Moving on in our exploration of the greatest Detroit Tiger at each position, we cover third base today. To date, I’ve covered off on the Tigers best catcher, first baseman, and second baseman, with first base being the toughest choice so far.
My only stipulation for being eligible for consideration is playing the position of discussion for a majority of games as a Tigers for at least five years. That leaves us with seven players that qualify and they are Aurelio Rodriguez, Don Wert, Brandon Inge, Tom Brookens, Pinky Higgins, George Kell, and Marv Owen. Not making the cut any further is Don Wert, Aurelio Rodriguez, and Marv Owen. This definitely is the weakest position so far, but let’s take a look…
Pinky Higgins (1939-1946): Higgins started off his career in Philadelphia in 1930, was moved to Boston in 1936, and ended up being traded to Detroit in the offseason of 1938 along with another played for Elden Auker, Chet Morgan, and Jake Wade.
Higgins ended up playing seven seasons in Detroit, all at third base, missing 1945 for military service. In Pinky’s 857 games as a Tiger, he hit .280 with 164 doubles, 15 triples, 60 homers, and 472 runs driven in, while collecting a .764 OPS and delivering a 11.3 WAR.
Pinky did make an All-Star game in Detroit (3 total), and was on 3 MVP ballots, finishing highest with the 19th most votes in 1944.
From a post season standpoint, Higgins did play in the loss to the Reds in the 1940 World Series and hit .333, with 3 doubles, a triple, and a homer, while driving in six.
George Kell (1946-1952): Kell started out in Philadelphia in 1943 before being traded to Detroit in 1946 for Barney McCosky, where he played third base before being part of a an eight player trade, sending him to Boston and on for the rest of his career.
Kell’s seven seasons in Detroit, were his most with any club and although time was limited, he racked up a .316 average, 180 doubles, 26 triples, 26 homers, 359 RBI, 417 runs, and an OPS of .802, with a Tiger WAR of 22.8.
George made six All-Star games as a Tiger (10 total), won the AL batting title in ’49, was on six MVP ballots, finishing as high as 4th in 1950, and was elected to the Hall of Fame by the veterans committee in 1983.
Tom Brookens (1979-1988): Yep, Tommy Brookens made the list. Brookens played 10 seasons with Detroit, playing most of his games at third, but also sharing time at second and short when Tram or Lou needed a rest.
As a third basemen, Brookens played in 1,065 games, hitting .245, with 134 doubles, 30 triples, 56 homers, 326 RBI, 350 runs scored, a .662 OPS, and a combined Tiger WAR of 12.4.
Tommy played in both the ’84 series and ’87 playoffs, where he did not reach base in 19 plate appearances.
Brandon Inge (2001-2012): I think a lot of people would be shocked to see Inge on this list, which can also explain how weak it is. Brandon was a 2nd round pick of Tigers, where he made his way up as a catcher, eventually moving to third, while also being used as a super utility player.
In total, Brandon played 10 seasons at third, equating to 1,083 games there and hitting .243, with 161 doubles, 28 triples, 120 homers, 506 RBI, 440 runs scored, a .721 OPS, and a collective Detroit Tiger WAR of 18.5.
Inge made one All-Star game and rated out incredibly high a couple years in regards to defensive runs saved above average with 24 in 2006, 16 in 2007, and a combined 73 for his career at the position.
Brandon played in two postseasons as a Tiger (2006 & 2011), hitting .288 with 4 doubles, 2 homers, and a .799 OPS in 23 games.
It’s tough to believe that this comes down to George Kell who played seven seasons in Detroit and Brandon Inge, who was a polarizing figure here for many years. I’m tipping my hat in Kell’s direction however based on OPS, WAR, and with some counting stats surpassing Brandon with three less years.
Ugh, that was an ugly one, I just want to move on…