The Detroit Tigers have a legendary tradition and a large part of that derives from some of the outstanding pitchers that have taken the mound in Detroit. The all-time Detroit Tigers starting rotation has proven the most difficult to rate out. Weighing pitchers’ accomplishments from over a century’s worth of generations is particularly daunting, especially considering the different eras that are in play, such as the dead ball era and the contrasting steroid era. Only a select few Tigers have earned the positions top honor; the Cy Young Award. Some of these stars have even won the league’s MVP award for their outstanding work. Read on to find out who made the cut and who hung on as an honorable mention. Comments are always welcomed.
#1 – Hal Newhouser (1939-1955 – first 15 seasons with Tigers) – Hailing from Detroit, Michigan, “Prince Hal” Newhouser was quite simply considered the best pitcher of the World War II era. He is the Tigers’ all-time “ace”. Denied entry to the war due to a leaky heart valve, Newhouser, a lefty, used his high leg kick and rose to prominence during the mid ‘40’s, helping carry the Tigers to the 1945 World Series Championship. He won over 20 games 4 times, including a career-high 29 in 1944. In ’46, along with his 26 wins, he set a career-high with 275 strikeouts. In ’45, he posted a career low 1.81 ERA. Newhouser’s name is well represented on the all time Tigers pitching ranks, including 200 wins (4th) to go against 148 losses. His 1,770 K’s rank 3rd, 33 shutouts (3rd), 212 complete games (4th), and his ERA as a Tiger was just 3.07. Prince Hal was a 7-time All-Star with the Tigers and was named the AL MVP and Pitcher of the Year in both 1944 and ’45. Newhouser’s #16 was retired by the organization in 1997, a year before his death. He was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1992 via the Veteran’s Committee entry method. His Tigers record was 200-147 and he is the only pitcher in MLB history to win back-to-back league MVP awards.
#2 – Mickey Lolich (1963-1979 – first 13 seasons with Tigers) – Mickey Lolich’s career achievements are second to only Hal Newhouser in the great tradition of the Detroit Tigers. The lefty’s 2,679 K’s rank 1st in team history and are nearly 700 more than Jack Morris who is 2nd on that list. Lolich threw 39 complete games, also tops in club history as are his 459 career starts and 508 games pitched. His 190 complete games rank 6th. Lolich compiled a 207-175 record during his illustrious career. The 207 wins rank 3rd all time. His lifetime ERA was a sparkling 3.45. Lolich is probably the best big-game pitcher in team history. He won all 3 of his starts in the ’68 World Series, including the game 7 clincher. He went the distance in all 3 games, allowing just 5 earned runs total. No pitcher has won 3 complete games in a World Series since.1971 marked the pinnacle of Lolich’s career as he won 25 games and struck out 308 batters in a Cy Young runner-up season. He was an All-Star 3 times (’69, ’71, and ’72), was the ’68 World Series MVP, and won the Babe Ruth Award in 1968. Somehow, Mickey is not in the Hall of Fame. According to him, it is his lack of a Cy Young trophy that has held him back all these years in the voter’s minds. Lolich was a humble superstar, a trait that endeared him to the working-class citizens of the Detroit area. He stays active with the Tigers as a coach at the team’s annual Fantasy Camp.
#3 – Jack Morris (1977-1994 – first 14 seasons with Tigers) – The fiery Jack Morris racked up more wins (162) in the 1980’s than any other pitcher in baseball. April 7th, 1984 marked the day that Morris no-hit the Chicago White Sox in their own yard, on NBC’s Game of the Week no less. Morris was an All-Star 4 times while with the Tigers (’81, ’84, ’85, and ’87). He was the ace of the Tigers staff during the 1984 World Series Championship season and the ’87 playoff year as well. He won 2 games in the ’84 series. Morris was the 1981 TSN Pitcher of the Year and won the Babe Ruth Award in 1984. Morris was one of the pioneers of the split-fingered fastball that is widely used today. His use of this pitch led to his 206 career wild pitches, 8th all-time in MLB history. 1986 was probably Morris’ best season as he went 21-8 with a 3.27 ERA and 223 K’s. Morris’ 1,980 K’s with the Tigers ranks 2nd on the all-time list. He was 198-150 as a Tiger with a 3.73 ERA. The 198 wins ranks 5th, 408 starts (2nd), 154 complete games (8th), and 24 shutouts (8th).
#4 – Denny McLain (1963-1972 – first 8 years with Tigers) – What Denny McLain accomplished in his 5 full years as a starter for the Tigers represents an unmatched level of achievement. McLain’s magical season of 1968, along with Mickey Lolich, propelled the Tigers to the World Series championship. In that memorable year, Denny was 31-6 with a 1.96 ERA in 41 starts covering 336 innings. He had 28 complete games, 6 shutouts, and struck out 280 batters. No player has won 30 or more games since. McLain’s 117 wins rank 13th on the Tigers all-time list, despite playing about half the number of games as the average pitcher on the list ahead of him. His 1,150 K’s ranks (9th), 26 shutouts (7th), and he posted a record of 117-62 with a 3.13 ERA. His .654 winning % as a Tiger is higher than any other pitcher on this list. McLain lost games 1 and 4 of the ’68 World Series to Bob Gibson and the Cardinals before winning game 6 on just 2 days rest. McLain was an AL All-Star 3 times (’66, ’68, and ’69), was the AL MVP in 1968, won the Cy Young in ’68 and ’69, and was also named the TSN Pitcher of the Year during those same 2 seasons. As quickly as he came, McLain’s star faded just as fast. His run-ins with the law, inconsistent explanations regarding injury, and undermining behavior toward management are legendary. Arm trouble and illegal gambling activity were the ultimate undoing of the amazingly talented pitcher. He was out of baseball by age 29.
#5 – Tommy Bridges (1930-1946) – Bridges played his entire career with the Tigers and was a key member of the 1935 World Series championship team and was also a member of the ’45 World Series winning team. Tommy was named an AL All-Star 6 times in his career. He won over 20 games in 3 straight seasons (’34-’36) and was 194-138 overall. His career season came in ’36 when he posted a career high in wins and K’s with 23 and 175 respectively, with a 3.60 ERA. Tommy ranks near the top of the list in almost every all-time Tigers pitching category, including 194 wins (6th), 1,674 K’s (4th), 33 shutouts (3rd) and 200 complete games (5th). Tommy was a strikeout expert of his era, ranking in the top 3 in K’s/9 innings 7 different seasons. He led the AL in strikeouts in ’35 and ’36. He was also among the league leaders in ERA 10 times, including a career-best 2.39 ERA in 1943. Bridges is the answer to the trivia question of: who gave up Babe Ruth’s 700th career home run. He missed all of the 1944 season and all but one regular season start and one relief appearance in the World Series during the 1945 season due to serving in World War II. Bridges and Hank Greenberg are the only 2 Tigers in history to play in 4 separate World Series’ (’34, ’35, ’40, and ’45).
George Mullin (1902-1915 – first 12 seasons with Tigers) – Mullin was Detroit’s best pitcher at the beginning of the 1900’s. He was a durable, hard throwing right-hander with command issues. Mullin holds several Tiger team records including complete games in a season (42), innings pitched in a season (382.1), and his 209 wins rank 2nd to only “Hooks” Dauss. His 131 hit batsmen over the course of his career ranks 19th on MLB’s all-time list. On the 4th of July, 1912 (and also his 32nd birthday), Mullin threw the first no-hitter in Tigers history. He won 20 or more games in a season 5 times, topping out at 29 in 1909. During the Tigers’ World Series years of 1907-’09, Mullin started 6 of those games, throwing complete games in all 6 with a 1.86 ERA. His 29 win season in 1909 was his best all around year. He was 29-8 with a 2.22 ERA and 124K’s. Mullin pitched and beat the Cleveland Indians in the first ever game at Navin Field (Briggs Stadium, Tiger Stadium).
Dizzy Trout (1939-1957 – first 14 seasons with Tigers) – “Dizzy” Trout had a remarkable career with the Detroit Tigers. The reason I held him out of my top 5 is because the bulk of his success came during the World War II years, when the major league talent pool was severely diluted. Trout rattled off 82 of his 161 wins during the War time. However, his career accomplishments simply cannot be ignored. He was 161-153 with a 3.20 ERA while with the Tigers. 1944 marked Dizzy’s career year. He went 27-14 with a 2.12 ERA, 33 complete games, 7 shutouts, and 144 K’s. Trout was an All-Star in ’44 and ’47, and alongside Hal Newhouser, powered the Tigers to the ’45 World Series Championship. During the pennant drive at the end of the season, Trout pitched 6 out of 9 games, winning 4 of them, helping land the Tigers in the World Series against the Cubs. Dizzy was 1-1 with a 0.66 ERA in the series, winning game 4 by tossing a 1-run, 5-hitter. When the servicemen returned, Trout’s performance tailed off and he wasn’t the dominant force that he was in the mid ‘40’s. Trout finished 2nd to Newhouser in the 1944 AL MVP voting as they were 1-2 in almost every relevant pitching statistic that year. Trout’s all-time Tiger rankings include 28 shutouts (6th), 161 wins (7th), 156 complete games (7th), and 1,199 strikeouts (8th).
Jim Bunning (1955-1971 – first 9 seasons with Tigers) – After getting his feet wet in ’55 and ’56, Bunning burst onto the scene as a strikeout machine in 1957 and never looked back. In his final seven seasons in Detroit from ’57-’63, Bunning fanned between 182 and 201 hitters per season, posting double digit wins in each. 1957 was probably his best all around season as he was 20-8 with a 2.69 ERA, 14 complete games, and 182 K’s. On July 20th, 1958, Bunning fired a no-hitter against the Boston Red Sox. He is one of only 5 pitchers in MLB history to throw a no-no in both leagues, as he threw a perfect game for the Phillies in 1964. Bunnings was 118-87 with a 3.45 ERA for the Tigers. His 118 wins ranks 12th on the all-time Tigers list. He ranks 5th in K’s (1,406) and 13th in shutouts (16). He was an All-Star 5 times while in Detroit and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996 via the Veteran’s Committee.
Justin Verlander (2005-present) – After receiving a few spot starts in 2005, Verlander’s star broke loose in 2006 as he helped push the Tigers to a World Series appearance. JV was the Tigers’ 1st round pick (2nd overall) in the 2004 Amateur Draft. Since breaking in full time in 2006 he has been one of the most consistently outstanding pitchers in all of baseball. Verlander won the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 2006 and on June 12th, 2007, threw the 1st no-hitter in Comerica Park history against the Brewers. He struck out 12 and walked 4 in that game. Justin has been named to 3 All-Star games thus far (’07, ’09, and ’10). 2009 marked Justin’s best season to date as he led the league in strikeouts with 269, innings pitched (240), and tied for the league lead with 19 wins. His 83 wins already rank 24th on the Tigers’ all-time list and his 965 K’s rank 15th. Verlander followed up his dominant 2009 by posting his career-low ERA in 2010 at 3.37 and struck out 219 more batters. When Justin’s career eventualy comes to a close, I’d be surprised if he isn’t included among the top 5 pitchers in Detroit Tigers history. Legendary Atlanta Brave Chipper Jones had this to say about Justin: “My God, that guy’s throwing 100 miles an hour in the 6th inning, you’re not going to mount much against him. It’s really tough for the best hitters in baseball to put that in play consistently.”
For more on my all-time Tigers by position, click the links below: