On Monday the National Baseball Hall of Fame released its 2021 ballot, with a pair of former Detroit Tigers on the list.
Detroit Tigers fans have had some solid luck with the Hall of Fame lately. Yes, it remains a travesty Lou Whitaker isn’t in the Hall of Fame yet, but getting both Jack Morris and Alan Trammell in the 2018 class was a treat for fans of the franchise.
There are two former Detroit Tigers on the ballot this year, but we’re unlikely to see a single Hall of Fame inductee from this group. That doesn’t mean the 11 new nominees aren’t worthy of discussion, though. They all had distinguished careers, and it’s an honor to simply be on the ballot.
Now enough about them. How does this affect us? Let’s take a look at each of the new Hall of Fame nominees and remember the joy and/or pain they brought to Detroit Tigers fans.
Mark Buehrle’s Hall of Fame case is actually pretty decent. He was an incredibly consistent pitcher, throwing 200+ innings in every season except his first (51.1) and last (198.2), and posting an ERA between 3.29 and 4.28 in 14 of his 16 seasons. He made five All-Star teams, won four Gold Glove Awards, threw two no-hitters, including a perfect game, and won a World Series ring in 2005. Not bad for a 38th-round draft pick.
Detroit Tigers fans saw more of Mark Buehrle than they’d like. The lefty made 36 career starts against Detroit, going 19-10 with a 3.47 ERA over 244 innings. There may not be one signature moment for Buehrle against the Tigers, but Detroit gave him a pretty memorable beatdown in late 2011, scoring 8 runs in 3.1 innings on the way to an 18-2 victory. For his part, Buehrle did record the first of his ten career shutouts against the Tigers in 2001.
A.J. Burnett can’t boast the level of success of Buehrle, but he was a part of two World Series winners, made an All-Star team, and threw a no-hitter, albeit one in which he walked nine batters. Burnett was one of the most “effectively wild” pitchers of his era, and he’s one of just 21 pitchers in MLB history with 2,500+ strikeouts and 1,100+ walks. He was an adventure on the mound. Here he is hitting a truck window.
Good times. As far as his run-ins with the Detroit Tigers, it was a bit of a mixed bag for A.J. He did go 7-3 against the Tigers in 13 starts, and he won Game 4 of the 2011 ALDS, but he was never terribly dominant and he racked up a career 4.60 ERA against Detroit.
A staple of the annoying mid-aughts Minnesota Twins teams that bedeviled the Tigers, Michael Cuddyer was never a full-fledged Tiger killer like Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau were, but he was a solid player for many years. He hit a decent .264 with 14 home runs in 139 career games against the Tigers, but he certainly caused some heartbreak in Detroit in 2009. In the infamous Game 163, Cuddyer came to the plate to lead off the 10th inning with the Twins down 5-4 and hit a “triple” that led to the tying run, and of course an eventual Twins victory.
Before he was an enjoyable Twitter follow, Dan Haren was a pretty darn good MLB pitcher. He made three consecutive All-Star teams in his prime, and he was particularly good with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Haren had solid success against the Tigers while with the Athletics and Angels, going 5-4 with a 3.65 ERA in 12 starts, but Detroit got the best of him in Game 3 of the 2006 ALCS, plating three runs during a Kenny Rogers gem en route to the victory.
LaTroy Hawkins played for 21 seasons, spending the early portion as a starting pitcher for the Minnesota Twins, before transitioning into the bullpen for the final 16 years of his career. Hawkins played for 11 different teams, but he only faced three teams more often than the Detroit Tigers. He went 5-4 with a 4.59 ERA and 4 saves against Detroit, but he also set his career high with 10 strikeouts in an 11-1 win over the Tigers on April 25th, 1996. That came a day after Minnesota won 24-11, in what was the highest scoring baseball game in 17 years. Boo Twins. Hawkins is also the godfather of former Tigers draft pick Patrick Mahomes Jr., who we’re told is fairly good at football.
It’s a testament to Tim Hudson’s longevity and consistency that his four All-Star appearances all came at least four years apart. He came up with the Moneyball A’s and was terrific for them, finishing second in Cy Young voting in 2000, before moving on to a strong second act with the Atlanta Braves. He finished his career in San Francisco, where he won a World Series ring in 2014. Hudson was pretty dominant against the Detroit Tigers, going 9-3 with a 3.15 ERA in 15 starts, though he lost his last outing against the club in 2014, when Miguel Cabrera hit a 2-run homer, and the next player on this list went 3-for-3.
The only former Detroit Tiger on this list, Torii Hunter was an outstanding all-around player who did a fair amount of damage against the Tigers before joining the club in the twilight of his career. Hunter made five All-Star teams, picked up two Silver Sluggers, and won nine Gold Glove Awards, the 7th most for an outfielder in MLB history. In his prime, he was one of the most exciting players in baseball.
Hunter hit his first career home run with the Twins at Tiger Stadium in 1999, and he hit his 300th career bomb with the Tigers at Target Field in 2013. He batted .269 with 20 homers and 18 steals in 185 games against Detroit, and he had two solid seasons with the Tigers, hitting .295 with 34 home runs. Unfortunately, the Tigers couldn’t provide Hunter with the ring he desperately wanted, and he’ll forever remain on the wrong side of one of the most iconic sports moments of the 2010s.
None of this year’s nominees saw the Detroit Tigers less than Aramis Ramirez, who spent his entire career in the National League. Ramirez debuted with the Pirates as a 19-year-old, and he struggled through parts of three seasons before breaking out in year four, hitting .300 with 34 bombs. He made three All-Star teams and hit 386 home runs in his career, and he managed to hit .291 with 5 doubles and 4 home runs in 15 games against the Detroit Tigers. His homers against the Tigers came off Joel Zumaya, Kenny Rogers, Kyle Lobstein, and Anibal Sanchez.
The ultimate baseball bro, Nick Swisher used great on-base skills and above-average power to have a solid 12-year career. The Detroit Tigers saw him plenty, and though he often found his way on base, the team was largely able to limit his damage. Swisher hit .238/.360/.414 against the Tigers, and in three playoff series vs. Detroit he hit went 8-for-41 with a home run and 15 strikeouts. Swisher also provided one of the great bloopers of the last decade when he failed to run out a foul grounder. Please make note of the 102-mph pitch, and the massive grin on Brayan Peña’s face.
David Ortiz’s grand slam in the 2013 ALCS will forever be painfully ingrained in the minds of Detroit Tigers fans. But it was a different grand slam that proved to be the coup de grâce for the series, the season, and, though we didn’t realize it at the time, Jim Leyland’s managerial career.
Shane Victorino, the Flyin’ Hawaiian, had a bumpy start to his pro career. He was drafted by the Dodgers, then selected in the Rule 5 draft two different times. He finally caught on with the Phillies in his mid-20s, and he put together a strong run in Philadelphia, winning three Gold Gloves, making two All-Star teams, and winning the World Series in 2008.
He signed a free-agent deal with Boston in 2013 and won another Gold Glove, but injuries piled up quickly — a longtime switch-hitter, Victorino was forced to abandon hitting left-handed in the middle of 2013 season — and his career was over by 2015. He played just 16 regular season games against the Tigers, hitting .291 with 3 home runs (Tim Byrdak, Andrew Miller, and Doug Fister), but that one postseason moment is enough to make Tigers fans remember him forever.
We finish with another key member of the Moneyball A’s, Barry Zito. A workhorse in Oakland, who took home the Cy Young Award after an excellent 2002 season, Zito had long hair, played the guitar, and threw curveballs. After seven years in Oakland he moved across the bay on a massive, 7-year, $126 million deal with the San Francisco Giants that made him the highest paid pitcher in MLB history. He struggled mightily with the Giants, returning just 2.4 WAR on their investment over the life of his contract.
Zito went just 8-6 against the Detroit Tigers in the regular season, though he owned an excellent 2.91 ERA against them. It was shocking, then, when the 2006 Tigers jumped on him for five runs on the way to a victory in Game 1 of the ALCS. Zito got the last laugh, though, somehow stifling Detroit’s bats in Game 1 of the 2012 World Series, and even notching an RBI single off Justin Verlander on the way to an 8-3 victory.