As is the case with most teams, the shortstop position for the Detroit Tigers can be a difficult one to evaluate over multiple generations. Until recently, and it is certainly not extremely prevalent even now, the captain of the infield is usually someone who doesn’t hit for much power, may run the bases well, could easily be a below average hitter, but gets by on their field smarts and defensive ability. In the last half century only one shortstop stood out from the crowd and when you pair him up with the other good ones that preceded him, it became clear that the #1 ranked shortstop in Detroit Tigers history could only rightfully go to one player. However, the other two that comprise the top 3 and the honorable mention were no slouches in their day either.
#1 – Alan Trammell (1977-1996) – Trammell is one of the most clear cut top-rated players at his position in Tiger history. No other shortstop came close to assembling the type of career that Tram was able to compile over 20 impressive seasons in Detroit. Trammell was the left side of the longest tenured double play combination in MLB history, playing 19 seasons alongside Lou Whitaker. Tram had a rare middle infielder combination of speed, power, and the ability to hit for average. As a lifetime Tiger, he hit .285 over 2,293 games (5th all-time). Number 3 homered 185 times (13th), stole 236 bases (5th), had 412 doubles (6th), 1,231 runs (6th), 1,003 RBI’s (10th), and 2,365 hits (7th). His accolades are seemingly endless, including 6 All-Star game selections, 4 Gold Gloves, 3 Silver Slugger Awards, 1983 AL Comeback Player of the Year, and he was the MVP of the 1984 World Series as he went 9 for 20 at the plate with 2 homers (accounting for all 4 runs in Game 4) as the Tigers defeated the Padres in 5 games. Trammell is one of only 3 Tigers in history to hit 20 homers and steal 20 bases in the same season, Kirk Gibson and Curtis Granderson are the others. Tram finished a close 2nd to Toronto’s George Bell in the 1987 AL MVP race. Lou Whitaker disregarded the votes and presented Trammell with the Tiger Stadium 2nd base at the conclusion of the season inscribing it with the words: “To Alan Trammell, 1987 AL MVP. From, Lou Whitaker.” In that legendary season, Tram hit .343 with 28 homers, 34 doubles, 105 RBI’s, 109 runs, 205 hits, and 21 steals. After his playing career, Trammell became a coach and eventual manager of the Tigers from 2003-2005. He endured a record-setting season for all the wrong reasons in his first year as skipper when the Tigers lost an AL record 119 games. He was 186-300 as manager of the Tigers. He is now bench coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks, alongside head coach and former Tiger Kirk Gibson. Historian Bill James rates Trammell the 9th best shortstop of All-Time. He is gaining popularity from Hall of Fame voters and might get the nod in 2011. As with Whitaker, Trammell’s #3 deserves to be retired by the organization.
#2 – Donie Bush (1908-1923 – first 14 years with Tigers) – Bush, 5 foot 6 inches, 130 lbs., was a slightly built player who could set up his teammates and get around the bases in a hurry. Though just a .250 hitter, Bush tallied 1,242 runs in Detroit, 5th all-time on the Tigers list. His 400 steals rank 2nd to only Ty Cobb. Though he wasn’t a prolific hitter for average, his 1,125 walks (5th) buoyed his on-base % to a respectable .343. Bush was known for being one of the best defensive shortstops of his generation. He holds a league-wide record for turning 9 triple plays in his career. He holds AL records for putouts (425) and chances (969) in a season by a shortstop. He led the AL in walks 5 times, plate appearances 5 times, sacrifice hits twice, and runs once. In 1914, he finished 3rd in the AL MVP voting. On July 11, 1917, Donie broke up a no-hitter in the 8th inning that was being thrown by none other than Babe Ruth. Ruth would later call that game his biggest thrill. In Bush’s rookie year of 1909, he stole 53 bases, a record that stood until 1992 when Kenny Lofton stole 66. Bush used to say, “It ain’t how big you are, it’s how good you are.”
#3 – Billy Rogell (1925-1940 – played with Tigers from ’30-‘39) – Rogell had the pleasure of playing next to Charlie Gehringer during his 10-year run in Detroit. Rogell and Gehringer formed one of the best keystone combinations in baseball history. The smooth fielding shortstop led the AL in fielding percentage from 1935-’37. He was a key member of the Tigers 1935 World Series championship team. Rogell was a .274 hitter for the Tigers. His 227 doubles rank 16th on the Tigers all-time list while his 64 triples rank 12th. Spending much of his career setting the table for Gehringer, Mickey Cochrane, and Hank Greenberg, Rogell notched 590 walks, 15th on Detroit’s list. Rogell served 36 years on the Detroit City Council after his playing career was over.
Harvey Kuenn (1952-1966 – first 8 seasons with Tigers) – Kuenn’s solid bat and glove are worth mention on the Tigers all-time shortstop list. He hit .314 with the Tigers, 10th all-time. He was selected to 7 All-Star games while with Detroit and won the 1953 AL Rookie of the Year Award. His 244 doubles rank 11th in team history. He scored 620 runs and drove in 423 during his 8-year stretch in Motown. Kuenn spent the last 2 years in a Detroit uniform as an outfielder. Kuenn’s best year came in 1959, his final year with the Tigers when he hit .353 with 42 doubles, 99 runs, and 72 RBI’s and won the AL batting crown in the process. He was then traded to Cleveland for the power-hitting Rocky Colavito. In the early 1980’s he managed a group of Milwaukee Brewers known as “Harvey’s Wallbangers”. They lost the ’82 World Series in 7 games to the St. Louis Cardinals.
For more on my all-time Tigers by position, click the links below: