We wrap up our positional players with our selection of the five greatest right fielders in Tiger history. This position is the deepest of any of the Tiger positions, perhaps with the exception of first base. The top three on this list are all in the Hall of Fame, and the other two delivered memorable postseason home runs for the Tigers.
#5. Magglio Ordonez (2005-2011)
In his seven years as a Tiger, Magglio Ordonez accomplished a lot. He became a fan favorite because he didn’t cut his hair, he hit .300 (five times), won a batting title with the highest average by a Tiger in 70 years (2007), became the fifth Tiger to hit 50 doubles, and slugged a pennant-winning homer that ensures he’ll never have to buy another drink in the city of Detroit. His .312 career average as a Tiger ranks ninth among Detroit batters with at least 3,000 plate appearances.
#4. Kirk Gibson (1979-1987, 1993-1995)
Gibson played a lot in left field and some in center too, but we’ll rank him among right fielders here. In his two stints as a Tiger, Gibby was dynamic, exciting, and clutch. His list of dramatic hits as a Tiger is long, including the two homers in the clinching Game Five of the 1984 World Series against the Padres at Tiger Stadium. In the next-to-the-last weekend of the 1987 season he belted a ninth-inning homer off Blue Jays closer Tom Henke that tied the game and allowed the Tigers to win in extra innings, starting their comeback to win the AL East title. He hit at least 20 homers and stole at least 20 bases in four straight seasons for the Tigers, and hit 195 homers total as a member of the club.
#3. Harry Heilmann (1914, 1916-1929)
How does a Hall of Famer rank third on our list? The competition here is stiff. After Ty Cobb was done winning batting titles, Harry Heilmann took over that job in the Tiger outfield. Four times, every other year in the 1920s starting in 1921, Heilmann led the American League in batting. In those four odd-numbered seasons, Heilmann hit .394, .403, .393. and .398. His .342 career batting average ranks him fourth all-time for right-handed batters in the history of baseball. Succeeding Crawford, Heilmann gave the Tigers a Hall of Famer in right field for nearly three decades.
#2. Sam Crawford (1903-1917)
In many ways, Sam Crawford was like Al Kaline on the diamond. He had a great throwing arm, was a clutch hitter, hit for a high average, and also had power. But in personality, the two couldn’t be more different. Where Kaline was quiet, Crawford was temperamental and prone to outbursts with his teammates and managers. Playing alongside Ty Cobb for 13 seasons, Crawford probably had the toughest job of any great player in history – having to handle the brash, unpredictable, and often cruel personality of the Tigers’ center fielder. For years at a time, Crawford and Cobb barely spoke, but between the lines they worked together as teammates, with Crawford following Cobb in the lineup. The two perfected the hit and run, run and hit, and the double steal. In more than a third of Cobb’s 54 steals of home, Crawford was behind him stealing second or third, helping to draw attention. Crawford was one of the best power hitters of the Deadball Era, hitting a staggering 309 triples (the sign of a great power hitter back then). He hit .309 in his career and averaged 98 RBI per season, often driving in Cobb with an extra-base hit.
#1. Al Kaline (1953-1974)
Since he signed his first contract with Detroit on the evening of his high school prom, Al Kaline has been a Tiger. As of 2015, that’s 62 years he’s been employed by the club in some capacity. For 22 seasons he was one of the best players in the game, starring in the outfield for the Tigers starting as a teenager. Kaline was famously the youngest player to win a batting title (a day younger than Ty Cobb), but he had many more great seasons after that. He was an All-Star in 15 different seasons, and earned MVP votes in 14 seasons. For as good as he was in the batters box (he batted .300 nine times and hit 399 career homers), Kaline was just as effective in the outfield, winning 10 Gold Gloves. He had amazing instincts defensively, honed by the fact that he played baseball all day long seven months of the year while he was a kid growing up in Baltimore, often playing against men twice his age. In his first chance on the postseason stage, Kaline made the most of it, hitting .379 with 11 hits, two homers, and eight RBI in the 1968 World Series against the Cardinals. Like Crawford and Heilmann he’s a Hall of Famer.