The hot corner is a demanding position, one that requires great reflexes, sure hands, and a strong arm. Through the years, the Tigers have fielded several fine players at the Hot Corner. Here are the five greatest to ever man third base for Detroit.
#5. Brandon Inge (2001-2012)
Not all Tiger fans were enamored with Inge, and he was clearly the worst choice for the Home Run Derby ever, but he did have a few things going for him that place him at #5 on our list. First, he had longevity: in his dozen seasons as a Tiger, more than half of that was spent as the starter at the hot corner. Inge was also very gifted defensively, and though he never won a Gold Glove, he probably should have won at least one. He had good range to his left and his arm was so strong that he could make plays on the line and still get the runner at first. His best season came in 2009 (the year of his fateful selection as a Derby participant) when he banged 27 homers and was an All-Star. On the other side of the ledger, Inge frequently went into long slumps where he struggled to make contact, striking out a lot. Still, his 999 games at third base rank third in franchise history behind Don Wert and the all-time leader …
#4. Aurelio Rodriguez (1971-1979)
Similar to Inge, Rodriguez was a great-field, no-hit type. Fortunately for Detroit, the smiling Rodriguez was one of the very best with the leather at the hot corner, during his era or any other. In 1976 he finally wrestled away the Gold Glove from Brooks Robinson, but he should have won many more. Never part of a great Tiger team, Rodriguez was still popular with the fans. A testament to his glove work is the fact that he played more than 2,000 games in 17 years in the big leagues despite hitting just .237 in his career. His 1,235 games at third base is the most in Detroit franchise history.
#3. Travis Fryman (1990-1997)
Like Inge and Rodriguez, Fryman had a cannon for an arm. But Fryman was a much better offensive player than the other two. The anointed successor to Alan Trammell at shortstop, Fryman was shifted to third base because Trammell wasn’t done playing yet. Travis was a right-handed hitter with power, hitting 20 or more homers five times as a Tiger. He was an All-Star four times and he eventually did succeed Trammell at shortstop, before being traded to Arizona after the 1997 season.
#2. Ray Boone (1953-1958)
When Ray Boone was acquired from Cleveland early in the 1953 season he was struggling at the plate. At 29 years old, the Indians felt they’d waited long enough for Boone to mature as a hitter. He was already one of the best defensive third basemen in the game, so the Tigers gladly made a deal for him. As if by magic, Boone’s bat was transformed in a Tiger uniform. In 1953 he hit .312 with 22 homers for the Tigers after the trade. The next season he hit 20 homers and was an All-Star, the following year he led the league with 116 RBI. In 1956 he had another fine year, hitting .308 with 25 homers and 81 RBI. The Tigers dealt him away just as his skills were starting to wane, but for six seasons in Detroit he was one of the best third basemen in the game.
#1. George Kell (1946-1952)
If anyone could ever hit a baseball hard, it was George Kell. A renowned line-drive hitter, Kell hit everywhere he went, which included five of the eight American league clubs. In his seven seasons as a Tiger, the Arkansas-native hit .325 and famously won the 1949 batting title when he edged Ted Williams in the closest race in history. Kell hit .300 ten times and led the league in doubles twice, both times as a member of the Tigers. Hitting made Kell an All-Star, but his fielding made him a Hall of Famer. Kell was the best defensive third baseman in the American League in the late 1940s and into the 1950s. He was sure handed and had great range at the hot corner. In his final two seasons in Baltimore, Kell tutored young Brooks Robinson, handing him the torch as the AL’s best at third. Kell is the only Hall of Fame third baseman the Detroit Tigers have ever had.