A look back at a Detroit Tigers team that was more than its win and loss record.
The 53-109 Detroit Tigers were abysmal in 1996, no question about it. This was Randy Smith’s first year at the helm as General Manager, with a new skipper in Buddy Bell, and also the beginning of the post-Lou Whitaker era.
While the play on the field left much to be desired, there was an interesting collection of players that went on to have success either as players or in other baseball capacities. Let’s take a look at this edition of #RandomTigersThought.
John Flaherty – Mostly a career backup, Flaherty handled the majority of the catching duties until mid-June when he was flipped to the San Diego Padres. He hung around in the Majors for a while, having some success with the Yankees as Jorge Posada’s backup for several seasons. He would go on to join the Yankees’ broadcast team on the YES Network in 2011.
Brad Ausmus – Flaherty was traded in a package that included Brad Ausmus. The then 27-year old Ausmus would go on to be a pretty fine Major League backstop, earning himself a trip to the 1999 All-Star Game, winning three Gold Gloves, and finishing his career ranked third all-time in catcher putouts behind only Ivan Rodriguez and Jason Kendall. After a stint in the Padres’ front office, Ausmus would manage the Tigers for four seasons and the Anaheim Angels for one.
Mark Parent – Another catcher, Parent was released by the Tigers and promptly picked up by the Baltimore Orioles. It was a fortunate move for Parent, as the Orioles advanced to the ’96 ALCS. After his playing career was over, he took a managerial gig with the Lancaster JetHawks, a Seattle Mariners affiliate, where he was named the California League Manager of the Year. Parent would go on to manage in the Phillies’ org prior to being named Robin Ventura’s bench coach in Chicago.
Tony Clark – One of the few reliable hitters in the ’96 lineup, Tony “The Tiger” eventually became a 2001 All-Star, hitting 251 career home runs, and became the first former player to be named Executive Director of the MLB Players Association.
Travis Fryman – Probably the face of the Tigers during this era, Fryman was the Tigers’ All-Star representative in ’96, one of five ASG appearances he would make. He went on to manage the Mahoning Valley Scrappers in the New York-Penn League and then became a roving hitting instructor for the Cleveland Indians.
Bobby Higginson – After Fryman’s departure, Bobby Hig was the fan favorite in Detroit for his fiery play. He played eleven MLB seasons, all with the Tigers, and none with a winning record. He had 187 career homers.
Chad Curtis – SKIP!
Cecil Fielder – The highlight of the early ’90s was being able to watch big Cecil’s majestic homers at Tiger Stadium. He was flipped at the trade deadline for Ruben Sierra and minor league Matt Drews. After bashing 319 MLB long balls, Fielder went on to manage the Charlotte County Redfish of the independent South Coast League, as well as the Atlantic City Surf of the Canadian-American Association of Professional Baseball.
Ruben Sierra – A superstar with the Texas Rangers in the late ’80’s, Sierra was already past his prime at age 30 when he joined the Tigers. He had a bit of a late-career resurgence, being named American League’s Comeback Player of the Year in 2001. He stuck around until he was 40 and amassed 2,152 hits and 306 homers.
Curtis Pride – Born deaf, Curtis Pride is one of the great athletes to ever don the Tigers’ uniform. As a teenager, he was one of the top soccer prospects in the entire world, playing for Team USA at the 1985 FIFA U-16 World Championship. He also played collegiate basketball as the point guard at William & Mary. Pride has served as the head baseball coach at Gallaudet University since ’09, and in ’16 was named MLB Ambassador for Inclusion by commissioner Rob Manfred.
Kimera Bartee – After serving in multiple capacities for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies, Bartee found himself back in the Majors when he was named the Tigers’ first base coach on July 16th of this season.
Alan Stuart Trammell – The great number 3, four-time Gold Glover, three-time Silver Slugger, and 2018 Hall of Fame Inductee. Trammell managed the Tigers from 2003-’05 and served as Kirk Gibson’s bench coach in Arizona. He can often be found throwing batting practice and hitting grounders to Tigers’ prospects in Lakeland.
Phil Nevin – The first overall pick in the 1992 draft, Nevin was the Player to be Named Later when the Tigers sent Mike Henneman to Houston. After the ’97 season, Detroit flipped Nevin to Anaheim, along with Matt Walbeck, for minor league pitcher Nick Skuse. Nevin blossomed later with San Diego, and had especially good seasons in 2001 and ’02, hitting 72 home runs in those two seasons combined. He was back in the Tigers’ org in 2010, replacing Tom Brookens as Erie’s manager. It seemed he was being groomed as a future MLB skipper when he took over Toledo for three seasons. After stings with both Arizona and San Francisco, Nevin became the third base coach for the Yankees.
Damion Easley – Picked up at the trade deadline in exchange for Greg Gohr, Easley went on to have five solid seasons for the Tigers, including a 1998 All-Star appearance. He was released prior to the ’03 campaign in favor of Ramon Santiago. The $14.3 million he was owed on his contract, at the time, made him the most expensive player in baseball history to be released.
A.J. Sager – The pitching staff on the ’96 team had less intrigue, but it’s worth noting that A.J. Sager currently serves as a Tigers roving pitching coordinator.
C.J. Nitkowski – After appearing in 336 Major League games, Nitkowski really made his mark on the media side of things — writing about baseball, hosting TV shows, and eventually finding his way into the broadcast booth for the Texas Rangers. He has won three Sports Emmy Awards.
If you have a random Tigers thought, hit me up on Twitter @Tiger_Lifer and use the hashtag #RandomTigersThought.