Day 280: The All-Mitt Team: The Best Ballplayers Born in Michigan

The Awesome Mitten - John Smoltz
John Smoltz was an All-State baseball and basketball player at Waverly High School in Lansing, Michigan and in college at Michigan State University before the Detroit Tigers drafted him in the 22nd round of the 1985 amateur draft.

What state is better suited to produce baseball players than one that’s shaped like a mitt?

Sure, the weather isn’t always conducive to playing baseball, but still, Michigan has produced a fair share of star ballplayers over the years.

For fun, while we dig ourselves out of snow here in the northern parts of Michigan, I decided to select a team of players who were born in the Great Lakes State.

The key word is “born” – players who were raised in the Wolverine State (Derek Jeter, I’m looking at you) are not eligible. It’s the Mitt Romney rule – if you were born here you can be a Michigander for my purposes, even if you were raised elsewhere.

Some of these players are famous (three Hall of Famers and at least one likely future Hall of Famer), while others may only be recognizable to Detroit Tigers fans or hardcore fans of the national pastime.

Now, raise your left hand and take a look at “the mitt” to see where these baseball stars came from and let’s begin.

1B: Jack Fournier, Au Sable
Let’s dispense with probably the most obscure member of the team straightaway. But this guy is deserving of the first base spot on our All-Michigan team. Fournier was a power-hitter for the White Sox, Cardinals, and Dodgers from 1912-1927. He led the National League in home runs in 1924 and had a .313 career batting average. His OPS+ (on base percentage plus slugging adjusted for his league and ballparks) is a glittering 142, one of the highest marks of any batter not enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Honorable Mention: John Mayberry (Detroit), Kevin Young (Alpena)

2B: Charlie Gehringer, Fowlerville
Regular readers of this blog know a lot about Charlie. The Fowlerville native batted .320 in a career where he helped the Tigers to three pennants and one world Series title. He was a batting champion, excellent defensive infielder, and a Hall of Fame member.

Honorable Mention: Bobby Grich (Muskegon) 

3B: Chris Sabo, Detroit
There’s not a lot to choose from at third base, but Sabo was a pretty good ballplayer, and easily a better choice than any other Michigan-born player at the position. After starring at U of M, he was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds and in 1988 he was NL Rookie of the Year. He was a two-time All-Star and helped the Reds to their last World Series title, in 1990. His nickname was “Spuds McKenzie” because of his resemblance to the dog from the beer commercials.

SS: Mike Bordick, Marquette
Bordick’s family moved to Maine when he was a kid, where he was a prep star in three sports. He had a nice 14-year career as a middle infielder, primarily for Oakland and Baltimore, where he replaced Cal Ripken Jr. at short. He was an All-Star in 2000 when he set career marks with 20 homers and 80 RBI. He never won a Gold Glove but he was one of the most sure handed shortstops of his era. He played in the post-season for three different franchises.

Honorable Mention: Doc Lavan (Grand Rapids), Cass Michaels (Detroit), Tom Tresh (Detroit)

C: Bill Freehan, Detroit
There’s no more pure Michigan man on this list than Freehan. He was a prep star in Royal Oak, played college baseball and football for the University of Michigan, was drafted and starred for the Tigers, helping them to a World Series title in 1968, tutored Lance Parrish and other young catchers in the Detroit organization, and later managed the Wolverines from 1989 to 1995. The best defensive catcher of his era, Freehan won five Gold Gloves and was named to the All-Star team 11 times.

Honorable Mention: Stan Lopata (Delray), Jason Varitek (Rochester), Ernie Whitt (Detroit)

LF: Kirk Gibson, Pontiac
The Michigan State answer to Freehan, Gibson starred at MSU in football and baseball, being drafted professionally in both sports. He took his football mentality with him to the Tigers, for whom he played from 1979-1987 and again from 1993-1995. His 255 home runs ties Mayberry for most by a Michigan-born player. He is the most recent Michigander to win the MVP Award, for the Dodgers in 1988.

Honorable Mention: Ira Flagstead (Montague), Tom Paciorek (Detroit)

CF: Ron LeFlore, Detroit
No other player on this team came from more difficult circumstances to become a star than LeFlore. He went from running around the streets of Detroit to being arrested and sent to prison in Jackson to playing center field for the Tigers and having a movie made about his life story. But he was more than just an inspiring story and (later) controversial figure, he was a damned good ballplayer for a short time. From 1976-1980, he averaged .300 with 179 hits, 105 runs scored, 25 doubles, nine homers, and 68 stolen bases. He swiped 97 bases for the Expos in 1980, but soon his career was ended prematurely due to a drug addiction.

Honorable Mention: Rick Miller (Grand Rapids), Leon Roberts (Vicksburg), Bill Virdon (Hazel Park)

RF: Kiki Cuyler, Harrisville
Like Gibson, Cuyler was a very gifted athlete who excelled as a youth in football and baseball, though he played college for U of M. He was very fast and he was probably the best baserunner in the National League in the 1920s and early 1930s. He led the league in stolen bases four times. He was also a renowned line drive hitter, finishing in the top five in batting five times in the NL. He had a .321 career batting average and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1968, 18 years after he died in Ann Arbor.

Honorable Mention: Bernie Carbo (Detroit), Jay Gibbsons (Rochester), Clint Hurdle (Big Rapids), Jim Northrup (Breckenridge)

DH: Ted Simmons, Highland Park
He looked like a dump truck and he ran like one, but Simmons could hit. He batted .300 seven times and drove in at least 90 runs eight times. A switch-hitter, Simmons was named to the All-Star team six times with the St. Louis Cardinals and two times with the Milwaukee Brewers. He was a catcher in more than 1,700 games, and he still holds the record for career hits by a backstop. But since we have Freehan to catch for this team, Simmons serves as a perfect designated hitter.

Honorable Mention: Merv Rettenmund (Flint), John Vander Wal (Grand Rapids)  

UT: Mickey Stanley, Grand Rapids
Though not blessed with great hitting skills or extraordinary speed, Stanley was such a great defensive player that he won four Gold Glove Awards in center field for the Tigers. The only position he didn’t play in his 15-year career was catcher. Famously in the 1968 World Series, Detroit manager Mayo Smith moved Stanley to shortstop to make room for Al Kaline in the lineup. Stanley made two non-damaging errors and the Tigers won the Series.

PH: Charlie Maxwell, Paw Paw
Famous for hitting home runs on Sundays, Maxwell hit a lot of them on other days too. He hit 148 in his 14-year career, half of which was spent as a fourth outfielder and pinch-hitter. When he did play regularly for Detroit in the 1950s and early 1960s, he hit as many as 20 homers four times, topping out with 31.

Honorable Mention: Jerry Lynch (Munger) 

SP: Hal Newhouser, Detroit
A Hall of Fame lefty who led the American League in victories four times. He was named MVP in 1944 and 1945, and was second in voting in 1946. He had numerous duels with Cleveland ace Bob Feller, against whom he posted a winning record.

SP: Eddie Cicotte, Springwells
Born in Springwells, a small community in southwest Detroit, Cicotte had a triumphant and then tragic baseball career. In 1917 he won 28 games and led the Chicago White Sox to the world Series title. Two years later he won 29 games and led the Sox to the Fall Classic again, where they surprised almost everyone when they lost to the Reds. But it wasn’t a surprise, it was a fix. Cicotte and other members of the Sox, including Joe Jackson, had taken money from gamblers to lose the Series against Cincinnati. He won 21 games in 1920 before the scandal was exposed, and then his career was over when he was banned for life. He had accumulated 2089 wins and would probably been a Hall of Famer if it wasn’t for his dishonesty. He returned to Livonia where he managed a service station, served as a game warden in the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, then went to work for Ford Motor Company where he retired in 1944. Eddie lived to be 84 years old and until his death at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, May 5, 1969, he lived on a farm in Farmington.

SP: Jim Kaat, Zeeland
After attending Hope College in Holland, Kaat was drafted by the Washington Senators in 1957. He debuted with them two years later, a left-handed pitcher with a good fastball and sinker. He won 190 games for the Twins and then spent a few seasons as a starter for the White Sox (winning 20 games twice) and Phillies. Always an excellent athlete who kept himself in terrific shape, Kaat spent five years at the end of his career as a relief pitcher, appearing in 62 games at the age of 42. He won 283 games and struck out nearly 2,500 batters in his career. He also won more Gold Gloves than any other pitcher – 16.

SP: Frank Tanana, Detroit
Tanana had two very distinct careers: pre-surgery and post-surgery. Prior to hurting his arm in 1979, Tanana was the left-handed Nolan Ryan, fanning as many as 269 batters in a season. After his arm was hurt, Tanana became a finesse pitcher, one of the craftiest in the game. He won 149 games after the surgery in 14 seasons though he rarely threw the ball faster than 85 MPH. Would it surprise you to know that he pitched more games for his hometown Tigers than any of his other teams? It’s true. He pitched 250 in eight seasons for Detroit after being acquired in the middle of the 1985 season. In all, he won 240 games and struck out more than 2,700 batters.

SP: Billy Pierce, Detroit
This is the ace that got away from the Tigers. Originally a bonus baby with the Tigers in 1945, Pierce was traded to the White Sox a few years later in a deal that haunted Detroit for more than a decade. The left-handed Pierce won 208 games and made seven All-Star teams after leaving the Tigers.

Honorable Mention: Jim Abbott (Flint), Steve Avery (Trenton), Steve Gromek (Hamtramck), Derek Lowe (Dearborn), Milt Pappas (Detroit), Ed Reulbach (Detroit), Dave Rozema (Grand Rapids), Bob Welch (Detroit), Rick Wise (Jackson)   

CL: John Smoltz, Detroit
Like Pierce, the Tigers had Smoltz in their clutches and let him go. He was dealt to the Atlanta Braves in the famous (or infamous, however you look at it) trade during the playoff run in 1987. He’s almost certain to be elected to the Hall of Fame after being a stud starter and ace closer for the Braves in his long career. The hard-throwing righty won 213 games and saved 154 more, unselfishly giving four years of his career to be a reliever when he was asked to do so. Eight All-Star Games and five top ten finishes in Cy Young voting give him an impressive resume.

RP: Mike Marshall, Adrian
A star at Michigan State, Marshall was one of the smartest men to ever play professional baseball. In 1974 he set a record by pitching in an amazing 106 games. He won the Cy Young Award that year and led his league in saves three times.

RP: J.J. Putz, Trenton
The only active player on our team, Putz saved 45 games for Kirk Gibson’s Diamondbacks last season. He saved 101 for the Seattle Mariners in six seasons.

RP: Dick Radatz, Detroit
The most intimidating pitcher of his era, Radatz was tall, threw hard, and wore thick glasses. He looked like a monster, which is why his nickname was “Monster”. In a career primarily spent with the Red Sox, Radatz led the league in saves twice and saved 122 games.

MGR: Bill Virdon, Hazel Park
If you designed what a manager should look like, Virdon would be it: tall, square-jawwed, resolute, a born leader. Virdon managed four different teams to winning records, taking two of them to the post-season. His longest stint was with the Houston Astros, where he won 544 games in eight seasons for a .510 winning percentage. Altobelli is the only Michigan-born manager to win a World Series title, with Baltimore in 1983. Hurdle is the the only other Michigander to win a pennant.

Honorable Mention: Joe Altobelli (Detroit), Kirk Gibson (Pontiac), Clint Hurdle (Big Rapids)

Owner: Tom Yawkey, Detroit
Now in the Hall of Fame for his long tenure as owner of the Red Sox, Yawkey was born and raised (at least part-time) in Michigan. His adopted father, Bill Yawkey, was one of the first owners of the Tigers and left his fortune to Tom.

General Manager: Larry MacPhail, Cass City
MacPhail’s family was prominent in Scottville, a small community on the shore of lake Michigan. After becoming a lawyer he purchased interests in minor league clubs, eventually working his way up to a position as GM for the Reds in the 1930s. As an executive, MacPhail introduced many innovations, including night baseball, television broadcasts, and airplane travel. Like Yawkey, he’s in the Hall of Fame.

Hitting Coach: Charley Lau, Romulus
After a mediocre playing career, Lau became a manager and later coach at the big league level. His most famous work came with the Kansas City Royals in the 1970s when he mentored George Brett and Hal McRae. Brett specifically credited Lau with his development as a hitter. Later, Lau helped a young Harold Baines with the White Sox. Though his methods remain controversial, Lau is the most famous batting coach in baseball history.

Pitching Coach: Phil Regan, Otsego
After a major league career in which he won 96 and saved 92 games in 13 seasons, he became a college head coach at Grand Valley State. He went from there to pitching coach jobs with four different major league teams. He also won a Gold Medal as the pitching coach for the U.S. Olympic team in 2000 in Sydney.

Announcer: Paul Carey, Mt. Pleasant
As a broadcast partner of Ernie Harwell ( who was born in Georgia), Carey was known as “The Voice of God”. His deep, baritone sound was a comfort to Tigers fans for 19 years from 1973-1991.

Originally published at Detroit Athletic Co. blog.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *