Retired Numbers: Detroit Tigers

(This is part of a series on retired numbers, with somewhat of a focus on Retired Number Bandits — players who wore a number that was later retired at any point after the person for whom it was retired first wore it. See the introduction for more information and explanation on Bandits.)

The Detroit Tigers have six official and somewhere between one and three unofficial retired numbers, plus one honored player who played before uniform numbers:

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Charlie Gehringer, 2

Gehringer spent his entire 19-year career in Detroit, winning the 1937 AL MVP Award and finishing in the top ten eight other times. He had a career batting line of .320/.404/.480 and was a great defensive second baseman.

Gehringer was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1949, but the Tigers did not retire his number 2 until 1983. Between his retirement in 1942 and the retiring of his number, it was worn by Dick Wakefield, Chief Hogsett, Don Ross, Ed Mierkowicz, Roy Cullenbine, Paul Campbell, Johnny Lipon, Fred Hatfield, Joe Ginsberg, Reno Bertoia, Al Aber, Frank House, Frank Bolling, Jake Wood, Tommy Matchick, Dalton Jones, John Knox, Phil Mankowski, and Richie Hebner.

Hank Greenberg, 5

Greenberg’s number 5 was retired at the same ceremony as Gehringer’s number 2 in 1983. Greenberg was a two-time MVP who spent 12 of his 13 seasons with the Tigers. He missed three full seasons and the majority of two others due to World War II, but still finished his career with 331 home runs in just nine full seasons and parts of four others.

Greenberg retired in 1947 with a career line of .313/.412/.605. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1956.

During Greenberg’s time in World War II, his number was worn by Rip Radcliff, Don Heffner, Jake Mooty, and Billy Pierce. After Greenberg left the Tigers, it was worn by Sam Vico, Vic Wertz, Cliff Mapes, Bob Nieman, Bill Tuttle, Jim Finigan, Gail Harris, Dick Gernert, Frank House, Purnal Goldy, Jim Northrup, Mark Wagner, and Howard Johnson.

Al Kaline, 6

Kaline played his entire 22-year career with the Tigers, knocking 3,007 hits and 399 home runs. He retired in 1974, and he was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibilty. He then spent 28 years as a Tigers broadcaster.

Although Kaline’s number 6 wasn’t officially retired until Kaline’s election to the Hall of Fame in 1980, no one has worn it for the Tigers since his retirement.

Hal Newhouser, 16

Newhouser is the only pitcher ever to win back-t0-back Most Valuable Player Awards. He spent 15 of his 17 seasons in Detroit, retiring in 1955 after two seasons with the Indians.

Most of Newhouser’s success came during World War II, when the league was diluted by military service. Perhaps because of that, he was never elected to the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA. The Veteran’s Committee finally elected him in 1992, and the Tigers retired his number in 1997.

Before Newhouser’s number 16 was retired, it was worn by Walt Masterson, Reno Bertoia, Ray Narleski, Ray Semproch, Phil Regan, Earl Wilson, Jim Hannan, Ron Perranoski, Gene Michael, Tom Brookens, David Palmer, Brian Dubois, Dave Haas, and David Wells.

Willie Horton, 23

Horton is an interesting case, as one of his Retired Number Bandits is arguably more deserving of the honor. Kirk Gibson wore number 23 for 12 seasons with the Tigers, amassing 27.6 WAR compared to Horton’s 25.9 in 15 seasons. Gibson also had a very famous home run off Hall of Fame closer Goose Gossage of the Padres to help Detroit win the 1984 World Series.

Horton, though, is a bit of a folk hero for his efforts to help end racially charged riots in Detroit in 1967. With Gibson returning to the Tigers fold as a broadcaster, it seems possible that the team might do a double-retirement to honor Gibson along with Horton.

The other Tigers besides Gibson to wear 23 since Horton are Harry Spilman, Torey Lovullo, Dan Petry, Mark Leiter, Gabe Kapler, and Hideo Nomo.

Sparky Anderson, 11

After winning four National League pennants and two World Series championships in nine years as the Cincinnati Reds manager, Anderson was fired after a 92-win season in 1978 because he objected to ownership’s desire to fire some of his coaches. The Tigers hired Anderson midway through the 1979 season, and he managed them until his retirement in 1995.

Anderson was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000, and the Tigers retired his number in 2011, eight months after his death. No one has worn number 11 for the Tigers since Anderson.

Here is Anderson’s Hall of Fame induction speech:

Honored: Ty Cobb

Cobb was one of the best players in baseball history and one of the original five elected members of the Hall of Fame class of 1936. He also played his entire career before teams wore numbers on their backs, so there is no number to retire for him. But the Tigers have put his name on the wall with their retired numbers.

Unofficial (and not current): Lou Whitaker, 1

Whitaker played his entire 19-year career with the Tigers, with a blend of offense and defense that was not fully appreciated in its time. While he is pretty clearly qualified for at least serious consideration for the Hall of Fame, he received only 2.9 percent of the vote in 2001 and fell off the ballot.

Whitaker’s number 1 was not issued between his retirement in 1995 and 2013, when shortstop Jose Iglesias requested it. It is unclear why Iglesias was allowed to wear a number that had clearly been off-limits for 18 years, but Whitaker was diplomatic when asked about it.

Unofficial (and not current): Alan Trammell, 3

Trammell was the other half of the Tigers middle infield in the 1980s, playing alongside Whitaker for 19 seasons. Trammell did not fall off the ballot on the first vote like Whitaker, but he ran out of eligibility this year after failing to be elected for the 15th time.

Trammell’s number 3 also has a similar story to Whitaker’s. After Trammell’s retirement, no player wore the number until Gary Sheffield in 2007-2008, and that was with Trammell’s blessing. When Ian Kinsler was traded to the Tigers before the 2014 season, he saw that Iglesias was wearing number 1 and thought it would be a cool nod to Tigers history to have a middle infield of 1 and 3 again, so he requested number 3. Trammell gave his blessing after the fact.

Interestingly, Trammell is returning to the Tigers as first-base coach in 2016, and he and Kinsler will both wear number 3. Trammell also wore 3 when he managed the Tigers from 2003-2005.

Unofficial: Jack Morris, 47

Morris went 198-150 in 14 seasons with the Tigers and was a key member of the 1984 World Series championship team. He spent 15 years on the Hall of Fame ballot, earning as much as 67.7 percent of the vote, but he was never elected.

Morris’s number 47 has not been issued since he left the Tigers in 1990.

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