Unfortunate timing: The Career of Bobby Higginson

In an 11-year career in Detroit, Bobby Higginson hit 187 home runs.

Usually when someone is really good at something, they have great timing. Talent seems to lead to opportunity. But sometimes an individual is caught in a series of events that almost seem doomed.

Tiger outfielder Bobby Higginson was cursed with poor timing despite being a good ballplayer in Detroit for 11 years.

When Higginson finally scratched his way up the Tigers minor league system to reach Detroit in 1995, he arrived to a team in transition. After the success of the 1980s (only the Yankees won more games), Detroit was an aging team when 24-year old Higginson came on the scene. Sparky Anderson was in his final season, soon to be followed by Buddy Bell, Larry Parrish, and Phil Garner in the ensuing years. Mainstays Kirk Gibson, Alan Trammell, and Lou Whitaker, the last connections to the glory of the 1980s, were hanging up their spikes, or soon would. Higginson stepped into the void, earning an outfield spot on a club that was trying to get younger but didn’t have the prospects on the farm to do so. Tinkering with player pieces in the mid-1990s, the Tigers sank like a car battery in a pond. The result was the worst period in Tigers history, an era of losing season after losing season after losing season.

Meanwhile, Higginson acclimated himself to big league pitching and matured into one of the only bright spots on dismal Detroit ball clubs. Though never a superstar, the undersized Higginson, a left-handed hitter with a compact swing built for Tiger Stadium, topped 25 homers in each of the seasons from 1996-1998, while batting as high as .320. In the outfield, “Higgy” was armed with one of the strongest wings in the league, though opposing runners never seemed to tire of testing him. The Tiger left fielder led the American League in outfield assists four times (with a career-high of 20 in 1997) and finished second on two other occasions.

When the Tigers moved to Comerica Park in 2000, Higginson enjoyed one last great season, hitting 30 homers with 102 RBI and a .300 batting mark. Nevertheless, the Tigers finished at 79-83 – their sixth straight losing season with Higginson. The next season the Tigers began a five-year stretch where they averaged 102 losses per. Higginson toiled and suffered as he entered the downslide of his career. After his 30th birthday, Higgy had a .402 SLG, whereas prior to his 30th, he had posted a .489 mark. The nadir came in 2003, when the team, now managed by Trammell, lost 119 games in an embarrassing performance. That year, Higginson hit just .235 with little pop in his once potent bat. Two years later, after a knee injury forced him to have his second surgery in less than 14 months, Higginson retired after playing just 10 games in 2005. Showing some class, he took out a two-page ad in both of the Detroit newspapers to thank the fans for their support over the years.

In his 11 seasons as a Tiger, Higginson had never been on a winning team. That was bad enough, but he had suffered far longer than that. In three minor league season on four different teams, Higginson had never been on a winning club. Going back to his college career at Temple University in Philadelphia, Higginson was part of four more losing clubs. That meant that Higginson had never been on a team with a winning record, from his freshman year in college through his 11 years in the major leagues.

With a history of losing like that, Higginson couldn’t have blamed for wearing a scowl. But he didn’t. He was a good teammate and played hard on the diamond. Unfortunately for him, his legacy is that of being the best player for a decade of losing by the Tigers.

A year after his retirement, almost as if to rub salt in Higginson’s wounds, the Tigers not only became winners – they won the pennant in 2006. For Higginson it was the final snub on what otherwise had been a very solid career in Detroit.

17 replies on “Unfortunate timing: The Career of Bobby Higginson

  • Matt K

    I never thought Higginson got his fair dues as a solid all-around player in the steroid era. He had 3 great seasons, a few more good seasons, and then it was over at 34. It was too bad that he was identified with awful awful teams.

  • Jimmy

    Bobby Higginson is my favorite Tiger of all time, I am 30 so I started following the Tigers when I was 8 and caught the end of Trammell and Whitaker’s career. Its sad how his career ended and the fact the team was so dreadful during his tenure. His stats are very similar to Kirk Gibson, Gibson was able to play on great teams and have his postseason glory. I thought about Higgy a lot during that 2006 season, how he just missed being part of a winner. I wish him the best, would love to see him back in the organization in some role, maybe as a coach.

  • Jeff

    Higgy was and still is my favorite Detroit Tiger. His 2000 year was one of the greatest in Tiger history. He always played with great energy. He had a cannon for an arm and had good power. I miss him.

  • adam kantrowitz

    I was a huge fan of Higginson, although I’m a Yankees fan. He was a multi-talented, hustling, old-school player, and I kept hoping that one day the Yanks would sign him. He would’ve been a great clubhouse edition to them, or any other MLB team.

  • Paul John Lundy

    Higgy was one of my favorite players. If he had the kind of talent around him that the Tigers have now, he would have had a great career.

  • Number 30

    Higgy may have had the misfortune of playing on loosing teams (personally played on his last 2 in college) but can tell you without question, he made each of his teams competitive with his amazing talent and quite honestly the hope he brought. When were in a game and needed a big hit or some insurance, he ALWAYS came through. He was a lot of fun to watch and great guy in the locker room.

    I will always remember 2 blasts. One was in Lakeland, FL against Oklahoma State where he hit one against their star closer getting some work in during a early season blowout that had to have travelled 500ft. To see OkSt bench go quiet and watch that shot was great. But my best memory was a rocket shot during a team practice (against our ace -who played in the Ranger organization) clearing Girard College’s Gymnasium wall which started well behind the right field fence and was 5-6 stories high. To make the awkward situation of showing up our ace even better, he apologized as he round the bases. We all enjoyed that one.

  • maria g lopez

    My grandson and I went to see the Tigers in 1998, they let my grandson play leftfield ( Bobby Higginson ) spot . He, as well as the other players gave each child a signed ball from that player. I was so fascinated by Mr Higgiinson …Thank You so Much Mr.Higginson…my grandson whose 18 yrs.. remembers that trip.

  • Tim

    Went to Frankfort High(Home of the champions) with Bobby…He was part of a very good team…With Dave Samuels and Dave Boice he did not get allot of recognition but the guy played his ass off every game…He is the type of major league ball player every fan should love…He scratched and clawed to the majors and gave 100% every inning of every game…Carries his self like Chase Utley…I know this article is like a year old but just thought I would comment…I would love to have 1 30 Homerun or 100 RBI or .300+ batting average…Hell I would have loved to have 1 at bat and I think I would have fulfilled my biggest childhood dream…Good job Bobby you made Philly proud…

  • Bruce

    Great story, Dan.
    I loved Higgy. It was quite a sad scene to hear him booed in his final year after he busted his tail every at-bat, every inning.

  • Sandra Bartkowiak

    Bobby was my favorite player. I loved watching him rise to the occasion in the outfield. He was pure Michigan loyal to his team and fans. I never missed a game with Bobby and Trammel. Those were the days.

  • Martin Miller

    Met Bob pre majors as he played for a team in N.E. Philly.He was called out by a friend as being Frankford trash and his reply was” and damned proud of it”.Always down to earth,shoot from the hip honest and generous.Got to see him in ’98 at the old stadium and he and the entire crew/staff at the oarkvtreated us as VIP guests.That whole bunch of guys on that team were gus ya wanted to be around.If you have the time take in a neighborhood game and get to know the players.We will all be better for it!
    Thanks to Heiney,Haav,AJ,Mcnesby,Jimmy Mac,Billy,Kerry,and all the guys that played for teams like Crispin Gardens and Loma over th e years.Great times watching friends play!

  • Carm Stanza

    Carm Stanza, Sr. You hit the nail on the head. I always thought he was never appreciated. Anytime there was a scoring play, he was always in it. Higginson, Inge and Glenn Wilson were never appreciated.

  • Colt Rosensweig

    Higgy was always one of my favorites. My dad took me to my first game in Detroit in 2000 on August 18, Higgy’s 30th birthday. He hit a home run on the way to 10-1 Tigers win. Later I started doing sketches of players. I had one of Higgy and I remember the day I got it autographed, he didn’t sign anything else, just my sketch of him. 🧡💙

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