One of the finest human beings to ever play Major League Baseball recently retired, leaving the media, colleagues and fans alike to lament his departure from the fields that many dream to play on but few ever do.
From his earliest appearances in the Detroit Tigers organization, there was something clearly special about Curtis Granderson. Selected in the third round of the 2002 amateur draft, he began making major waves in the minors when he reached Double-A Erie in 2004, hitting for a .303 batting average with 21 home runs and 93 RBI — numbers that appear to be rather prescient in retrospect. He got his first cup of coffee in the big leagues that same season, and after a successful several months at Toledo in 2005, he earned a late call-up to Detroit, which became permanent the following year.
Granderson got his first full season of major league play during the magical year of 2006 when the Tigers — just three years removed from an American League record-worst 119 losses — won the AL pennant with a Wild Card bid, and appeared in the World Series for the first time since 1984. In many ways, Granderson’s rookie campaign epitomized that extraordinary season, though he had far more in store for Detroit fans during his Tigers tenure.
It was the 2007 season when Granderson kicked his career into a higher gear and provided the impetus for his off-the-field accomplishments that would characterize him for the remainder of his playing days.
That year was back in a distant past before Statcast data and other advanced analytical technology emerged, when traditional stat lines still ruled the baseball narrative. While Alex Rodriguez flirted with a Triple Crown in New York, Granderson was busy accomplishing a feat much more impressive — nearly unprecedented, in fact — taking extra bases at every opportunity he got. He finished the 2007 season reaching the 20 doubles, 20 triples, 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases statistical plateau — the third major league player to ever achieve the feat (Jimmy Rollins would become the fourth on the final day of the regular season).
The celeritous center fielder amassed a .302 batting average along with 38 doubles, 23 triples, 23 home runs and 26 stolen bases that year. His triples numbers led the majors and were something of an enigma for a player like him at the time to accomplish, while his batting average reached an apex for his storied big league career. He finished 10th in MVP voting, second only to his No. 4 finish in 2011 with the New York Yankees in which he crushed 41 home runs along with an MLB-leading 136 runs scored and an AL-leading 119 RBI.
Granderson’s amazing performance buoyed a 2007 Tigers team suffering from a post-World Series hangover. Unfortunately, it was not quite enough as the team finished second in the AL Central with an 88-74 record and missed out on the playoffs. Despite Magglio Ordoñez putting up a sparkling .363 average to win the batting title and finish second in MVP voting that year, the Tigers’ dual threat could not put the team over the top.
However, it was not just with the bat that Granderson made his mark, but also with his glove. Playing center field in Comerica Park is no easy task, but Granderson did it in style during his days in Detroit. In fact, one of the finest catches made during the aughts came via the Tigers outfielder, a felonious robbery of Wily Mo Pena’s deep fly ball to left center field which was ranked No. 7 in this article published back in 2011.
From a statistical standpoint, Granderson was solid in center field, logging all but two of his innings in the middle of the vast grass. He tallied 10 assists along with four double plays, while recording 428 putouts in 443 opportunities in the outfield, making only five errors during that stretch for a .989 fielding percentage. Unfortunately, FanGraphs’ profiles only go back to 2010, so it is practically impossible to evaluate his play from that season using advanced metrics, but by all estimates he provided positive value with the glove.
Perhaps the greatest result of the 2007 season was not what happened on the field, but what Granderson did off the field. He established The Grand Kids Foundation that same year, an organization aimed at “aiding positive youth development through education, physical fitness and nutrition initiatives.” The foundation continues on its mission to this day and is a living testament to Curtis’ philanthropic attitude when it comes to his role as a sports celebrity.
What Granderson began at the community level eventually expanded to an ambassadorship on behalf of Major League Baseball to various nations around the world. From 2011 to 2013, he began globetrotting in support of the sport during the offseason, traveling to England, Italy, the Netherlands, France, South Africa, China, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan to expand the boundaries of the American pastime across the seas. He has won the Marvin Miller Man of the Year presented by the Major League Baseball Players Association four times, as well as the Roberto Clemente Award in 2016 in recognition of his community service efforts.
Granderson may have not had a career statistically worthy of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, but what he achieved during his 16 years in Major League Baseball was much greater than most of those currently enshrined in its hallowed halls. Of the many things he has bestowed upon the fans over the last decade-and-a-half was his marvelous 2007 season with the Tigers, a year that still remains alive in the memory of many Detroit enthusiasts.
While what Granderson left on the field will never match what he contributed off of it, Tigers fans will always have that year to remember — a season in which he blossomed not just into an remarkable baseball player, but into a superlative human being as well.