Second base has been an interesting position in the history of the Detroit Tigers. Two, if not three, of the all-time great Tigers can be found on this list, but there isn’t much else to find. Perhaps the primary reason for the lack of deep second base talent to pull from is the fact that the top 3 players on this list played a combined 52 seasons, leaving little room for anyone else to break in and leave their mark. Having logged as many games as this trio did, they have certainly etched their names into the most significant portions of the scroll that make up the history of the Detroit Tigers.
#1 – Charlie Gehringer (1924-1942) – Born in Fowlerville, Michigan, “The Mechanical Man” was a stalwart for the Tigers for 19 seasons. He was discovered by Tiger OF Bobby Veach while playing at the University of Michigan. Veach brought him over to Detroit to show then player/manager Ty Cobb what he could do. Cobb convinced owner Frank Navin to sign him on the spot and the rest is history. He played his entire career in Detroit and his lifetime .320 average ranks 6th on the Tigers all-time list. Charlie rates out extremely high for the Tigers in most offensive categories: .398 on-base % (4th), 2,839 hits (3rd), 574 doubles (2nd), 1,774 runs (2nd), 146 triples (3rd), 1,427 RBI’s (4th), and 181 steals (9th). He ranks 3rd in at-bats and total bases and 4th in games played. In 1936, Gehringer turned in an epic season by hitting .354 with 60 doubles, 12 triples, 15 homers, 144 runs, 116 RBI’s, and 227 hits. It wasn’t all about offense for Charlie as he had the highest fielding percentage and the most assists by a 2nd baseman seven times in his career. He earned All-Star honors 6 times, won the 1937 AL MVP when he hit .371, and helped carry the Tigers to the 1935 World Series championship. One offseason, Gehringer traveled with a touring group from the Negro Leagues. Legendary Negro Leaguer Satchel Paige said Charlie was the best white hitter he’d ever pitched against. Gehringer played over 1,000 games with double play partner and shortstop Billy Rogell, making them one of the longest tenured combinations in league history. In 1999, Sports Illustrated ranked the 50 Greatest Sports Figures from Michigan. SI ranked The Mechanical Man 3rd behind Joe Louis and Magic Johnson. Gehringer’s #2 will never be worn again by a Detroit Tiger. He was elected to the MLB Hall of Fame in 1949.
#2 – Lou Whitaker (1977-1995) – “Sweet Lou” spent his entire 19-year career in Detroit. He and Alan Trammell broke in full-time in 1978 and went on to form the longest standing double play combination in major league history. Whitaker played in 2,390 games during his career, trailing only Al Kaline and Ty Cobb on the all-time list. He was a smooth-fielding 2nd baseman who hit near the top of the order for some really good Tiger teams. Later in his career, the sweet-swinging lefty took advantage of the “overhang” in right field at Tiger Stadium and pounded out a total of 244 homers, 6th most in team history. Lou batted .276 over his career. His 420 doubles rank 5th, his 1,386 runs 4th, and 1,084 RBI’s 8th. Lou had 2,369 hits (6th) and also stole 143 bases (10th). Whitaker had a highly acclaimed career in Detroit. He was the 1978 AL Rookie of the Year, made the All-Star team 5 times, won 3 Gold Gloves, 4 Silver Slugger Awards, and was a major contributor on the 1984 World Series championship team. Sweet Lou’s career year came in 1983 when he hit .320 with 40 doubles, 12 homers, 17 steals, 94 runs, and 72 RBI’s. Historian Bill James ranks Whitaker as the 13th best 2nd baseman of all-time. Hopefully it is only a matter of time before his #1 is cemented on the wall next to Cobb, Gehringer, et al.
#3 – Dick McAuliffe (1960-1975 – first 14 seasons with Tigers) – McAuliffe started off as a shortstop with Detroit but moved to second base in 1967 and is best known as a two-bagger for the Tigers. Though he hit just .249 as a Tiger, he was a rare run producing middle-infielder during his generation. McAuliffe was an All-Star three times while with the Tigers and had a home run, scored 4 runs, and drove in 3 during the 1968 World Series against the Cardinals. He became a very good defender as his career progressed. He finished 7th in the AL MVP voting in 1968, not grounding into a double play the entire season. His 192 home runs rank 11th on the Tigers all-time list. His all-time ranking prowess doesn’t stop there; 842 walks (8th), 70 triples (8th), 856 runs (12th), and 218 doubles (19th). He set a personal best in home runs and RBI’s in 1964 with 24 and 66 respectively. Bill James ranks McAuliffe the 22nd best second baseman of all-time.
Placido Polanco (1998-present – played with Tigers from ’05-’09) – Acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies via trade in June of 2005, Polanco hit his stride immediately with the Tigers and continued to be a major presence during his 4+ seasons in Detroit. His .311 average as a Tiger ranks 12th on the all-time list. His career year came in 2007 when he was named an All-Star and won the Silver Slugger Award. Keying Detroit’s potent offense, Placido hit .341, scored 105 runs, drove in 67, had 200 hits and 36 doubles. In 2009, he set a career-high with 72 RBI’s. As steady as he was with the bat, Polanco earned even higher honors with his glove. He won the Gold Glove in ’07 and ’09 and set a record in 2007 for consecutive errorless games by a second baseman (149). Polanco returned to Philadelphia as a free agent after the 2009 season.
For more of the all-time Tigers by position, click on the links below: