Best Tigers Players Of All Time: Top 5 Legendary Detroit Athletes, According To Fans

Detroit is home to the auto industry and has some of the most passionate sports fans in the world. Detroit fields at least one team in each of the major North American professional sports including the Pistons, Lions, Red Wings, and Tigers. The Detroit Tigers are one of the oldest franchises in Major League Baseball (MLB) and have been playing in the city for over 120 years. During that time, some all-time great baseball players have come through the city, but only a few can be considered the best Tigers players of all time. 

But, before we dive into the list of the best players to wear a Tigers uniform, let’s examine how far passionate fandom can take you. A recent survey of 1,500 self-identified sports fanatics sought to discover the lengths sports fans are willing to go to see their favorite team play a game in person. The survey found that the average respondent is willing to travel an average of five hours and 48 minutes plus spend over $760 for tickets to the game. 

Traveling to professional sporting events is nothing new for Americans. We love our sports and we’re loyal to our teams. However, another recent study suggests that simply getting out to watch a live sports event – whether it’s professional or amateur sports – is beneficial for your mental health. Scientists at Anglia Ruskin University say that attending live sporting events actually helps increase overall mental well-being and reduces feelings of loneliness. A survey of 7,000 adults found that those respondents who attended live sporting events scored better in terms of life satisfaction than those who had not recently attended events. That’s a great reason to get out and watch the Tigers play at Comerica Park in Detroit this summer. 

So, which Tigers are among the greats? StudyFinds did some digging, consulting 10 sports and baseball-oriented websites in an effort to bring you the best Tigers players of all time. Our list comprises the five most frequently listed ballplayers from across these sites. Think we missed your favorite Tiger? Feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comments section below! 

Comerica Park in Detroit
Comerica Park in Detroit (Photo by Gary Shear on Unsplash)

The List: Best Tigers Players, According to Experts

1. Ty Cobb (1905-1926)

There’s no other player that compares to what Ty Cobb did as a member of the Detroit Tigers. “Ty Cobb is far and above the most recognizable name in the history of the Detroit Tigers, and it isn’t even really particularly close. Cobb debuted as the Tigers’ starting center fielder as an 18-year-old in 1905, and would spend the next 22 years of his life compiling the greatest resume in team history. With Detroit, Cobb slashed an incredible .368/.434/.516 with 111 homers, 1,811 RBI, 665 doubles, 284 triples, and 869 stolen bases. He won an unbelievable 12 batting titles, was the American League MVP in 1911, and won the Triple Crown in 1909. Cobb led the league in RBI four times in a five-year span between 1907-1911, led the league in hits eight times, steals six times, runs five times, triples four times, doubles three times, and homers once,” explains Yardbarker

Ty Cobb is considered one of the best MLB players in history and he’s far and away one of the best center fielders of all time. Of course, Cobb wasn’t known for being a great human being, and the autobiography of Cobb’s life didn’t help with his image or his post-baseball career. 

“One of the greatest center fielders in MLB history, Cobb spent 22 of his illustrious 24 seasons with the Tigers. Over that timespan, Cobb won an MVP and an unfathomable 11 batting titles. Cobb’s .366 career batting average is the highest mark in MLB history, and given how adept he was at driving in runs, you get the sense that he could have put up elite power numbers if he played in an era where home runs were more prioritized. Whatever his reputation as a person is, Cobb is easily the greatest player in the history of the Tigers,” writes Audacy

It’s documented that Cobb was considered a racist and a bigot, and some of his contemporaries have called him a “dirty” ballplayer. Regardless of his personal values, or lack thereof, Ty Cobb was one of the greatest ballplayers of his era and probably the best contact hitter of all time. Ty Cobb was a first-ballot Hall of Famer and the Tigers legend still holds MLB records that many consider unbreakable.  

“Ty Cobb, a first ballot Hall of Famer (when it was the first ballot) would also accomplish the following: 7 On Base Percentage Titles, 8 Slugging Titles, 10 OPS Titles, 5 Runs Scored Titles, 8 Hits Titles, 1 Home Run Title, 4 RBI Titles, 6 Stolen Bases Titles. The bottom line is that Ty Cobb is one of those players who would be a Baseball star in any era, and this is a statement that we could probably make 100 years from now.  Cobb’s name is honored on the Wall at Comerica Park, exactly as it should be,” furthers Not in Hall of Fame

2. Al Kaline (1953-1974) 

Next up on the list of the best Tigers players of all time is none other than Al Kaline, who played more games in a Tigers uniform than any other player in history, and his production as one the team was absolutely off the charts

“Right-handed swinging Al Kaline played all 22 of his Major League seasons in Detroit, and like Cobb, is firmly entrenched as royalty in the state of Michigan. In a franchise record 2,834 games with the Tigers, Kaline slashed .297/.376/.480 with 399 home runs, 1,582 RBI, 498 doubles, 75 triples, and 137 stolen bases. He won the batting title in 1955 when he led the majors with 200 hits, and paced the league with 41 doubles in 1961. Kaline represented the Tigers in 18 All-Star Games, earned 10 Gold Glove awards, and, most importantly, helped Detroit win the World Series in 1968,” writes Yardbarker

Al Kaline’s play on the field was nearly mesmerizing. Kaline earned the monicker ‘Mr. Tiger’ and his legacy in Detroit lives up to that name. Kalilne played over 2,000 games for the Detroit Tigers and helped the organization win one of its four World Series titles. “Of all the Hall of Famers who have spent time in Detroit, it’s Kaline who was simply dubbed ‘Mr. Tiger.’ An 18-time All-Star, Kaline spent more than two decades with the Tigers, including helping the team to win the 1968 World Series. Kaline also won 10 Gold Glove Awards, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1980. Kaline’s No. 6 was retired in 1980,” writes Audacy

Al Kaline signed his first contract in an unusual fashion. Although he was incredibly young, Kaline went on to put up big numbers for the Detroit Tigers. He didn’t stop when his playing career was over, though. Kaline went on to work in the front office in Detroit and he is a big reason for the success of some modern-day Detroit legends

“Al Kaline was the last of a breed of men who dedicated their entire adult lives to one team. He was 18 years old when he signed his first contract with the Detroit Tigers at the kitchen table in his parent’s home. He was wearing his prom suit. Starting that evening in 1953, with the exception of about eight months, Kaline was in constant employment of the Detroit Professional Baseball Club. He spent 22 seasons as their All-Star outfielder, followed by 27 years as a broadcaster, before he was hired as a special assistant to the general manager, a position he still held when he died in 2020. Over the years, Kaline mentored young players from Kirk Gibson to Travis Fryman to Curtis Granderson,” furthers Baseball Egg

3. Charlie Gehringer (1924-1942)

Sliding into the third spot on the list of the best Tigers players of all time is a legendary second baseman, Charlie Gehringer. Gehringer played his entire career with the Detroit Tigers and he is widely regarded as the best second baseman to ever wear a Tigers uniform. 

“Second baseman Charlie Gehringer was relatively small in stature, but he played a big role on the Tigers for nearly two decades. In 19 seasons with the club Gehringer slashed .320/.404/.480 with 904 extra-base hits, 1,427 RBI, and 181 stolen bases. He was the MVP of the American League in 1937, the same year he won the batting title by hitting .371, and represented the Tigers in six All-Star Games. Gehringer led the league in hits twice, doubles twice, triples once and steals once, and drove in over 100 runs in seven different seasons,” writes Yardbarker

Although Gehringer wasn’t known for his power, the legendary second baseman was an excellent all-around hitter and ballplayer. Gehringer would have made more All-Star games had the All-Star game been around when he first started playing baseball for the Tigers. 

“The 1937 American League MVP, Gehringer also made six All-Star teams, which is an incredible feat when you consider that the All-Star Game didn’t start until his age-30 season. The Gold Glove Award wasn’t first awarded until more than a decade after Gehringer retired, but his 10.8 career defensive WAR suggests that he would have won some of those if it had been around during his day. Gehringer’s No. 2 was retired in 1983, more than three decades after he was inducted into the Hall of Fame,” furthers Audacy

Gehringer might have had to wait to have his number retired, but his selection to the Hall of Fame was a no-brainer. Gehringer even draws comparisons to some of the all-time greats including Rogers Hornsby, Rod Carew, and Joe Morgan

“Among the second basemen, Rogers Hornsby or Rod Carew were the best pure hitters, Joe Morgan was the most complete offensive package, Jackie Robinson was the most thrilling, and Gehringer was probably the most complete player. ‘The Mechanical Man’ hit for average, ran the bases well, was a very good fielder (better than Hornsby and Morgan), and had a stronger arm than any man rated ahead of him on our list. The only flaw in Charlie’s game was that he didn’t hit the long ball, but he averaged 40 doubles, 10 triples, and 13 homers per season,” adds Baseball Egg

4. Miguel Cabrera (2008-Present)

Next up on the list of the best Tigers players of all time is the living legend, Miguel Cabrera. He is the only active player to make the list of best Tigers players, so there’s a chance he moves up before his career is said and done. 

“Early in his career it became obvious that Miguel Cabrera was going to be an elite hitter. He debuted with the Marlins as a 20-year-old back in 2003 and as a rookie played a huge part in Miami’s stunning World Series victory over the Yankees. Cabrera was an All-Star for the Marlins the next four years running before the team shipped him to Detroit in a blockbuster trade. With the Tigers, Cabrera has essentially punched his own ticket to Cooperstown. He’s won four batting titles with Detroit, led the league in RBI and doubles twice, as well as homers once, and qualified for seven All-Star teams. The Venezuela native has slowed down considerably in recent years but he’s now 40 years old and is currently enjoying his farewell season,” writes Yardbaker

It’s hard to believe that Miguel Cabrera is still playing for the Detroit Tigers. “Miggy” is still producing, too. In all, Cabrera has over 3,000 hits and 500 home runs and he’s the last player to win the coveted Triple Crown – leading the AL in hits, RBI, and home runs in 2012. 

“Cabrera spent the first five seasons of his career with the Florida Marlins, but will ultimately be remembered for the more than a decade and a half that he’ll spend with the Tigers. Cabrera edged out Mike Trout to win back-to-back American League MVPs in 2012 and 2013, winning the AL Triple Crown in 2012. Cabrera eclipsed 500 home runs in his career in 2021, and will record his 3,000th hit during the 2022 season. Cabrera is destined to wear a Tigers’ cap on his Hall of Fame plaque,” adds Audacy

Cabrera should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer and there’s no doubt that the Tigers organization will retire his number one day – but he’ll have to retire first. 

“Impressively, ‘Miggy’ has received MVP votes in his first nine seasons as a Tiger including back-to-back wins in 2012 and 2013, and was the catalyst behind some impressive Tiger squads in the 2010s that would go to the playoffs in four straight years (2011-14). Although he is declining now, Cabrera should be a future Baseball Hall of Famer and will do so in a Detroit [Tigers] hat.  He reached the 500 career Home Run mark as a Tiger in 2021 and the 3,000 Hit [club] in 2022.  While Cabrera was [named] an All-Star in 2022, his best days are long behind him, and he is climbing over who he can on all-time lists,” notes Not in Hall of Fame

5. Hank Greenberg (1930, 1933-1941, 1945-1946)

Rounding out the list of the best Tigers players of all time is one of the best first basemen in the history of baseball – Hank Greenberg. ‘Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg was a powerful force in the Detroit lineup, and he’s widely regarded as one of the best players to ever come through the organization. 

“Right-handed slugger Hank Greenberg took one plate appearance with the Tigers late in the 1930 season… and then didn’t play another Major League game for three years. But once he made it back, it was clear he was here to stay. In 1,269 games in a Detroit uniform, Greenberg slashed .319/.412/.616 with 306 home runs, exactly 1,200 RBI, 366 doubles, and 69 triples. He won the American League MVP award in both 1935 and 1940, and led the league in both homers and RBI three different times. Greenberg represented the Tigers in five All-Star Games, and most importantly helped Detroit win the World Series in both ’35 and ’45,” explains Yardbarker

Greenberg was a big reason for Detroit’s success in the late ‘30s and ‘40s and he helped power the Tigers ball club to two World Series titles. However, Greenberg lost several years in his prime to serving in World War II. Without a doubt, Greenberg could be higher on the list of the best Tigers players of all time had he not lost those seasons. Many experts will tell you that Greenberg is a true American hero

“Service in World War II prevented Greenberg from getting to play in what would have been his age-31-33 seasons, but Greenberg still managed to check in on this list. The original ‘Hammerin’ Hank’ was the American League MVP in 1935 and 1940, and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1956, after leading the Tigers to two World Series titles. Greenberg’s No. 5 was retired by the Tigers in 1983,” writes Audacy

Similar to Gehriger, Greenberg had to wait an awfully long time before the Tigers franchise retired his number. Regardless, Greenberg is a Hall of Famer and considered one of the best first basemen in history. “The only thing keeping the Hall of Famer from a higher rank is that his tenure in Detroit (12 Years) is brief in comparison to those ahead of him, but offensively speaking there were few in his league, in his era or now,” furthers Not in Hall of Fame

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