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The Greatest Tigers Team of All Time?

The Tigers have the day off and they’re currently 68-33.  If they go 37-24 (.607) the rest of the way, they’ll finish with 105 wins, a franchise record.  They’ll also finish with a .648 winning percentage, which would put them in third place all time behind the franchise best 1934 Tigers (.656) and the hard luck 1915 Tigers (.649).  Ironically, neither of those two teams won the World Series.  In fact the 1915 Tigers finished 100-54 (the first ever 100 win team in franchise history) yet they finished one game behind the first place Boston Red Sox in what was Babe Ruth’s first full season.

Let’s get really optimistic, and assume that the Tigers win 105 games this year and then go on to win the World Series.  Where will the 2006 Tigers rank amongst the best teams in the franchise’s history?

The Tigers have really only had one dynasty.  In the twelve seasons from 1934 through 1945, the Tigers won the pennant four times and won the World Series twice.  After that, each of the good Tigers’ seasons were pretty much isolated.  They never made the World Series or playoffs in back to back seasons, and their tightest stretch was when the went three years between 1984 to 1987.  So while the Tigers have had some really good teams since 1945, they’ve always been islands.

In looking at the team, you have one bonafide Hall of Famer in Ivan Rodriguez.  After that, they have some good players, and they also have a lot of good young players, so I think that’s the tricky part.  If Justin Verlander wins 18 or even 20 games, it’s hard to compare him to Tommy Bridges or Hal Newhouser or Jack Morris knowing the shelf life of starting pitchers these days.

If I had to pick the greatest Tiger team, I’d have to go with the 1934/1935, which was essentially the same team.  The 1934 team fell just short in the World Series, losing to the Cardinals (the classic Gas House Gang team) in seven games but then came back and won it in 1935.  These teams were stacked though.  Hank Greenberg, Mickey Cochrane and Charlie Gehringer are all top 10, if not top 5, at their position all time.  Goose Goslin is also a Hall of Famer and you have a very good rotation with Tommy Bridges (who should be in the Hall of Fame), Schoolboy Rowe and Elden Auker.   You even had the first real closer in Firpo Marberry.  Marberry held the single season save record from 1924 until his mark of 22 saves was broken in 1949 by Joe Page.

After that, it becomes a little more difficult.  I think the 1984 Tigers and 1968 Tigers are about a draw and both were very good team.  The 1940 and 1945 teams were both very good as well.  And don’t forget the three consecutive pennants the Tigers won from 1907 through 1909 (falling short of winning it all in each one).  And finally, you have the 1961 Tigers, which won 101 games and finished well behind of one of those great teams the Yankees fielded.

I think it’s the fact that the Tigers came out of nowhere this year and took everyone by surprise that I can’t put them in any of those team’s league.  Yet.  The season isn’t over with though and I think how they do over the next couple of years will also factor into things.  Is the 1934 my best team if they don’t win it in 1935?  It’s hard to tell.  If the Tigers go on to win three World Series over the next five years, that would affect my thinking as well.

So what do you think?

One good way to try and measure this would be to use Win Shares. Bill James suggested a couple of ways to do this. Unfortunately, I’m at work and my Win Shares book is at home, but I’d like to do some match and see which team was deepest, which had the most start power, which was most “balanced” or what have you.

I’d have to say ’34/’35 is my guess as well. One of the best infields of all time…

Posted by Dan on July 28th, 2006 at 6:56 am

The Tigers look to be in good shape for some years to come. Winning penants and World Series is more difficult. There’s not a lot of play off-pressure experience on this team.

It would be tough to see them dominate the regular season and lose in the playoffs like the other Detroit teams this year (at least the Lions never break our heart!!!).

Anyway, thanks for the insightful trip down memory lane.

Posted by adr on July 28th, 2006 at 6:57 am

I meant “do some MATH”…

Posted by Dan on July 28th, 2006 at 6:57 am


Isn’t win shares contingent on the number of wins though. So if the 2006 team wins more games, they’ll have more win shares? Or are you talking about comparing career win shares on each team? Of course my knowledge on this is pretty low, so I’d be interested in what you find out.

Posted by Brian on July 28th, 2006 at 7:12 am

To be realistic, I don’t think anyone expects a 105 win season out of the Tigers right now.

However, if they compete on their current pace, they would win 109-110 games. If they were to pull this off (as hard as the rest of their schedule is the rest of the way), and then win the World Series, you would have to put them up there.

On another hand, the Tigers only have one hall of famer on their club. The Tigers of the 30’s had a handful. Then, you have to think about the competition they had in the 30’s (The Yankees, the Cardinals, et al). Though it would be considered one of the best seasons in history, you have to think about their competition.

Also, think about the mentioned team or teams that didn’t make the world series because they had to go up against the Yankees. 100 wins and no playoff appearrence. To get to the series in those days, you had to have the best record in your league. Now, you could have the fourth best and still have a shot. The history of world series winners would be greatly changed if four teams from each league (or even three, or two) got to the playoffs from each league since 1900. There would have been no curse of the Bambino. The cubs would have likely won one here or there. The Yankees would have likely won in different years and lost in years that they have a title today. It is easier to get to the post season, but it is harder to win the World Series than ever before.

Thus, if they win 110, and in turn, win it all, you have to put them up there, even though a matchup with any of those teams would likely get them sent packing.

Posted by Chris on July 28th, 2006 at 10:06 am

Noone expects a 105 win season right now? Have you been watching the same team all year? They’d have to have a significant downfall to stop there, even. They’d have a .648 winning percentage at 105 wins, and they’ve been at a .667+ winning percentage consistantly for at least the past 2 months. I personally don’t know of anyone not counting on the team to finish at at least 105 wins.

Posted by Tony on July 28th, 2006 at 4:34 pm

Can anyone really tell me why Thames is sitting??? he has lost his job to a load who choked his girlfriend and went to Betty Ford for 2 months! Monroe and Young has looked awful tonight against Liriano. Young is especially horrible hitting from the right side. why you would plug him in their against the best lefty in baseball is beyond me. But hey Walker is now in and he has giving up a leadoff single. great.

Posted by Michael on July 28th, 2006 at 5:50 pm

I think the American League would have to be taken into account when ranking Tigers teams. Obviously the late 60’s American League was ridiculously good, with the Twins, Red Sox, Orioles…..the 84 American League was a bit substandard. The Blue Jays were still a building team, the Orioles were slipping, the Yankees solid but not a major threat, the Red Sox likewise. This years American League on the top end is ridiculously good. The Yankees, Red Sox, Indians, and Twins may all be better than any team the Tigers competed against in 1984. That doesn’t make this Tiger team “better”, but if they get up to 105 or more wins, and find there way through at least 2 playoff series the argument can definitely be made that it could be the best single season Tiger team of the past 50 years. Hard to imagine that a few months ago.

Posted by KS on July 28th, 2006 at 7:43 pm

My post should have had the White Sox in place of the Indians.

Posted by KS on July 28th, 2006 at 7:44 pm

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