As Robbie Grossman’s home run cleared the left field fence on Tuesday night, it was a milestone of sorts for the Detroit Tigers: Grossman is the first Tiger to hit 20 homers in a season since Nicholas Castellanos had 23 in 2018. (Perhaps even more impressive: Grossman’s 20th came in his 128th game of the year, four games faster than Castellanos’ 20th in his final full season in Detroit. He then added a 21st homer Friday night in Cincinnati against Castellanos’ current team.)
Grossman’s 20-homer season is the 191st by a Tiger, dating back to the franchise’s first such season in 1922 by Harry Heilmann. From Heilmann to Grossman, it’s a club of 68 who’ve hit 20 homers while wearing the “Old English D,” which isn’t that exclusive of a club.
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But Grossman has also been active on the basepaths in his first season with the Tigers, with 15 steals. That means he’s just five steals away from joining the Tigers’ 20-steal club; that features 126 seasons, from 56 players. Again, not terribly exclusive.
But hitting 20 homers and stealing 20 bases in the same season? Now that’s something, with just six Tigers pulling off the 20/20 feat, a total of 11 times. Here’s a quick look at the Tigers who blended power and speed the best (since no player in franchise history has joined the 30/30 club):
Years: 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987.
The buzz: Gibson became the first Tiger with 20 homers and 20 steals on Aug. 18 when he homered off Seattle’s Dave Geisel at Tiger Stadium; steal No. 20 came two weeks earlier, Aug. 4 against the Kansas City Royals. By the time of his 20th homer, Gibson was actually at 22 steals, with swipes in each of his two previous games. No wonder manager Sparky Anderson was appreciative after homer No. 20, telling the Freep’s Bill McGraw: “He’s the horse. He plays every day. Right-handers, lefthanders, it don’t matter no more.” Gibson finished the season with 27 homers and 29 steals as the Tigers won the World Series.
The next year, Gibson just missed the 30/30 club, finishing with 29 homers and 30 steals, thanks to two steals in the season’s next-to-last game. His final homer of the year came on Oct. 2, with four games left on the schedule. At the time, only five players — Ken Williams (1922), Willie Mays (1956, 1957), Hank Aaron (1963), Bobby Bonds (1969, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1978) and Dale Murphy (1983) — had joined the 30/30 club; four would do it in 1987 alone.
In 1986, Gibson set a career high in steals with 34, tied for fourth in the American League (but still more than 50 behind the AL leader, Rickey Henderson). But he topped out at 28 home runs, with a late boost from three homers over back-to-back games against the Baltimore Orioles in the season’s final series.
Finally, in the last year of his first stint as a Tiger, he finished with 24 homers and 26 steals. In a mostly frustrating year for the AL East champs, Gibson was hampered for the final month of the season with a pulled left thigh, which cost him five games.
“There’s nothing I like to do more than steal and take an extra base,” Gibson told the Freep’s Gene Guidi in mid-September. “It really puts the pressure on the other team. But when I try to burn, I can feel it grab and I have to slow down.”
Gibson’s totals over the Tigers’ final 29 games (from Sept. 1 on): six homers, four steals.
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(One last Gibby note: While the lasting video from his 1988 MVP season with the Los Angeles Dodgers is of a 31-year-old Gibson hobbling around the bases after homering in Game 1 of the World Series, he was still fairly speedy on the bases. That year, he hit 25 homers and stole 31 bases; the hobble-inducing injuries came in the NLCS a few days before.)
Years: 1986, 1987.
The buzz: Trammell picked up his 20th steal of the 1986 season Sept. 5 in Oakland, followed by homer No. 20 two weeks later against the New York Yankees on Sept. 19 at Tiger Stadium. He finished the year with 21 homers and 25 steals, including more in July (10) than he had in the final two months combined (9), and a swiped bag in the season finale in Baltimore.
The next year, arguably an MVP-worthy campaign and his finest as a Tiger, Trammell crushed 28 homers and crossed the 20-steal mark Sept. 26 in Toronto. He finished with 21 steals, with the last coming against the Orioles on Oct. 1 in the first of the Tigers’ four wins to end the season as AL East champs. (His final homer of the season came in the first game of the Tigers’ season-ending sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays.) Trammell was a careful base thief, too; he was caught just twice. Once again, Anderson, the Tigers’ manager, summed up Trammell’s contributions, telling the Freep’s Tommy George: “For five months Alan Trammell has been outstanding. How can you expect a man to just go, go, go? He truly makes a manager feel secure because you know what you’re going to get. Watch him … he’s just on the playground. He knows you can’t find nothing like this where you can steal and they don’t arrest you.”
The buzz: Curtis arrived in Detroit via trade (for Tony Phillips) in mid-April 1995, a couple weeks before the start of the season, which was delayed by the end of the 1994 players’ strike. Over his first three seasons with the California Angels, he piled up the steals — 116 (in 169 attempts) — but homered just 27 times in 405 games. With the Tigers, though, he found the right mix of power and speed; he hit 21 homes and stole 27 bases (though he was caught 15 times, too). Curtis never topped 15 homers over the final six seasons of his career and hit the 20-steal mark just once, in 1998 with the Yankees.
The buzz: On the same day the Tigers traded Curtis to the Dodgers — July 31, 1996 — they acquired Easley from the cross-town Angels, though they likely weren’t expecting a 20/20 season from the 5-foot-11 infielder. Over 350 games during parts of five seasons in Anaheim, Easley had 15 homers and 27 steals, and he added just two homers and three steals in his 21 games with the Tigers to finish the 1996 season.
Indeed, his biggest production had been a reputation for lingering injuries, leading to Tigers manager Buddy Bell’s explanation for an Easley absence late in 1996: “He’s only 97 or 98 percent.”
But in 1997? Easley focused early on staying in the lineup, with an added benefit: three homers and eight steals in April, and 13 homers and 18 steals by the All-Star break. He picked up steal No. 20 on Aug. 3, against the Blue Jays at Tiger Stadium, but soon after, Easley’s bat went cold. From Aug. 16 to Sept. 20 — a 33-game span — Easley hit just one homer: No. 20, on Sept. 8 against the Rangers in Detroit. A two-homer game Sept. 21 brought him to 22 homers, and a steal in each of his final two games of the year put him at 28 steals.
The buzz: Sheffield’s 20/20 season might have been the most improbable, for reasons opposite that of Curtis’ or Easley’s. Although Sheffield had already had 13 seasons with at least 20 home runs before arriving in a December 2006 trade, he had only had two seasons with at least 20 steals: as a 21-year-old with the Brewers in 1990, and as a 29-year-old with the Marlins and Dodgers in 1998. And then, at age 38 — and coming off a season in which a wrist injury cost him all but 39 games — Sheffield got off to a scorching start while spending most of his time at designated hitter; homer No. 20 came in his 79th game of the season, July 5 against Cleveland at Comerica Park.
Steal No. 20, though, was delayed by a right shoulder injury in late July (suffered in his ninth appearance of the season in the field) that cost him a week of games in early August and another two weeks in late August and early September. Upon his return from the injury Sept. 6, Sheffield was clearly a lesser hitter; he hit one homer and stole two bases in his final 19 games of the season to finish with 25 home runs and 22 steals. Still, no player in MLB history has been older at the time of his 20/20 season. (Paul O’Neil also went 20/20 in his age-38 season in 2001 with the Yankees, but he was three months younger than Sheffield.)
Years: 2007, 2009.
The buzz: After a breakout season in 2006 — his first full year in the majors — in which he just missed 20 homers, Granderson arrived in style in 2007. Both homer No. 20 and steal No. 20 were notched in an early September series against the Mariners at Comerica Park; Granderson homered in the series opener, then stole a base (and, well, homered again — it was that kind of season) in the series finale.
Indeed, perhaps the only reason the milestones came so late in the year was that Granderson spent so much time on second and third base; he finished the year with 23 homers and 26 steals, plus 38 doubles and 23 triples, becoming one of four players with at least 20 doubles, triples, homers and steals. (The others: Frank Schulte of the Cubs in 1911, Willie Mays of the Giants in 1957 and Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies, also in 2007.) But perhaps the most impressive number for Granderson in ’07 was this: One, as in the number of times he was caught stealing. After the season finale — in which he went 3-for-3 in steal attempts — Granderson remained humble about his hustle on the basepaths, telling the Freep: “Andy Van Slyke (the baserunning coach) told me I had to be at least 80%. We worked on knowing the situations and pitches when I could run.”
Injuries limited Granderson to 141 games. 22 homers and 12 steals in his follow-up campaign, but he was back on the attack in 2009. He raced out to 20 homers in his first 97 games, with No. 20 coming July 27 on the road against the Rangers. Steal No. 20 (in attempt No. 26) came a couple weeks later, Aug. 9 against the Twins at Comerica Park. After that, however, Granderson stopped stealing, with no attempts in his final 52 games. He kept hitting homers, though, with eight over that span to finish with 30.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers’ Robbie Grossman close to joining elite club
Source: Yahoo Sports