The Detroit Tigers record currently stands at 27-16. The franchise is on pace for 100 or more victories in 2014. If they reach this plateau, it will mark the sixth time in franchise history. Interestingly, Tiger teams that hit the century mark won two World Series, lost once, and missed the fall classic on two occasions.
The first Tiger team to reach 100 wins played in 1915. This might have been the finest Detroit squad of the Dead Ball Era. They finished 100-54, but lost the pennant to Boston’s 101 wins. The 1915 Tigers outfield is considered the greatest in history. Ty Cobb, Sam Crawford, and Bobby Veach all finished in the top three in RBI and total bases. Additionally, the trio batted .369, .299, and .313. Ty Cobb was such a terror, he stole home five times in June alone. Shortstop Donie Bush was considered the best at his position. On the mound, Harry Coveleski, Hooks Dauss, Jean Dubuc, and Bernie Boland combined for 76 wins compared to 45 losses.
The 1915 Tigers finished with a .649 win percentage. To date, only the 1934 team’s .656 ranks higher. Mickey Cochrane’s gang finished 101-53 and won the pennant by 7 games over Lou Gehrig’s New York Yankees. This team was stacked with talent including four Hall of Famers. Cochrane won the MVP over Gehrig and his Triple Crown. He helped develop and lead the young talent particularly on the mound. Tommy Bridges and Schoolboy Rowe won 46 games between them. In fact, Rowe won 16 consecutive decisions and became a cult hero. Elden Auker and Firpo Marberry contributed 15 wins apiece. Meanwhile, the “G-Men” of Hank Greenberg, Goose Goslin, and Charlie Gehringer led the offense. Greenberg (.339, 26, 139, 1.005) became a star. Gehringer (.356, 11, 127, .967) remained as dependable as ever. Goslin (.305, 13, 100, .826) provided a big bat and veteran leadership. Shortstop Billy Rogell added 100 RBI and hit .296 while third baseman Marv Owen hit .317 with 96 RBI. Detroit fielded baseball’s best team, but lost the World Series to the Gashouse Gang in seven games.
The Tigers won three more pennants and two championships before topping 100 wins again. The 1961 team won 101 games, but still finished 8 games behind the Maris and Mantle Yankees. Despite the finish, Detroit’s thunder rivaled New York’s for much of the season. Norm Cash won the batting title with a .361 average, hit 41 home runs, had 132 RBI, and posted a remarkable 1.148 OPS. Rocky Colavito only hit .290, but blasted 45 home runs, knocked in 140, and had a .982 OPS. Al Kaline led the league with 41 doubles, hit .324 with 19 home runs, 82 RBI, and .909 OPS. The offense helped five Tiger pitchers win 10 or more games. Frank Lary finished third in the Cy Young vote with a 23-9 record. Jim Bunning won 17 games while Don Mossi added 15, Paul Foytack chipped in 11 and Phil Regan 10. Reliever Terry Fox had a fine season with a 5-2 record, 1.41 ERA,1.012 WHIP, and 12 saves.
Detroit suffered additional disappointments in the sixties including managerial deaths and missing the pennant by a hair in 1967. They came to Spring Training 1968 determined to win. As a result, 1968 became the Year of the Tiger. Detroit clubbed and pitched their way to 103 wins and the pennant. Al Kaline missed significant time to an injury, but hit .287 and had the key hit in the World Series. Bill Freehan, Willie Horton, and Jim Northrup all knocked in 84 or more runs. Horton led the team with a .285 average and 36 home runs. Eight Tigers reached double digits in home runs and four topped 20. However, this was also the Year of the Pitcher. Denny McLain dominated the American League for 31 wins, the MVP, and Cy Young Awards. Mickey Lolich went 17-9 and won three games in the World Series. Joe Sparma (10) and Earl Wilson (13) added 23 victories. Amazingly, the 1968 Tigers became the first Detroit team with 100 victories to win a World Series.
The 1984 Tigers shocked the baseball world with a 35-5 start. Eventually, they surpassed the 1968 team’s 103 wins to set the franchise record at 104. The 1984 squad won the AL East going away, then swept the Royals in the ALCS, and finished off the Padres in five games to win the championship. This version of the Tigers was built up the middle. It fielded Gold Glove caliber players at catcher, second, shortstop, and in centerfield. Lance Parris led the team from behind the plate with 33 home runs and 98 RBI. Chet Lemon hit .287 with 20 home runs, 76 RBI, and a highlight reel of amazing plays. Second baseman Lou Whitaker batted .289 with 13 home runs and 56 RBI. Shortstop Alan Trammell finished at .314 with 14 home runs, 69 RBI, 19 steals, 34 doubles, and the World Series MVP. Rightfielder Kirk Gibson came of age with 27 home runs, 91 RBI, .282 average, 29 steals, the ALCS MVP, and a monster World Series moment. The top three starters, Jack Morris, Dan Petry, and Milt Wilcox combined for 54 wins with Juan Berenguer adding 11. Aurelio Lopez went 10-1 with 14 saves out of the pen. Meanwhile, Willie Hernandez won the Cy Young and MVP with a 9-3 record, 1.92 ERA, 112 strikeouts in 140.1 innings, and 32 saves in 33 chances.
The first three Tiger teams with 100 wins failed to win championships. In fact, the 1915 and 1961 squads failed to make the World Series. However, the last two entries, 1968 and 1984, dominated the American League, but took different roads to win titles. The 1968 Tigers took seven games to defeat the Cardinals and Bob Gibson. The 1984 team went 7-1 in the postseason to capture the world championship. The 2014 Tiger team hopes to join their 1968 and 1984 predecessors and win a title. However, they also have a wonderful chance to top 100 victories.