The greatest teammates in Detroit sports history

Greatest teammates in Detroit sports historyWhat does it mean to be a teammate? It’s camaraderie, often friendship, and most importantly — sharing a common goal. The Detroit Lions, Pistons, Red Wings, and Tigers have a long history. Each has climbed to the top to win titles (though some not recently), and each has had their share of great players. At times these players have formed groups — sometimes just two, sometimes more — of great teammates who have helped shape the fortune and history of Detroit sports. Here are the 15 greatest teammates in Motor City sports history.

15. Al “Bubba” Baker & Doug English

There was a time when the Detroit Lions had the best pass rush in football and they were called “The Silver Rush,” spearheaded by Baker and English, two of the most fearsome defensive linemen Detroit has ever had. English was a 6 foot 5 inch monster out of the University of Texas and Baker was even larger at 6 foot 6 with incredible quick reflexes. From 1978 to 1982 (minus one year when English retired briefly due to injuries) the pair terrorized opposing quarterbacks and gave the Lions a rattling defensive presence. Baker recorded 23 sacks in his rookie season, a team record that still stands, and in a game against the Buccaneers he sacked the QB six times. At various times there were several other members of The Silver Rush, but Baker and English were the foundation. Both were selected to the Lions’ All-Time Team.

14. Al Kaline & Harvey Kuenn

For six seasons from 1954-59, Kuenn and Kaline were in the same lineup for the Tigers, combining for several 200-hit seasons and a batting title each. Kuenn outhit the young Kaline, averaging .315 with 190 hits per season, but Al (.311) had more power with 21 homers per year during that stretch. The two combined for 11 All-Star games as teammates in their six years together as regulars. The duo was broken up in spring training in 1960 when Detroit shocked everyone by trading Kuenn to Cleveland straight-up for home run champion Rocky Colavito. Other great teammates who paired with Kaline include Colavito, Norm Cash, and Willie Horton.

13. Herman Moore, Johnnie Morton & Brett Perriman

The greatest receiving trio in Lions’ history and possibly in the history of football if you look at the numbers. In 1994 Moore became the first Detroit receiver to go over 1,000 yards and by that time he and Perriman had been together for four seasons. The next season both Perriman and Moore topped 1,000 yards , setting yardage records for teammates (1,686 for Moore and 1,488 for Perriman) while Morton caught 44 balls for 590. The three were together again in ’96 and Moore & Perriman again topped 1,000 yards while Morton was the big play guy and topped 700 yards. The Lions made six postseasons during this period. After Perriman left, Moore and Morton combined for four more 1,o00-yard seasons. The three were at the top of the list of the Detroit receiving list until Calvin Johnson came along and broke their TD and yardage marks. But Megatron is only one man, and during the 1990s the team had three great receivers at one time.

12. Mickey Lolich & Bill Freehan

For 13 seasons they were teammates and an integral part of the Tigers in the 1960s and early 1970s. And of course they are the two figures in the most iconic photo in Detroit sports history: Lolich in Freehan’s arms after the final out of the 1968 World Series. Freehan caught Mickey so often that when these two are gone they should be buried sixty feet, six inches apart.

11. The Bruise Brothers

There was a time in the NHL when every team had an “enforcer” to protect their top goal scorers and to drop the gloves and fight. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the Red Wings had two: Bob Probert and Joey Kocur. Feeling it was his job to protect Steve Yzerman from opposing team’s “henchmen”, Probert formed rivalries with almost every enforcer in hockey. His greatest battles came against Tie Domi, Stu Grimson, and Wendel Clark. At Probert’s side was Kocur, one of the most penalized players in NHL history, and a tenacious fighter. The two formed a special bond and there was even a dual biography released under the title “Bruise Brothers.”

10. The Greatest Outfield of All-Time

They rarely spoke to each other but together Ty Cobb, Sam Crawford & Bobby Veach formed one of the greatest outfields in baseball history. For five seasons from 1913-17, the trio was the centerpiece of the thunderous Detroit offense while also patrolling the outfield. Cobb was the center fielder and batting champion with daring baserunning skills. Crawford was a power hitter with unparalleled talent in right field and great baserunning instincts of his own. He and Cobb actually had “plays” they would run when one was on base and the other was at the plate or when both were on base — daring baserunning and batting maneuvers that baffled and frustrated opposing teams. Veach was one of the best defensive left fielders of his era and he also swung a mighty bat. Batting behind Cobb and Crawford he led the AL in RBIs twice and frequently was among league leaders in total bases and extra-base hits. During their five years together their offensive averages per season were: Cobb (.376 with 29 doubles, 15 triples, 79 RBI, 61 stolen bases), Crawford (.300 with 20 doubles, 16 triples, and 71 RBI) and Veach (.297 with 29 doubles, 12 triples, and 88 RBI. Those numbers occurred during a period when the league batting average was about .230 and runs were scarce. They broke up after the 1918 season when Crawford, the oldest of the three, opted to go to his native California and earn a lot more money playing ball in the Pacific Coast League. Cobb and Veach played side-by-side in the Detroit outfield for five more years.

9. The Fearsome Foursome

In the 1960s the Detroit Lions were often the bridesmaids and never the bride, coming in second to rival Green Bay several times. The strength of those teams was the defenive line led by Alex Karras, Roger Brown, Darris McCord & Sam Williams, known collectively as “The Fearsome Foursome.” Karras was a ferocious tackler who loved to stuff running backs. Brown was the other tackle, while Williams and McCord played defensive end. In 1964 the group had 50 sacks and followed t up with 49 sacks in 1965, two of the top totals in team history. The group made several Pro Bowls and Karras was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1960s.

8. Charlie Gehringer & Hank Greenberg

As the centerpieces of the Tigers’ famed “G-Men” of the 1930s, second baseman Gehringer and first baseman Greenberg gave Detroit two of the best players to ever play their positions at the same time. As a result, the Bengals won three pennants in a seven-year stretch, highlighted by their first World Series title in 1935. Both players are in the Hall of Fame.

7. The Production Line II

After center Sid Abel was traded away after the 1951-52 season, the Red Wings shuttled in young Alex Delvecchio to play in between Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay on their top line. They hardly missed a beat, winning the Stanley Cup in two of their first three seasons together. Production Line II wasn’t quite as powerful as the first trio, but they spent five seasons together until Lindsay was traded and continued to rack up a lot of points for the Wings. Delvecchio, Howe, and Lindsay are all in the Hockey Hall of Fame and all three have their jerseys hung from the rafters at Joe Louis Arena.

6. The Russian Five

Detroit coach Scotty Bowman had an innovative notion early in his tenure with the Red Wings: take a complete five-man on-ice unit from Russia’s highly-ranked professional leagues and play them together in the NHL. Thus was born “The Russian Five,” one of the most successful and popular groups of teammates in Detroit sports history. The five were: Vyacheslav Kozlov at left wing, Sergei Fedorov at center, Igor Larionov at right wing, and Viacheslav Fetisov and Vladimir Konstantinov on defense. The group dazzled the NHL with their puck-handling and skating abilities at both ends of the ice, helping the Wings deep into the playoffs in each of the four seasons they played together, culminating in the Stanley Cup title in 1997. When Konstantinov was disabled in a car accident just days after the Cup championship, the Russian Five was no more. But four of the five played together in 1997-98 and helped bring the title to Detroit for a second straight year.

5. Isiah Thomas & Joe Dumars

This duo won back-to-back NBA titles and led Detroit to the NBA Finals three straight seasons in an era when Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan were roaming the court. It’s an impressive feat. Thomas was the point guard and court leader, fearless in attacking the basket though undersized. He could take over games with his sharp shooting and dribble drives. He was also nasty and ferocious, having learned how to play tough on the courts of Chicago. A teammate of Isiah for nine seasons, Dumars was a quiet southern kid who idolized Thomas but soon became his capable back court mate after being drafted out of tiny McNeese State in 1985. With his patented rainbow jumper and stifling in-your-face defense, Dumars became a force in the NBA as well, earning six All-Star nods and winning the NBA Finals MVP award in 1989. Isiah ranks as the best small point guard the NBA has ever seen, bar none, winning the Finals MVP in 1990 and being named to 12 All-Star teams. He could have scored 25 points a night, but he sacrificed his own game to create a team that was one of the best in NBA history. Both Thomas and Dumars are in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

4. Steve Yzerman & Nicklas Lidström

For 14 seasons the Red Wings were blessed to have a legendary offensive leader on one side of the puck and a legendary defender on the other side. Yzerman and Lidstrom weren’t just great teammates, they were two of the greatest players to ever lace up skates and they acnhored a Detroit team that won three Stanley Cup titles during a decade run from 1991 to 2002. The two won many accolades, including three Outstanding Player awards for Yzerman, two Stanley Cup playoff MVP awards (one each), and Lidstrom was named top defenseman in hockey a record seven times.

3. Bobby Layne & Doak Walker

There was no time when it was more fun to be a football fan in Detroit than in the 1950s when Bobby Layne was running the offense and slinging the pigskin for the Lions. The jovial Texan was a master at the forward pass years before it was a popular weapon in the NFL. For six years in Detroit he was paired with former high school teammate and buddy Doak Walker, an undersized running back who was fearless when carrying the football. In 1952 and 1953 the duo led the Lions to back-to-back NFL titles, and in 1954 they advanced to the title game again before losing. Both Layne (who was credited with inventing the “two-minute offense”) and Walker (a four-time Pro Bowler) were inducted into the Football Hall of Fame.

2. The Production Line

What do you get when you put three of the best hockey players together on one line? You get greatness. In Gordie Howe, Sid Abel & Ted Lindsay, the Red Wings had three of the most gifted players in the NHL together on the same line from 1947 to 1952, a span of five seasons. In the 1949-50 season when Lindsay won the scoring title, the three finished 1-2-3 in scoring in the NHL, the only time teammates have ever done that. They helped the Wings to Stanley Cup titles in 1950 and 1952 before Abel (the center) was traded away. All three players are enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

1. Alan Trammell & Lou Whitaker

For 19 seasons from 1977 to 1995, Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker were teammates on the Detroit Tigers during one of the most successful stretches in team history. For 16 of those seasons the two formed the starting pair at shortstop and second base. They came up on the same day and played their first big league game together in September of 1977. They reached nearly every milestone as a unit from then on in their amazing careers, establishing themselves as the greatest double play combination in baseball history. They frequently batted 1-2 in the Detroit lineup for Sparky Anderson, Sweet Lou at the top. In 1984 they helped lead the Tigers to their most recent World Series title during a dominant season that culminated with victory at Tiger Stadium. Between them they were named to 11 All-Star games, won seven Silver Slugger awards, and captured seven Gold Gloves. It was impossible to think of one without the other and they even made a cameo appearance on the popular TV show Magnum P.I. in 1983. They played a record 1,916 games together, the most games played by teammates in any professional sport in North American sports history. While neither player has been elected, both are deserving and frequently mentioned as the best candidates not in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

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