A franchise as historic as the Detroit Tigers, it’s hard to choose five season that would be considered the greatest seasons ever played by the Tigers.
To make this list, the Tigers’ team did not have to make the World Series, or even the playoffs. The teams are ranked according to historical significance to the franchise. Whether it’s a World Series title, or single season achievements that you only see once every so often for that one special summer.
1968 Tigers: It’s hard to find one season more important to not only the Detroit Tigers, but also for the city of Detroit. The Tigers lost their chance to win the pennant on the last day of the season in 1967 to the Boston Red Sox. Racial tensions were at an all time high in Detroit. After the murder of Martin Luther King, race riots abrupted all over the U.S. The riots of 1967 were a scary time in Detroit history, but the magical summer of 1968 provided relief for the whole city.
In 68′, Tigers fans witnessed Denny McLain win 31 games. A feat that had not been accomplished since 1934 when Dizzy Dean won 30. The Tigers were not that good of a hitting team. Bill Freehan (.263 AVG, 25 HRs, 84 RBIs*),Willie Horton (.285 AVG, 36 HRs,85 RBIs), and Jim Nortrup (.264 AVG, 21 HR ,90 RBIs in 68′) were the main source of offense. As a team they only hit for a .235 average, but as a good team should do, they always picked each other up, and grind out games.
Mclain was the ace of the staff, but Mickey Lolich (17-9, 3.19 ERA), Earl Wilson (13-12, 2.85 ERA), and Joe Sparma (10-10 3.70 ERA) all filled out a great rotation that knew how to pitch.
The Tigers would beat the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games to win their third World Series title. And like for most the of the season — the Tigers won it all in comeback fashion.
1935 Tigers: After four failed attempts, the Tigers would finally capture their first World Series title in 1935. This high powered offense team was lead by Hank Greenberg (.328 AVG, 36 HRs, 170 RBIs), Charlie Gehringer (.330 AVG, 19 HRs, 108 RBIs), and Goose Goslin (.292 AVG, 9 HRs, 109 RBIs).
The Tigers’ staff was lead Tommy Bridges (21-10, 3.51 ERA). Schoolboy Rowe (19-13, 3.69 ERA), General Crowder (16-10, 4.26 ERA), and Elden Auker (18-7, 3.83 ERA) filled out the rest of the staff.
The American League pennant chase would be close. Lou Gehrig and the Yankees would try to make things interesting, but the Tigers would win AL by three games on their way to their fifth World Series appearance; and second in two years.
After loosing to the Gashouse Gang Cardinals the year prior, the Cubs would would face off against the Tigers in the World Series.
The Tigers would win the World Series in six games, and capture their first title. Greenberg would win his first of two MVP’s in 1935.
1984 Tigers: When Sparky Anderson took over the reigns as Tigers’ skipper in 1979, he said they would win a championship in five years. By the early 80′s the Tigers had some household names in their line up such as Allan Trammell, Kirk Gibson, Lou Whitaker, Jack Morris; all were young and hungry to win. In 1983 the Tigers would win 92 games but finish six games behind the Orioles. But they showed the AL the Tigers were on the rise.
1984 started of like no team in MLB history had started off before. The Tigers would go 35-5 in their first 40 games. By the end of the 40 game stretch the Tigers had left the rest of league in the dust. They had an 8.5 game lead over the Blue Jays, the closest team in the standings.
After a season that featured a Jack Morris no-hitter and 104 wins,the Tigers would make quick work of the Kansas City Royals and would face off against the Padres in the World Series.
It would all come down to game five at Tiger Stadium. The Tigers were up 3-1 and were looking to hit the Padres with the finishing blow. The final nail in coffin would come in the 8th inning when Kirk Gibson hit a three-run shot off of Goose Gossage, who elected to pitch to Gibson instead of walking him. A choice that would help the Tigers capture their fourth title.
Willie Hernandez would capture both the Cy Young and MVP of the AL in 1984. Hernandez was a perfect 32-for-32 in save chances to go along with his sub two ERA.
After 1984 it looked like the Tigers had a team that would compete for years; perhaps even become a Dynasty. The Tigers would not make the postseason again until 1987, and lose in the first round to the Twins.
1961 Tigers: 1961 is one of the most overlooked seasons in Tigers’ history. Rightfully so; the Tigers did not make it to the World Series, nor the playoffs, because the LCS did not exist. On top of all the attention going to Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris chasing Babe Ruth.
But the Tigers had a dynamic duo of their in in 1961. Rocky Colavito and Norm Cash quietly destroyed the AL and took advantage of the new expansion teams. Norm Cash is perhaps the most overlooked player of 1961. Cash hit a staggering .361, hit 41 home runs and drove in 132 RBIs. Colavito hit .290 while driving out 45 home runs and driving in 140 RBIs of his own. Most people do not even know Cash won the batting title that year.
Al Kaline also had an impressive year. Kaline hit .324, had 19 home runs, and drove in 82 RBIs, while winning his fourth gold glove.
The Tigers could slug but they could also pitch. The Tigers team ERA was only 3.55 and had one of the best staffs in the AL.
The Tigers would win 101 games, but would finish eight games behind the Yankees and the M and M boys.
2006 Tigers: Just three years prior the Tigers were losers of 119 games. The most loses in American League history. But in 2006, it all changed.
Dave Dombrowski started building up his team for the future in 2004. Dombrowski signed free-agent catcher Ivan Rodiguez and would draft Justin Verlander. Then in 2005 Dombrowski signed Magglio Ordonez. In 2006 it all came together.
In the summer of 2006, Tigers fan witnessed the emergence of a young rookie right hander named Justin Verlander, met the gambler, Kenny Rogers, and saw the Tigers succeed for the first time in nearly 20 years.
The Tigers were like no other team in 2006. They could beat you with clutch home runs by guys like Craig Monroe, who hit 27 home runs (over half of them came in the seventh inning or later). They could beat you with pitching, whether it was Verlander, Rogers, Todd Jones, Jamie Walker, or rookie flamethrower Joel Zumaya. And they could play defense. Fronted by Rodiguez and Placido Polanco.
Whether it was a deep offensive line up featured five guys with 80 or more RBIs, or their young pitching, the Tigers were good — real good.
For most of the season new skipper Jim Leyland, and the Tigers were the best team in baseball. But would collpase in late August and September, which made them fall to a wild card team.
In the first round of the playoffs, the Tigers would beat the heavily favored Yankees in four games. Then the Tigers would sweep the A’s on the greatest walk-off home run in Tigers’ history. The World Series would be a re-match of the 1968 series. Except this time, it did not work out in the Tigers favor. The Tigers would lose the World Series in five games. But the summer of 2006 was forever cemented into the minds of Tigers fans everywhere. A team that lost 119 games just three years prior, was at the highest level of success in such a short time.
*All stats were from the season listed
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