Ranking the greatest Detroit Tigers of all time

Profile Picture: Robert Criscola

May 16th, 2021

The Detroit Tigers are one of baseball’s most historic franchises. Established in 1894, they were one of the American League’s eight charter members when the league came into being in 1901.

Some of the greatest baseball players of all time were Tigers, and we’re counting down the five most outstanding Detroit players below.

5. Al Kaline

Position: Right Field

Accolades: Hall of Fame, 18x All-Star, 10x Gold Glove, 1x Batting Title, 1x World Series

Years active: 1953-1974

A list of the greatest Tigers of all-time would be incomplete without “Mr. Tiger,” Al Kaline.

In a 22-year career – all spent in Detroit – Kaline compiled 3,007 hits, making him one of just 32 players to ever reach the 3,000-hit threshold. Though he was never named AL MVP, he finished second in the voting on two occasions, including the 1955 campaign in which he led the league in hits (200) and batting average (.340).

Kaline could also hit for power and in the clutch, as he averaged 23 homers and 90 RBI per 162-game season. He backed those offensive numbers up with stellar defense in right field, as evidenced by his 10 career Gold Gloves.

The ever-popular Kaline was named an All-Star a staggering 18 times, including his swan song season of 1974.

4. Justin Verlander

Position: Starting Pitcher

Accolades: 1x MVP, 2x Cy Young, 1x Pitching Triple Crown, 1x Rookie of the Year, 8x All-Star, 1x ALCS MVP, 1x World Series

Years active: 2005-present

Justin Verlander is a surefire Hall of Famer, and he could still have a couple of years left in the tank at age 38.

Verlander burst onto the scene for Detroit in 2006, when he won the AL Rookie of the Year with a 17-9 record and 3.63 ERA. He finished seventh in the Cy Young voting that season, and placed in the top five twice more before finally breaking through in 2011. That was the year he won both the Cy Young and the AL MVP with a 24-5 record and 2.40 ERA.

In 13 years as a Tiger, Verlander tallied 2,373 strikeouts, and led the AL in innings pitched on three occasions.

3. Miguel Cabrera

Position: First Base and Third Base

Accolades: 2x MVP, 1x Batting Triple Crown, 11x All-Star, 7x Silver Slugger, 4x Batting Title, 1x World Series

Years active: 2003-present

Recent years have not been kind to the 38-year-old Miguel Cabrera, but when all is set and done, he will be recognized as an all-time great Tiger with a very likely enshrinement in Cooperstown.

Cabrera made an immediate impact in Detroit following his departure from the Marlins after five seasons, leading the AL in homers (37) in 2008. He would do so again in 2012, the year he led all of baseball in longballs (44) and RBI (139). Cabrera recorded an AL-best .330 batting average that season, completing the hitting Triple Crown for the first time since 1967 (Carl Yastrzemski).

He won MVP honors in both 2012 and 2013 in a Tigers uniform. Even when factoring in his subpar last few years, Cabrera has averaged 32 homers and 114 RBI per 162-game season.

2. Hank Greenberg

Position: First Base

Accolades: Hall of Fame, 2x MVP, 5x All-Star, 2x World Series

Years active: 1930, 1933-1941, 1945-1947

Hank Greenberg’s cumulative numbers don’t leap off the page (1,628 hits, 331 homers), but three years of military service (1942-1944) curtailed his Hall of Fame résumé. 

Greenberg won his first of two career MVP Awards in 1935, when he led the majors in homers (36) and RBI (168). He would lead the AL in both categories another three times in his 12-year tenure with Detroit, including his second and final MVP campaign in 1940 (41 homers, MLB-best 150 RBI).

Greenberg was a contributor on World Series-winning Tigers teams in 1935 and 1945.

1. Ty Cobb

Position: Centerfield

Accolades: Hall of Fame, 1x MVP, 1x Batting Triple Crown, 12x Batting Title

Years active: 1905-1928

Arguably the greatest pure hitter of all-time, Ty Cobb is unquestionably the greatest player to ever put on a Tigers uniform.

Cobb’s incredible run of 12 batting titles in a 13-year span began in 1907, his first full year with Detroit. In 1909, he won the batting triple crown, pacing baseball in homers (nine, as it was the dead ball era), RBI (107) and average (.377). Two seasons later, he would be named MVP.

“The Georgia Peach” retired as the all-time leader in hits with 4,189, and remains the batting average king at .367.

Cobb has been unfairly painted as an overall contemptable human being after his retirement thanks in large part to a ghost-written autobiography that came out in 1961, just months after his death. Al Stump, notorious for presenting fiction as fact, did seemingly irreparable damage to Cobb’s legacy in that book.

Honorable Mentions: Harry Heilmann, Alan Trammell, Hal Newhouser, Charlie Gehringer, Lou Whitaker, Jack Morris