Over the course of Detroit Tiger baseball history, first base has been a position of prodigious power hitters. Guys with nicknames that include words like “Hammerin’”, “Big Daddy”, and “Stormin’” can be found on this list. That’s when you know you’re looking into a group that pounds the long ball. Members of this list include a retired Hall of Famer and an active player who is a future Hall of Famer who might someday be headlining this elite group of players. Read on to find out all of the info you need to know about the top 3 first basemen in Detroit Tigers history and 2 very impressive honorable mentions.
#1 – Hank Greenberg (1933-41, 1945-47 – final season with Pittsburgh) – In his 12 seasons with the Tigers, “Hammerin’ Hank” was perhaps the most powerful Tiger hitter of all-time. After getting one at-bat in 1930, Greenberg came to Detroit to stay in 1933. He holds the Tiger record for most home runs in a season with 58 in 1938. He also scored 144 runs and drove in 146 in that legendary season. One season earlier, in 1937, Hank knocked in an astounding 183 runs. That is the most RBI’s in a single season by a right-handed hitter to date and is 2nd all-time to the 184 that lefty Lou Gehrig put up in 1931. Greenberg was a 5 time All-Star, won the AL MVP award twice (’35 and ’40) and was a key member of the 1935 and 1945 World Series championship teams. He batted .319 as a Tiger (7th in team history), hit 306 home runs (3rd), had 366 doubles (8th), knocked in 1,202 runs (6th) and holds the Tiger record for career slugging % with a rousing .616%, which is nearly 100 points higher than Harry Heilmann who is 2nd on that list. Hammerin’ Hank was one of a very few opposing players who openly welcomed Jackie Robinson to the big leagues. Greenberg was the first player to receive a 6-figure salary. In 1940, he moved from 1st base to the outfield to make room for Rudy York. Greenberg’s Hall of Fame career was interrupted due to military service in 1941. He returned in 1945 and played just 3 more seasons. At the time of his enlistment he was one of the most feared hitters in all of baseball and is widely considered one of the greatest power hitters of any generation. Greenberg’s #5 is retired in Detroit and he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1956.
#2 – Norm Cash – (1958-1974 – first 2 seasons with White Sox) – “Stormin’ Norman” swatted 373 home runs in his illustrious Tiger career, 2nd only to teammate Al Kaline. Cash was a .272 career hitter who also scored 1,028 runs (9th), and drove in 1,087 (7th) in his 15 years with the club. His 2,018 games played in the Old English D rank 7th in team history. Cash was an All-Star five times while with the Tigers and won the AL Comeback Player of the Year twice (’65 and ’71). Cash was a key cog on the 1968 World Series championship team. Norm’s career year came early on. In 1961, he hit .361 (the only season he hit over .300 and the highest average of any player in the entire decade of the 60’s), crushed 41 homers, drew 124 walks, scored 119 runs, and drove in another 132. This was also the only season in which he would score or drive in more than 100 runs. He would later admit to using a corked bat during the 1961 season. Cash hit over 20 home runs in a season 11 times, including five 30+ homer seasons. Cash was a fan favorite who was a great locker room guy and known around town for having a good time. Cash died in 1986 when he slipped on his boat, hit his head, and drown in northern Lake Michigan. A native Texan, Cash was elected to the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 2001.
#3 – Rudy York – (1934, 1937-1948 – first 10 seasons with Tigers) – After a brief cameo in 1934, Rudy York would hit 35 home runs in 1937 to start an impressive 9-year stretch with the Tigers. York bounced around the diamond until Hammerin’ Hank moved to the outfield, making York the everyday first baseman. He was a .282 hitter for the Tigers, belted 239 homers (7th on the all-time Tiger list), raked another 236 doubles (14th), scored 738 runs (13th), and had 936 RBI’s (11th). York’s .503 slugging % is 4th on the Tigers all-time list. York’s most prolific year came in 1940 when he hit .316 with 33 homers, 46 doubles, and 134 RBI’s. As a catcher in his rookie year of 1937, York posted an August and September to remember. He hit 18 homers that August, breaking Babe Ruth’s record and followed that up by driving in 49 runs in September, eclipsing a mark previously set by Lou Gehrig. In just 375 at-bats during his rookie season, York hit 35 home runs and had 103 RBI’s. That would pro-rate to one of the greatest seasons in baseball history. York was named to 7 All-Star games with the Tigers and was a vital member of the 1945 World Series championship team.
Cecil Fielder (1985-1998, played for Tigers from ’90-’96) – Fresh off of a 1-year stint in Japan, “Big Daddy” made an immediate splash with the Tigers in 1990 by crushing 51 home runs, the most by a Detroit Tiger since Hank Greenberg’s 58 in 1938, and still the 2nd most in a season by a Tiger to date. Cecil became the first player to surpass the 50 homer plateau since the Reds’ George Foster hit 50 in 1977. Fielder was the AL MVP runner-up in ’90 and ’91. In those 2 seasons, Fielder combined for 95 home runs and 265 RBI’s. His .498 slugging % ranks 7th on the Tigers all-time list, the 245 homers rank 5th and his 758 RBI’s rank 13th. Fielder struck out 926 times in just 982 games. The strikeout total is the 9th most in team history. Fielder was a 3-time All-Star with the Tigers (’90, ’91, and ’93), won the Silver Slugger Award in ’90 and ’91, and the Babe Ruth Award in ’96.
Miguel Cabrera (2003-present, with Tigers from 2008-present) – Miguel won’t be an honorable mention for much longer. He has already established himself as the best right-handed hitter in the American League. His most impressive season to date was 2010 when he hit .328 with 180 hits, 38 homers, 46 doubles, 126 RBI’s, 111 runs, and a .622 slugging %. He was named to the 2010 All-Star game. Barring injury, Cabrera has a considerable chance to ascend the list of the top 3 first basemen in Detroit Tigers history.
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