Detroit’s All-Time Home Run Leaders’ First Home Runs As Tigers
The list of the Detroit Tigers’ Top 10 career home run hitters includes some impressive names, including two Hall of Famers, a future Hall of Famer, and a player that we still hope will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Let’s look back at the first home runs that each of them hit as a Tiger.
Al Kaline (September 26, 1953)
It was an ugly afternoon in Cleveland for the Tigers, who trailed the Indians 12-1 going into the top of the ninth in the season’s penultimate game. Kaline had entered the contest in the seventh in place of starting centerfielder Jim Delsing. It was only 10 days earlier that the 18-year old rookie had driven in his first run as a big leaguer. With one out and nobody on in the ninth, Kaline stepped in against 27-year old rookie righty Dave Hoskins. His home run to deep left was the only bomb he hit in his debut season, but it was the first of 399 for the beloved “Mr. Tiger”.
Norm Cash (April 20, 1960)
Cash had hit four home runs for the White Sox in 1959 – three against the Tigers. Chicago traded him to Cleveland that December and the Indians dealt him to the Tigers a week before the 1960 season opener. Oddly enough, the Tigers opened in Cleveland, and in the second game of the season, the Indians led 4-3 when Cash was called on to pinch-hit for pitcher Don Mossi. He stepped in with one out in the eighth. Cash had walked in a pinch-hitting appearance the day before. This time he made a bigger impact by hitting a game-tying homer off Indians starter Jim Perry, who would become his Tiger teammate in 1973. The Tigers went on to win 6-4. “Stormin’ Norman” went on to hit 373 home runs as a Tiger.
Miguel Cabrera (March 31, 2008)
In five seasons with the Florida Marlins, Cabrera had established himself as one of the best young sluggers in the game. After the huge trade that brought him to Detroit, fans at Comerica Park didn’t have to wait long to see Miggy hit his first home run as a Tiger. On Opening Day, the 24-year old Cabrera victimized the Royals’ Gil Meche to lead off the bottom of the fifth. The ball just cleared the leftfield fence, but despite his efforts the Tigers ended up losing 5-4 in 11 innings. Cabrera said afterward that he didn’t hit it very well, but since then, we’ve seen a lot of homers that he hit quite well. With the beginning of the 2020 season still in limbo, Miggy currently sits at 339 home runs as a Tiger. With 477 career homers, the 500 milestone is in sight.
Hank Greenberg (May 6, 1933)
After a one-game cameo in 1930, Greenberg returned to the Tigers in 1933. The 22-year old hadn’t yet established himself as a full-time player when he got the start against the Washington Senators at Navin Field on a Saturday afternoon. Former Tiger pitcher Earl Whitehill was making his first start against Detroit since being traded away a few months earlier. Greenberg was 0-for-3 when he got one last at-bat against Whitehill in the eighth. With two out and the Tigers down 6-2, Greenberg sent a “well tagged” shot over the auxiliary scoreboard in left-center. “Hammering Hank” hit 306 homers as a Tiger, but there’s no telling how many more he could’ve had he not sacrificed three full seasons and two partial seasons to join the Army in 1941.
Willie Horton (September 14, 1963)
Horton’s first home run at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull actually happened in 1959 when he was a 16-year-old sophomore at Detroit Northwestern High School. Playing in the City League championship game at Briggs Stadium, Horton launched a 400-foot drive into the upper deck in right field. As a Tigers rookie, he got his second big league plate appearance as a pinch hitter for Jim Bunning in the eighth inning at Tiger Stadium. The Orioles led 2-0. With one out and a runner on first, Horton tied the game by homering off the first pitch he saw from future Hall of Famer Robin Roberts. “Willie The Wonder” hit 262 of his 325 big league homers as a Tiger.
Cecil Fielder (April 14, 1990)
As a part-timer with the Blue Jays from 1985 through 1988, Fielder hit 31 home runs. Seeking more playing time, he signed with the Hanshin Tigers in the Japan Central League. He hit 38 homers that season and turned his overseas success into a contract with Detroit’s Tigers. In his sixth game as a Tiger, Fielder delivered a two-run shot into Tiger Stadium’s upper deck in right off the Orioles’ Dave Johnson. It didn’t lead the Tigers to a win, but “Big Daddy” was on his way to an electrifying season. In the season finale, he hit his 50th and 51st homers to join Greenberg as the only other Tiger to hit 50 in a season. 245 of Fielder’s 319 home runs were hit as a Tiger. If you’d like to read about Fielder’s power-laden 1990 season, we published an earlier story here.
Lou Whitaker (July 28, 1978)
“Sweet Lou” hit 244 home runs, but the power didn’t develop right away for him. Whitaker only hit three in his first full season, but the first one was also a big one. The Tigers trailed the Mariners 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth. With two out, Ron LeFlore singled off Enrique Romo. That brought up Whitaker. LeFlore was a base stealing threat, and he had Romo worried. Unable to throw any off-speed pitches that might make it easier for LeFlore to take off, Romo threw Whitaker a fastball down that ended up in the hands of a fan in the right-field upper deck. The Tiger Stadium crowd wanted a curtain call and the “shocked” rookie delivered. Whitaker checks in as the only player on this list whose first homer as a Tiger was a walk-off.
Rudy York (April 29, 1937)
Like Kaline, York’s first home run as a Tiger came in a game in which the Indians were blowing out the Tigers in Cleveland. The two-run shot made it a 10-3 game. Like Greenberg, York hit his first off Earl Whitehill. 1937 was York’s first full season in the big leagues, and he went on to hit 35, which is still the Tigers’ record for most home runs in a rookie season. He hit 18 of them in August, which is still an American League record for most homers in any single month. That mark also stood as the major league record until the Cubs’ Sammy Sosa broke it in June 1998. It’s the major league record for most home runs by a player in a single August, which the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton tied in 2017. York hit 239 of his 277 career homers as a Tiger.
Lance Parrish (September 7,1977)
Parrish’s second big league start came in the second game of a doubleheader at home against the Orioles. Batting fifth in the lineup, it had already been a big day when he stepped up for his fourth plate appearance in the bottom of the sixth. He’d walked, singled for his first big league hit, drove in three runs with his first big league double (accounting for his first big league RBI), and scored three runs (including his first as a big leaguer). The Tigers led 10-1 when Parrish took Earl Stephenson, the fourth Baltimore pitcher of the game, deep to right. The muscular catcher who would come be known as “Big Wheel” hit 212 of his 324 career homers as a Tiger.
Bill Freehan (May 5, 1965)
The Tigers had just taken a 1-0 lead when Freehan stepped up with one on and one out in the bottom of the second. He promptly made it a 3-0 lead with a home run off the Orioles’ Dick Hall. In the fifth, he hit a two-run shot off reliever Wes Stock to put the capper on a six-run rally. He’s the only one on this list to hit his first two homers as a Tiger in the same game. The Tigers won 12-4. Freehan, who had only played in nine of the Tigers’ 22 games coming into that Sunday afternoon, saw his playing time increase quite a bit after that. He went on to become one of the best catchers of his era and finished his career with 200 homers. Like Kaline and Whitaker, all of Freehan’s home runs were hit as a Tiger.