiple irregular heartbeat scares, which resulted in him getting cardiac ablation surgery. He played one more season before retiring in 2018. Martinez batted .290 with 405 runs, 1,033 hits, 188 doubles, 115 home runs and 540 RBIs in 969 games over seven seasons (2011 and 13-18). He added 16 runs, 31 hits, six doubles, four homers and 13 RBIs in 25 postseason games with the Tigers.

Upcoming Stories

Detroit Tigers Catchers and Managers
Detroit Tigers First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Detroit Tigers Second Basemen and Shortstops – coming soon
Detroit Tigers Outfielders – coming soon
Detroit Tigers Pitchers – coming soon

Previous Series

A look back at the Colorado Rockies

Colorado Rockies Catchers and Managers
Colorado Rockies First and Third Basemen
Colorado Rockies Second Basemen and Shortstops
Colorado Rockies Outfielders
Colorado Rockies Pitchers

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 Cubs Catchers and Managers
Chicago Cubs First and Third Basemen
Chicago Cubs Second Basemen and Shortstops
Chicago Cubs Outfielders
Chicago Cubs Pitchers

A look back at the Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox Catchers and Managers
Boston Red Sox First and Third Basemen
Boston Red Sox Second Basemen and Shortstops
Boston Red Sox Outfielders and Designated Hitters
Boston Red Sox Pitchers

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

Atlanta Braves Catchers and Managers
Atlanta Braves First and Third Basemen
Atlanta Braves Second Basemen and Shortstops
Atlanta Braves Outfielders
Atlanta Braves Pitchers

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

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