We’re nearing the finish line for Motor City Bengals All-Time Detroit Tigers team. This installment will be the last to feature a player (or in this case, players). Next week, in the final installment, we’ll name the All-Time Detroit Tigers manager.
We decided to combine two positions for this edition of the all-time team simply because a player that comes in during late innings to add a bit of pop to the lineup is a somewhat antiquated notion, at least where it concerns the American League and the DH.
So who is the Tigers All-Time designated hitter?
Tigers fans knew that when the Cleveland Indians came to Comerica Park, Victor Martinez was going to light them up. V-Mart signed as an amateur free agent with the Tribe in 1996, and made his major league debut in 2002, playing in a dozen games with a .281 average.
It wasn’t until 2004 that V-Mart ascended to full-time status in Cleveland as their starting catcher. His first full season saw him hit .283 with 23 homers and 98 RBIs and earn the first of four All-Star appearances.
Martinez was a fan favorite in Cleveland until being dealt to the Boston Red Sox near the trading deadline of 2009. He stayed in Boston for the 2010 season, but jumped to the Detroit Tigers before 2011.
The Tigers needed a DH. Through most of the DH-era, the Tigers lacked a dedicated DH who was productive. Usually the franchise used the position as a way to give older guys a rest out of the field. In 2010, the DH position was one of the weakest hitting positions in the entire lineup.
Martinez made an immediate impact, hitting .330 and driving in over 100 runs. He helped turn an underachieving team into a division winner by 15 games.
With expectations high for 2012, Tigers fans received a cruel blow when it was announced that Martinez tore his anterior cruciate ligament during the off-season. The potential loss of V-Mart caused the Tigers to offer Prince Fielder a contract he couldn’t refuse.
V-Mart missed the entire season and came back with a tremendous amount of rust through the first couple months of 2013, but went on a tear the rest of the season, ultimately finishing with a .301 average.
In 11 years, Victor, who has never played in a World Series, has a .303 career average with 1,480 hits, 157 homers, and 824 RBIs. He is a free agent after this season.
In the years before the DH, Gates Brown (despite a .257 average) served the role of a guy that could sit on the bench for seven or eight innings, and then come in and get the key hit the Tigers needed.
His versatility endeared him to the Tigers and their fans, having played outfield, first base, and near the end of his career, DH.
Brown’s biggest asset was that of a pinch hitter. Over his career (which spanned from 1963 to 1975—all with Detroit), he notched 107 pinch hits, including 16 homers. His career defining moment may have come during the 1968 World Series where he hit .450.
Gator, as he was known by Detroit faithful, reformed his life after spending time in the Ohio State Reformatory for burglary. It was there that a prison guard encouraged the inmate to try baseball, and the rest is history.
Brown passed away last September at the age of 74.