Top Tigers Countdown #27: Dick McAuliffe

Doug Pensinger

Dick McAuliffe was an unusual player for his era -- middle infielders with power didn't exactly grow on trees -- but he still turned out to be a valuable part of the Tigers' success in the 1960s.

Of all the players I have researched during this project, I was unusually excited to learn about Dick McAuliffe. Maybe it's because he's one of the smaller players on our list. Maybe it's the unusual pop he showed for a middle infielder in the 1960s. Maybe it's the batting stance. Regardless, he's the #27 player on our list after winning a close vote over Rudy York and Harvey Kuenn.

1960 29 0 1 0 .259 .310 .333 .293 72 -0.1
1961 315 6 33 2 .256 .322 .389 .320 87 0.0
1962 539 12 63 4 .263 .349 .403 .338 103 0.3
1963 644 13 61 11 .262 .334 .384 .323 101 2.6
1964 645 24 66 8 .241 .334 .427 .336 107 4.2
1965 456 15 54 6 .260 .342 .433 .345 119 2.4
1966 506 23 56 5 .274 .373 .509 .386 152 5.6
1967 675 22 65 6 .239 .364 .411 .353 130 4.8
1968 658 16 56 8 .249 .344 .411 .343 127 5.2
1969 321 11 33 2 .262 .369 .458 .374 131 2.9
1970 639 12 50 5 .234 .358 .345 .326 97 2.0
1971 537 18 57 4 .208 .293 .379 .307 89 1.6
1972 470 8 30 0 .240 .339 .353 .318 105 1.3
1973 395 12 47 0 .274 .366 .437 .363 124 2.7
1974* 316 5 24 2 .210 .310 .320 .292 75 0.1
1975* 17 0 1 0 .133 .188 .133 .160 -18 -0.3
Career 7162 197 697 63 .247 .343 .403 .337 111 35.3

*Played for the Boston Red Sox from 1974 to 1975.

Richard John McAuliffe was born on November 29th, 1939 in Hartford, Connecticut. After being scouted by the Boston Red Sox in high school, McAuliffe was signed by the Tigers as an amateur free agent in 1957. He struggled a bit in his first couple years in the minors, but earned a late season call-up after hitting .301/.404/.468 for the Knoxville Smokies in the now-somewhat-defunct Sally League. He performed even better in Triple-A Denver the next season, hitting .353/.418/.565 in 299 plate appearances before earning a mid-season promotion to the big leagues.

McAuliffe spent his first full season in the big leagues in 1962, appearing in 139 games as a utility infielder. He only hit .263, but drew 64 walks and had an on-base percentage of .349. Plate discipline was one of McAuliffe's strongest traits. His career 12.3% walk rate as a Tiger ranks 15th in franchise history among players with at least 2000 plate appearances. He drew more walks than strikeouts twice in his career, including the 1970 season when he drew 101 walks and struck out 62 times.

By 1963, McAuliffe was the team's starting shortstop. He hit well enough for the position, including an impressive .280 ISO and 37 extra base hits in 568 at-bats. His glove left something to be desired, however, as he committed at least 22 errors in three consecutive seasons from 1963 to 1965. Part of this is due to the era in which he played, however. In 1964, McAuliffe committed 32 errors in 162 games, second among all MLB shortstops. Thirteen shortstops committed at least 20 errors that year. In 2013, three shortstops (and five players overall) had 20 errors, with the leader at 22. Advanced defensive metrics have been more forgiving in retrospect -- McAuliffe was worth four wins defensively in his career according to Baseball Reference -- but the Tigers moved him to second base in 1967.

McAuliffe's best season came in 1966 when he hit .274/.373/.509 with 23 home runs, 56 RBI, and 83 runs scored. His 152 wRC+ is tied for the best single-season total from a Tigers shortstop while the 5.6 WAR he accumulated is the third-best total for a Tigers shortstop not named Alan Trammell. McAuliffe made the second of three consecutive All-Star teams that season, but did not factor in the MVP voting.

Despite the excellent numbers, McAuliffe might be remembered best for his unusual batting stance. The legendary Bill James described McAuliffe's stance in his Historical Baseball Abstract (courtesy of the SABR Baseball Biography Project):

"[H]e tucked his right wrist under his chin and held his bat over his head, so it looked as if he were dodging the sword of Damocles in mid-descent. He pointed his left knee at the catcher and his right knee at the pitcher and spread the two as far apart as humanly possible, his right foot balanced on the toes, so that to have lowered his heel two inches would have pulled his knee inward by a foot. He whipped the bat in a sort of violent pinwheel which produced line drives, strikeouts, and fly balls, few ground balls, and not a lot of pop outs."

McAuliffe saw his role diminished as the Tigers moved into the 1970s. He still played well, hitting .237/.329/.387 from 1971 to 1973, but expressed interest in playing for the Boston Red Sox -- his favorite team growing up -- to end his career. The Tigers traded McAuliffe to Boston for outfielder Ben Ogilvie, who provided decent production in four seasons in Detroit. McAuliffe played in 107 games across two seasons for the Red Sox, including a seven game stint in 1975 when he was recalled from managing one of the team's minor league affiliates.

McAuliffe wasn't a Hall of Fame talent by any means, but he was one of the most productive middle infielders of his generation. From 1960 to 1969, McAuliffe ranked fourth among all major league shortstops with 27.9 WAR. His .345 wOBA and 118 wRC+ were both the best among all shortstops, and his 142 home runs were second to former Yankee Tom Tresh during that period. McAuliffe ranks third among Tigers shortstops all-time in WAR and first in home runs.

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