Mickey Stanley was one of the best in the outfield. He began and ended his career as a slick fielding defensive replacement. In between, he provided occasional offense, won four Gold Gloves, and temporarily transitioned to shortstop. Stanley's baseball legacy derived from the 1968 World Series when he replaced light hitting Ray Oyler at shortstop to make room for three above average offensive starters in the outfield. Stanley fielded his position and came up big in the pivotal Game 5. In the end, Stanley's conversion to short helped Detroit win the World Series.
Stanley debuted for the Tigers in 1964. He appeared in four games and did not get serious playing time until 1966. Between 1964 and 1966, the outfielder appeared in 4, 30, and 92 games. In 92 games, Stanley hit .289 with 3 home runs, 19 RBI, and .762 OPS. Unfortunately, the slick fielding centerfielder slumped in his first real opportunity. He appeared in 145 games in 1967, but batted just .210 with 7 home runs, 24 RBI, and .586 OPS.
Injuries forced Stanley into the lineup full time in 1968. Al Kaline's broken arm opened the door for Stanley. Jim Northrup moved to right and Willie Horton patrolled leftfield. The speedy Stanley filled centerfield between the two sluggers. He provided enough offense to compliment the trio. Stanley hit .259 with 11 home runs, 60 RBI, and earned MVP votes for the only time in his career. The outfielder also won his first Gold Glove. However, the best came in the World Series.
Al Kaline returned from injury to reclaim rightfield before the World Series. Tiger manager Mayo Smith had a logjam in the outfield and could not surrender the offense provided by Kaline, Horton, Stanley, and Northrup. As a result, he decided to move Stanley to shortstop. The incumbent shortstop, Ray Oyler, batted just .135 over the 1968 season. Smith hoped Stanley's athleticism would allow the centerfielder to make the move to shortstop with little trouble. Stanley played the last nine regular season games at shortstop and looked good. In the World Series, he committed just two meaningless errors in seven games. However, he struggled offensively with a .214 average, but that was probably better than Oyler would have provided. Additionally, Stanley had a key triple and scored twice in Game 5 with Detroit trailing the series 3-games-to-1. Detroit won the series in seven games. Although Stanley hit just .214, Kaline raked at a .379 clip with 2 home runs and 8 RBI, Northrup also had 2 home runs and 8 RBI, and Horton batted .304 with a home run, 3 RBI, and threw out Lou Brock at the plate in Game 5. Horton's throw turned the series around.
Stanley returned to shortstop for 59 games in 1969, but his offense suffered. He batted just .235 and was sent back to the outfield. He won his second Gold Glove in 1969 and third in 1970. The Grand Rapids native's batting average rebounded to .252. In 1971, he did not win the Gold Glove for the first time since 1967. However, Stanley batted .292 with a .733 OPS. He remained a starter through the 1973 campaign when his offense began to drop off. The veteran hit .234 in 1972 and .244 in 1973, but did swat 14 and 17 home runs respectively.
The over-the-hill Tigers lost the 1972 ALCS to Oakland and the franchise faded. Stanley's playing time dipped as he aged. From 1974-78, the outfielder appeared in 99, 52, 84, 75, and 53 games. By the end, he was a defensive replacement once more. Stanley retired after the 1978 season and spent one season in a professional softball league. He played 15 big league seasons with the Tigers. The man from Grand Rapids hit .248 with 117 home runs, 500 RBI, and .675 OPS.
Mickey Stanley proved an invaluable member of the Detroit Tigers. He began his career as a reserve outfielder and defensive replacement. Then, he moved into the starting lineup, won four Gold Gloves, and provided occasional offense. In 1968, Stanley's move to shortstop opened the door for a more potent Tiger starting lineup, which overcame a huge World Series deficit. By the end, he was a defensive replacement and utility player. His career ran the gambit and ultimately helped Detroit win the World Series.