To date, only one Tiger starting pitcher has earned enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1992, Lefty Hal Newhouser joined the Cooperstown fraternity. Four years later, Jim Bunning was elected by the Veteran’s Committee as a Phillie. Detroit blundered by trading Bunning mid-career. Had he remained with the Tigers, Bunning might be acknowledged as the greatest of all Tiger hurlers. Instead, Newhouser, Mickey Lolich, and Jack Morris enjoy that honor. Morris tops the list of greatest Tiger right handed pitchers and was the greatest pitcher of the eighties. The following are the top five Tiger righthanders in history.
1. Jack Morris
Jack Morris won more games (162) than any other pitcher in the 1980s. During his prime, he was baseball’s preeminent big game pitcher. He won three games in the 1984 postseason which led to the Babe Ruth Award. As a Tiger, Morris led the league in wins, innings, strikeouts, shutouts, and game starts. He no-hit the White Sox in 1984 and set the record for consecutive starts. Morris could have won the Cy Young in 1981 and 1986, but historic seasons by Rollie Fingers and Roger Clemens denied him the honor. Overall, Morris went 198-150 with a 3.73 ERA, 154 complete games, 24 shutouts, and 1,980 strikeouts in 3,042.2 innings with Detroit.
2. Justin Verlander
If he remains healthy and effective, Justin Verlander will surpass Morris to become the greatest righthander in Tiger history. He stands 41 wins behind Morris, but the real difference between the two is postseason record. Despite this, Verlander has won a Cy Young, MVP, Triple Crown, Rookie of the Year, pitched two no-hitters, and has led the league in strikeouts three times, wins twice, and ERA once. His 2011 represented the greatest Tiger season since Denny McLain won 31 in 1968 and best in the Major Leagues since Pedro Martinez in 2000.
3. Tommy Bridges
Tommy Bridges was the Great Depression’s version of Justin Verlander. The two-time World Champion went into the ninth inning with a no-hitter four times in his career. Unlike Morris or Verlander, Bridges failed to close the deal. Despite this, he went 194-138 for the Tigers and set the franchise strikeout record which stood until Morris broke it in 1988. During his career, Bridges won 20 or more games three times, led the league in strikeouts twice, and shutouts once. His greatest moment came in Game 6 of the 1935 World Series. The Cubs placed a runner on third with no one out in a tie game and Bridges refused to allow the score. Detroit won the World Series in the bottom of the ninth.
4. Denny McLain
Like Bridges, Denny McLain won a Game Six of the World Series. McLain’s victory came in 1968 and allowed the Tigers to even the Fall Classic with the Cardinals. The righty won 31 games, the Cy Young, and MVP that season as Detroit rallied for the championship. McLain won a second Cy Young Award in 1969. Between 1965 and 1969, he went 108-51 with a 2.95 ERA and remarkable 1.076 WHIP. A foot injury in 1967 might have cost the Tigers the pennant. By 1970, the innings caught up with McLain. He blew out his arm and was never the same.
5. Jim Bunning
Detroit traded McLain at the right moment. On the other hand, they made a major mistake in trading Jim Bunning in 1963. The trade marked the midpoint of Bunning’s career and he entered his prime with Philadelphia instead of Detroit. The Tiger error allowed the future senator to rack up 100 wins in both leagues. For the Tigers, Bunning went 118-87 with a 3.45 ERA, 78 complete games, 16 shutouts, and 1,406 strikeouts in 1,867.1 innings. He also tossed a no-hitter in 1958. Six years later, the Tiger-turned-Phillie hurled a perfect game. In 1996, Bunning entered the Hall of Fame as a Phillie.