Any fan who’s watched a fair amount of baseball will tell you that sometimes there are opposing players who just wear out their favorite team. Stan Musial was such a thorn in the side of the Brooklyn Dodgers that fans would moan, “Here comes that man, again” when Musial strode to the plate in Ebbets Field. Thus the St. Louis Cardinal Hall of Famer got his famous nickname, “Stan the Man”.
Sure enough, a check of the record shows that Musial hit .341 with a slugging percentage near .600 against the Dodgers, both figures well above his career marks. In Ebbets Field, Musial was a real pest: he hit .359 in 163 games with 50 doubles, 13 triples, 37 homers, 126 RBI, and a sizzling .660 slugging percentage. “The Man” indeed!
How have Hall of Fame sluggers fared against Tiger pitching over the years? Hall of Famers are the best of the best, so they’re supposed to perform well, but a few Hall of Famers really put a hurt on Bengal pitching. Using the website Baseball-Reference.com, I found the team-by-team batting records of every Hall of Famer who ever hit 300 homers or more.
Not surprisingly, the “Sultan of Swat”, Babe Ruth, had great success against the Tigers. The “Bambino” hit .338 with a .753 SLG mark against Detroit. He clubbed 118 homers – his most against any opponent – off of Tiger pitching. Incredibly, in 160 games he played at Navin Field in Detroit, Ruth drove in 177 runs. He and the Yankees were a menace to the Tigs. Teammate Lou Gehrig liked the Tigers ballpark even more – he hit .381 in Navin Field during his career.
After Ruth, the opposing player who hit the most homers off Tiger pitching is Jimmie Foxx, the HOF first baseman who played primarily for the Athletics and Red Sox. “The Beast” hit 93 homers against the Tigers, including 52 in Motown. On the other hand, Tiger hurlers held Joe DiMaggio to a .301 career mark, well below his career figure. Yogi Berra, however, feasted on Detroit pitching to the tune of 72 homers, by far his most against any club. Finishing up the Yankee HOF sluggers, Mickey Mantle hit more homers as a visitor in Navin Field than any other park (42) and hit .313 against Tiger pitching.
Boston’s Ted Williams had a .344 career average in his stellar Hall of Fame career. Against Detroit he hit .330 with 88 homers, his most other than against the Athletics. Johnny Mize only started 33 games against the Tigers (he spent much of his career in the National League), but he still managed to hit 33 homers and produce a slugging percentage of .600 in those games. Outfielder Al Simmons spent most of his career facing the Tigers as a member of the Philadelphia A’s. “Bucketfoot Al” hit .319 against the Tigers, below his .335 career mark, but he enjoyed lofting homers against the Bengals, notching 45.
Minnesota’s Harmon Killebrew hit 68 homers off Tiger slants, but besides the power he was held fairly in check. Denny McLain and Mickey Lolich, in particular, had good success against “The Killer”, and Tiger pitching held him to a .241 mark.
No opponent played more games against the Tigers than Carl Yastrzemski. The Hall of Fame Red Sox left fielder hit .287, right about his career mark, against Detroit. He slugged 65 homers against Detroit, his most against any team. Sticking with the Red Sox, neither Jim Rice or Carlton Fisk had particularly glimmering success against the Tigers. Tony Perez, who briefly made a stop in the AL with the BoSox, feasted on Tiger pitching. In 21 games, Tony batted .338 with five homers and a .622 slugging percentage.
With Baltimore and then Cleveland, Frank Robinson faced the Tigers in about a season’s worth of games. He hit just .278 with 28 homers and 78 RBI.
Reggis Jackson is famous for hitting a monstrous homer off the light tower in Tiger Stadium in the 1971 All-Star Game. But his regular season performance against Tiger pitching was pretty dismal. The left-handed slugger batted .245 with a .435 SLG against Detroit, the worst he did against any team. he hit 38 homers off Tiger pitching in 235 games, which figures out to about 26 homers per 162 game season. Far below “Mr. October’s” reputation.
Jackson was briefly a teammate of Hall of Fame outfielder Dave Winfield while with the Yankees. Winfield was a menacing figure at the plate, but Tiger pitching – led by Jack Morris, Dan Petry, and Walt Terrell – held Winfield to just 19 homers in 150 games.
Tiger manager Sparky Anderson had a tremendous amount of respect for George Brett, the Hall of Fame third baseman for the Kansas City Royals. So much respect that he rarely allowed Brett to beat his team. Sparky’s pitchers intentionally walked Brett 28 times, the most of any team. But like a true legend, Brett still punished the Tigers, hitting .307 with 37 homers off Tiger pitching in 190 games. he hit 22 at Tiger Stadium, including two in his final game played there in 1993.
Lastly we come to two Baltimore members of the 300-homer club and the Hall of Fame: Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr. A talented switch-hitter who could hit for average and power, Murray was handled surprisingly well by Tiger pitchers. “Steady Eddie” batted just .257 with a .462 SLG off Detroit arms. Ripken wasn’t as much of a power threat as Murray, but he hit Tiger pitching well: batting above his career mark (.284) with 35 home runs in 218 games.
Summing up, it was the Yankee HOF sluggers who generally performed best against the Tigers (then again, they did well against almost everybody). Ruth, Gehrig, Berra, and Mantle especially pounded Tiger pitching over the course of their careers.