From 1913 to 1917, the Tigers sported arguably the greatest outfield in Major League history. Harry Heilmann and Sam Crawford both went on to become Hall of Famers, and Ty Cobb is frequently mentioned among the best players of all-time. Bobby Veach might be the Cooper Manning of the Tigers' outfield during the dead ball era, but he still ranks among the best position players in Tigers' history. His place on this countdown might be skewed by the era in which he played -- namely, none of us saw him play -- but he still won the vote to be the #22 Tiger of all-time.
Robert Hayes Veach was born on June 29th, 1888 in St. Charles, Kentucky. As a teenager, Veach left high school to work with his father in the local coal mines in Madisonville. He moved to Illinois when he turned 17 and started playing semi-professional baseball in the now-defunct Eastern Illinois Trolley League. He signed with the Peoria Distillers as a pitcher in 1910, then converted to the outfield in 1911. He was sold to the Indianapolis Indians and then the Tigers in 1912, where he made his Major League debut at 24 years old.
Veach immediately made an impact in the Tigers' outfield, hitting .342/.388/.430 in 88 plate appearances at the end of the 1912 season. He became the team's starting left fielder in 1913 and hit .269/.346/.354 with 22 doubles, 10 triples, and 22 stolen bases in 564 plate appearances. After another above-average season in 1914 -- his OPS+ was "only" 108 in 1913 and '14 -- he took off in 1915. Veach hit .313/.390/.434 and led the American League with 40 doubles and 112 RBI that season. The 1915 iteration of the Tigers' outfield is considered to be one of the greatest of all-time. Veach, Ty Cobb, and Sam Crawford were all worth at least 4.0 wins above replacement that year and combined for 323 RBI as the Tigers went 100-54.
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Veach continued to be a force in the middle of the Tigers' lineup, driving in 100 runs in six of eight seasons from 1915 to 1922. He led the league in RBI three times -- ironically, one time being his 1918 season in which he only totaled 78 RBI -- and led the AL with 17 triples in 1919. The 1919 season was Veach's most productive of his career, as he hit .355/.398/.519 with 65 extra base hits and 101 RBI. He was worth a career-high 6.5 WAR -- one of only two seasons in which he outpaced Cobb -- and had a career best .428 wOBA.
Despite a clubhouse rift between Veach and Cobb, Veach's numbers improved when Cobb took over as player-manager in 1921. From 1921 to 1923, Veach hit .330/.383/.481 with 27 home runs and 293 RBI. He drove in 128 and 126 runs in '21 and '22, respectively, the two most productive seasons of his career in terms of RBI. After a number of botched transactions, Cobb was finally able to sell Veach to the Boston Red Sox in 1924, ending his career with the Tigers.
While he wasn't a particularly sound defender, Veach possessed a strong throwing arm. He racked up 207 assists in his 14 year career, including a 10 year stretch where he threw out at least 14 baserunners in every season. He ranks third in franchise history among outfielders with 190 assists, trailing only Cobb and Crawford. He totaled 150 errors in his career, including seven seasons with the Tigers with double digit errors.
Veach's bat was his biggest asset, however, and he ranks among the very best in franchise history in several offensive categories. He sits ninth in RBI, eighth in stolen bases, 18th in wRC+ and wOBA, and 11th in WAR. He was also one of the most productive players of his era, ranking 13th among all position players from 1901 to 1925 with 43.7 WAR. He was fifth in RBI in that same time period, an era where four Tigers outfielders ranked among the top seven players in this category.
Mr. Veach passed away in Detroit in 1945 at the age of 57.