For What It’s Worth: My top five Tigers
By Larry Hook
The Lookout Adviser
If Major League Baseball’s 2020 season ever gets underway, it will mark the 50th year that I have followed the sport.
I have been a diehard Detroit Tigers baseball fan ever since 1971. My passion for the team started when I was in the fourth grade and I bought my first baseball cards.
I thought it would be fun to list my all-time favorite Tigers from the past 50 years. Some of the criteria for my list include accomplishments, length of service with the Tigers and on-field charisma.
As a newspaper reporter for my entire adult life, I had the privilege of meeting many Tiger players. So my interactions with them, and finding out how they treated reporters, and fans, also plays into the creation of my list.
Here are my all-time five favorite Detroit Tigers. They are listed with their position and the years they played for the Tigers:
1. Aurelio Rodriguez, third base, 1971 to 1979 – The first reason I loved Aurelio was because of his rocket arm. Later I admired his calm demeanor and his happy-go-lucky nature. Tigers’ broadcaster Ernie Harwell often referred to Rodriguez as “The Happy Mexican.”
In 1983 I had the chance to meet Rodriguez during spring training in Florida, when he was wrapping up his career with the Baltimore Orioles. Prior to a game, I asked him if he would sign all 16 of his Topps baseball cards for me. He told me to meet him after the game and he would sign them.
When he came out of the clubhouse after the game he spotted me, smiled and pointed to me. He came over and signed all 16 of those cards, and we had a chance to chat for a few minutes. It was a huge thrill for me and it cemented him as my all-time favorite player for life.
Aurelio’s life ended tragically in September of 2000. While walking on a sidewalk in Detroit, he was struck and killed by a driver who was having a seizure. He was only 52.
2. Alan Trammell, shortstop, 1977-1996 – “Tram” played his entire 20-year career with the Tigers and was a model of consistency. He is now in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
I have been playing softball for over 40 years, and Trammell has been my idol for the way he played shortstop. He was smooth, consistent and fundamentally sound.
I met Trammell several times during his career, and interviewed him twice during the 1990s. He was always very cordial and professional.
Even though I wasn’t a regular beat reporter for the Tigers, he treated me with respect, and genuinely tried to answer my questions thoroughly. I appreciated that.
3. Curtis Granderson outfield, 2004-2009 – Even though Granderson was only with the Tigers for six years, he left a lasting impact with his talent and professionalism. In 2007 he became one of only four Major Leaguers to ever compile 20 doubles, 20 triples, 20 homers and 20 stolen bases in the same season.
Granderson was a picture of class throughout his entire Major League career, which ended in 2019. I never saw him argue with, or even question, an umpire.
The slugging outfielder founded the Grand Kids Foundation in 2007 to aid positive youth development through education, physical fitness and nutrition initiatives. He has always been very generous with his time and money to support this, and other, charitable endeavors.
Did you know Granderson appeared at Lansing Community College in the winter of 2006? He was there with a caravan of Tigers, talking about the upcoming 2006 season. I had a chance to meet him that day. He was as cordial and classy as any player I have met.
4. Justin Verlander, pitcher, 2005-2017 – I have always admired Verlander’s fierce competitiveness and his strong work ethic. He was the ace pitcher for the Tigers for more than a decade, and is a shoe-in to be a Hall of Famer.
Verlander is one of only six Major League pitcher to throw at least three no-hitters. His first two were with the Tigers, while the third came last year with his new team, the Houston Astros.
I have never met Verlander, but would like to someday. He seems to be very intelligent person, a good teammate and a person who treats others with respect.
5. John Wockenfuss, catcher/outfield/first base, 1974-1983 – Wockenfuss was never a full-time player for the Tigers, but I always appreciated his versatility and professionalism.
Wockenfuss batted out of an extremely closed stance and flapped his right hand on the bat prior to each pitch. And he had great bat control. He was the best I have ever seen at executing the hit-and-run play by hitting the ball on the ground into right field.
I copied Wockenfuss’ unusual stance when I was young. I have always hit the ball to right field a lot, like he did. And I wear number 14 to this day in his honor.
I have never met Wockenfuss, but maybe he will read this article and send me an autographed baseball card.
Honorable mention: Darrell Evans, Miguel Cabrera, Bill Freehan, Willie Horton, Marcus Thames.