Fourth in a series, looking back at high-profile free agent signings by the Tigers.
After a dormant 1989 season that saw them lose 103 games, the Tigers were lifted both in terms of wins and losses and in respect of their offense when Cecil Fielder returned from Japan in 1990 in time to smack 51 home runs wearing the Old English D.
But despite that audacious season from Fielder, Tigers GM Bill Lajoie wasn't satisfied.
Namely, Fielder had managed to hit 51 homers with no real protection in the Tigers lineup. While that served to further highlight Big Daddy's feat, Lajoie knew that it likely couldn't sustain itself.
After all, the likes of Larry Sheets and Lloyd Moseby batted behind Fielder for most of the 1990 season, and while those guys weren't banjo hitters, neither were they the types who struck fear into opposing pitchers.
So Lajoie, buoyed by his surprise find of Fielder in the winter prior, set out to find another slugger during the 1990 off-season—someone who could make other teams at least think twice before pitching around Cecil.
It didn't take long for the Tigers GM to find and sign his man.
Rob Deer was a slugger, that's for sure. He was also the producer of more wind than a filibustering politician.
Deer, primarily a corner outfielder, had terrorized the Tigers and other teams for the Milwaukee Brewers from 1986-90, slamming 137 homers in that five-year period. But with those 137 four-baggers came 823 strikeouts.
That's a lot of whiffing.
Deer made Dave Kingman, perhaps the quintessential all-or-nothing type hitter, look like Joe DiMaggio.
But Deer could hit home runs, and Lajoie felt that in hitter-friendly Tiger Stadium, the right-handed hitting slugger could swat anywhere between 30 and 40 dingers per season.
Deer was inked on November 23, 1990, barely a month into the off-season.
Because of his notoriously low batting averages (Deer had never hit higher than .252 prior to signing with Detroit), Deer's on-base percentage suffered, and likewise so did his OPS, despite some healthy slugging percentages with Milwaukee.
In 1990, Deer had bottomed out with the Brew Crew, batting .209 with a very pedestrian (for a corner outfielder) OPS of .745, thanks to his paltry OBP of .313. He struck out 147 times in 440 at-bats.
Yet Lajoie broke off one of owner Tom Monaghan's checks and brought the all-or-nothing Deer to Detroit.
But if one looked closer at Deer's numbers, it was apparent that he really wasn't a run producer, despite his prodigious power.
Deer never came close to 100 RBI with Milwaukee, and in 1990 his 27 homers yielded only 69 ribbies. In 1989, Deer hit 26 home runs yet only had 65 RBI.
No matter—Rob Deer was a Tiger!
It turned out that the Tigers would have killed for a .209 BA after what Deer gave them in 1991.
The pace was set on Opening Day, when Deer went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.
After peaking at .250 on May 5, Deer's batting average sank like an anchor, and his strikeouts mounted as always.
Of course, he hit home runs as well, but once his BA fell to the depths of the .180s in June, manager Sparky Anderson could no longer justify placing Deer any higher than seventh in the batting order, which defeated Lajoie's purpose in signing the outfielder in the first place.
In 1990, Tigers fans were preoccupied with Fielder's chase of 50 home runs, especially since the team wasn't in playoff contention.
In 1991, the Tigers surprised many baseball experts by hanging around in the American League East race (thanks in part to pitcher Bill Gullickson, a free agent signee 10 days after Deer and who won 20 games in ‘91), but the individual fascination was with Rob Deer's low batting average and his virulent strikeout propensity.
It was almost comical.
But it wasn't totally funny because Deer was hampering the Tigers' run at the division title.
On September 1, the Tigers were 2.5 games behind the first-place Toronto Blue Jays. Fielder was doing his thing, albeit not at a 50-homer pace, but so was Deer, and Deer's thing wasn't good.
Things got so bad with Deer, whose BA was struggling to stay in the .170s on September 1, that Sparky began to openly feel sorry for his flailing outfielder.
The skipper also wanted Deer to avoid the ignominy of a 200 strikeout season, which Deer was homing in on around Labor Day.
As a result, Deer was given several days off in September while the Tigers' chase of the Blue Jays grew more futile as the calendar moved along. And when Deer did play, he often batted eighth, partly to limit his plate appearances.
Between September 21-25, Deer didn't see any action. The benching came a couple days after a 4-for-4 performance against the Indians—four strikeouts in four at-bats.
For the 1991 season, Deer mustered just 80 hits and batted .179 with an OPS of .700. In typical Deer fashion, 25 of those 80 hits were round-trippers.
And, just like Deer, his 25 homers yielded just 64 RBI.
In 1991, the Tigers surrounded Fielder with Deer, Mickey Tettleton (obtained in a trade with Baltimore) and Pete Incaviglia (acquired just before the season after he was released by Texas).
This thumper approach made Tiger Stadium a place to go if you liked summer breezes, for all the striking out those guys did.
As a team, the Tigers struck out 1,185 times in 1991. Amazingly, 698 of those Ks were amassed by just five guys: Fielder, Tettleton, Travis Fryman, Deer and Incaviglia.
But Rob Deer was, by far, the most egregious offender. He fanned once for every 2.6 at-bats.
In 1992, Deer slammed 32 homers (one for every 12.3 at-bats) but still only managed 64 RBI while striking out 131 times in 393 at-bats.
Deer, who was 30 years old when the Tigers signed him, stuck with the team until the 1993 season, when he was sent to the Boston Red Sox in August for the mysterious "future considerations."
He played in Japan in 1994 before returning to the big leagues to play one more wonderfully odd season for the San Diego Padres in 1996.
In just 50 at-bats with the Padres, Deer struck out an astounding 30 times. He managed just nine hits, which meant that all but 11 of his outs were strikeouts. It gets better: four of his nine hits were home runs, and three more were doubles, so despite a .180 BA, Deer had a slugging percentage of .480 and an OPS of .839.
That was Rob Deer for you.
Deer ended up as a hitting coach for the Chicago Cubs (as pictured above, in 2013). I'm sure his was a "do as I say and not as I do" approach.