As we continue exploring the greatest Detroit Tigers by position of all-time, we’ve already made a case for the Tigers best catcher and first baseman; we now focus in the middle of the diamond and second base.
Qualifying requires a minimum of 5-years in the old English D, with a majority of time played at this position. As seen with Miguel Cabrera and others, we remove stats from other positions played and look solely at the position being evaluated. With that, we have seven significant Tigers that qualify at second to consider. They include: Ralph Young, Frank Bolling, Placido Polanco, Damion Easley, Dick McAuliffe, Charlie Gehringer, and Lou Whitaker. I’ll remove Ralph Young (1915-1922) with his 1.4 WAR off the bat and Frank Bolling, Damion Easley, and Placido Polanco for their limited time in Detroit.
Alright, let’s look at the second sackers…
Charlie Gehringer (1924-1942): Gehringer played all 19 of his seasons in Detroit and all but 15 games (of 2,323) at second base. In his 10,245 plate appearances (WOW), Gehringer hit .320, with 2,839 hits, 574 doubles, 146 triples, 184 homers, scored 1,775 runs, knocked in 1,427, stole 181 bases, and had an OPS of .884, and a WAR of 80.6.
Charlie made six All-Star teams (of 10 possible), including as the starting second baseman in the very first All-Star game in 1933, which included the likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Joe Cronin. Gehringer was on 11 MVP ballots, winning the MVP in 1937 while also winning the batting title (.371), however this arguably wasn’t even his best year, as 1929 was. In 1929, Charlie hit .339, with league leading stats like 717 plate appearances, 131 runs scored, 215 hits, 45 doubles, 19 triples, and 27 steals, yet was not in the top 20 in MVP voting.
Gehringer played in three World Series in his career (’34, ’35,‘40), he hit .321 in 90 plate appearances in those series, with 26 hits, 4 doubles, a homer, and 7 RBI.
Dick McAullife (1960-1973): McAullife spent a majority of his career in Detroit and was part of the magical ’68 team, before departing for Boston in his final two seasons of his career (16 total). Dick started off playing a majority of his games at short and third, mixing games at second base, before playing mostly second in 1967.
As a second baseman, McAllife hit .244, with 792 hits, 126 doubles, 100 homers, 354 RBI, and 465 runs scored, to go along with a career Detroit Tiger WAR of 37.5. Dick made three All-Star teams (two as a SS) and finished 7th in MVP voting in 1968. His playoff performance in the ’68 series and 1972 ALCS are nothing to write home about, as he hit .213 with 2 homers and 4 RBI combined.
Lou Whitaker (1977-1995): Here’s the matchup that we’ve been waiting for with Gehringer. Sweet Lou also played 19 seasons in Detroit with only 31 of his 2,260 games coming as a DH. As the Tigers second baseman, Lou hit .277 over his career, with 2,312 hits, 407 doubles, 63 triples, 239 homers, 1,350 runs scored, 142 steals, a .791 OPS and more walks (1,163) than strikeouts (1,064), to go along with a 74.9 WAR.
Whitaker won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1978, made five All-Star games, won three Gold Gloves, and four Silver Sluggers, and finished 8th in the MVP voting in 1983.
Lou struggled in the ’84 title year playoffs and again in the 1987 ALCS, where he hit a combined .204, with a home run and one RBI combined.
There are hopes that Whitaker will be elected to the Hall of Fame by the veterans committee at some point as Baseball-Reference compares Lou’s career closest to that of Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg.
Ok, so we could have removed Dick McAullife too, however his 37.5 WAR, was worth creating awareness over. This discussion is one again about two players, Lou Whitaker and Charlie Gehringer. It’s not a complete blowout on this one, but Gehringer does lead Lou in just about all counting stats except home runs, has an MVP, and the batting average difference is significant as is the OPS. What is surprising to me is the small gap between Lou and Charlie in WAR of just 5.7. Whitaker had a smooth glove and I think this plays a major factor in the gap, as there of course was less analysis available in Gehringer back in the day. Regardless, of WAR, in my opinion, Charlie Gehringer is the greatest second baseman of all-time with some pretty amazing stats.