It’s a great time to be a Tigers fan and 2012 will be a great season to be sitting in the outfield seats at Comerica Park.
That’s because the Detroit lineup features not one, but two of the best sluggers in the game. Miguel Cabrera is joined by free agent acquisition Price Fielder to form a scary middle of the lineup for Jim Leyland.
Cabrera has already shown how special he is with the stick. In his four seasons as a Tiger the right-handed slugger has won each part of the triple crown: a batting title, home run crown, and RBI title. Now, he has Fielder hitting behind him, a man-child who has 230 career home runs at the age of 27, and who once hit 50 homers for the Brewers. The Tigers powerful duo is unmatched in baseball right now.
A look at the history of the Detroit Tigers shows us that the franchise has had their share of sluggers. Where Cabrera and Fielder will rank among the most productive duos to wear the Tigers uniform remains to be seen. For the next several seasons, the two have a chance to make history with their bats.
Here are Detroit’s 10 greatest power-hitting duos*, ranked by overall home runs, per season averages, and contribution to winning teams.
10. Tony Clark and Bobby Higginson
In the darkest days of the Tiger franchise, when they were losing more games and having more losing seasons than ever before, and baseballs were being hit out of parks more often than ever before, the Tigers had Bobby Higginson and Tony Clark. For seven seasons, from 1995-2001, the switch-hitting Clark and lefty-swinging Higginson were power threats for the Tigers. Each of them had four 20-homer seasons together, topping out with a combined 59 twice.
Combined HR as Tigers teammates: 307 (156 for Clark, 151 for Higgy)
9. Al Kaline and Charlie Maxwell
Al Kaline was not a pure power hitter, not like Mickey Mantle or Ted Williams or Harmon Killebrew, three sluggers who were his contemporaries. No, Kaline was a great natural hitter who hit the ball with zing all over the diamond. But he did hit more than 20 homers nine times, five times when “Paw Paw” Maxwell was his teammate. Maxwell was a heck of a hitter and he had power in his bat. He finished in the AL top ten in home runs four times, including fourth in 1959 with 31. Their best season as a duo was 1959 when they hit 58 taters together.
Combined HR as Tigers teammates: 316 (183 for Kaline, 133 for Maxwell)
8. Lance Parrish and Kirk Gibson
Parrish was the greatest power-hitting catcher the Tigers have ever had, in fact in 1982 he broke a long-standing American League record when he hit 32 homers at his position. He and Gibby were teammates from 1979 to 1986, but Gibson didn’t crack the starting lineup until 1981 and didn’t have his first full injury-free season until 1984. Both of these guys could send a ball a long way. Gibson hit balls over the right field roof, including a famous blast that traveled into the lumber yard across the street. Parrish had mammoth arms, chest, and shoulders and hit a lot of line-drive homers that were in the stands quickly. Their best season was 1984 when they combined for 560 homers while batting third and cleanup, respectively.
Combined HR as Tigers teammates: 321 (195 for Parrish, 126 for Gibby)
7. Willie Horton and Al Kaline
Kaline’s home run buddy from the mid-1960s through the early 1970s was left fielder Willie Horton, who was just about as strong as any man who’s ever worn the Old English D. Horton hit 262 home runs for Detroit, all but 39 of them with Kaline as his teammate. Both right-handed hitters, they had different styles. Kaline was a line-drive hitter, while Horton hit high, long, deep, fly ball home runs. They combined for 56 home runs in 1966.
Combined HR as Tigers teammates: 434 (223 for Horton, 211 for Kaline)
6. Norm Cash and Willie Horton
Like Horton and Kaline, Cash & Horton were teammates for the same 12 seasons (1963-1974). Cash often hit fifth behind Kaline and Horton, and he was more of a power threat than Kaline was. Teamed with Horton, Cash formed a dangerous right/left combo for the Tigers.
Combined HR as Tigers teammates: 498 (275 for Cash, 223 for Horton)
5. Darrell Evans and Kirk Gibson
In two of the four seasons these two were paired together in the Detroit lineup, the Tigers posted the best record in baseball. Evans had a swing built for Tiger Stadium: he lofted high fly balls into the short porch in right field and he rocketed line drives into the lower deck. Gibson and Evans totaled 69 homers in 1985, the third best single-season mark by Tigers teammates.
Combined HR as Tigers teammates: 316 (119 for Evans, 108 for Gibby)
4. Cecil Fielder and Mickey Tettleton
Of all the power hitters who teamed with Fielder during his Tiger days (Rob Deer, Kirk Gibson, Travis Fryman, Tony Clark), Tettleton was the most productive as far as homers were concerned. For four seasons (1991-1994), the switch-hitting Tettleton hit directly behind Fielder in Sparky Anderson’s fearsome lineup. “Big Daddy” averaged 34 homers and Mickey averaged 28 during their time together. Even so, their teams were mediocre.
Combined HR as Tigers teammates: 249 (137 for Fielder, 112 for Tettleton)
3. Norm Cash and Al Kaline
For longevity, no other Tiger power-hitting duo can match these two. Cash hit almost 100 more homers than Kaline in their 15 seasons together: he was healthier, had more natural power, and as a lefty was helped by the shorter dimensions of right field in Tiger Stadium. But few of Cash’s home runs were cheap, he hit the ball hard and far. Kaline and Cash both retired after the 1974 season, one with fanfare, one with humor. The two were teammates for many years but no more different personalities ever existed on a ballclub. Kaline was quiet, aloof, almost stately in his dignified demeanor. Cash was brash, crass, and hard-living.
Combined HR as Tigers teammates: 647 (373 for Cash, 274 for Kaline)
2. Rocky Colavito and Norm Cash
For one season this dynamic duo was scary good. In 1961, Cash and “The Rock” combined for 86 home runs, 272 RBI, 248 runs scored, and 237 walks. They weren’t quite Mantle and Roger Maris, but they were very close. With a lefty (Stormin Norman) and a righty (Colavito) they were about as perfect a pair as was ever in the middle of a Detroit lineup. Their per-season average of combined HR (66) is four higher than that of Fielder and Tettleton. As Tigers, Colavito hit cleanup behind Kaline, and Cash followed Rocky.
Combined HR as Tigers teammates: 263 (139 for The Rock, 124 for Cash)
1. Hank Greenberg and Rudy York
If it wasn’t for Mickey Cochrane, York would probably be in the Hall of Fame. It’s hard to imagine today after so many years, but in the late 1930s and early 1940s, these two were the best right-handed hitting power hitters in the game. The problem was that they played the same position. Greenberg was a .330 hitting, 45-homer, 150+ RBI bat at first base when York was signed by Detroit. A hulk of a man with incredible strength, York was a 19-year old catcher/first baseman but the Tigers had Cochrane behind the plate and Greenberg at first base. The powerful right-handed hitter spent three seasons in the minors (1934-1936) when he was obviously a major league caliber hitter. He won two minor league MVP Awards before finally cracking Detroit’s lineup in 1937 when Cochrane was nearly killed by a pitched ball. York hit 18 home runs in one month as a rookie on his way to 35 for the season. He made seven All-Star teams, led the league in homers and RBI, and was in the top five in home runs nine times during his career. But being stuck in the minors those three years probably cost him 100 homers and 300 RBI. Still, he was a fantastic hitter with raw natural power, described by one observer as “Able to hit the cover off a baseball, quite literally.” We all know about Greenberg, or at least you should. He hit 58 home runs in 1938 and managed 331 for his career despite missing nearly five full years to service in World War II. York and Greenberg hit 91 homers as teammates in 1938, a Tigers record. In their four full seasons in the middle of the Detroit lineup, the sluggers averaged 73 homers and 256 RBI. When Greenberg returned late in the 1945 season, the duo won a World Series title.
Combined HR as Tigers teammates: 360 (187 for Greenberg, 173 for York)
Should Cabrera and Fielder maintain their established levels of production they can challenge the best duos on this list. 2012 will be the first of many chances they’ll have to etch their names in the Tiger record books.
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*For the purposes of my list I focused on duos in the home run era, meaning that Ty Cobb, Sam Crawford, and Bobby Veach, three powerful Tiger sluggers from the Deadball Era, did not make the list. In their day, a power hitter was a batter who hit a lot of doubles and triples, not necessarily the longball, which was not a large part of the game until the 1920s.