Some of the greatest hitters in baseball history have been Tiger outfielders. Here I pick the greatest left fielders to ever wear the Olde English “D”, including a Detroit sandlot hero, a matinee idol, a man who never played on a winning team, a Hall of Famer with a famously big schnozz, and “the other guy” in the greatest outfield in baseball history.
#5. Bobby Higginson (1995-2005)
Poor Bobby Higginson. He never played on a winning team. And we mean NEVER. In high school and college his teams had losing seasons, but he still made his way into professional baseball, where he played for losing teams in all 11 seasons of his big league career, all with Detroit. Higginson was never a super star, but he was a lone star on many pitiful Tigers’ clubs. His best assets were his strong throwing arm and the fact that he could hit a low fastball. When he ran into a fastball here and there he put together some decent seasons, hitting as many as 30 homers. Almost as if he was a perpetual jinx, Higginson retired after the 2005 season and the Tigers promptly went to the World Series the next year.
#4. Goose Goslin (1934-1937)
A Hall of Famer, Goose Goslin was a really, really good ballplayer. His nickname came not from his long nose but from a corruption of his last name. Goslin starred for several years for Washington, where the ballpark was so cavernous he rarely hit homers there. In cozy Briggs Stadium he hit a few more, but more importantly he continued to drive in runs. Driving in runs was Goslin’s specialty. In each of his three full seasons as a Tiger he plated more than 100 runs. In his 15 seasons as a regular in the league he drove in 100 or more 11 times, and once he drove in 99. He was one of the most clutch players of his era and his hit won the 1935 World Series, the Tigers first title. The gap between Higginson and Goslin on our list is about as wide as the Grand Canyon.
#3. Rocky Colavito (1960-1963)
One of the most charismatic players of his era, Rocky Colavito was a marvelous physical specimen. He came over to the Tigers in the blockbuster trade for shortstop Harvey Kuenn, the only trade that involved the reigning batting and home run champions. In his first season as a Tiger he hit 35 homers, the next year he belted 45 and became a matinee idol to adoring female fans in Detroit. He was a perfect complement to Al Kaline in the Tiger lineup, giving Detroit two of the best right-handed hitters in the American League. “The Rock” had one of the strongest throwing arms, so good that few runners would ever try to take an extra base on him. He averaged 35 homers and 108 RBI for Detroit in his four seasons, which included two All-Star appearances. He ranks slightly ahead of Goslin here because he gave the Tigers four full seasons, as opposed to Goose’s three.
#2. Willie Horton (1963-1977)
No other Detroit-born player has ever risen to the level of stardom that “Willie the Wonder” did. A man with herculean strength, Horton reportedly once broke a bat on a check swing! the right-handed slugger was the primary home run threat (36 taters) on the 1968 World Series championship club, and he had several fine power seasons for the Tigers. Willie’s .272 average and .457 slugging percentage look modest now, but he spent his career playing in a league where run scoring was about 80% of what it is today. He clubbed 325 homers in his career, 262 in a Tigers’ uniform and all of them while wearing the same helmet. He was so popular that he’s the only non-Hall of Famer to have a statue in Comerica Park.
#1. Bobby Veach (1912-1923)
Modern fans may not be familiar with Bobby Veach, but he was a fantastic outfielder and one of the best offensive players in the American League during his prime. In many ways he was sort of the Jim Rice of his era. He led the AL in RBI three times and topped 100 in that category six times (once more with 99). He led the league in doubles twice, triples once, and was frequently among league leaders in slugging, extra-base hits, and total bases. For five seasons Veach teamed with Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford to form one of the greatest outfields in history, if not the greatest. Veach hit .310 over his 14-year career, averaging 104 RBI per season. In the field Veach was simply the best defensive left fielder the Tigers have ever had. He played extremely shallow because he could go back on the ball very well, and he had a tremendous throwing arm. He’ll never make the Hall of Fame because he was overshadowed by Cobb and Crawford, but Veach is better than many other players who are enshrined in Cooperstown.