These are the 10 best “homegrown” Tigers


In the long history of the Detroit Tigers there have been many popular players. They may have been great players, all-stars, clutch performers, or just plain fun to watch. It didn’t matter where they were from, if they played hard for the Tigers, fans embraced them.

But if they happened to come from Michigan, it made it all the more special. Here are the ten best homegrown Tigers: players who were born and or raised in Detroit or Michigan.

10. Barney McCosky, Detroit Southwestern High

McCosky was signed to a pro contract by the Tigers at the age of 18 out of the high school in 1936. He was a multi-sport star at Southwestern, a fast athlete who excelled at football and track. The outfielder debuted with the Tigers in 1939 and in his four full seasons with Detroit, McCosky earned MVP votes every year. His best year was 1940 when he was the leadoff man for the pennant-winning Tigers, hitting .340 with 123 runs scored, 200 hits, 39 doubles, 19 triples, and more walks than strikeouts. McCosky missed three full years while he served in the military in World War II, then he was traded by Detroit to the A’s for George Kell. That deal worked out pretty damn well for the Tigers, but McCosky still had a decent career, hitting .312 for his 11-year career. After his playing days were over, Barney sold automobiles for years in Dearborn.

9. Charlie Maxwell, Paw Paw

The Lawton High School product went on to play at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, but the Tigers didn’t draft him initially, he was snatched up by the Red Sox. But Maxwell found it hard to get playing time in Boston’s crowded outfield and on May 11, 1955, the Tigers made one of their best moves by signing Charlie after the Sox released him. In eight seasons with Detroit, the left-handed hitting Maxwell took a liking to Briggs Stadium and earned two All-Star selections. He had a knack for hitting home runs on Sundays and fans called him “Paw Paw” because he made his offseason home in that southwestern Michigan town. He still owns a home there.

8. Jim Northrup, Breckenridge

Attended St. Louis High School in St. Louis, MI, and later briefly starred at Alma College. The Tigs drafted him as an amateur free agent in 1960 and four years later he was in the Detroit outfield. He had several clutch hits during the ’68 season and later blasted the game-winning hit in Game Seven when his line shot went over the head of Cardinals’ center fielder Curt Flood. “The Silver Fox” hit 153 homers in his eleven seasons in the Motor City and was immensely popular with fans. After his playing career he was a longtime broadcaster for the team.

7. Frank Tanana, Detroit

At Detroit Catholic Central, Tanana was one of the best pitchers the city ever saw, a flamethrower with pinpoint control. He was also an excellent basketball player and a fierce competitor. He was a highly sought after athlete who was drafted by the Angels early in the first round of the 1971 MLB Draft. The lefthander had several excellent seasons with the Halos as a hard thrower but he became a popular Tiger in mid-career after an arm injury had sapped him of his 100-mph fastball. Detroit acquired him in the middle of the ’85 season when he was a “crafty lefthander,” hoping to bolster a pitching rotation for another run at the pennant. In 1987 Tanana etched his name in Detroit lore when he spun a masterful 1-0 shutout on the final day of the season to clinch the division title. He pitched eight years for Detroit, winning his 200th game while wearing the Old English D. He makes his home in Detroit and is a frequent guest at Tigers’ alumni functions.

6. Mickey Stanley, Grand Rapids

probably one of the three or four most popular players in Detroit Tigers history, Stanley was well respected for his skill and team-first attitude. Invariably when anyone talked about Stanley they used the word “professional.” He attended Ottawa Hills High School and later played baseball at Grand Rapids Community College. He came up through the Tigers system with fellow Michiganders Freehan, Horton, and Northrup, playing with them on the ’68 title team. That season manager Mayo Smith famously switched Stanley to shortstop even though Mickey had never played short at the big league level. He handled the moved wonderfully, making a pair of meaningless errors at the position in the Fall Classic. Stanley won three Gold Glove Awards for his play in center field and spent all 15 years of his career with Detroit. He splits time in retirement between his hometown and Florida where he likes to pal around with his former teammate and good friend Mickey Lolich.

5. Kirk Gibson, Pontiac

Of all of the players on this list, Gibby was the most competitive. He was also the fastest and next to Horton maybe the strongest. Gibson starred at Waterford-Kettering High and earned a football scholarship from Michigan State University where he led the Spartans in receiving yards. Gibson walked on to the MSU baseball team because it was his favorite game to play. After putting up eye-popping numbers the Tigers took a chance and drafted Gibson with their first pick in the 1978 MLB Draft. A year later Gibson hit his first big league homer and two years after that he was starring for the Tigers in center field. In 1984 he was a key part of the Tigers championship season. He spent two stints with the Tigers, returning to them in the 1990s to play some inspired ball before ending his baseball career in a Detroit uniform. His connection to the team remained strong after hanging up his spikes: he served as a broadcaster, bench coach for friend Alan Trammell, and as a broadcaster again after his own managerial career ended. In 2015 he revealed that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

4. Willie Horton, Detroit Northwestern High

When he was only 14 years old, Willie Horton was already making a name for himself as a baseball player on the sandlots of Detroit. When Willie was 16 he hit a home run at Tiger Stadium in the city championship game. At 22 in 1965, Horton hit 29 home runs and finished eighth in AL MVP voting in his first full season for Detroit. For the last 55 years, since he first signed with the Tigers in 1961, Horton has almost continuously been employed by the franchise in one capacity or another, save for a few brief spells playing or coaching elsewhere. He is so revered by Detroit fans that he’s the only non-Hall of Famer to have a statue at Comerica Park.

3. Hal Newhouser, Detroit

After starring for Wilbur Wright High School in Detroit, Newhouser was signed by the Tigers when he was 18 years old in 1939. That was the days before an amateur draft, but if there had been one, Newhouser would have been picked very early. As it was, the young lefty was pitching in Navin Field by September in 1939, and the next season when he was only 19 he won nine games. He was the best pitcher in baseball during the war years, winning 80 games in the three-year stretch of 1944-46, capturing two MVP awards. In 1945 he won two games in the World Series to lead the Tigers to their second championship. He is the only pitcher who spent most of his career in Detroit to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and he ranks as the Tigers’ greatest lefthander of all-time.

2. Bill Freehan, Detroit

Born in the city of Detroit, Freehan went to Royal Oak High School and earned a multi-sport schoalrship to the University of Michigan, where he wisely chose baseball. The tall granite-like Freehan was baseball’s best catcher in the 1960s and he was named an All-Star eleven times while also winning five Gold Gloves. After he retired as a player in 1976, Freehan went back to his alma mater a few years later to coach their baseball team, guiding the Wolverines to the College World Series. He has failed to receive much support for the Hall of Fame, despite being one of the most qualified candidates at his position. He still lives in Michigan and it’s been reported in recent years that his health has not been good.

1. Charlie Gehringer, Fowlerville

Went to Fowlerville High School and briefly attended U of M, where he also played basketball. With Newhouser, Gehringer is one of only two Hall of Famers on this list. He played his entire 19-year career with the Tigers, helping the team to three pennants and their first World Championship in 1935. He posted a .320 career average and was one of the greatest second basemen in baseball history, earning Hall of Fame honors in 1949. Two years later the Tigers made him general manager, a job which Gehringer never liked. He left baseball a few years later and sold fabric to the auto industry until his retirement in the 1970s. He was one of the first Tigers (with teammate Hank Greenberg) to have his uniform number retired by Detroit.