Being a closer is one of the most unforgiving jobs in sports. One mistake can cost your team the entire game, and a bad week or two can cost you your job. Now take that pressure and try being a closer during the height of the steroid era. Mike Henneman was able to do it for 10 years, nine of which he spent with the Tigers. He owned a 3.45 career ERA, good enough for an ERA+ of 131 in 732 2/3 innings. By the time he was traded in 1995, he was one of the last remaining members of the 1987 division championship squad, and one of the best pitchers in Tigers history.
Michael Alan Henneman was born on December 11th, 1961 in St. Charles, Missouri. He was a starter and reliever at Oklahoma State University, where he set a school record with 23 appearances in both 1983 and 1984. He also threw one of two no-hitters in Cowboys history, and was inducted into the Oklahoma State Baseball Hall of Fame. Henneman is also a member of the St. Louis Metro League Hall of Fame for his performance at Jefferson College in Hillsboro, Missouri prior to his days at Oklahoma State.
Henneman was selected by the Tigers in the 4th round of the 1984 draft. He made one start at Double-A Birmingham in 1984, the only one of his professional career. Otherwise a full-time reliever, Henneman pitched 206 innings across 117 minor league appearances from 1984 to 1987. He allowed a 3.63 ERA and 1.38 WHIP, and saved 20 games.
Henneman made his major league debut on May 11, 1987. His outing was a short one; he retired California Angels shortstop Dick Schofield after the Angels had scored three unearned runs in the inning. The Tigers lost 5-1, dropping their record to 11-19. From then on, Henneman would play a big role in the Tigers' success. The team went 87-45 the rest of the season, storming back from a six game deficit on July 1st to win the AL East. Henneman won 11 games and allowed a 2.98 ERA, earning him the Sporting News Rookie Pitcher of the Year award. He finished sixth in the official AL Rookie of the Year voting.
Henneman would also play a big role in the team's performance in the 1987 ALCS, but not in a good way. He was charged with two runs in a Game 1 to the Twins. Henneman issued two walks -- one intentional -- to load the bases, and Willie Hernandez allowed a pair of hits that turned a tie game into an 8-5 deficit. Henneman picked up the team's lone win of the series in Game 3, but was once again part of the problem in the final game of the series. With the Tigers trailing 5-3 in the eighth, Henneman allowed four runs on five hits over the next two innings, negating the two runs the Tigers scored in the bottom halves of those innings.
Unfortunately, Henneman would not get a chance to redeem himself in the postseason in a Tigers uniform. The team began a 19 year postseason drought the next season, though they stayed competitive for most of his career. Henneman enjoyed plenty of personal success, though. He allowed a 1.87 ERA in 91 1/3 innings in 1988, the best of his career. In 1989, he made the AL All-Star team and won a team-high 11 games in 60 appearances. He saved 20 or more games five times from 1988 to 1993, allowing a 3.01 ERA.
Henneman's Tigers career would come to an end in 1995, when he was in the midst of his best professional season. Prior to being traded to the Houston Astros, Henneman had a 1.53 ERA and 2.39 FIP in 29 1/3 innings of work. His ERA+ was an astronomical 317, and he was 18 for 20 in save opportunities. He fell back to earth after joining the Astros, which was still pretty good by most players' standards. Henneman allowed a 3.00 ERA and saved eight games in nine opportunities in two months with the Astros.
Henneman was not as decorated as Willie Hernandez nor did he save as many games as Todd Jones, but he is statistically the best reliever in Tigers history. His 136 ERA+ is a hair better than John Hiller's 134. Henneman allowed a 3.05 ERA and 3.40 FIP in 669 2/3 career innings with the Tigers. He saved 154 games in 194 opportunities, many of which were over an inning in length.
While his playing days are over, Henneman is still with the Tigers organization. He spent the last two seasons serving as the pitching coach for the West Michigan Whitecaps, and will be with Double-A Erie in 2015.