Detroit Tigers: 1952-1959
Kuenn’s career started out with a bang, and would have no doubted ended with a plaque in Cooperstown if injuries hadn’t derailed him in his early 30’s. Kuenn made his big league debut in 1952, hitting .325 in 80 at-bats. That was a sign of things to come, as Kuenn would hit over .300 eight times in his illustrious career.
Kuenn put together an incredibly impressive rookie season, hitting .308 with a league leading 209 hits and winning the Rookie of the Year Award. He proceeded to lead the league in hits again in 1954, 1956 and 1959. He also led the league in doubles three times (1955, 1958 and 1959) and won the batting title in 1959 with a .353 average.
Kuenn was an All-Star every season from 1953-1960 and finished in the top ten in MVP voting three times. Not surprising, as Kuenn’s offensive numbers with the Tigers are eye-popping. In 1049 games, Kuenn slashed a robust .314/.360/.426 with 1372 hits, 244 doubles, a 112 OPS+ and a 21 bWAR. He was well on his way to what looked to be a Hall of Fame career.
Unfortunately, injuries really took their toll on Kuenn as soon as he was out of the Motor City. Kuenn had two more good seasons, in 1960 and 1962, but looked below average otherwise. He was out of baseball by 1966 at just 35 years old. He only mustered 720 more hits and a 102 OPS+ the rest of the way. While that’s certainly not bad, his Hall of Fame light was dimmed.
He spent 15 years on the ballot, never earning more than 40% of the vote. Still, his time with Detroit was magical, and he deserves a spot just inside our top three Detroit Tigers shortstops of all-time.