Detroit Tigers Trade Value Series: Mickey Tettleton

Detroit, MI - APRIL 15: Mickey Tettleton #20 of the Detroit Tigers bats during a baseball game on April 15, 1994 at Tigers Stadium in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Detroit, MI - APRIL 15: Mickey Tettleton #20 of the Detroit Tigers bats during a baseball game on April 15, 1994 at Tigers Stadium in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /

Every kid in Metro Detroit who ever played Little League baseball in the early 1990s tried Mickey Tettleton’s batting stance. Tettleton filled the catching void & more when the Detroit Tigers traded for him in 1991.

As we continue the Detroit Tigers Trade Value Series, this time with the trade of Mickey Tettleton, we are revamping the format to make it for readers to follow along by breaking the trade into three parts.

  1. The purpose of the trade
  2. Their career in Detroit
  3. Popularity among Tigers fans

Let’s begin with the first trade under interim general manager Joe McDonald.

Tettleton’s trade was buried among 1991’s off-season headlines

Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey were told after the 1990 season that after 1991, they were not going to be brought up as the Tigers radio team by WJR.  Long time Tigers executive Bill Lajoie stepped down as the team’s general manager on January 6th, 1991. New interim Joe McDonald was just days on the job before announcing the trade for Mickey Tettleton for Tigers starter Jeff Robinson on January 11th.

The trade was constructed by Lajoie before he stepped down. Catcher Mike Heath was not happy with the contract negotiations so the trade for Tettleton was the writing on the wall for Heath to leave.

"“The Tigers just don’t want anymore; it’s as simple as that”-Heath to the Detroit Free Press a day after the trade for Tettleton."

Robinson’s pitching down the stretch in 1987 was valuable for the Tigers to capture the AL East title. His 1988 season in which he was 13-6 with an ERA of 2.98 was promising. But, Robinson was inconsistent and struggled with injuries in 1989 and 1990, had the highest ERA among Tigers starters with a 5.96. Robinson would be out of baseball by the end of 1992.

McDonald signed Tettleton to a one-year deal to avoid arbitration and received a nice raise to $1.6 million.  The Orioles made Tettleton expendable after naming Bob Melvin and Chris Hoiles their two catchers for 1991. The irony about Melvin and Hoiles was they were both former Tigers. Hoiles was an Eastern Michigan University product and was traded for outfielder Fred Lynn in 1988. Melvin was traded to the Giants in 1985 for Eric King, David LaPoint and Matt Nokes.

Tettleton was looking for an opportunity to play on a regular and would get that chance in Detroit.

Tettleton is added to the power machine.

Tettleton was inserted into a lineup that had the reigning AL home run champ Cecil Fielder, free agent signing Rob Deer, on-base machine Tony Phillips and a strong infield with Fryman, Trammell, and Whitaker in 1991. Tettleton’s first season in a Tigers uniform was quite productive. He batted .263/.387/.491 with 31 home runs and posting an fWAR of 5.6. This would be the first of three straight seasons of 30 home runs.

Tettleton was a valuable utility man for Sparky Anderson when his skills behind the plate were declining. He was limited to 56 and 53 games behind the plate in 1993 and 1994 but that did not stop him from earning a berth on the 1994 All-Star team.  He played both corner spots in the outfield and first baseman, which was clutch whenever Sparky wanted to use a platoon situation.

An injury to his heel and the MLB strike would end his 1994 season and his last with Detroit. The Tigers would have to look at who they could afford to bring back for 1995. Tettleton felt he deserved a raise and his body of work did indicate that.

Instead, Tettleton was part of a group of players that was called the “Homestead Homies” by former Yankee Randy Valverde.  Tettleton along with 29 other free agents, worked out in a camp that the players union held.  The camp’s purpose was to have teams evaluate these players and decided if they wanted to sign them.  He would go on and sign with the Texas Rangers on April 9th, 1995, much to the dismay of many Tigers fans.

Tettleton’s impact in Detroit was just more than numbers

Tettleton’s career in Detroit included two Silver Slugger awards, 112 home runs, and an 18.5% walk rate. Those are great numbers but as I mention earlier, for a young little leaguer playing catcher, his swing and the dip bulge in his cheek were often imitated among my circle of friends. (filled with Big League chew, in our case).

The big “what if” question of all time if those Tigers teams in the early ’90s had a pitching staff, they could have contended for a few more titles. Tettleton’s patience at the plate and power numbers gave Tigers fans hope. In the short period that Joe McDonald held the general manager position, this was his best trade.

His popularity with his famous Upper Deck “Motown Mashers” baseball card with Cecil Fielder is still embedded in our brains among Tigers fans. You still may have that card in your collection.

If you ever got a hit, let alone a home run with the way he held the bat into that memorable swing,  let us know in the comment section below.