Walter O. (Spike) Briggs Jr. became president of Tigers after death of his father in 1952, has stayed on to run ball club as general manager for new owners. New manager, Jack Tighe, is a bald-headed vegetarian who came up from coaching ranks to succeed Bucky Harris; a veteran of 20 years in baseball, 16 of these with Detroit organization, he has reputation both as a hard worker and as an excellent handler of pitchers. Tighe's coaches are Willis Hudlin, Billy Hitchcock and Don Lund.
ANALYSIS OF THIS YEAR'S TIGERS
Give a team three pitchers capable of winning 20 games apiece and it will be tough. The Tigers have them in Frank Lary, Billy Hoeft and Paul Foytack. Bless this same team with four .300 hitters and they will be very tough indeed. Tigers have these, too: Al Kaline, Harvey Kuenn, Ray Boone and Charley Maxwell. Mix in a few youngsters like Frank Bolling and Jim Bunning, who have already given indication of big league stardom, and nobody is going to push them around—not even the Yankees. Lary won more games (21) than any pitcher in the league last year and had 3.15 ERA; he also beat Yankees five times. Hoeft won 20 games and Foytack, virtually unknown until midseason, finished with 15. Bunning came up from Charleston late in the year, won five games and lost only one. If Tighe's starters get in trouble, there are two good relievers, Al Aber and Steve Gromek, to help out. Kaline, who won league batting championship at age of 20, started last year with a sore shoulder and had bad season for him: .314, 27 home runs and 128 runs batted in. He is also superb outfielder with speed and great arm. Kuenn, who has never hit under .300, is apparently getting better all the time; Boone, hard at work making switch from third base to first, doesn't expect it to affect his hitting; and Maxwell has made good in Detroit after years of mediocrity in Boston. Boiling performed beautifully at second and hit .281 despite late start after leaving service. With Red Wilson backed up by Frank House, Tiger catching is solid, if unspectacular.
If Tigers point with pride to Bolling's defensive skills at second base, they can be excused; it is about the only position in the infield over which to be proud. Kuenn is called best shortstop in big leagues, but he has earned his eminence with bat, not glove. Boone's lack of mobility may show up less at first than it did at third, but the man who replaces him—Jim Finigan—is no Pie Traynor either. Not only that, but Finigan must raise his batting average well over last year's puny .216 to even win the job. If he cannot, then Boone will return to third, and Tighe will have to use either 36-year-old Eddie Robinson or 33-year-old Earl Torgeson at first.
ROOKIES AND NEW FACES
No one expected Don Lee to stay with the club this year; an All-America college pitcher last spring and son of Thornton Lee, the old White Sox star, he was supposed to need another year to get ready. Yet young Donald has looked so good with his overpowering fast ball and great poise that Tighe may keep him. He could be that vital extra starter. Most other Tiger youngsters don't really qualify as rookies, since they spent at least part of 1956 with parent club. They are Jim Small, 19-year-old bonus outfielder who hit .319 in 58 games; Duke Maas, who looks much more promising than his 0-7 record would indicate; Third Baseman Reno Bertoia; left-handed Pitcher Hal Woodeshick; and Bunning. Finigan, of course, is the No. 1 trade acquisition; he came to team from Kansas City, along with Robinson and veteran Pitcher Jack Crimian.
THE BIG IFS
Biggest question mark is Finigan: Is he a .300 hitter as he demonstrated in 1954, or something quite a bit less as later statistics indicate? Bill Tuttle can be big asset to ball club in center field if he regains 1955 fire and batting figure after an overweight and uninspired season in '56. Three starting pitchers, even three as good as Lary, Hoeft, and Foytack, just aren't enough; Bunning or Maas or Lee or someone has to come through, too, to keep Tigers in contention.
This is a ball club built around a handful of young athletes who can match even the Yankees in individual brilliance—and they proved it in the last half of the '56 season by winning even more games than New York. Still, the Tigers must win an additional 15 games just to equal Yankee total of last year and, although their reserve strength is greater now, they are by no means deep enough. The new owners will be perfectly satisfied if Tighe can get his Tigers off to a much faster start than last year and move them up to second place.
Owners claim Briggs Stadium is best park in baseball; contented Detroit fans admit it probably is. Over $300,000 is spent annually for upkeep. There is no really bad seat among the 52,904. Sun areas are bleachers and both upper and lower decks along right field line. Entire park, including 48 tile-lined rest rooms, is kept immaculate by full-time summer staff of 45 men. No advertising disturbs dark-green walls, and lighting system is above average. Ushers are average in courtesy, will accept tips but exert no pressure.
Park is located two blocks east of John Lodge Expressway, just a few minutes from downtown hotel area. It can be reached easily by bus, cab or, if one feels energetic, by foot (15 minutes), but in this city of automobiles almost everyone drives. Neighboring expressways carry traffic easily, stadium can be cleared in 20 minutes with help of a small army of Detroit police. Parking is adequate, costs 50¢ for day games, $1 at night.
Concession stands are plentiful, and quality of refreshments is good. Big seller and most unusual item is frozen custard, 15¢. Special services include free admission to servicemen and their wives, 50-passenger freight elevator to second deck (Gate 14) and permanently upholstered box seats by special order for the fan who has everything else.
Ticket information: WOodward 2-4000
PAST PERFORMANCE CHART
runs batted in