Look out beyond the vast outfield depths of Comerica Park, and history looms.
Along the brick wall separating the outfield concourse from the lower-bowl seats in left and right field, the Tigers list the names and numbers of every player whose number has been retired by the team. Many of the players also have a statue on the outfield concourse.
It’s one of the distinguishing features of the ballpark, and a nod to the rich history the Tigers enjoy as one of the American League’s founding teams. It’s also not an easy honor to earn.
The retirement of a Tigers number is generally tied to a player’s induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame as a Tiger. Only Willie Horton, a hometown hero in Detroit, has his number retired in Detroit without a plaque in Cooperstown.
Ty Cobb, Sam Crawford, Mickey Cochrane, Harry Heilmann, Hughie Jennings and Heinie Manush are all Hall of Famers whose names adorn Comerica Park’s wall, but they do not have retired numbers. Cobb, Heilmann, Crawford, Manush and Jennings played for the Tigers in an era before numbers were commonplace, while Cochrane spent the majority of his playing days with the Philadelphia Athletics before he finished his career as a player-manager in Detroit — which included winning the World Series in 1935. Another Hall of Famer whose name is on the wall, George Kell, wore three different numbers during his Tigers tenure. Legendary broadcaster Ernie Harwell is also commemorated on the wall without a number.
Here’s a list of the select Tigers whose numbers are retired:
Charlie Gehringer, 2B: No. 2
Number retired: June 12, 1983
Nicknamed “The Mechanical Man” by longtime opponent Lefty Gomez, Gehringer played all 19 seasons of his career in Detroit with the quiet consistency ingrained in him from his upbringing on a farm in Michigan. Gehringer batted .320 during his career, garnering six consecutive All-Star selections and earning AL MVP honors and a batting title in 1937. He led the AL in hits, runs scored, doubles, triples and stolen bases in ’29. Scouted by Cobb, he retired trailing only “The Georgia Peach” on the Tigers’ all-time list in several offensive categories — including hits, doubles, triples and total bases. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in ’49.
Alan Trammell, SS: No. 3
Number retired: Aug. 26, 2018
One of two players to spend careers of 20 or more seasons playing solely for the Tigers, Trammell rose from a skinny two-sport high-school star in San Diego to become a cornerstone of the Tigers’ teams of the 1980s. He was named World Series MVP in ’84 and teamed with Lou Whitaker to form the greatest double-play duo in Major League history. A six-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glove winner and three-time Silver Slugger, Trammell was so consistent offensively and defensively he remained relatively undervalued among the great shortstops of his era. The Veterans Committee eventually elected him to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2018.
Hank Greenberg, 1B: No. 5
Number retired: June 12, 1983
Not only was Greenberg the power behind the great Tigers teams of the 1930s and ’40s — leading the AL in home runs four times — he was a cultural icon, proudly honoring his Jewish heritage. He missed three-plus seasons during his prime to serve his country in World War II, yet still retired as the franchise’s leader in home runs. He won AL MVP honors in ’35 and ’40, just before his military service, and drove in 184 runs in ’37. Greenberg was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in ’56.
Al Kaline, OF: No. 6
Number retired: Aug. 17, 1980
Known simply as “Mr. Tiger,” Kaline joined the team as an 18-year-old — signing in 1953 — and has served the club in some capacity ever since, including playing 22 seasons in a Tigers uniform. He became the youngest-ever batting champion when he hit .340 as a 20-year-old in 1955, besting Ty Cobb’s mark by a day. Nineteen years later, Kaline joined Cobb as the second Tiger in the 3,000-hit club, retiring at end of ’74 as the club’s leader in home runs (399) and games played (2,834). Kaline was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in ’80.
Sparky Anderson, MGR: No. 11
Number retired: June 26, 2011
The first member of the 1984 World Series champion Tigers to be honored in Cooperstown was their manager. Anderson molded a team of promising young players into winners after taking the helm in ’79. He managed Detroit to 1,331 wins over 17 seasons, winning AL Manager of the Year honors in ’84 and ’87, before retiring after the ’95 season. His teachings lived on in former players Trammell and Kirk Gibson, both of whom became managers. The Veterans Committee elected Anderson to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000, and the Tigers retired his number following his death in ’10.
Hal Newhouser, P: No. 16
Number retired: July 27, 1997
Born and raised in Detroit, Newhouser grew up following the great Tigers teams of the 1930s before becoming the centerpiece of their glory years in the ’40s. A gangly, hard-throwing, highly-competitive left-hander, Newhouser won 80 games from ’44-46. He also became the first pitcher to win back-to-back MVP awards. Newhouser won 200 games during his 15 seasons in Detroit and was the Tigers’ franchise leader in career strikeouts at the time of his retirement in ’55. He eventually became a Hall of Famer when the Veterans Committee elected him in ’92.
Willie Horton, OF: No. 23
Number retired: July 15, 2000
Horton became a Detroit icon because of his work on and off the diamond. After becoming a local high-school legend following his family’s move from Virginia, Horton signed with his hometown club as a teenager and became the Tigers’ first African-American star at a time when riots and unrest threatened to divide Detroit. The four-time All-Star slugged 36 home runs in 1968, but was better known for throwing out Lou Brock at home plate during the World Series that October — a critical play that helped pave the way to the Tigers’ first title in 23 years. Horton played parts of 15 seasons in Detroit.
Jack Morris, P: No. 47
Number retired: Aug. 12, 2018
Baseball’s winningest pitcher of the 1980s was the Tigers’ ace during that decade, a workhorse right-hander who delivered 154 complete games and 198 wins over his 14 seasons in Detroit. He tossed a no-hitter in his second start of ’84, then ended the season with two complete-game wins in the World Series. A lengthy wait for Cooperstown ended when the Veterans Committee elected Morris to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2018.
Note: On April 15, 1997, the Tigers joined every team in MLB by retiring No. 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson.