While some fine players, like Harvey Kueen could play any outfield position (and a few in the infield too) can you imagine a manager putting a guy like Granderson anywhere but center? That said, it requires some arbitrary judgment to anchor a guy at one spot.
First, records are a little sketchy as to which outfield position one played. Second, who’s to say that managers didn’t move their guys around in the season or even during the game for strategic reasons. (I was surprised to learn that in 1959 Kaline is listed as a center fielder in my Baseball Encyclopedia, apparently to make room for Kueen.) So I’ll make a best guess, plunk them into one spot, and promise you that everybody will get on the ballot in the next three weeks.
Before you wax nostalgic about Kaline’s heyday, or Mag’s great 2007 MVP season, I ask you to seriously consider a few older players. Sam “Wahoo” Crawford’s smacked .314 with a league leading 134 RBI’s during the dead ball era in 1914. He was second in the league in homers, total hits, total bases, and third in slugging average. Wikipedia refers to “The Gray Ink Test,” which statistically compares hitters, and he is the ninth best hitter of all-time, ahead of slouches like Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle and Barry Bonds. With Cobb in center, it’s amazing the Tigers only came in fourth that year.
In 1923 the Tigers had another rightfielder that might make us forget about Kaline and Mag’s if only we would have seen him. Harry Heilmann hit an incredible .403 for the AL title, and did it with power, nailing 18 HR’s. (Only the Babe and some guy from the Browns hit more.) Harry came in third in the MVP balloting to Ruth and Eddie Collins of Chicago. (I guess playing in a big city had its advantage even in those days.)
Gee Walker is kinda hard to judge. Frankly, until I started working on this, I’d not heard of him, although he had a fine season in 1936, with a .353 average. Probably this is due to the fact that there were astronomical average in those days, and .353 didn’t even land him in the top five for averages, or rank him in homers, RBI’s or any of the big offensive categories. Today, I think this guy would be a .300 hitter, no more.
Vic Wertz had a fine season in 1950 by anybody’s standard, and was immensely popular, but frankly, how can we compare his .308 average and 27 homers to the accomplishments of these other guys?
Over his career, Al Kaline was probably the finest combination glove and stick us older generation of Tiger fans have ever seen. Now I’m gonna draw some heat: he never really returned to the same form from this sophomore season of 1955 (although we probably should take into that hitters in the American League as a whole slumped in the late ‘50’s and early 1960’s.) But almost as valuable as his hitting was his incredible fielding and phenomenal arm. It was a joy to any Tiger fan to watch him go deep in the rightfield corner on a fly ball, and then throw a strike to the shortstop putting the tag on a runner trying to advance from first. Wikipedia says he threw out two runners at home in one inning, but they need a citation. Best of all, he was and is a nice guy.
In 1959 Kaline moved over to center to make room Harvey Kueen, who took the batting title with a .353 average. Harvey made his mark as a spray-hitting singles and doubles hitter, and left the Tigers during the next winter in the famous Rocky Colovito trade.
Magglio Ordonez 2007 season was something out of a storybook. He led the majors in average (.363) and doubles, and racked up historic numbers in slugging average and on base percentage. To boot, he earned an MVP and a Silver Slugger award. We’ll ignore the fact that he’s a big supporter of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.