It took a bit longer than expected, but we finally have the first pitcher of our countdown. Hall of Fame left-hander Hal Newhouser cruised to a comfortable lead in the vote for our #10 player in Tigers' history, beating out current ace Justin Verlander to round out the top 10. Newhouser's place as "best Tigers pitcher ever" may be temporary, but his legacy as the Tigers' ace of the 1940s will not be forgotten.
*Played for the Cleveland Indians from 1954 to 1955.
Newhouser was born on May 20th, 1921 in Detroit. He attended Wilbur Wright High School, a now-abandoned building in downtown Detroit. He made his Tigers debut in 1939 as an 18 year old, and tossed 133 1/3 innings for the club in 1940. He struggled in his first couple seasons, allowing a combined 4.83 ERA and 217 walks to 199 strikeouts from 1939 to 1941.
Things turned around quickly after that, however. He still struggled with his command in 1942 and '43, but lowered his ERA by over two runs. He made the first two of six career All-Star appearances in those seasons. He followed those years with consecutive MVP awards in 1944 and 1945, allowing a combined 2.01 ERA in 625 2/3 innings, and capped off the 1945 season by winning games 5 and 7 of the World Series to bring home the second championship in team history.
Newhouser is the only Tigers pitcher and one of three Tigers players to have won multiple MVPs. Only he and Miguel Cabrera have won consecutive MVPs in franchise history, and Newhouser is the only pitcher to ever win back-to-back MVPs. Newhouser also took home the pitching Triple Crown in 1945, one of two in Tigers' history (Justin Verlander's 2011 season being the second).
Newhouser's dominance continued into 1946, when he won his second consecutive ERA title and nearly won a third straight MVP award. He would have won a third straight Pitcher of the Year award (The Sporting News' alternative to the Cy Young award) but the honor was suspended in the 1946 and '47 seasons. Newhouser still remains the youngest winner in American League history, at age 24 in 1944.
Newhouser's production dropped off somewhat in the late 1940s as baseball evolved after its lean wartime years, but he still put together a 71-53 record and 3.34 ERA from 1947 to 1950. This would be the end of his reign as a full-time starter, however. An arm injury cut into his workload, and he only topped 100 innings once more in his career. He only won 15 games across the next three seasons for the Tigers and was cut after the 1953 campaign.
After a brief comeback attempt with the Cleveland Indians in 1954 and '55, Newhouser retired to become a baseball scout. Later in his scouting career, he reportedly discovered a young talent named Derek Jeter while working for the Houston Astros, but quit his job when the Astros passed on his advice. Luckily for the Astros, that Jeter guy never really panned out.
Newhouser was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veteran's Committee in 1992. He is widely regarded as the most dominant pitcher of baseball's wartime era, though many view his accomplishments as "watered down" due to the sparsely populated rosters during World War II. Regardless, Newhouser still remains the franchise's all-time leader in pitching WAR, and he is the only Tigers pitcher to win 200 games in fewer than 3000 innings pitched. He is also the only Tigers pitcher to have his number retired. Mr. Newhouser passed away on November 10, 1998.