Current Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera is unquestionably the most potent batter in the Tiger lineup, and will be for years to come. But he’s just the latest in a long line of impressive sluggers who’ve played first base for the Detroit Tigers. Here’s the five greatest Tigers to play that position in franchise history.
#5. Cecil Fielder (1990-1996)
Fielder is the greatest free agent signee in franchise history, inking a deal with the club in 1990 after having been in Japan. In Tiger Stadium, Fielder started clubbing homers at an alarming rate: socking 51 of them in his first season to lead baseball. He paced the league again in 1991 with 44, and also led the league in RBI both seasons as he finished runner-up in MVP voting both times. “Big Daddy” was a fan favorite who hit 245 homers for the Tigers, an average of 35 per season. At a time when the team was mediocre and known for little more than being an offensive juggernaut, Fielder was the big man in the lineup.
#4. Rudy York (1934, 1937-1945)
Big Rudy York was a star in his day: a player who slugged his way into the lineup, even forcing our #1 man on this list to change positions. York came up as a catcher, but was never much at handling the tools behind the plate. He could hit as well as any right-hander in the league, though. For the ten years from 1937-1946, York received MVP votes in nine of them, finishing as high as third in 1943 when he led the AL in homers, RBI, slugging, and total bases. He hit 30 or more homers four times for the Tigers, ranking in the top five in that category eight times. In total, he launched 239 homers for the Tigers and averaged more than 105 RBI per season for the club. Detroit moved Hank Greenberg to the outfield to make room for York’s potent bat.
#3. Norm Cash (1960-1974)
When the Tigers sent Don Demeter to the Indians for Norm Cash prior to the 1960 season it was the best trade in franchise history. Cash had a monster season in 1961, leading the league with a .361 average while socking 41 homers. Cash hit 373 homers in a Tiger uniform, a total that ranks second only to Al Kaline. The only left-handed hitter on our list of first basemen, Cash sent many high flies into the short porch in right field at Tiger Stadium. He played more games at first base for Detroit than any other player, and his OPS+ of 139 is the highest of any first baseman who played in the 1960s.
#2. Miguel Cabrera (2008-present)
At just 31 years old entering the 2015 season, Cabrera has a long time to move up this list. In each of his 12 seasons in the majors, Cabrera has received MVP votes, winning twice for Detroit, while also finishing second, fourth, and fifth three times. In 2012 he won the first Triple Crown in baseball since 1967 and he followed it up with a better season in 2013 when he led the league in batting, on-base percentage, and slugging. Miggy has worked hard to make himself into a good defensive first baseman. Assuming he stays healthy and remains a Tiger for most of his contract that runs through 2023, Cabrera has the skill to challenge our #1.
#1. Hank Greenberg (1930, 1933-1941, 1945-1946)
The only Hall of Famer on this list, Hank Greenberg was one of the best right-handed sluggers in baseball history. He won a pair of MVP awards, led the AL in homers three times, and hit 63 doubles in 1934. The original “Hammerin’ Hank,” Greenberg was an RBI machine. He led the league four times in that category, and his top totals were 183, 170, 150, and 146. he missed four and a half years to service in World war II, costing him probably about 180 homers and 550 RBI. As it was, he finished with 331 home runs, a .313 career average, and .605 slugging percentage. Until Cabrera supplants him, Greenberg is the greatest right-handed power-hitter in franchise history.