Creative Commons, Tom Hagerty http://goo.gl/ulhv1l
#1: 1961 Detroit Tigers (101-61, 8 GB New York Yankees)
After an incredibly competitive couple of decades which saw the Tigers win four pennants and nearly a fifth in the 1930’s and ’40s, Detroit suffered through a lost decade in the 1950’s. That continued into 1960, when the Tigers won just 71 games and finished 26 games behind the New York Yankees.
Not much was expected from Detroit in the 1961 season. The Yankees were truly in their prime and would probably steamroll everyone in the AL with the Tigers finishing well into the “second division” (the nickname for the bottom half of the league standings). After all, the Tigers were on their sixth manager (Bob Scheffing) in five years.
Though Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were famously remembered that season for chasing Babe Ruth‘s season-best home run mark of 60 (with Maris finishing with 61 and Mantle with 54), the Tigers had their own version of the duo.
Detroit mashed their way through most of the AL led by Rocky Colavito‘s 45 homers and 140 RBIs and Norm Cash‘s 41 homers and 132 RBIs to go along with a team-leading .361 average. Al Kaline also chipped in for 19 homers and a .324 average.
The Tigers led the AL for much of the first-half of the season, with the high-water mark of a five-game lead on May 17. They traded places between first and second with New York throughout June and July but the Yankees began putting distance between the clubs in August.
The final symbolic blow came in a Labor Day series in the Bronx. The Tigers were down 2.5 games heading into that series and a Yankees’ sweep resulted in a 4.5-game deficit that eventually went to double-digits a couple of weeks later.
Detroit fell out of contention through most of the decade until 1967 and 1968, culminating in the franchise’s third World Series title with many of the pieces that gave it a great ride in ’61.