Tigers were at their best when the diversity of Detroit is reflected
When integration hit the big leagues, the Detroit Tigers had come to the end of one of their best eras.
In 1947, the Tigers finished second behind Hall of Fame pitcher Hal Newhouser. It was the end of the TNT era of trout Newhouser trucks and the first year without Hank Greenberg, in which the days of the G-men (Greenberg, Gehringer, Goslin) also ended.
The Tigers were at a crossroads for the first time since Ty Cobb left the team after the 1926 season.
Which direction would they go in rebuilding?
The wrong direction. The Tigers were the penultimate team to integrate. They were handcuffed at a time when Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Roy Campanella, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron were leading their teams to championships.
Not only did the Tigers miss the aforementioned pioneers, but Detroit could have landed Ernie Banks, Elston Howard, Don Newcombe or Minnie Minoso too.
Instead, the Tigers dragged their feet – they got taller than the fourth only once in more than a decade – and were incorporated when they brought Ozzie Virgil into a deal with the Giants in 1958. He was a part-time catcher and played parts of three seasons for the Tigers.
The first African American player for the Tigers was second baseman Jake Wood, who didn’t start until 1961.
It was no coincidence that the Tigers finished second in 1961 and finally had a varied line-up with Wood in second place, Chico Fernandez on shortstop and Bill Bruton in the outfield.
But Detroit missed out on more than a decade of opportunities to sign a Black Start player.
After finally adding players like Willie Horton, Earl Wilson, and Gates Brown to their roster, they became competitors again.
Horton consolidated the outfield along with Al Kaline, Jim Northrup and Mickey Stanley. Wilson strengthened a pitching baton that included Cy Young winner Denny McLain and Mickey Lolich. Brown became one of the best prize hitters in baseball history.
Wilson was a 20-game winner in 1967 when the Tigers barely missed the pennant. Detroit finally won another World Series a year later when Horton was the defining moment in the series, throwing Lou Brock on the plate in Game 5 to turn the tide of the game and the series.
But imagine if the Tigers signed Ernie Banks with Kaline in the mid-1950s. You could have been a dynasty.
Detroit is one of the most diverse cities in the world, and that needs to be reflected in the field.
When the Tigers won in 1984, they did so with black stars like Lou Whitaker and Chet Lemon, as well as Latino stars like MVP winner Willie Hernandez and white stars like Alan Trammell, Kirk Gibson, Jack Morris and Lance Parrish.
In the following era, Detroit All-Star Black players included Cecil Fielder, Tony Clark, Damion Easley, and Dmitri Young.
It was a diverse group and one of the best teams in baseball history.
In the new millennium, the Tigers were at times one of the most diverse teams with black players like Curtis Granderson, Prince Fielder, Gary Sheffield, Torii Hunter, Dontrelle Willis, Edwin Jackson, David Price and Cameron Maybin.
When you add that to Latino stars like Miguel Cabrera, Ivan Rodriguez, and white stars like Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, and Max Scherzer, the team reflects the diversity of Detroit.
Then the tigers are at their best when they fully reflect their fans. It took too long to get there but they did.
Now the Tigers have five black players on their squad, in addition to several other Latino players. You need to keep showing that reflection – it has proven to be the greatest step in successful rebuilding.
– Contact Sports Editor Dan D’Addona at Dan.D’[email protected] Follow him on Twitter @DanDAddona and Facebook @Holland Sentinel Sports.