A History of Detroit Tigers Shortstops

By Brad Smith

1/27/99

When I started to do this little series, I mentioned that one inspiration
was remembering the 1969 fan vote sponsored by Major League Baseball to name
all-time all-star teams for each major league club. The Tigers at that time
had a real weakness at shortstop; Ray Oyler, after hitting .135 in 1968, had
been let go to Seattle in the expansion draft. Nobody had any real
confidence that Dick Tracewski or Tommy Matchick could do the job. Mickey
Stanley, an outfielder who had played the position in the 1968 Series, was
the heir apparent. There was a general sense then that the Tigers had always
been weak at shortstop, and the fan voting seemed to emphasize this: the
two main rivals were Harvey Kueen and Billy Rogell, good players, but not
exactly on par with Mickey Cochrane, Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer, Ty
Cobb, and Harry Heilman, the leaders at other positions. 

In fact, the Tigers have had a number of excellent shortstops over the
years, and, indeed, had had the AL's starting All-Star shortstop just three
years previous to the 1969 vote, in Dick McAuliffe. Since that 1969 vote,
the Tigers have been graced with three more shortstops of at least some
note: Alan Trammell, a potential Hall of Famer; Gold Glove winner Eddie
Brinkman; and Travis Fryman, a two-time All-Star at shortstop who was
eventually, and unwisely, IMHO, moved over to third base. Today, many think
that the Tigers' young Deivi Cruz is the best fielding shortstop in
baseball. 

In fact, the very first real star of the Tigers was a shortstop: Kid
Elberfeld. Back at the turn of the century, the nickname "Kid" usually went
to a small, scrappy player. If the nickname were still used, for example,
in recent years we might have had Kid Dykstra or Kid Stankewicz. Norman
Arthur Elberfeld, or "The Tabasco Kid," as he was also called, personified
the name. He stood 5'5" and weighed 135 pounds, and was generally
consideded the most aggressive baserunner of the day. At the plate he was
known for trying to get hit by pitches. In the field, he would hip check
opposing players as they passed by second base. But he was liked and
respected off the field, and later in his career was one of the few veterans
who would go out of his way to help a young player (in those competitive
days, young players were usually viewed as little more than threats to job
security by most older ballplayers). 

Elberfeld had played a few games for Philadelphia and Cincinnati in
1898-99, but spent 1900 in the minors. 1901, at age 26, was his first year
as a regular. He turned in the best year of his career, leading the team in
batting (.310); slugging (.429, very good for the times); OBP (.397), and
RBI (76). He also stole 24 bases. The stats show him to have been a good
defensive player, leading the league in putouts, double plays, and total
chances per game (the last category being the best indicator of range
available for most of these early ballplayers), although his fielding
percentages were just average (Elberfeld would lead the league in chances
per game again in 1903). Unfortunately, though Elberfeld may have been the
Tigers' first "star", he was not destined to become the team's first great
player. His performance at the plate fell off sharply in 1902
(.260/.335/.326). However, he got off to a fast start in 1903, hitting
.341with an OBP over .400 through 35 games, when the Tigers rather
inexplicably traded him to New York. I say inexplicably, because the
players the Tigers got in return were Ernie Courtney, a journeyman
outfielder, and Herman Long, a fine shortstop in his day but 37 years old
and in rapid decline by 1903. Long hit .222 as the Tigers shortstop over
the rest of the year, Courtney played in just 23 games, and both were
released at the end of the season. I don't know if there were other, i.e.
personal or salary, reasons for trading Elberfeld, one of the best and most
popular players on the team. In any case, you can chalk it up as perhaps the
first really bad trade in Tigers history. Elberfeld played another nine
years, seven as a regular, with the Yankees and Senators.

Charley O'Leary took over the shortstop job in 1904. O'Leary's fielding
stats, such as are available to us, are OK, but not great. He did lead the
league in putouts and total chances per game (and errors) in 1906, and in
put-outs in 1907. I assume that he was a solid defensive player, because he
couldn't hit a lick. For his career he hit .226, with an OBP of .263 and a
slugging average of .273. But he was able to hold the shortstop job for
nearly 5 years, into 1908 (when injury or inability caused him to lose
playing time to Red Downs: Downs played second in 82 games, with the regular
2B, the colorful Germany Schaefer, moving over to short; O'Leary started all
five World Series games, hitting .158), and he remained a frequently used
utility player through the 1911 season. Released by the Tigers during 1912,
he would be the St. Louis Browns' starting SS in 1913. 

Late in 1908 the Tigers called up a shortstop from Indianapolis, a 20 year
old kid who stood just 5'6" and weighed 140. The youngster was so nervous
that it wasn't until he reached Detroit that he discovered he had forgotten
his spikes and glove, and he had to borrow O'Leary's equipment to make his
first major league start. He was Owen "Donie" Bush, the answer to the
trivia question I posed at the start of this series: who was the Tigers
greatest shortstop before Alan Trammell?

In the 1990s, there has been a tiny little Donie Bush revival. Still, one
doesn't hear much about Donie Bush. He was not interviewed by Lawrence
Ritter for the "The Glory of Their Times," even though he would have been
one of the easiest players from baseball's early days for Ritter to track
down, for reasons which will soon be apparent. In his "History of the
American League," Donald Honig includes a picture of Bush, but no text. In
the "Historical Baseball Abstract," Bill James compares the credentials of
many Hall of Famers and near Hall of Famers, by position. At shortstop he
includes Dave Bancroft, Dick Bartell, Davey Concepcion, Maury Wills, Bert
Campaneris, Travis Jackson, Mark Belanger, and many others, but not Donie
Bush. In the 1969 fan voting for the Tigers' All-Time team, Bush finished
far behind Billy Rogell and Harvey Kueen. Making this doubly odd is that
Bush remained quite visible after his playing days were done: He managed for
several years in the majors, with some success, including the 1927 National
League pennant with the Pirates; he was later Ted Williams' manager at
Minneapolis in the American Association, and is often credited as a very
positive influence on Williams' development. He then became manager,
general manager, and eventually owner of the Indianapolis team in the AA,
and the team's ballpark is, in fact, Donie Bush Stadium. Yet Bush, who died
in 1972, rarely gets mentioned when one talks about great shortstops. That
may be changing. Clay Davenport, of Davenport Translation fame, using his
formula for defensive runs created and offensive runs created, ranks Bush as
the 25th greatest Shortstop ever. One recent SABRE study claimed that Bush
had the 12th highest career range factor of any shortstop in history.

Bush was the kind of player that Michael Fischer, Roger King, and Peter
Welch could all love. He played great defense, he didn't strike out, and he
walked like crazy. Indeed, he led the league in walks five times, including
each of his first four years, but not including 1915, when he walked a
career high 118 times. Over twelve full seasons as Tiger shortstop, he
averaged 89 walks a year, including an average of 94 walks per season during
his prime, from 1909 through 1917. But his walk totals may be even more
impressive than that indicates. For example, in 1909, he led the AL with
"just" 88 walks - but that was *26* more than anyone else in the league. In
1911 his 98 walks was 24 more than any other player in the league. In 1912
his 117 walks led the league by 16. His 112 walks in 1914 led the league by
15, and the league's third place finisher in the category by 25. These
walks enabled him to put up some of the league's best on-base percentages (a
career .356 in an era of very little offense), despite a career .250 batting
average. Added to that, Bush was a superb base stealer, averaging 38 steals
a year between 1909 and 1917. Indeed, into the 1970s, he was in the top 15
players all time in walks and stolen bases. 

When he first came up, he batted second, after outfielder Davy Jones; later
he batted first. Putting his walks and stolen bases in front of the two
best hitters in the league, Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford, he sparked a Tiger
offense that regularly led the league in runs scored, and Bush himself
scored a ton of runs. From 1909 through 1917, he averaged over 101 runs
scored per year, finishing first in the league once, second twice, and
fourth twice. 

In the field, Bush was merely sensational. There were no Gold Gloves in
those days, but Davenport awards him "phantom" gold gloves for both 1909 and
1910. In 1909 he led the league in assists; in 1911 in putouts, assists, and
chances per game; in 1912 in assists and chances per game; in 1914 in
putouts (a major league record that still stands), assists, and chances per
game; and in 1915 in assists. 

Putting it all together, he was recognized as one of the best players in the
game, finishing as high as second in voting for the Chalmers Award (the
forerunner of the MVP) in 1914.

I have focused on Bush's stats during his prime years, from 1909 through
1917, after which he definitely declined, but it's not like Bush fell off a
cliff after 1917: over his last 4 years as the Tigers' regular shortstop
(1918-1921) he continued to draw walks (an average of 71 a year), steal the
occasional base (averaging 14 per year), and score runs (averaging 82 per
year), and hit as high as .281 in 1921. His range in the field had sharply
declined by the the late 1910s, but he still motored around enough to lead
the league in putouts in 1919. 

Bush was not, in my mind, a Hall of Fame ballplayer, but he was a very good
player for more than a decade. I think he compares well to, for example,
Davey Concepcion. Among all shortstops ever to play the game, Bush ranks 3rd
in career walks, 10th in stolen bases, 11th in runs, and 19th in OBA.
Defensively, Bush ranks 12th in putouts, 14th in successful chances, 16th in
range and putouts/game, 17th in assists/game, and 18th in assists.
Although the aging future Hall of Famer, Bobby Wallace, was still around,
and Jack Barry of Philadelphia may have been a better hitter, Bush was
probably the league's best all-around shortstop from 1909 until the
emergence of Ray Chapman and Roger Peckinpaugh as quality players after
1915. Donie Bush deserves to be considered one of the greatest Tiger
players ever. 

In late August, 1921, Bush was let go to Washington on waivers, and the
shortstop job in 1922 fell to a 25 year old rookie named Topper Rigney (and
you'd go by the name "Topper," too, if your real name was Emory Elmo). By
this time the lively ball era was well under way, and batting averages were
soaring. Rigney was pretty good at the plate, holding his own in this high
average era by hitting .300, .315, and .289 from 1922 to 1924, while drawing
as many as 102 walks (in 1924). However, when his offense fell off in 1925,
manager Ty Cobb benched him and then sold him to Boston at the start of the
1926 season. Rigney played one season as Boston's regular shortstop, hitting
a credible .270 with 108 walks while leading the league in fielding
percentage and chances per game, and was then traded to Washington even-up
for Buddy Myer, in one of the more lopsided trades of the time (the next
year Rigney's performance collapsed and he was out of baseball, and
Washington traded 5 players to Boston to get Myer back.)

Rigney's successor was Jackie Tavener, a little guy (5'5", 138 lbs) like
Bush. In four years as the Tigers regular shortstop (1925-1928) Tavener
twice slugged .406 for the Tigers, but that was pretty mediocre in the late
1920s. Tavener also showed some range, leading the league in chances per
game in 1928. I don't know anything about him but the raw data: I assume he
was a Greg Gagne sort, OK both offensively and defensively, but nothing
special. He was traded to Cleveland after the '28 season for pitcher George
Uhle. This turned out to be a pretty good deal for the Tigers as Uhle, a
career 200 game winner on the downside of his career, was a mainstay in the
rotation for the next three years, while Tavener lasted just one more season
in the Show.

Tavener's departure, however, created a void at short which took some time
to fill. Heinie Schuble (1929), Bill Akers (1929-30), Marty Koenig (1930)
and Billy Rogell (1930) split up the duties in 1929 and 1930, with little to
show for it. The 1931 season initially looked to offer more of the same,
with Akers, Koenig, and Rogell splitting the duties. Fortunately for
Detroit, the 26 year old Rogell, after hitting just .167 in 144 ABs in 1930,
finally began to connect. Although he played just 48 games at the
position, by late in the year he had firmly seized the job, hitting .303
with a .432 slugging average. Rogell would continue as the Tigers regular
for the next seven years, including the pennant winning seasons of 1934-35,
and be part of the famous "400 RBI infield" of those years. Though not a
great player by any means, Rogell's enthusiasm, attitude, and involvement in
the community, and not a little talent to boot, would make him one of the
most popular players in franchise history, and the man fans in 1969 would
vote for, over Donie Bush and Harvey Kuenn, as the Tigers greatest shortstop
ever.

Billy Rogell is the type of player it's hard not to like. Major league
baseball did not come easy to him. He got his first shot with the Red Sox in
1925 and found himself in over his head, hitting .195 in 169 at-bats. After
a year in the minors, he returned to the Sox and did OK in 1927, hitting
.266 with a .420 slugging average in 207 at-bats, but he slipped to .233 in
1928 and found himself back in the minors again in 1929. Hitching up with
the Tigers in 1930, we've already noted that he hit just .167 in a league
against a league average of .288. But he kept plugging away, and good
things finally began to happen in the 1931 season. From 1932 through 1938,
he was one of the most consistent players in baseball, and while not great
in any area, he found many ways to contribute. Keeping in mind that this was
an era of very high offensive output, he still hit for solid averages,
hitting .271, .295, .296, .275, .274, and .276 before dropping to .259 in
1938. He drew walks: 50 in 1932, then between 73 and 86 in each of the next
six seasons. For a rather skinny shortstop, he had a bit of pop in the bat,
hitting 5 to 11 triples a season, as many as 42 doubles, and usually 6-9
home runs. His slugging averages varied from .368 to .404 between '32 and
'37, then dropped a bit to .353 in 1938. He scored 88, 67, 114, 88, 85, 85,
and 76 runs, and drove in between 55 and 71 runs every year except for 1934,
when he reached the 100 RBI mark (the "400 RBI infield" of Hank Greenberg,
Charlie Gehringer, Rogell, and Marv Owen got a lot of ink for that
acheivement). He stole the occasional base. For folks who like contact, he
never struck out as many as 50 times in a season.

Rogell was equally consistent in the field, and Davenport credits him with
"phantom" gold gloves in 1934 and 1935. He had good range and was very
steady, leading the league in fielding percentage from 1935 through 1937.
In two World Series, his performance almost mirrored his regular season
performance, hitting .283. He was popular with teammates, opposing
ballplayers, and fans.

Rogell's 1938 performance indicated a slight drop from his 1931-37 numbers,
and he then declined rapidly in 1939, at age 34, quite old for the day. By
mid-season, Frank Croucher had replaced him as the regular shortstop. 

His playing days ended with 59 at-bats for the 1940 Cubs, after which Rogell
returned to make his home in Detroit. He became active in the community,
retained his friendly disposition, and was eventually elected to the Detroit
City Council, where he continued to show the consistency he had as a
ballplayer - he set a record by serving 38 years on the Council. Today
Rogell, 94, lives in Florida with his wife. He maintains that Babe Ruth
would hit about 90 homeruns in today's environment, but he rooted for
McGwire and Sosa to break the record, as he had for Roger Maris years
before: "Records are made to be broken." Of the two, he prefered McGwire
because, as he put it in a recent interview, "I'm an American Leaguer," and
McGwire, though now with the Cards, has played most of his career in the AL.
Along with catcher Ray Hayworth and pitchers Eldon Auker and Chief Hogsett,
he is one of four surviving members of the 1935 World Champs. I doubt that
it would be hard to track him down in Florida and give him a phone call.
From all I've ever read of Billy Rogell, the caller would be treated in a
most courteous and welcomed manner. It may be that on that 1969 All-Time
Tiger team, Rogell's talent pales when compared to that of the top tier Hall
of Famers surrounding him: Cochrane, Greenberg, Gehringer, Cobb, Heilman,
Kaline, even George Kell. But a team with that much talent can afford, and
deserves, a Billy Rogell.

HISTORY OF TIGER SHORTSTOPS (PART II)

In baseball, it is common for a team to have regular periods of instability
at every position. A star retires, and the promising rookie flops; a
journeyman fills the slot for a year or two until a prospect is ready; a
year-by-year platoon arrangement arises. The Tigers' shortstop situation,
however, moved along almost seamlessly for almost 40 years: from Charlie
O'Leary (1904-08) to Donnie Bush (1909-21) to Topper Rigney (1922-24) to
Jackie Tavener (1925-28) to Billy Rogell (1931-38). Except between the 1928
season, after which Tavener was traded, until Rogell clinched the job in
1931, there was never any doubt who the Tigers shortstop would be. Only
Bush was a star, but Rogell was a good player and O'Leary, Rigney, and
Tavener were all solid regulars.

The trade of Billy Rogell on December 6, 1939, season marked the end of this
long stability. As we have seen, the rapidly declining Rogell was actually
forced to the bench by rookie Frank Croucher during the 1939 season. But
Croucher wasn't up to the task: his struggled in the field and hit just .269
with 16 walks (342 PAs) and a .361 slugging average in a league where the
league averages, including pitchers, were .279/.407. Thus the Tigers opened
the 1940 season with Dick Bartell at short. 

Bartell was the player acquired for Rogell. Bartell had been one of the
outstanding National League shortstops of the 1930s. Career wise, Bartell
ranks substantially above Rogell simply because he emerged as a quality
regular three years before Rogell and lasted four years longer, but from
1931 through 1938 he was a very similar player to Rogell, both in his types
of skills and his performance level. The trade was a smart move by the
Tigers: Rogell was finished (he would bat just 59 more times in his career,
hitting .136), whereas Bartell, 3 years younger, had some good baseball left
in him. Unfortunately, the 1940 season was easily the worst offensive year
of Bartell's career: he set career lows in BA (.233) and slugging (.330).
However, he was almost certainly the league's outstanding defensive
shortstop and would probably have won the Gold Glove had they been handing
them out then. The Tigers, with the league's leading offense behind Barney
McCoskey (.340); Charlie Gehringer, and Hank Greenberg and Rudy York (who
combined for 74 homers and 284 ribbies), could afford to carry a glove a
short. Besides, it's not like Bartell was a complete wipeout on offense: he
drew 76 walks and stole 12 bases, a high total in those days. He fully
deserves to be considered an integral part of the Tigers third pennant
winner in 7 years. 

Unfortunately, the Tigers threw away some of the advantage of the Rogell
trade when they waived Bartell just five games into the 1941 season, after a
slow start. Bartell went to the Giants, where he regained his batting eye
(hitting over .300 for the rest of the season) and played regularly through
1943. Croucher moved back in at short at again showed no fielding ability
and a limited bat. He was traded to Washington in another pretty good trade
(Croucher and spare OF Bruce Campbell for 2B Jimmy Bloodworth and OF Doc
Cramer, a fleet, .300+ BA, low slugging/OBP type). Billy Hitchcock, a 25
year old rookie, took over in 1942, played poorly at bat (.211/.277/.246)
and in the field, and was drafted during the season. Moe Franklin, a
typical wartime player, filled in for the rest of 1942, hitting a little
better than Hitchcock. In 1943 and 44 the Tigers turned the job over to Joe
Hoover, another wartime player in his late twenties who gave it his best but
just wasn't very good on offense or defense. We can demonstrate that by the
mere fact that during the 1945 season he lost his job to Skeeter Webb, a 35
year old journeyman who hit just .199. Finally, after the 1945 season, the
Tigers acted to remedy the situation. With Hank Greenberg back from the war
and no longer up to playing the outfield, as he had in 1940, the Tigers were
left with no place to play the hard-hitting, hard-fielding first baseman
Rudy York, and York was traded to Boston for shortstop Eddie Lake. Thus,
Lake opened the 1946 season as the Tigers' eighth (or ninth, depending on
how you count) regular shortstop in nine years, beginning in Rogell's last
regular season, 1938 (Rogell, Croucher, Bartell, Croucher again, Hitchcock,
Franklin, Hoover, Webb and Lake).

Eddie Lake is worth more than a passing mention not only because he was the
first really solid player to fill the position for Detroit since Bartell six
years before, but also because he is emblematic of a brief period of major
league history which produced a unique type of player. 

In the immediate post-WWII era, walks per game rose to record levels not
matched before or since. Exactly why, I don't know. Perhaps men who had
been to war had a new perspective on swinging at bad pitches. Almost
certainly, the hitting philosophies espoused by the best hitter of the time,
Ted Williams, had something to do with it (wait for a pitch you can clobber,
then uppercut). Maybe the umps were fiddling with the strike zone, as in the
90s, although I've never heard that. In any case, this era developed a host
of players who drew enormous numbers of walks, even though they were neither
high average hitters nor particularly powerful hitters. Often they were
middle infielders. One of the most successful was, of course, the Walking
Man, Ed Yost. Yost was one of the very few of these players, in fact, to
last much beyond 1950, because he was a better pure hitter. But he had many
seasons that illustrate my point: for example, 1956, when he drew 151 walks
with a .231 BA and .336 slugging. However, a decade earlier, Yost was not
alone in putting up such numbers. Most of these guys could hit some, and
had some pretty good seasons with the bat, but none were great hitters and
all were able to draw large numbers of walks even in their worst seasons.
There were players such as Eddie Stanky, who drew over 100 walks in 6 of 7
seasons (missing the mark in a year in which injury limited him to 61 walks
in 67 games). In 1945, a not atypical year, Stanky hit .258 with .333
slugging, but drew 148 walks. There was Eddie Joost, the Athletics slugging
shortstop: Joost, at his peak, hit quite well for a shortstop, slugging 16
or more homers every year between 1948 and 1952. But he drew walks no
matter what he hit: in 1947, for example, he hit .206 with a .330 slugging
average, and 114 walks. Ferris Fain put together a couple of fine seasons to
win back-to-back batting titles in 1951-52, but before then he had seasons
such as 1949, hitting .263 with a .339 slugging average and 136 walks.
There were players we've never heard of, such as Pat Seerey, who drew 90
walks in 105 games while hitting .231. There was Tiger Roy Cullenbine,
drawing 137 walks while hitting .224 in 1947, and there were many others.
And there was Eddie Lake.

Lake hit .254 in 1946, with 103 walks and 105 runs scored. In '47, he
slipped to just .211 with a .322 slugging average, but pushed his walk
totals to 120. Peter Welch would have been in heaven. Most fans, however,
found this slow, slow style of play boring, and GMs and managers both seem
to have tired of it, for better or worse, rather quickly. Lake was 32 by
this time, old for the day, and in 1948 he lost the regular shortstop job to
Johnny Lipon. Lake hung on as a utility player, finishing his career with
the Tigers after the 1950 season.

Lipon had first appeared with the Tigs as a 19 year-old war substitute in
1942, and was overmatched, hitting .191 in 131 ABs. He was then drafted in
turn, spent some time in the minors after the war, and finally returned to
the majors for good in '48. "Skids," as he was called, was a solid two-way
player. He was one of the better fielding shortstops in the league,
although the gold gloves, if there had been any back then, would probably
have gone to better known players such as Rizzuto and Vern Stephens, even in
1950, when Lipon led the league in assists, double plays, and chances per
game. He made too many errors for the voters. He could hit some, too,
batting .290 in 1948 and .293 in 1950, and drawing as many as 81 walks in
1950. He was a key player on the 1950 team that finished 95-59, three games
behind the Yankees, and marked the end of an era that had begun with the
acquisition of Mickey Cochrane and the emergence of Hank Greenberg in 1934.
During that 17 year period, the Tigers had won more games and more pennants
than any team in the league save the Yankees. In addition to pennants in
1934,'35, '40, and '45, the Tigers finished second in 1936, '37, '44,
'46,'47 and '50. After 1950, it would be eleven years before the Tigers
again contended for a pennant, or even won more than 82 games in a season.
The bleak 1950s were about to begin.

Johnny Lipon's reign at short ended on June 3, 1952, when he was traded to
Boston in a nine player deal that also marked the end of George Kell's Tiger
career. The Tigers would finish last in 1952 for the first time in history.
Through the heat of the summer, the position was filled by the rapidly
declining Johnny Pesky, acquired in the Boston deal, and Neil Berry, a
utilityman on the Tigers roster since the '48 season. In September,
however, the Tigers called up rookie Harvey Kuenn, who hit .325 in 19 games,
and Kuenn was the opening day shortstop in 1953.

The Tigers had another highly touted rookie on the 1953 squad, one Al
Kaline, but though Kaline would eventually become far and away the greater
player, in 1953 it was Kuenn's turn to shine while Kaline sat on the bench.
Kuenn hit .308, good for seventh in the league, and led the league in hits
while starting all 155 games. At season's end, he was a runaway winner of
the Rookie of the Year award. 

Kuenn is not my favorite type of hitter, but he was one of the best hitters
of his type and an outstanding offensive force at shortstop. That Kuenn
should be so successful indicates how quickly the backlash had developed
against the patient, low average, lots of walks hitters, such as Eddie Lake,
who had dominated the game from 1945-50 (this dramatic shift was also
indicated when the next two position players to win the AL Rookie of the
Year award were also speedy, first ball hitting shortstops - but without
Kuenn's offensive talent - Luis Aparicio and Tony Kubek.) Kuenn didn't walk
much, and didn't hit home runs, but he did hit for outstanding averages.
Not including the 1957 season, when he hit .277, Kueen hit .306 in 1954 (6th
in the league); .306 in '55 (5th); .332 in '56 (3rd); .319 in '58 (3rd); and
.353 in '59 (1st), after which he was traded to Cleveland, for whom he
finished 5th in batting in 1960. Even including 1957, he finished in the
top five in the league in hits all seven of his Tiger seasons, finishing
first three times. Nor was he "just" a singles hitter. He had good line
drive power and good speed, allowing him to finish in the top four in the
league in doubles (including first three times) during all seven of his
Tiger seasons, and he usually added a half dozen or so triples to boot. He
typically chipped in with eight or nine homers. Thus his slugging
percentages were often quite good: .501 in '59; .470 in '56; .442 in '58. To
top it off, Kuenn, not the more retiring Kaline, was the acknowledged
clubhouse leader on the Tigers during the decade.

Kuenn was moved to the outfield after the 1957 season. The decision was a
mixed one. Kueen was not a bad defensive player - he led the league in
fielding percentage one year and had good range during his first few years -
but by '57 his range was already declining, and he had never been especially
good on the double play. I suspect he also suffered a bit from the general
prejudice against good hitting shortstops in the field. In any event, the
Tigers' regular center fielder, Bill Tuttle, wasn't much of a hitter, so the
Tigers didn't give up too much in substituting a shortstop's bat for his,
and the move probably improved the Tigers on defense at both positions.
Perhaps helped by being freed from the defensive duties of a shortstop,
Kuenn had two of his best seasons in 1958-59, including winning the '59
batting title. Then, on April 17, 1960, the day before Opening Day, Kuenn
was traded to the Indians for home run king Rocky Colavito in one of the
most controversial and discussed trades in baseball history. That trade that
definitely worked to the Tigers' advantage, and many a Cleveland fan traced
the club's long decline as beginning with that trade: in Cleveland, the
club's dismal three decades from 1960 - 1993 are still referred to as the
"curse of Colavito." Thus it is worth mentioning that the trade was also
controversial, and widely unpopular when made, in Detroit. "Joe and I
believe that the home run is overrated," Indians GM Frank Lane said,
speaking for himself and manager Joe Gordon. "Look at Washington. They
almost led the league in home runs and finished last. ... We've added 50
singles and taken away 50 strikeouts." One suspects Randy Smith would have
agreed. (Alert readers will note the irony that Gordon was fired by
Cleveland during the season, and hired by Detroit that same year, making him
one of the few individuals to manage two teams in one season.)

Kuenn played just one season for Cleveland, a solid season but far below his
1958-59 level of play. He was then traded to San Francisco, where he started
in center field on the 1962 pennant winners and played in his last All-Star
game. He retired after the 1966 season, later had a short but successful
managerial career (leading the Brewers to the 1982 pennant and winning
"Manager of the Year" with a free swinging, power hitting team known as
"Harvey's Wallbangers"), and died young in 1988.

The Tigers had two shortstop options in 1958. Was one veteran Billy Martin,
acquired from Kansas City in a 13 player trade the previous November (The
Tigers seemed to love "blockbuster" trades in the 1950s). The other was a
highly touted rookie glove man with the wonderful name of Orville Inman
Veal, popularly known as "Coot." Veal is one of the key players interviewed
in "We Also Played the Game," a "Glory of Their Times" type book focusing on
players from the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s. Veal's quotes are some of the
most interesting in the book, because his quotes show the frustration,
disappointment, and resentment of a player whose career was ruined by
feckless scouts, nagging injuries, and ill-timed slumps. That, and he just
wasn't as good as he would have liked to be. Yet his quotes also show the
joy of playing in the bigs along the greats he would have like to be. 

Martin played most of the 1958 season at short, but Veal was called up in
July and played well enough to make the Sporting News All-Rookie team in 58
games. He was expected to open the '59 season at short, but injuries and a
slump limited him to just 77 games, many as a defensive sub. After another
injury plagued season in 1960, during which he hit better than usual but was
limited to just 64 ABs, he was let go in the expansion draft. Meanwhile, in
1959 the shortstop job had passed to journeyman Rocky Bridges, then in 1960
Chico Fernandez, acquired before the season from the Phillies in a five
player deal. 

Fernandez was like a beggar's Luis Aparicio, and it seems every team had one
back then; a speedy, light hitting, hacking middle infielder from Latin
America, often as not given the rather insulting, cuddly racist nickname of
"Chico." Besides being a rotten fielder, Fernandez is a curio because his
1960 and 1961 seasons, though hardly good, are probably as identical as any
player has ever put up in consecutive years: in '60, he played 133 games,
getting 105 hits in 435 ABs for a .241 average, with 39 walks, 13 doubles, 3
triples, 4 HRs, 44 runs and 35 RBI. In '61, he again played 133 games,
getting 108 hits in 435 ABs for a .248 average, with 36 walks, 15 doubles, 4
triples, 3 HRs, 41 runs and 40 RBI. In 1962, Fernandez surprised the
Tigers and the league by bashing 20 homers, fully half of his eight year
career total. But he started slow in 1963, and the Tigers had a much more
talented player waiting in the wings - Fernandez was traded on May 8, 1963,
and Dick McAuliffe installed at shortstop.

I won't tarry long on McAuliffe - I discussed him at length in the article
on second basemen - other than to say that McAuliffe was a fine player. He
was a much better than average defensive player, and an offensive threat
with both power and on-base-percentage when most shortstops offered neither.
After a 24 homer 1964 season, injuries limited Mac to just 112 games at
short in 1965 and 105 in 1966, when he put up an OPS of .880 while many of
the league's shortstops were below .600. Between Kuenn and McAuliffe, the
Tigers had the best offensive shortstop in the league for eight of the 14
years between 1953 and 1966. 

But the Tigers had trouble elsewhere. Since 1964, Jerry Lumpe, a consumate
journeyman, had manned second base, but by 1966 it was clear he was at the
end of the line. The only real second base prospect in the Detroit system
was a player named Bruce Campbell, but he was still in the lower minors, and
wasn't a great prospect anyway (he eventually started for a couple years
with the expansion Padres). So Detroit tried another option: they moved
McAuliffe, the starting shortstop in the 1966 All-Star game, to second base,
and installed glove-man Ray Oyler at short. The Tigers had no illusions
about Oyler's lack of ability with the bat: thanks to McAuliffe's injuries,
he had batted 400 times over the course of the 1965-66 seasons, hitting
.178. The Tigers could have traded: they had a glut of outfielders with the
arrival of youngsters Willie Horton, Jim Northrup, and Mickey Stanley, in
addition to veterans Al Kaline and Gates Brown, and they had starting
pitching to deal, although poor 1966 seasons by Mickey Lolich and Joe Sparma
might have scared them a bit. But, for whatever reason, they decided that
moving McAuliffe and inserting Oyler was the best bet.

In the event, Oyler wasn't all that bad in 1967. He hit just .207, with a
.278 OBP and .264 slugging, but his OPS was better than Minnesota's Zoilo
Versailles, Washington's Eddie Brinkman, or New York's Ruben Amaro, and the
Tigers felt his glove work justified his position (By all accounts, Oyler
was a superb defensive shortstop. I was too young to really observe or
remember, though I saw him play. The statistics are not, truth be told,
particularly impressive.) Anyway, with utilityman Dick Tracewski hitting a
career high .280 behind him, the situation seemed OK. Unfortunately, the
roof fell in in 1968, as Oyler hit just .135, which I believe is the lowest
average ever for a player in over 100 games. His OPS was just .393! The
Tigers tried other options: Tracewski got over 200 ABs, but didn't hit much
better (a .156 BA). Rookie Tommy Matchick played over 50 games at short,
but batted just .203/.235/.286. 

It was the Tigers' resident joker, first baseman Norm Cash, who came up with
the solution. One day in early September, Cash approached Manager Mayo
Smith and suggested that centerfielder Mickey Stanley be moved to short.
Smith bit. The move allowed him to return Al Kaline's big bat and, yes,
veteran leadership, to the field (Kaline had been having another fine season
when he broke his arm diving for a fly ball in mid-May. Stanley and Northrup
had played so well in his absence that Kaline was unable to crack the
line-up after his return.) Stanley got nine September starts at short, then
started all seven World Series games at the position. The defending world
champion Cardinals tested him right away: lead-off hitter Lou Brock
intentionally hit a grounder to Stanley in the first inning, which Stanley
gobbled up. Oyler came in as a defensive sub in all four Tiger victories.
And though Stanley did not have a particularly good offensive series, Kaline
led the Tigers in hitting at .379 with 2 homers, 6 runs, and 8 RBIs,
slugging over .800. Kaline's bases loaded, seventh-inning single in the
pivotal 5th game put the Tigers into the lead, and they never trailed again
in winning the series 4 games to 3.

After the season, Oyler was selected in the expansion draft by the Seattle
Pilots. There he briefly had an enthusiastic fan club, but he was eventually
way laid by his inability to hit major league pitching and, more tragically,
alcoholism. He died at age 42 in 1981.

The Tigers, meanwhile, planned to open the 1969 season with Stanley at
short. Unfortunately, Stanley didn't know much about playing the position,
including how to warm up properly. In the spring, he threw out his arm
while making a pre-game toss from deep in the hole. Though he tried to mask
it and played 59 games at short, it soon became clear that he could no
longer make the deep throw. He returned to the outfield where, through
skillful positioning and bluff, he masked his throwing deficiency and added
three gold gloves to the one he won in 1968. He even won one in '69, despite
playing just 101 games in the outfield.

With the Stanley experiment over, the Tigers had a gaping hole at short.
For the short term, they acquired Detroit-born Tom Tresh from the Yankees
for back-up outfielder Ron Woods. Tresh had been the AL Rookie of the Year
in 1962, and a very good hitter through the 1966 season, when, playing the
outfield, he hit 27 homers and drew 86 walks. However, at age 30 he lost his
stroke, and was nearing the end by the time he reached Detroit at age 32.
He performed well enough over the last two-thirds of 1969, hitting 13
homers, but he was obviously not a long term solution.

Next up was Cesar Gutierrez, plucked off the waiver wire in September of
1969 and installed at short for the 1970 season. Gutierrez was totally
forgetable, except for the marvelous day of June 21, 1970, when he set a
major league record by collecting seven hits (six singles and a double) in
one game - fully six percent of his five year career output.

After nearly five years of failed experiments and stopgaps, the Tigers
finally got serious about getting a solid, regular shortstop before the 1971
season. The man they landed was Eddie Brinkman, who came over from the
Senators as part of the lopsided Denny McLain trade. Brinkman had been one
of the league's best fielding shortstops in the previous decade. However,
in his first 7 seasons he had never hit as much as .230 and had been below
.190 four times. In 1969, Ted Williams took over as the Senators' Manager
and Brinkman became one of his prize batting pupils. In 1969-70, Brinkman
hit .266 and .262, setting career highs in walks each season. Leaving
Williams' tutelage, his averages dropped again in Detroit. However, in four
seasons as the Tigers regular he would never be the offensive zero he had
been before Williams worked with him, and he even popped 14 homers in 1974. 

But what made Brinkman a bonafide regular was obviously not his bat, but his
glove. He almost certainly had deserved a Gold Glove or two during the
1960s, and finally got one in 1972, when he set major league records with 63
consecutive errorless games and a .990 fielding percentage. Though both
marks have since been broken, at the time each was substantially better than
the old record. "Steady Eddie's" work with the glove was a key part of the
Tigers' division championship, and he even placed in the top 10 in MVP
balloting, which should warm the heart's of defensive fans. Unfortunately,
injuries limited him to one game in the playoffs, which the Tigers lost 3-2
to Oakland.

Brinkman was traded after the 1974 season in an effort to fill a void at
first base (the Tigers wound up with 1B Nate Colbert in return) and to open
a slot for highly touted prospect Tom Veryzer. Veryzer was a good defensive
ballplayer who hit passably well for a 22 year old rookie in 1975 (.252,
.327 slugging). Unfortunately, he didn't build on that season, but
regressed, and by 1977 hit just .197 with few walks, no power and no stolen
bases. Fortunately, the Tigers had a fast rising prospect available in Alan
Trammell.

The decision to open the 1978 season with Trammell at short was not made
without trepidation. He was barely 20 years old, had not played at AAA, and
had hit just .186 in 43 major league ABs the prior September. The Tigers
had another young shortstop, Mark Wagner, who had played AAA and had 61 ML
games under his belt in 1976-77, and many felt that the Tigers should open
with Wagner and give Trammell a year in AAA. He was, in a word, "rushed."
He hit a respectable .268/.334/.339, played good defense, and finished third
in Rookie of the Year balloting. A great career was launched.

I've done the Trammell for Hall of Fame bit here before, so I won't repeat
that other than to say that few shortstops have hit better or played longer.
As a defensive ballplayer, Trammell was probably overrated, but it would be
odd to cite defense as a reason not to put a four time Gold Glove winner in
the Hall. Most analysts who have systematically studied the matter,
including Bill James and Clay Davenport, have found him comfortably
deserving of the Hall, and I remain of the belief that he will go in,
probably on writer's vote, sometime next decade.

Trammell's career as the Tiger's regular shortstop lacks a clear end point:
he was rather phased out, by injuries and managerial choice, over several
years. 1990 was the last year he clearly held the job for a full season,
and he had one of his better years, putting up triple crown numbers of
.304/14/89. In 1991 a series of nagging injuries limited him to 101 games,
with second year man Travis Fryman playing 71 games at short. In '92,
Trammell went out for the season in early May, and Fryman played short for
the rest of the year. Trammell was back in 1993 and had his last great
season that year, hitting .329/.388/.496, but injuries limited him to 112
games. Moreover, many of those appearances were made at DH or in limited
roles, as Fryman played 81 games at short. Additionally, a new player, 22
year old Chris Gomez, appeared when Trammell went on the DL early in the
season. Gomez got off to a magnificent start, and though he soon cooled
off, Sparky Anderson was clearly impressed. Thus, Gomez became the regular
shortstop in 1994, with Trammell playing in 76 games total, including some
action at third, in the outfield, and at DH. 

Gomez's 1994 season was impressive enough for a young player of 23 (he was
just 22 on opening day, with a mid-June birthday), slugging over .400 and
substantially increasing his walk rate. Had he taken another step forward
in 1995, he would have become a pretty good player. Instead, after a solid
first half of the season, he fell apart in the second half of the year. A
slow start in 1996 got him shipped off to San Diego. As part of that deal,
the Tigers picked up SS Andujar Cedeno, a player who, for those who can't
forget him, is probably one of the most hated Tigers ever. Cedeno was bad
enough that, by season's end, Manager Buddy Bell had moved Travis Fryman
back to short.

In the 1996-97 off-season, the Tigers acquired Orlando Miller to play short,
and also picked up a Rule V player, Deivi Cruz. Cruz was expected to back
Miller, play some late inning defense, and maybe get 150 ABs. But Miller
was injured in spring training, and Cruz was at short on opening day. He
quickly established himself as perhaps the best defensive shortstop in the
league, and although he couldn't hit a blast furnace with a heat seeking
missle, he would not be moved when Miller finally returned. Cruz's offense,
though still anemic, improved in late 1997 and 1998. His OPS improved by 62
points from 1997 to 1998, to .639, and if he can make a similar improvement
in 1999 he could be quite a valuable player, given his defensive abilities.
He is still young enough (he turns 24 on June 11) that such improvement is a
definite possibility. On the other hand, the same could have been said of
Tom Veryzer and Chris Gomez. The next two years will be very important ones
for Deivi Cruz. The Tiger offense is not strong enough to carry his weak
bat. If he declines to 1997 levels, the Tigers probably need to find
someone else. If he stays at 1998 levels, well, the Tigers have bigger
problems, and can probably afford to give him another year or two. If he
makes another substantial improvement, the Tigers will be set at short for
some time, and we can expect a series of Gold Gloves in due time, when the
voters catch up to the reality of Cruz's defense. 

TIGER SHORTSTOP AWARDS AND HONORS

HALL OF FAME: None. This is the only position at which the Tigers do not
have a Hall of Famer. Indeed, they have never had a Hall of Famer as a
regular shortstop for even a year or two, as they have with players such as
Goose Goslin and Al Simmons. Alan Trammell should become the first.

MVPs: None. Third base and left field are the other positions with no
Tiger MVP winner.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Harvey Kuenn, 1953

GOLD GLOVES: Eddie Brinkman, 1972
Alan Trammell, 1980; 1981; 1983; 1984
The Tigers have had many good fielding shortstops: Donie Bush, Billy
Rogell, and Dick Bartell probably all would have won gold gloves had
the award been around during their 
Tiger playing days.

ALL STAR SELECTIONS: Harvey Kuenn, 1953; 1954; 1955; 1956; 1957
Dick McAuliffe, 1965; 1966
Eddie Brinkman, 1973
Alan Trammell, 1980; 1984; 1985; 1987; 1988; 1990
Travis Fryman, 1992; 1993
If you're counting, that's 16 All-Star selections in 36 years, not a
bad total.

SMITH'S RANKINGS:
PEAK VALUE 		CAREER VALUE
1. Alan Trammell 		1. Alan Trammell
2. Donie Bush 			2. Donie Bush
3. Harvey Kuenn 		3. Billy Rogell
4. Dick McAuliffe 		4. Harvey Kuenn
5. Kid Elberfeld 		5. Dick McAuliffe

Though not having any HoFers, Detroit has had quite a number of very good
players at short. Indeed, far from being a position of perpetual
instability, as I was led to believe as a lad, Detroit has been pretty solid
at short for most of its history - granted that there have been two periods
of great instability, between 1939 and 1945 and from 1967 through 1970.
Career value rankings were easy, given the relative length of time different
shortstops spent in a Tiger uniform. Rogell, a good player, was the Tigers'
regular for 7 1/2 years, and also came off the bench for two more. Kuenn,
the next longest player in longevity at the position, played it for just
five years, and I have to conclude that Rogell's value as a Tiger shortstop
was higher. McAuliffe was the regular for just four years, and part of one
other, but draws the 5th slot over Charlie O'Leary, an inferior player who
was the regular for five years and played a couple more off the bench. In
the Peak value category, it is hard for me to judge, but I get the sense
that Donie Bush's impact in 1909-10, and really extending through 1914, was
quite powerful. But one could certainly rank Kuenn ahead of him. McAuliffe
makes my peak value lists at both second base and short, and deserves it:
I'll defend those selections vigorously. You could choose Fryman on the
peak value list, but he really only played one full season as the regular
shortstop, and I tend to think of peak value as a 2-3 year time period. Of
course, this cuts against Elberfeld, who played just 2 1/3 seasons for
Detroit, and was only really good in 1901 and before being traded in 1903:
his 1902 year was not so good. But I picked him in part to get another
oldster in there, what the heck. One could also make arguments, with
varying degrees of reasonableness, for Billy Rogell, Eddie Brinkman, Topper
Rigney, or Johnny Lipon in the 5th spot. 

Bradley A. Smith Phone: (614) 236-6676
Associate Professor Fax: (614)236-6956
Capital University Law School e-mail:
bsmith@law.capital.edu
303 E. Broad St.
Columbus, OH 43215

Peter Welch's Detroit Tigers Page