The big story so far in the first days of the baseball season is the home run hitting of Colorado rookie Trevor Story. Through his first six games, Story belted seven home runs, a record. He hit at least one homer in each of his first four games of the 2016 season, also an MLB record.
As the month progresses we’ll see if Story will be able to eclipse the record for most homers hit in April. That standard is held jointly by Alex Rodriguez (2007 Yankees) and Albert Pujols (2006 Cardinals). Two others, Ken Griffye Jr. (1997 Mariners) and Luis Gonzalez (2001 Diamondbacks) have hit 13 homers in the first month of the season.
The most home runs hit in April by a member of the Detroit Tigers is ten, by Cecil “Big Daddy” Fielder in 1996. In 2006, Chris Shelton tied that mark with one of the most unlikely stretches of slugging in team history.
Let’s take a look at the 14 seasons and the ten different players who have managed to hit at least seven homers for Detroit in April.
Cecil Fielder, 10 HR in 1996
The big fella had many great slugging seasons for the Tigers, the most impressive being his first in 1990 when he smashed 51 home runs. 1996 was his final year with the Tigers, a team that was going nowhere. The front office decided to trade Fielder at the deadline to the New York Yankees. In return they got a pitching prospect Matt Drews (dud) and veteran bat Ruben Sierra.
Cecil’s hot April got him to 26 homers for the Tigers by late July when he was shipped to the Bombers. He hit 13 for the Yanks down the stretch and then helped New York to the World Series. He smacked three homer sin the playoffs and hit .391 in the Fall Classic. Quite a season for Big Daddy.
Chris Shelton, 10 HR in 2006
When the 2006 season started Shelton was 25 years old and had spent five years in the minor leagues with a few short stretches in the big leagues. He had great numbers in the minors, he was obviously a talented hitter, but he didn’t have a position. He hit 18 homers in 103 games for the Tigers in ’05 at first and DH and seemed to be destined for a career as a free swinger without a settled job.
But new manager Jim Leyland liked the redhead. One thing about Leyland: he didn’t care whether a player was young, inexperienced, one-dimensional, old, or from Mars, he just wanted talent. Leyland put Shelton in the starting lineup at first base on opening day and the big right-handed hitter smacked a pair of home runs to help Kenny Rogers to a victory. Two days later he hit two more home runs in Texas (like opening day they were both solo shots). The next day he hit a monster shot for a two-run homer and the Tigers won again to improve to 4-0. They beat the Rangers the next day to go to 5-0 but Shelton could only manage a single and two triples. Practically a slump for him.
Proving that he could hit at home too, Shelton slugged home runs at Comerica Park on April 12th, 13th, 16th, and 17th. That gave him nine home runs in the Tigers’ first 13 games of the season. He was practically a legend by this time, as fans took to wearing red wigs in the stands. He was being called “Red Pop.” He was featured in Sports Illustrated and on a national televsion broadcast. Chris Shelton was the face of the red-hot Tigers. who were somehow in first place under their new manager. Things felt different in Detroit.
But Shelton came down to earth. After he hit his 10th April homer on April 28th, he went two weeks without a homer. He hit only one homer in May and four in June. He hit a very weak .246 in June and July combined. It got so bad that the team sent him to Toledo at the end of July. He managed three homers for the Mud Hens and was called back up for the stretch drive, but Leyland didn’t trust him and he only played in 13 games, batting .211 with only one extra-base hit, a double. He finished the year with 16 home runs and was left off the Tigers’ postseason roster. He had accumulated 72 of his 174 total bases in the first month of the year, or 41%.
Shelton didn’t make the Tigers in 2007, spending the entire year at Toledo where he again proved he could hit minor league pitching pretty well. He saw brief action with Texas and Seattle later but only hit two more homers in his career.
Tony Clark, 8 HR in 1997
The popular tall first baseman had finished third in American League Rookie of the Year voting the previous season when he hit 27 homers. Expectations were high, but no one figured he’d jump out of the gate so quickly in ’97. The switch-hitter had a two homer game against the White Sox in Chicago in the fifth game of the season, then he hit homers in three straight games in the middle of the month. He finished the year with 32 homers and a career-high 117 RBIs.
Brandon Inge, 7 HR in 2009
The controversial Tiger third baseman used his early season success to earn his only All-Star nod: he had 21 homers at the break. He was even asked to participate for the AL in the home run derby at the All-Star Game in St. Louis. In that competition, Inge did not hit a single homer. Maybe it bummed him out, because he managed only six homers in the second half while hitting an anemic .186 with a .281 slugging percentage. Truly a tale of two seasons.
Curtis Granderson, 7 HR in 2009
Between Inge and Granderson, the Tigers had 14 home runs in April of 2009 but only managed a record of 11-10. It was that type of season. Granderson hit six more homers in May and totaled 30 for the season, his highest output as a Tiger. After the season at the winter meetings, he was traded to the Yankees in the three-team deal that brought Max Scherzer, Austin Jackson, and Phil Coke to Detroit.
Miguel Cabrera, 7 HR in 2011
Along with his seven homers, Miggy had eight doubles and 19 RBIs and batted .333 with a sizzling .636 SLG. He did even better in June (seven homers, .376 AVG and .645 SLG) and topped that in September (six homers, .429 AVG and .758 SLG). His hitting helped the Tigers to their first AL Central Division crown. For the season he had 30 home runs.
Miguel Cabrera, 7 HR in 2012
This was the year when Cabrera put it all together. He had at least 20 RBIs in every month, and hit seven homers in April, seven in June, nine in July, eight in August, and 11 in September. He won the triple crown, the first batter to do so since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.
Prince Fielder, 7 HR in 2013
For the third straight season the Tigers had a batter hit seven homers in the opening month. This time it was first baseman Prince Fielder. He had two homers and five RBIs in Detroit ‘s fifth game of the season. He finished April by homering in each of the last two games of the month. But still, of Fielder’s two seasons in Detroit this was the lesser for him at the bat. He hit only 18 homers the rest of the season to finish with 25. In the playoffs he hit .225 with no homers and no RBIs in the ALCS against the Red Sox. In the clubhouse after Detroit was eliminated by Boston, he admitted that losing in the playoffs “wasn’t the end of the world.” While he was technically correct, it didn’t sit well with Detroit fans nor the front office. He was traded for Ian Kinsler in the offseason.
Cecil Fielder, 7 HR in 1990
This was Cecil’s coming out party in the big leagues. After spending the 1989 season playing baseball in Japan, Fielder asserted himself as the most powerful slugger in MLB in 1990. He didn’t hit his first homer until Detroit’s sixth game of the year, against Baltimore at Tiger Stadium. But after that he was remarkably consistent: he essentially hit at least one home run every three or four days the rest of the year, finishing with 51 longballs. In the final game of the season at Yankee Stadium he went deep twice and became the first player to reach 50 home runs since George Foster in 1977.
Mickey Tettleton, 7 HR in 1992
The man they called “Fruit Loops” hit 95 home runs for the Tigers from 1991-1993, one of the best three-year totals in franchise history. In ’92 it didn’t look like he’d have a good start – he was homerless through the Tigers’ first nine games. Then he belted a roundtripper in Cleveland on April 16th. The next week he hit three homers and he hit added three more in the final week of April for his seven. He ended the season with 32 homers, a total he matched the next year.
Cecil Fielder, 7 HR in 1992
This time Cecil homered on opening day against his former team, the Blue Jays at Tiger Stadium. In the second game of the season, he hit two home runs, one off starter Pat Hentgen, the other off Todd Stottlemyre. At the end of teh month he was hitting only .231 but he had the seven home runs and 20 RBIs in 21 games. He would surrender the home run title in ’92 (Juan Gonzalez of the Rangers hit 43), but Fielder did accomplish something rare: he led MLB in RBIs for a third consecutive season. He wrapped the season up with 35 home runs.
Cecil Fielder, 7 HR in 1994
He did it again in ’94 on his way to 28 homers in a strike-shortened season that lasted only 115 games. Fielder played in 109 and still put up 90 runs batted in.
Travis Fryman, 7 HR in 1996
If you’re noticing a trend: that all of the players on this list played within the last 25 years or so, there’s a good reason for that. Prior to the late 1980s, MLB started the regular season a week later than it currently does. The first game of the season would often be played between the 6th and 10th of the April. That meant fewer games in the month, making it harder to hit a lot of homers in the calendar month.
Fryman had two homers in a 15-inning game at Oakland in the fourth game of the season. At the end of April the 27-year old third baseman was hitting .304 with seven homers, 24 RBIs in 26 games, and he sported a .569 SLG. He finished the year with 22 homers and reached 100 RBIs for the first time during his years in Detroit.
Randall Simon, 7 HR in 2002
Like Shelton, Simon was a relative unknown when he had his big April for the Tigers. At 27 years old he had only 191 major league games under his belt when the 2002 season started. Simon had never hit more than 18 homers in the minors, but he was known as a guy who could hit for a high average. In fact, in his brief two seasons as a Tiger, Simon hit .302 in 211 games.
In 2002 he started the season as a left-handed bat off the bench for Phil Garner. He only got seven at-bats under Garner before the Tiger skipper was fired with the team 0-6. Interim manager Luis Pujos must have had a thing for Simon, because he inserted him in his lineup as a designated hitter. Randall hit a home run on April 10th, the second game for the club under Pujos. Four fays later he clubbed a three-run blast against the Twins in Minnesota, the first of three straight games in which he went deep. Simon was getting a lot of other hits too and he finished April batting .348 with seven homers and 20 RBIs after only starting 18 games. He slumped in May, but came back and hit well over .300 in the summer, finishing the year with a .301 mark, 19 homers, and 82 RBIs in 130 games for Detroit.
Simon was famous for being able to put the ball in play: during his time with Detroit in 780 plate appearances he struck out just 58 times. He also walked only 28 times, meaning he obviously rarely met a pitch he didn’t like.
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