Through June 18, 2021, a total of 1,731 players have suited up in at least one game for the Detroit Tigers. There have been 444 who were born in Michigan. The list of Michiganders who hit at least one home run for the team is much shorter.
From Kalkaska’s Emil Frisk (way back in the American League’s inaugural season of 1901) to Detroit-born, Dearborn Divine Child alumnus Eric Haase (not too long ago), there have been only 33 Detroit Tigers players who were born in Michigan and hit a home run for the team. Perhaps you share a hometown with at least one of them.
Hal Newhouser, the Hall of Fame pitcher who came from the sandlots of Detroit, homered twice in 1946. Detroit-born Bill Roman did it in his first big league at-bat in 1964 – and never did it again. Lansing-born Dave Campbell, who became an an ESPN analyst, cranked one as a Tigers rookie in 1968. Rick Leach, who was born in Ann Arbor and went to high school in Flint, hit exactly seven home runs for the team. That matched the uniform number that he wore as both a Tiger outfielder-first baseman and a University of Michigan quarterback. Prior to Haase, the last Michigander to go deep for the Tigers was Grand Rapids-born Casper Wells in 2011, and the last catcher born in the state to do it was Detroit-born Bill Fahey in 1981.
Here’s what the franchise leaderboard’s top ten looks like. Listed totals are regular season only.
Bill Freehan (1961, ’63-76): 200
Freehan was born in Detroit, but went to high school in Florida. That’s in direct contrast to longtime teammate Willie Horton, who was born out of state and went to high school in Detroit. Freehan returned home to play baseball and football at U-M. He is the sole member of the Tigers’ all-time top ten home run hitters who was born in the Wolverine State.
The catcher’s first two roundtrippers came in the same game, on May 5, 1963. His career-high of 25 happened in the magical year of 1968. Freehan clubbed five grand slams and two walk-off dingers in his career. On August 9, 1971, he enjoyed a three-homer game. He led the Tigers just once, hitting 18 in 1974. Bill is one of just five Michigan-born major leaguers to reach 200 career home runs. Exactly half of his blasts landed in the seats at Tiger Stadium, the only big league ballpark he called home. Freehan’s lone postseason homer was a solo shot in the Tigers’ 3-0 win over the A’s in Game 3 of the 1972 American League Championship Series.
Kirk Gibson (1979-87, 93-95): 195
Gibson smacked 150 of his homers in his first stint with the Tigers and added 45 more after his return. His career-high was 29 in 1985. Known for power and drama at the plate, a 1983 home run cleared Tiger Stadium’s right-field roof. Gibson also powered his way to seven walk-off bombs. Known for speed and intensity on the base paths, he raced his way to a pair of inside-the-parkers. Gibby cleared the fence on Opening Day in 1980 and hit a pair in the 1986 season opener. The outfielder-DH has two grand slams and even a leadoff homer (May 7, 1981) to his name. Gibson and Detroiter John Mayberry (Royals, Blue Jays, Astros, Yankees) share the major league record for career home runs hit by a Michigander. Each hit 255.
The Pontiac-born Gibson played baseball and football at Michigan State University, and he is the only Michigan-born Spartan to crack a home run for the Tigers. His most beloved poke in an Olde English D will always be the one that was preceded by Sparky Anderson’s exclamation of “he don’t wanna walk you”. That’s the legendary three-run jack surrendered by the Padres’ Goose Gossage in the bottom of the eighth in Game 5 of the 1984 World Series. Gibby’s second homer of the game turned out to be San Diego’s death knell. As a Tiger, he hit four longballs in the postseason.
Charley Gehringer (1924-42): 184
After lettering in baseball as a freshman at U-M, Gehringer became a Tiger. He wasn’t known as a power hitter, but with Hank Greenberg in the same lineup for a number of years, he didn’t need to be one. Gehringer did lead the Tigers with 19 home runs in 1932. He and rookie Greenberg shared the lead with 12 apiece in 1933. “The Mechanical Man” reached 20 homers in a season once, and that wasn’t until 1938, his 13th full year in the majors. There’s an interesting oddity on Gehringer’s home-run log. All three of his walk-off blasts happened in the 12th inning of a game. The biggest of those was a grand slam of future Hall of Famer Ted Lyons of the White Sox in 1930. Gehringer hit a total of three grand slams. He also thrilled fans with five inside-the-park homers.
In 1934, Gehringer became the first of the Michigan-born Tigers to hit a World Series home run. The second baseman took future Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean deep to lead off the sixth inning in Game 5 at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. That gave the Tigers a 2-0 lead, and they went on to win, 3-1. Gehringer, the pride of Fowlerville, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1949 and had his no. 2 retired by the Tigers in 1983. If you haven’t already, check out his statue on your next visit to Comerica Park.
Jim Northrup (1964-74): 145
Perhaps no Tigers batsman is as associated with grand slams as Northrup. Oddly enough, the franchise career record (10) is shared by Greenberg, Rudy York, and Cecil Fielder. The Breckenridge-born Northrup only hit eight in the regular season. Four of those came in 1968. Three of those happened in one week in late June, and two were in the same game. For those three feats, Northrup’s name is in the Tigers record book. The outfielder’s biggest grand slam that year was a walk-off shot on May 17. In Game 6 of the ’68 World Series, Northrup became the first Detroit hitter to launch a grand slam in the Fall Classic. It was his second home run in the Series, and it was part of a memorable ten-run, third-inning rally against the Cardinals.
During his time with the Tigers, the former multi-sport athlete from Alma College swatted five walk-off homers, including one that won a 16-inning game in 1971. Northrup also hit a pair of leadoff dingers. His career-high was 25 in 1969, and he led the team with 24 in 1970.
Charlie Maxwell (1955-62): 133
Maxwell was born in Lawton, a village not far from Kalamazoo, but he has become synonymous with the town of Paw Paw, where he still resides. “Paw Paw” actually became his nickname. The 94-year-old Maxwell is fondly remembered for how well he seemed to smash home runs on a certain day of the week. While wearing a Detroit uniform, he left the yard 34 times on Sundays. That’s a fun part of Tigers folklore, and the legend took root on May 3, 1959. After homering in the opener of a Sunday doubleheader against the Yankees at a packed Briggs Stadium, Maxwell crushed three more in the nightcap. His heroics led to a sweep that afternoon.
The first of the three walk-off home runs that Maxwell hit for the Tigers happened on a Sunday (May 31, 1959), although none of his three Detroit grand slams did. In ’59, Maxwell homered on Opening Day and went on to wallop a career-high 31 (with a dozen coming on Sundays throughout the season) to lead the Tigers. The outfielder also led the team with 28 circuit clouts in 1956 and 24 in ’57. Maxwell played college baseball at Western Michigan University. The only other former Bronco to homer for the Tigers was Otsego-born Phil Regan.
Mickey Stanley (1964-78): 117
Stanley was known much more for his defensive skills and versatility in the field than his hitting ability, especially power hitting. He did reach double figures in home runs four times in a five-year span between 1968 (the famous “Year of the Pitcher”) and 1973, though. His career-high was 17 in ’73. The Grand Rapids-born Stanley never hit a walk-off homer at Tiger Stadium, but away from Detroit, he homered four times in the ninth inning or later to lead the Tigers to road wins. Stanley notched seven leadoff taters and four grand slams. His Opening Day home run off future Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry in 1973 gave the Tigers their only run in a 2-1 loss to the Indians.
Ron LeFlore (1974-79): 51
LeFlore’s journey from the streets of Detroit to Jackson State Prison to Tiger Stadium is well-documented. After his one-in-a-million rise to the big leagues, LeFlore could often be found at the top of the Tigers lineup. He led off four games with home runs. The speedy center fielder also collected a pair of inside-the-parkers. LeFlore’s biggest roundtripper as a Tiger was a leadoff shot in the top of the ninth in New York in the second game of a doubleheader on July 3, 1977. It broke a 6-6 tie and was the impetus of a four-run, game-winning rally. That season, LeFlore hit a career-high 16 home runs. He followed that up with a 12-homer season in 1978. Those were the only two years he reached double figures in that category.
Pat Sheridan (1986-89): 26
Sheridan is the only Eastern Michigan University alumnus to clear the fences for Detroit. He was the fifth Tiger to bat and the fourth pinch-hitter called upon in the top of the eighth in Seattle on May 6, 1988. The Tigers trailed 4-3. Sheridan stepped into a bases-loaded situation against Mike Jackson, the fifth Mariners pitcher of the frame. Throughout that half-inning, two legendary managerial minds, Sparky Anderson and Dick Williams, had been making moves and countermoves like they were involved in a game of chess instead of baseball. Sheridan smacked a grand slam. Checkmate. The following month, the Ann Arbor-born outfielder hit another grand slam in Baltimore. This one was part of a two-homer game. In Game 3 of the 1987 ALCS at Tiger Stadium, Sheridan’s eighth-inning, two-run home run off ace closer Jeff Reardon gave the Tigers their only win over the Twins in the series.
Steve Boros (1957-58, 61-62): 21
Boros went straight from U-M’s baseball team to Detroit’s after being signed as a bonus baby in 1957. He got his first shot at a full-time gig with the Tigers in the exciting 1961 season. The Flint-born third baseman’s power blossomed the next year, as he went from five to 16 home runs. Boros hit three longballs in Cleveland on August 6, 1962. All three were solo shots (including two that led off innings), and the Tigers dropped a 6-5 decision to the Indians. Boros crushed the only grand slam of his career in the first inning against the Washington Senators on August 24. That followed a single from Billy Bruton and walks to Al Kaline and Rocky Colavito. Detroit won a laugher that day, 11-1.
Tom Tresh (1969): 13
The Detroit-born son of former big leaguer Mike Tresh, Tom finished his own nine-year career with the Tigers. A midseason trade with the Yankees brought the veteran shortstop home. Tresh banged out his first two home runs for his new team in the same game on July 1, then added another one the next day. By September, Tigers fans had lost hope that their boys, the defending World Champions, could catch the powerful, first-place Orioles. Tresh didn’t seem to care. During a four-game series against Baltimore at Tiger Stadium that month, he hit both a leadoff homer and a walk-off homer. Tresh is the only Central Michigan University alumnus to homer for the Tigers.
Other Michigan-born Tigers who hit at least one home run for the team include Bloomingdale’s Red Killefer; Detroit’s Lenny Green, Altar Greene, Ray Herbert, Art Houtteman, George Lerchen, Don Lund, and John McHale Sr.; Jenison’s Benny McCoy; Montague’s Ira Flagstead; Utica’s Duke Maas; Vicksburg’s Leon Roberts; Watson Township’s Frank Kitson; and Wyandotte’s Ed Mierkowicz.