Moving on to the last position in the outfield, we’ve already anointed Bobby Veach the Greatest Tiger left fielder, and Ty Cobb the greatest Tiger center fielder. The question now is, will Sam Crawford make an early 1900’s sweep of outfield greats, or will Al Kaline or possibly Harry Heilmann, or another Tiger take home that crown? To be eligible for the list, a player must play at least 5-years for the Tigers with a majority of games coming at that position. Unlike the infielder however, I do look at stats across all outfield spots.
Sam Crawford (1903-1917): Crawford started out in Cincinnati as a 19-year old before “jumping” to Detroit in 1903 as a 23-yeara old. Wahoo (nickname as he was from Wahoo Nebraska) hit .309 as a Tiger over 15-seasons, where he collected 2,466 hits, 402 doubles, 249 triples (Crawford holds the all-time MLB record with 309), 70 homers in the “dead ball era”, 1,525 RBI, 318 steals, 1,115 runs scored, an OPS of .810, and a WAR of 63.5
Sam lead the league in runs scored once, triples 6-times, homers once, RBI 3-times, and total bases once. Crawford was on 4-MVP ballots, finishing as high as second in 1914
In three post-seasons with Detroit, Crawford hit .243 with 17 hits, 5 doubles, a homer, and 8 RBI. Sam was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1957 by the Veterans Committee.
Harry Heilmann (1914-1929): Heilmann started out his career as a 19-year old in 1914 and played 68 games that season, did not play in the Major’s in 1915, and returned for good in 1916. Heilman split time playing mostly in right, but did see games early in his career at second and first base as well. Harry ended his career with Cincinnati after his contract was purchased for the 1930 season.
In Detroit, Harry hit .342, with 2,499 hits, 497 doubles, 145 triples, 183 homers, 1,291 runs scored, 1,443 runs driven in, 111 stolen bases, an OPS of .927, and a WAR of 67.6 Heilmann was on 7 MVP ballots, finishing 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 9th, 12th, and 15th. Heilmann led the league in hits in 1921 (237), doubles in 1924 (45), RBI in 1925 (134), and average four times (’21, ’23, ’25, ’27), with 1923 being his best as he hit .403 that year.
In 1952, Harry Heilmann was elected to the Hall of Fame and Baseball-Reference compares him most closely to Joe Medwick, of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Al Kaline (1953-1974): Mr. Tiger played 22-years in Detroit and was signed as an Amateur Free Agent in 1953. Kaline made his debut that same season and played in 30 games that season.
From there, Al would hit .297 for his career, with 3,007 hits, 498 doubles, 75 triples, 399 homers, 1,582 RBI, 1,622 runs scored, 137 steals, an OPS of .855, and a WAR of 92.5. Kaline would also play in two post seasons, hitting a combined .333, with 16 hits, 2 doubles, 3 homers, and 9 RBI. This includes an outstanding performance in the ’68 series against the Cardinals, in which Al would hit .379, with 2 doubles and 2 homers.
Kaline would rack up 15 All-Star apperances, a 3rd place finish in the Rookie of the Year balloting, 10 Gold Gloves, 13 MVP ballots, finishing as high as 2nd twice, and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1980.
Magglio Ordonez (2005-2011): Ok, so Magglio probably shouldn’t be part of the discussion with these other three, however he makes my list just for his homer in the ’06 ALCS that sent Detroit to the World Series.
Detroit took a shot on Mags as a free agent, after some injury issues in 2004. Ordonez rewarded the Tigers with a .312 batting average, 989 hits, 186 doubles, 107 homers, 533 RBI, 452 runs scored, an OPS of .849, and a Tiger WAR of 13.4. Ordonez didn’t particularly shine in the post-season in Detroit with his best series coming against the Yankees in 2011, where he hit .455, however that homer mentioned earlier is one of the key hits in Tiger history.
Magglio did make two All-Star teams as a Tiger, won a Silver Slugger, and was on two MVP ballots, including finishing 2nd in 2007, when he won his only batting title.
Let’s take Magglio out of the discussion as he may have one of the biggest hits in Tiger history, but the careers Crawford, Heilmann, and Kaline put together are simply amazing.
To me, I knew Sam Crawford and what he did as a Tiger, however Harry Heilmann was a truly a surprise to me and I think is Kaline’s biggest competition. At first, I was thinking that Heilmann would overtake Kaline as the best Tigers right fielder of All-Time with multiple batting titles, as well as other offensive counting stats that are similar in a more challenging offensive. That said, looking at Kaline’s post-season stats, Gold Gloves and total WAR gap between Kaline and the others, I still have to tip my cap to Mr. Tiger as the greatest Tiger right fielder of all-time.
Now that was fun!