As we continue on exploring the greatest Tigers by position of all-time, we move on to what I am guessing is a slam dunk before any research is done. Before getting to the list however, looking back I’ve covered the all-time best Tigers catcher, first baseman, second baseman, third baseman, shortstop, and left fielder. You can click on any of the previous links to check out that position.
Moving on to center field, we changed the criteria up a bit for outfielders where I still am looking for at least five years with the Tigers and playing a majority of time at that positon. The one change I did make however to gaging the outfield spots, is opening it up to majority of games played at that position, but looking at all outfield numbers, since it’s much more common to see a players shift positions.
For the Center Field spot, we have four qualifiers: Ty Cobb, Mickey Stanley, Ron LeFlore, and Chet Lemon. Austin Jackson just misses out being traded mid-way through his 5th season in Detroit, but could be back via free agency this season. Since this is a shoe in, we’ll take a look at all of the players…
Ty Cobb (1905-1926): Cobb spent 22 of his 24 seasons in Detroit, where he roamed center field for just about his entire career (1,697 games, with 9 seasons not being tracked). The Georgia Peach came to play in Detroit after the Tigers purchased his contract from Augusta (South Atlantic League) and went on to become one of the five or ten greatest ballplayers of all time.
Cobb holds the all-time career batting average record at .366 and hit .368 as a Tiger, while eclipsing the .400 mark two times (1911 & ’12). In his 2,806 games as a Tiger, Cobb collected 4,189 hits, a record held until Pete Rose broke it, had 665 doubles, 284 triples, and 111 homers. Ty scored 2,086 runs for Detroit, knocked in 1,800, stole 869 bases, walked 1,148 times, striking out just 653 times, and having a .434 OBP, .950 OPS, and a Tiger WAR of 144.7.
Cobb led the league in many categories including at bats (1 time), runs (5), hits (8), 2B (3), 3B (4), HR (1), RBI (4), SB (6), average (12), OBP (7), SLG (8), and OPS (10). Ty was the league MVP in 1911 and made 3 other ballots, as well was the Triple Crown winner in 1909. There were no other awards or All-Star games at the time.
Ty played in three World Series, all losing efforts and hit a combined .262 in 65 at bats.
Ty Cobb was elected in the inaugural Hall of Fame class in 1936 and received 98.2% of the vote.
Mickey Stanley (1964-1978): Stanley, a lifelong Tiger played 15 seasons in Detroit with 1,175 of his 1,290 games being played in center field. A Michigan native out of Grand Rapids, Stanley was signed in 1961 as an amateur free agent and was up with the club for good in 1966.
As an outfielder, Stanley hit .246, with 1,044 hits, 163 doubles, 45 triples, 97 homers, 521 runs scored, 409 runs driven in, a .699 OPS and a combined WAR of 17.3.
Stanley played in all seven games of the 1968 series against the Cardinals and also played in the ALCS in 1972 against Oakland. Combined, he hit .235 with a triple and four runs scored.
Mickey won four Gold Gloves and finished 25th on the 1968 MVP ballot.
Ron LeFlore (1974-1979): Ron was originally discovered by manager Billy Martin, as LeFlore was playing in a baseball league organized for inmates at Jackson State Penitentiary, where he was serving 5-15 years for armed robbery. LeFlore signed his contract with Detroit where he met his parole requirement in 1973 and was up with the team in Detroit in 1974. Ron was traded to Montreal before the 1980 season and eventually signing with the White Sox in 1981 before being released and retiring in 1983. Ron LeFlore would eventually admit to being 4-years older than previously understood.
As a Tiger, LeFlore hit .297 in his 6 seasons, collecting 970 hits, 126 doubles, 38 triples, 51 homers, scoring 532 runs, driving in 265. Stealing 294 bases, and collecting a .754 OPS and 14.1 WAR.
LeFlore made the All-Star team in 1976 and was on three MVP ballots as a Tiger. Ron became the first player to lead both leagues in steals during their career.
Chet Lemon (1982-1990): Ah, one all-time favorites! Chet became a Tiger after playing seven seasons for the White Sox and being traded for after the 1981 season for Steve Kemp. Lemon played a lot of right field to start his career in Detroit in 1982 and quickly switched over to center in 1983 and pretty much stayed there until 1988.
As a Tiger, Lemon hit .263, with 1,071 hits, 218 doubles, 32 triples, 134 homers, 570 runs scored, 536 runs driven in, a .786 OPS, and a 30.6 WAR.
Chet was an All-Star in 1984 and played in the ’84 post season, as well as 1987. Although he struggled in the 1984 ALCS against KC (0 hits in 13 AB), he did hit .294 in the World Series, and where he had 5 hits, an RBI, and 2 steals (crazy as he only had 13 steals as a Tiger for his career).
As expected, there is just no competing with Ty Cobb and the numbers he put up.