The 5 best seasons in Tigers history

February 23rd, 2021

Though the Tigers have never enjoyed a dynasty of World Series titles, they’ve had some of the most dominant single seasons in baseball history. Often, they’ve been the culmination of teams that have contended for a few years before finally breaking through.

Here’s one reporter’s take on the five best seasons in Tigers history:

1) 1984, 104-58
World Series title, AL MVP and Cy Young winner

Many Detroit sports fans will argue this is the best single-season team not just in Tigers history, but Major League history. They have a lot in their case, foremost among them a 35-5 start to the season, including a Jack Morris no-hitter. By the time they were swept out of Seattle over Memorial Day weekend, they were in command of the AL East and never saw their division lead dwindle, finishing 15 games ahead of the Blue Jays. After sweeping the Royals in the ALCS, they split two close games in San Diego to open the World Series before winning three straight at Tiger Stadium, punctuated by Kirk Gibson’s trademark home run in Game 5. The offense was so balanced that no Tigers hitter received a single first-place vote for MVP. Instead, closer Willie Hernandez pulled the MVP/Cy Young double with nine wins, 32 saves and 80 appearances after joining the team near the end of Spring Training. It was a culmination for a core group that had been together since the late 1970s. Alan Trammell and Morris were eventually inducted into the Hall of Fame, joining manager Sparky Anderson.

2) 1968, 103-59
World Series title, AL MVP and Cy Young winner

This team holds a special place in history not just for its dominance in baseball, but for its role in the city. A year after riots and arson plunged the city into chaos, the Tigers provided common ground to help keep people at peace. The team, still smarting from just missing an AL pennant on the final day of the 1967 season, played on a mission, pulling on top of the standings on May 10 and never letting go. The Tigers won 40 times by pulling ahead in the seventh inning or later, and 30 times in their final at-bat, but their greatest clutch performance was its rally past the Cardinals in the World Series, winning Games 5, 6 and 7. Denny McLain won AL MVP and Cy Young with baseball’s last 30-win season, going 31-6 with a 1.96 ERA to dominate The Year of the Pitcher. Mickey Lolich became the World Series hero with three wins, outpitching the great Bob Gibson in Game 7.

3) 1935, 93-58
World Series title, AL MVP

A year after the Tigers dominated the American League but lost the World Series in seven games, Detroit rallied back from an early season hangover to return and win. The Tigers lost nine of their first 11, didn’t climb over .500 until Game 27 on May 20 and didn’t hold sole possession of first place until Game 90 on July 24. From there, however, the Tigers never let the lead out of their grasp, going 33-9 to take a double-digit advantage atop the division. The Tigers beat the Cubs in six games in the World Series for the franchise’s first title. Most impressive might have been the collection of future Hall of Famers in one lineup: Mickey Cochrane, Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer and Goose Goslin. Greenberg, a 24-year-old in just his third full season, won MVP honors.

4) 1945, 88-65
World Series title, AL MVP

The final season of the war years saw the Tigers become a much different team from start to finish, thanks to the return of Greenberg and Virgil Trucks from military service. Detroit clinched the pennant on the final day of the regular season behind Greenberg’s go-ahead grand slam in the ninth inning to beat the Browns. The Tigers suffered a 9-0 loss to the Cubs at Tiger Stadium to open the World Series, but battled back and forth from there to win in seven games. Pitcher Hal Newhouser won his second consecutive AL MVP award with a 25-9 record and 1.81 ERA.

5) 1934, 101-53
AL pennant, AL MVP

With the four Tigers World Series championship teams accounted for, we’re left to decide the best of the non-title teams. The 1934 Tigers didn’t win the Fall Classic, taking the Gashouse Gang Cardinals to seven games, but they still own the best winning percentage in franchise history. Owner Frank Navin made a bold move to acquire catcher Cochrane from the A’s and name him as a player/manager, then traded for future Hall of Famer Goslin. Detroit played .500 ball for most of the first couple months and spent much of the summer in a race with the Yankees before running off 14 consecutive wins from July into August. The Tigers went 42-16 from late July to season’s end, then had a 3-2 lead in the World Series before the Cardinals took Games 6 and 7 at Navin Field. Detroit players took four of the top six spots in AL MVP voting, led by Cochrane at the top despite Lou Gehrig’s Triple Crown for the Yankees.