From a historical perspective, 3rd base has not been a position of particular strength or longevity in the otherwise storied history of the Detroit Tigers. Considering the deep tradition and Hall of Fame players that crowd the Tigers all-time roster, it is hard to fathom finding a position of such relative talent-level scarcity as this one. The player who headlines the list played but 7 seasons for the Tigers and only a select few players deserved consideration for the top 3 third baseman.
#1 – George Kell (1943-1957 – played with Tigers from ’46-‘52) – George Kell came over from Philadelphia and joined the Tigers in 1946 and immediately commenced on a tremendous 7-year run, making him the greatest 3rd baseman in Detroit Tigers history. Kell hit .325 during his tenure with the Tigers, which ranks 4th on the team’s all-time list. His 210 doubles rank 22nd and his .382 on-base % ties for 9th. The 1950 season marked Kell’s career peak as he hit .340 with 218 hits, 56 doubles, 114 runs, and 101 RBI’s. Kell made 6 consecutive All-Star games with the Tigers from 1947-1952. Many Tiger fans will remember him as the play-by-play television announcer for the Detroit Tigers from 1959-1963 and ’65-’96 (37 years). His color man was legendary Tiger Al Kaline. Kell had a laid back approach to broadcasting that endeared him to Tiger fans. He was in the booth for the Tigers’ 1984 World Series championship season. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1983. At his induction speech, he said: “I have always said that George Kell has taken more from this great game of baseball than he can ever give back. And now I know, I am deeper in debt than ever before.” Kell passed away in March of 2009, at age 86.
#2 – Travis Fryman (1990-2002 – first 8 seasons with Tigers) – Fryman was a 1st round draft pick of the Tigers in 1987 and broke in with the big club in 1990. He played quite a bit of shortstop early in his career but is best known for his work as a 3rd baseman. His 149 home runs rank 17th in team history and are tops for a 3rd baseman. Travis knocked in 679 runs during his 8-year stretch in Detroit, which also ranks 17th in club history. He hit .274 as a Tiger and collected 1,176 hits (22nd) and 607 runs (23rd). At the conclusion of the ’97 season, the Tigers sent Fryman to Arizona in a trade, who quickly shipped him to Cleveland prior to the ’98 season where he would go on to finish out his career. His best statistical season in Detroit came in 1993 when he hit .300 with 22 homers, 98 runs, and 97 RBI’s. Fryman was named to 4 All-Star games while in Detroit and won the Silver Slugger in 1992.
#3 – Brandon Inge (2001 – present – 3rd baseman from ’04-present) – Drafted in 1998, Inge broke in with the Tigers as a promising, athletic catcher. When the Tigers signed Pudge Rodriguez prior to the 2004 season, Inge bounced around the diamond, including playing 3rd base, the position that quickly became his home. Inge was once again forced to play catcher when the Tigers added then 3rd baseman Miguel Cabrera via trade. Inge’s defensive value at 3rd proved too high and Manager Jim Leyland moved him back to 3rd, where he remains now. Inge has long been a fan-favorite in Detroit despite hitting just .237 in the big leagues. He has shown flashes of power, hitting 136 homers by the conclusion of the 2010 season (22nd in team history). Inge has played in 1,297 games (16th), has 4,337 at-bats (22nd) and holds the dubious distinction of striking out more than any player in Tiger baseball history (1,109). Inge’s 201 doubles rank 24th in club history. The best year of Brandon’s career came in the Tigers AL championship season of 2006 when he hit .253 with 27 home runs, 29 doubles, 83 runs, and 83 RBI’s. Offensive statistics aside, Inge is one of the most exciting defensive players in the game. He routinely wows the crowd with acrobatic diving plays that are finished off by his strong right arm. Inge was an AL All-Star in 2009 when he received a record 11.8 million votes in mlb.com’s Final Vote for the last man in on the All-Star roster.
Aurelio Rodriguez (1967-1983 – played with Tigers from ’71-’79) – Rodriguez was a tremendous defensive presence for the Tigers throughout the ‘70’s. He won the Gold Glove in 1975, becoming the first 3rd baseman to beat out Brooks Robinson since 1959. Aurelio had the highest field percentage among all AL 3rd baseman in 1976 and 1978. Rodriguez hit .239 with the Tigers and pounded out 85 homers and 423 RBI’s. His 193 doubles rank 27th. In 1971 he hit .253 with 30 doubles, 7 triples, and 15 home runs. Rodriguez was perhaps best known for his “Howitzer” of a right arm, as coined by WJR broadcaster Paul Carey. Sparky Anderson, his manager in 1979, had this to say about Rodriguez, “He probably had as good a pair of hands on him as anybody, and a great arm – the only two arms I’ve ever seen like that, Travis Fryman and him. This guy was a great third baseman.” In a bizarre incident, while visiting from his home in Mexico, Rodriguez was killed in September of 2000 when a woman driving on a suspended license drove over a curb and struck him on a Detroit sidewalk. The only 3 players named Aurelio to play in the major leagues have all died in car accident-related deaths between the ages of 44 and 53, former Tiger Aurelio Lopez and Aurelio Monteagudo being the others.
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