The Tigers’ Ten Greatest Pitchers
Hal Newhouser (1939-53)
No player took more statistical advantage of the drop-off in talent during World War II than Newhouser, who was 34-52 in his first four major league seasons through 1943—then went 80-27 over his next three, becoming the only pitcher in big league history to win back-to-back American League MVPs when he nabbed the honor in 1944 and 1945. Proving that he could pitch just as well with the big boys back from war, Newhouser continued to dominate in 1946 and came tantalizingly close to a third straight MVP—but fell just shy in the vote to Ted Williams.
Newhouser didn’t hide from the military draft board, and his attempt to enlist during World War II was denied due to a “heart problem.” So he stayed home and worked on his pitching, mixing up a fastball with a terrific curve while trying to placate a bad temper borne of a lack of run support in his early years in Detroit. He got help from batterymate (and future manager) Paul Richards, who returned to the majors after an eight-year absence at age 35 as a wartime fill-in and effectively tutored Newhouser towards his dominant run of the mid-1940s.
From 1944-46, Newhouser led the AL in wins (with 29, 25, and 26, respectively) while losing only nine each season; in the latter two of those years, he posted sub-2.00 earned run averages to pace the league. After winning the AL strikeout crown in 1944-45, he set a personal best in 1946 with 275 K’s—but finished second in the league to Bob Feller. In the Tigers’ victorious 1945 World Series against the Chicago Cubs, Newhouser won two of three decisions despite a lackluster 6.10 ERA.
Newhouser led the AL in wins for the last time in 1948 when he totaled 21, but three years later he began to experience shoulder problems that would curtail his career. As his baseball days wound down, he had one final year of satisfaction when he relieved for the AL pennant-winning Cleveland Indians of 1954, going 7-2 with a 2.51 ERA in 26 appearances. He remains the only Hall-of-Fame pitcher who performed the bulk of his career in Detroit.
Tommy Bridges (1930-43, 1945-46)
Possessor of, arguably, the best curveball of his generation, the petite (5’10”, 155 lbs.) Bridges was a crucial component of the winning Tiger teams of the mid-1930s, winning 20-plus games in three successive seasons (1934-36) while leading the AL in strikeouts from 1935-36.
Bridges struggled during his first full season of 1931 with an 8-16 record and 4.99 ERA, but showed signs of a strong future a year later when he came within a two-out, ninth-inning bloop single of a perfect game. He went on to become a six-time All-Star, and was privileged to appear on all four Detroit World Series squads between 1934 and 1945—winning four of five decisions, including the Game Six series clincher for the Tigers in the 1935 Fall Classic against the Cubs that gave the Motor City its first baseball championship.
Pitching in the AL’s offensive high times of the 1930s, Bridges’ ERA never fell below 3.00; only when the bats tempered down in the early 1940s did his numbers finally settle into the 2.00s. Bridges went on to post a career 194-138 mark with the Tigers; wrapping up his baseball days in the Pacific Coast League, he had one last hurrah when he threw a no-hitter for the Portland Beavers.
Dizzy Trout (1939-52)
The life and times of Trout in Detroit almost completely coincided with those of Newhouser, his teammate for 14 of his 15 big league years. Declared ineligible for the military because of vision issues, Trout occasionally was Newhouser’s equal on the mound during the war years; it can be argued that he had a 1944 MVP stolen away by Newhouser after putting up a highly impressive 27-14 record with AL bests in ERA (2.12), complete games (33) shutouts (seven) and innings (352.1)—while hitting .271 with five home runs and 24 RBIs in 133 at-bats.
One of the game’s great names, Trout was first called Dizzy when, as a minor leaguer trying to escape a downburst of rain, he sought sanctuary under an awning at the outfield wall—only to crash into it, realizing the awning was actually an illustration.
Like Newhouser, Trout enjoyed success after the end of the war, but suffered the inevitable fade and was traded during the 1952 season to Boston; a year later, he was out of the game. He attempted a comeback with Baltimore in 1957 at the age of 42, but gave up after two appearances—and an 81.00 ERA.
Frank Lary (1954-64)
A workhorse with a wild fastball who kept his Tiger teammates loose in the clubhouse, Lary had another special gift: Beating the New York Yankees during their reign of dominance in the 1950s and early 1960s. Lary had a lifetime 28-13 record against the Yankees—and 96-97 against the rest of the AL. This odd imbalance of success was no more out of whack than in 1958, when Lary was 7-1 against the Bronx Bombers—and 9-14 against the other six AL opponents.
Lary twice won over 20 games and led the league in 1956 with 21; three times he paced the AL in innings pitched (topping out at 294 in 1956) and thrice was at the top of the charts in complete games, with a career-high 22 in 1961—a year in which he also scored a personal best with 23 victories. But it all came crashing down after that campaign; a combination of a sore arm and knee problems severely cut into his output, as he won just 11 more games (against 23 losses) over the next four seasons, a period during which he was traded from Detroit.
During his prime, Lary used a mix of pitches that ranged from a wild fastball to, at times, a knuckler. Four times he led the league in hitting opposing players, but at the same time he was excellent at forging ground balls; from 1955-61, he induced 190 double play grounders.
Justin Verlander (2005-present)
The strongman of the Tigers staff since his 2006 Rookie of the Year performance, Verlander quickly developed into one of the game’s elite pitchers, smoking 100-MPH fastballs early and late in his appearances and constantly threatening to win 20 games on a yearly basis.
Verlander helped propel the Tigers to an AL pennant in his first full year, winning 17 of 26 decisions in 30 starts; a year later, he went 18-6 for a AL-leading .750 winning percentage and threw the first of two career no-hitters to date. After an off-year in 2008, Verlander kicked it into high gear for the next four seasons—recording a 78-31 record, twice leading the AL in wins, three times in innings and strikeouts, and highlighting the run with a sensational 2011 campaign in which he finished 24-5 with his first ERA crown (2.40) and both the AL Cy Young and MVP awards—making him the first starting pitcher to earn the latter honor since Roger Clemens in 1986.
A six-time All-Star, Verlander is contracted to the Tigers through 2019 and, barring a catastrophic series of injuries, is on a manageable pace to fulfill his deal as the franchise’s all-time leader in wins and strikeouts.
Schoolboy Rowe (1933-42)
During a relatively brief Tiger tenure that saw its share of ups and downs, the tall (6’4”) right-hander from Waco, Texas grouped with Bridges to provide a formidable pitching tandem during the Tigers’ back-to-back pennant-winning run of 1934-35.
Best remembered from a pop culture standpoint for once spitting out the line “How I’m doin’, Edna?” during a radio interview (a reference to his then-fiancée), Rowe set the baseball world on fire in 1934 when he tied an AL record with 16 straight wins—but like the many before and after him, he failed to extend the mark when he got blasted for 11 runs in a late August start against the Philadelphia A’s. Rowe finished the year at 24-8, and followed that up with consecutive 19-win campaigns in 1935-36; he often aided his own cause at the plate, hitting over .300 with five home runs and 50 RBIs over the 1934-35 seasons. During those same two years—both of which found the Tigers winning the AL pennant—Rowe was highly effective (a 2.76 ERA) in the Fall Classic but could win only two of five decisions.
A severely sore arm deadened Rowe’s career from 1937-38 (he was just 1-6 in 14 appearances) before experiencing a strong renaissance in 1940 with a 16-3 record and 3.46 ERA—but was pummeled in that year’s World Series against Cincinnati, losing both of his starts after giving up seven runs in just 3.2 innings of work. A few years later, Rowe was shipped off to the National League and eventually put up consistently admirable results for a bad Philadelphia Phillie team.
Jim Bunning (1955-63)
The Kentucky native who later went on to serve his state as a U.S. Senator was a strong, solid rock in the Detroit rotation for nine seasons, representing the Tigers five times at the All-Star Game. His trade to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1964 is still reviled by those in Detroit old enough to remember the poor returns the deal yielded the Tigers.
In his first full major league campaign, Bunning notched 20 wins, leading the league for the only time in his career; he would win 19 games four other times, once for the Tigers. A year later in 1958, he threw the first of his two career no-hitters, silencing the Boston Red Sox—and became the only pitcher ever to strike out Red Sox legend Ted Williams three times in a single game. Twice, Bunning led the AL in strikeouts, recording 201 each in 1959 and 1960.
Denny McLain (1963-70)
One of the most controversial figures to wear a Tiger uniform, McLain was an outgoing and gregarious individual who lived life in the fast lane and ultimately paid for it—but not before making history on the mound in 1968 as the only player since 1934 to win 30 games in a season.
Picked up on waivers from the Chicago White Sox in 1963, McLain evolved over his first three years, and went from good to gold when pitching coach Johnny Sain helped improve his slider. From 1965-69, McLain put together an exceptional 108-51 record which included his phenomenal 31-6 campaign of 1968 that was well-earned but also greatly benefitted with five runs of support per start—a highly generous number during the “Year of the Pitcher.” In 1968-69, he not only led the AL in wins but also in innings pitched with well over 300 each season—continuing a workhorse reputation that began in 1966 when he once threw 229 pitches in a single game.
If given the chance to crash a Rat Pack party in Vegas, McLain would have done it. He drove convertibles, flew planes, jammed on organs and engorged on Pepsi—as much as 24 bottles per day. But beneath McLain’s innocuous personal pastimes lay a dark side that was quickly exposed and hastened the end of his triumphant run on the mound—and quickly thereafter, his career. In early 1970, a Sports Illustrated article claimed that a foot injury McLain suffered off the field during the 1967 pennant race was the result of a mobster who dislocated his toes in a bookie dispute. McLain denied the allegation, but commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended him anyway. He later filed for his first of many bankruptcies. When he did get back to the mound, he was nowhere near the same, and only got worse from there. Traded to the Washington Senators in 1971, he lost 22 games, and two years later was out of baseball.
McLain’s off-field troubles continued and seemed to never cease, eventually being tried and convicted of various charges including racketeering, extortion, and possession of cocaine. He was sentenced to 23 years in prison, serving two of those before his conviction was overturned. He later was convicted for seven years on charges of embezzlement, money laundering, mail fraud and conspiracy in another company that he managed to screw up.
George Mullin (1902-13)
Though he never had the one prodigious year as did the contemporaries of his time like Ed Walsh or Jack Chesbro, Mullin ate up innings for the Tigers with near-reckless abandon, averaging over 300 frames per year over 11 full-time campaigns before the overwork caught up to him in 1913. Mullin holds the franchise season record for most innings with 382.1 in 1904—the same year he completed 42 of his 44 starts, the second highest number in AL history; he won 20 or more games five times, lost 20 or more three times, twice won and lost 20 in the same year, and is the only pitcher to lose 20 games for a pennant winner (1907, when he finished 20-20). Mullin is one of the few pitchers to start, finish—and win—both games of a doubleheader when he accomplished the feat in 1906.
Colorful on and off the field, Mullin was a forerunner to future Tiger pitcher Mark Fidrych in that he often talked up a storm on the mound. Though he was never obese, Mullin was often grumbled about by team management for his pudgy frame; when he finally did something about it in 1909, he responded with, easily, his best year—nearly beating McLain to the punch and 30-win territory before settling with a 29-8 mark. Eventually he relapsed back to heavier poundage and, even despite continued success, the Tigers tired of him to the point that they placed him on waivers in 1912; while nobody bothered to take him, he went out and threw his only no-hitter on his 32nd birthday, showing his career penchant for decent hitting (he had a career .260 batting average) by pounding out three hits.
Mullin finished his career by bouncing around the fledgling Federal League before its collapse in 1915.
Hooks Dauss (1912-26)
Given his name for an excellent curveball he possessed, Dauss racked up 223 career wins to become, then as now, the all-time franchise leader. On the flip side, no Tiger pitcher has lost more games than Dauss’ 182. Though such numbers verified Dauss’ standing as a top-line pitcher, there’s no doubt he was often aided by generous run support via the Tigers’ potent lineups of the time. His 3.55 ERA in 1919 was the highest by a 20-game winner since 1903; oddly, as his ERA remained the same a year later and batters began to warm up in the wake of the deadball era’s death, his record plummeted from 21-9 to 13-21. Overall, Dauss won 20 or more games three times, and twice fell just shy at 19.
Dauss was forced to retire after the 1926 season at age 37 due to an irregular heartbeat.
Detroit Tigers Team History: Year-by year records, statistics and an oral history of the Tigers, decade by decade.
The Tigers' Ten Greatest Hitters: A list of the ten greatest pitchers based on their productivity and efficiency.
The Tigers' Ten Greatest Games: A list of ten memorable games and other notable personal achievements that have defined the Tigers' history.
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