The past century of the storied baseball annual “Who’s Who in Baseball” has been kind to the Detroit Tigers -– at least when it comes to the cover.
The very first edition, published in 1912, featured an illustration of Ty Cobb. And why not? At this stage in his career, Cobb had won five American League batting championships in a row, had taken the Tigers to three consecutive World Series, was tearing up the basepaths like nobody’s business, and at the age of 25 was almost universally recognized as the greatest player in the game.
For some reason, Baseball Magazine, which published “Who’s Who,” didn’t come out with another annual until 1916. But who graced its cover yet again? Indeed, the one and only Ty Cobb. At this point, he had been awarded night straight AL batting titles, was a threat to hit .400 every season, was stealing bases with astonishing ease and regularity, and his “scientific” brand of baseball was the envy of practically everyone.
You would have to fast-forward 20 years to get to the next Detroit cover boy for “Who’s Who.” It was Hank Greenberg –- misspelled “Greenburg” on the cover. The year before, Greenberg had been the unanimous choice for the AL Most Valuable Player award, leading the league in home runs, runs batted in, total bases and walks. He also led the Tigers in 1935 to their second consecutive World Series appearance –- in in ’35 they won, although Greenberg was sidelined in the second game due to a broken wrist suffered while sliding into home.
The next Tigers appearance on the cover came in 1945, and it was the first shared cover in “Who’s Who” history. Detroit starters Hal Newhouser and Dizzy Trout won the joint honors. Newhouser and Trout finished 1-2 in AL MVP voting in 1944. Newhouser had a 29-9 record, which is what probably gave him the edge over his fellow moundsman. Trout excelled, leading the league in starts, innings pitched, ERA, batters faced, plus an astonishing 33 complete games.
The following year, the “Who’s Who” cover was Newhouser’s and Newhouser’s alone. In 1945, Prince Hal had become the first (and still only) pitcher ever to win back-to-back MVP awards. He won the pitching Triple Crown with 25 wins, a 1.81 ERA and 212 strikeouts, not to mention leading the AL in innings, complete games and shutouts.
Another Tigers hurler was next to make the cover –- one Denny McLain, the ace of the defending World Series champions, who had the lead position in the 1969 annual; Pete Rose, Bob Gibson and Carl Yastrzemski got secondary roles. In 1968, the “year of the pitcher,” McLain won 31 games, still the last pitcher to do so, winning both the AL Cy Young and MVP awards. McLain made an encore appearance in the 1970 book, albeit in a secondary position along with co-AL Cy Young winner Mike Cuellar, plus Harmon Killebrew and Willie McCovey, as the New York Mets’ Tom Seaver took leading honors.
In the 1985 book, American League Cy Young and MVP Willie Hernandez of the world champion Tigers was featured on the cover, although Ryne Sandberg of the NL playoff-blowing Chicago Cubs had a much bigger photo.
The 1991 “Who’s Who” has a portrait of Cecil Fielder on the cover, sharing secondary space with Nolan Ryan as Ryne Sandberg again takes the primary position. Geez, you’d think the Cubs had won the World Series or something…
There was another dry spell until 2012, when Justin Verlander got the cover treatment. Verlander had won the AL pitching Triple Crown with 24 wins, a 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts. His 25-4 record also gave him the league’s highest winning percentage at .828, and his 251 innings pitched also led the AL. It didn’t hurt that the Tigers claimed their first playoff spot in 2011 since the World Series club of 2006 -– and the first divisional championship since the 1987 team.
Verlander was replaced on the 2013 cover by Miguel Cabrera, who had won the AL MVP trophy, and won the batting Triple Crown –- the first since 1967, by hitting .330, blasting 44 home runs and driving in 139 runs. It was just one of many superlative seasons Cabrera has had in a Detroit uniform. He led the Tigers to the World Series again, although they got swept by San Francisco. Cabrera also led the American League in slugging percentage, total bases and extra-base hits, and was second in runs scored and hits. By the way, Cabrera received MVP votes 14 seasons in a row -– starting in 2003, his rookie year with the then-Florida Marlins, when he put in just 89 games, mostly as an outfielder. Also on the cover, but in a secondary position, was future Tiger David Price, who beat Verlander by five points to win the AL Cy Young award for the Tampa Bay Rays.
In 2014, Cabrera and Max Scherzer shared a secondary spot along with Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen, as the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw took the spotlight. Just to recap, Cabrera in 2013 won his third batting title in a row and his second AL MVP award in a row. He also garnered the Sporting News’ Major League Player of the Year honor. And Scherzer? He had a 21-3 record, an .879 winning percentage, won the AL Cy Young trophy and the Sporting News American League Pitcher of the Year accolade. He also got to starter for the AL -– does anyone ever call it “junior circuit” anymore? -– in the All-Star Game.
Some future and past Tigers also made the “Who’s Who” cover.
1932: Al Simmons of the Philadelphia A’s won his second batting championship in a row, improving from the .381 he hit in 1930 to .390 in 1931.
1971: Jim Perry, then with the Minnesota Twins, won the AL Cy Young trophy.
1976: Fred Lynn, then coming off his rookie season with the Boston Red Sox, was both the reigning Rookie of the Year and AL MVP.
1989: Kirk Gibson, one year removed from Detroit, won the National League MVP award with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Many will recall the iconic pinch-hit home run he hit in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series against Oakland. Jack Buck, doing Fall Classic radio play-by-play, flubbed up when he said after the blast that “the Tigers” had prevailed against the Athletics.
2000: Ivan Rodriguez, then with Texas, had won the AL MVP award the year before. I-Rod, aka Pudge, was the first catcher to win the MVP since the Yankees’ Elston Howard in 1963, and the Rangers won the AL West that season.
Since annuals are meant to be published just once a year, and “Who’s Who” doesn’t traffic in different cover boys for different regions of the country, a few Tigers stars got passed over, among them Charlie Gehringer, Al Kaline and Mark Fidrych, whose 1976 season easily topped “Fernandomania” in 1981 (although Valenzuela got the cover treatment). Ah, but you can’t win them all.