Tigers’ Top 5 second basemen: Beck's take

April 6th, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only. If you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Jason Beck’s ranking of the top five second basemen in Tigers history. Next week: third basemen.

1. Charlie Gehringer, 1924-42
Key fact: 78.6 career fWAR ranks fifth all-time among MLB second basemen

Born and raised on a Michigan farm in Livingston County, played at the University of Michigan before word of mouth earned him a tryout for the Tigers. He played all of his 2,221 Major League games in a Tigers uniform -- all but 17 of those at second base -- during a 19-year Hall of Fame career.

Though his career year was his MVP season in 1937 when he hit .371 at age 34, he had a 60-double season the year before. In '29, he led the American League in hits (215), doubles (45), triples (19), runs scored (131) and stolen bases (27). Gehringer also hit .375 in the '35 World Series to earn the Tigers their first title.

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The beauty of Gehringer’s career was his consistency. He batted .306 or better in 13 of his 16 full big league seasons. He led the AL in games played four times and played at least 150 games in nine seasons, earning the nickname "The Mechanical Man." His [jersey] No. 2 hangs proudly on the brick wall at Comerica Park.

“You wind him up in the spring, turn him loose, he hits .330 or .340, and you shut him off at the end of the season,” Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Gomez once said.

2. Lou Whitaker, 1977-95
Key fact: 1,528 career double plays turned ranks fourth all-time among second basemen

The quest to get Sweet Lou in the Hall of Fame goes on, but his place among Tigers greats is secure, punctuated by the upcoming retirement of his jersey No. 1. While will forever be linked with Hall of Famer as the greatest double-play tandem in Major League history, turning more double plays than any other pair of teammates, Whitaker did plenty in his own right to deserve recognition.

The 1978 AL Rookie of the Year went on to earn five All-Star selections, four Silver Sluggers and three Gold Glove Awards. He retired in '95 as one of four second basemen in Major League history with 1,000 runs, 1,000 RBIs, 2,000 hits and 200 home runs, joining Hall of Famers , and . Baseball historian/author Bill James rated him as the 13th-best second baseman of all-time.

“The name of the game is to win, right?” Whitaker told MLB Network Radio. “My thing was to play the game hard, put everything I had on the field, play as a team, do whatever the manager asks of you, and we will be successful. [Manager] Sparky [Anderson] had me do some things that were going to win ballgames, whether it was bunt a man over, do the things that it takes to win. My goal always was just to win: Play, have fun, win. And that’s what I did for 19 years.”

3. Ian Kinsler, 2014-17
Key fact: 40 defensive runs saved in four seasons in Detroit

Other second basemen had longer Tigers tenures, but few had the impact in a four-year stretch that provided. He arrived in Detroit as the return package from Texas in the trade and left as the leader and heart of the Tigers. In between, he was an offensive and defensive threat up the middle, averaging 20 homers, 32 doubles, 75 RBIs and 4.5 bWAR a season while providing standout defense. He was an All-Star in 2014, a Gold Glove Award winner in '16 and an eventual business partner with Detroit music icon Jack White on a bat company.

4. Placido Polanco, 2005-09
Key fact: MVP of 2005 AL Championship Series

Like Kinsler, didn’t spend the bulk of his career in Detroit, but he made the most of his time in the Motor City. His arrival from Philadelphia in the trade midway through the 2005 season was one of the best trades of the Dave Dombrowski era as Tigers general manager. Polanco immediately became one of the key cogs in Detroit’s rise from 12 consecutive losing seasons to the '06 World Series, providing a quiet, gritty competitiveness and defensive stability up the middle. He blossomed as an offensive player in Detroit, and swept AL second-base honors in 2007: All-Star starting nod, Silver Slugger and the first of two Gold Glove Awards he won as a Tiger.

5. Dick McAuliffe, 1960-73
Key fact: Three consecutive All-Star selections from 1965-67

Though Dick McAuliffe moved around the infield during his 14-year Tigers tenure, he spent the bulk of his career at second base and served as a key part there in the team’s 1968 World Series run. He led the AL with 95 runs scored that season while providing strong defense. He finished seventh in the AL MVP voting that year. Three of the six players ahead of him were teammates