While preparing my all-time Detroit Tigers team by position, there were a few players who didn’t have a perfect home or didn’t rank quite high enough at their most obvious defensive position. However, due to their versatility and ability to play multiple positions, they were able to find a home on my all-time utility players list. Read on to find out who made the cut. Comments are always appreciated and don’t forget to vote in the poll.
#1 – Mickey Stanley (1964-1978) – Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Mickey Stanley played his entire career with the Tigers. He was primarily an outfielder but also played every infield position except for catcher and his career resume lands him a spot on the all-time utility list for the Detroit Tigers. Stanley was a lifetime .248 hitter but it was his versatility and superb defense that set him apart, especially in the epic 1968 World Series. With the Tigers having already clinched the pennant, and in anticipation of facing the Bob Gibson-led St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, manager Mayo Smith replaced the weak-hitting Ray Oyler with Stanley for the final 9 games of the season. Stanley had never played shortstop in the major leagues. Stanley held his own, committing 2 harmless errors in the World Series. The primary advantage was that Stanley’s bat came through as hoped, particularly in game 5 when he tripled and scored 2 runs in a crucial come-from-behind victory. ESPN rated Mayo’s moving of Stanley to shortstop as one of the 10 greatest coaching moves of the 20th century. For his career, Stanley hit 117 homers and knocked in 500 runs. He won 4 Gold Gloves while with the Tigers (’68-’70, and ’73). Stanley’s 1,243 hits rank 18th on the Tigers all-time list. He hit a career-high .292 in 1971. Mickey played 1,290 games at multiple outfield positions, 94 at 1st base, 4 at 2nd, 18 at 3rd, and 74 at shortstop. When speaking on the topic of being struck out by Nolan Ryan, Stanley is famously quoted as saying, “Those were the best pitches I ever heard.”
#2 – Tom Brookens (1979-1990 – first 10 seasons with Tigers) – Brookens was the 4th overall pick in the 1975 amateur draft by the Detroit Tigers and went on to have a nice 10-year career, becoming a fan favorite in the process. His best offensive season came in 1980 when he hit .275 with 25 doubles, 9 triples, 10 homers, 64 runs, 66 RBI’s, and 13 stolen bases. Overall, he hit .246 in a Tiger uniform, and helped spark the Tigers 1984 World Series championship season. Brookens had 871 hits for the Tigers, including 162 doubles, 38 triples, and 66 homers. His 85 steals ranks 24th on Detroit’s all-time list. On July 20th, 1985, Brookens caught the last 5 innings of an extra inning win over the Rangers. This was the only time in his professional career that he played catcher. He played 979 games at 3rd base, 136 at 2nd, 109 at short, 4 in the outfield and that 1 infamous game behind the dish. Brookens was perhaps most recognizable during his time with the Tigers for his dense mustache and seemingly always dirty uniform. Brookens now serves as the 1st base coach for the Tigers.
#3 – Tony Phillips (1982-1999 – played with Tigers from ’90-’94) – Tony Phillips, using his extremely crouched batting stance, had a dynamic 5-year run with the Tigers in the early 90’s after coming over from the Oakland A’s. Batting leadoff, the switch-hitting Phillips was tenacious at drawing walks and finding a way to cross home plate. In 1992, Phillips led the AL with 114 runs scored. He ranks 30th on the Tigers all-time runs scored list. In ’93, Tony led the AL with 132 walks and scored another 113 runs while hitting .313. His 519 walks with the Tigers ranks 18th on the all-time list, despite playing just 5 seasons in Detroit. On top of hitting an impressive .281 for the Tigers during his 5-year run, Phillips was one of the most versatile defenders in the history of Tiger baseball. He played 345 games at various outfield positions, 203 at 2nd base, 171 at 3rd, and 25 at shortstop. During Tony’s impressive ’93 campaign, he entered unchartered territory by becoming the first player in MLB history to have more than 100 hits, walks, runs, and strikeouts in a season, while hitting less than 10 home runs. No player has done it since. Phillips was also an incessant sunflower seed spitter. It was actually somewhat hard to watch while he was in the batter’s box. Then local color man and legendary Tiger Al Kaline often mistakenly referred to Phillips as Tony Taylor during broadcasts, Taylor was a 2nd baseman for the Tigers in the early ‘70’s.
Johnny Wockenfuss (1974-1985 – first 10 seasons with Tigers) – Using his unusual batting stance, Johnny Wockenfuss instantly became a fan favorite in Detroit. He was a unique utility player in that he played a lot of catcher, first base, and outfield, a combo rarely seen these days. “Fuss” hit .261 while with the Tigers and pounded out 80 home runs (43rd on Detroit’s all-time list). He had a .346 on-base % and .439 slugging %. 1980 was Johnny’s career year when he hit .274 with 16 homers, 65 RBI’s, and a .390 on-base %. This was the only season of his career in which he played more than 100 games. Sparky Anderson once said this about the plodding Wockenfuss, “Problem with Wockenfuss getting on base is that it takes three doubles to score him.” Just prior to the Tigers magical title season, on March 24th, 1984, Fuss was involved in a blockbuster trade. The Tigers traded Wockenfuss and Glenn Wilson to the Philadelphia Phillies for Dave Bergman and Willie Hernandez. Willie would go on to win the AL MVP and Cy Young Award in 1984. As proof of his versatility, Johnny played 246 games behind the plate, 110 in the outfield, 138 at first base, and even one game at third base.
For more on my all-time Tigers by position, click the links below: