I have been a fan of the Detroit Tigers since the Summer of 1984. That means I am lucky enough to vividly remember my baseball team winning a World Series title, and waiting for them to win another. Since every year the team itself asks me who my Tiger is I decided to write about my favorite 25 Tigers since I became a fan…at eight years old…This has less to do with performance as it does with whatever intangible qualities Tigers’ players have…I mean this is the town that loved Brandon Inge and Don Kelly…and no neither one of those players will make my list…With all of that being said…
#14 Relief Pitcher Mike Henneman
This is another one of those stories that is more about my history as a Tigers fan than any one specific player…and how I became the sports nut that I am today. It was 1987 and it was a different kind of year for the Detroit Tigers…they contended for the divisional title through all 162 games of the regular season. We had to get over the bitter loss of Lance Parrish to free agency and new blood was installed on our team in the form or the previous discussed Matt Nokes and Relief Pitcher Mike Henneman.
I met Henneman at an appearance in 1988…He was very nice and there were not a lot of people there because Alan Trammell was down the street at another appearance (and yes we wound up going to that event as well)…Mike asked me what sports I played and I replied honestly…I play basketball…and he said ‘maybe you should try baseball.’ I always thought that was a cool thing to say to a 12 year old and while I was already a fan of his…that cemented it…a rather less friendly encounter with Willie Hernandez later that summer on the concourse at old Tiger Stadium would help Henneman become my favorite relief pitcher for my favorite team.
Let’s be very clear here…Henneman is one of the finest relievers to ever wear the Old English D. He still ranks second in career saves for the Tigers with 154 yet he never had more than 26 saves in any one season for Detroit. For me that means he was more consistent over a longer period of time. It also speaks to how Sparky Anderson managed his bullpens. Sparky didn’t really have a true closer most years…he used guys when he thought they could be effective…remember the Tigers had both Henneman and Hernandez through the 1989 season and both earned near double digit saves in those seasons. Sparky had arms…and he would turn the game over to who he thought could get it done on any given day. Of course eventually we can say Henneman was the closer through the early 1990’s.
His best season in Detroit was arguably 1993 where he wound up with 24 saves and a 2.64 ERA in just over 70 innings pitched. He had 58 strike outs to 32 walks with a WHIP of 1.409. He was a big reason the Tigers were in contention that season till late in the summer.
Two big negatives in his Detroit career will be his performance in the 1987 ALCS…where is ERA was over 10 in three appearances, and when the Tigers front office dealt him to the Texas Rangers in the 1995 season for a player to be named later…Phil Nevin ended up being that player and this was a clear cost cutting move…the Tigers front office was full of turmoil and cost cutting moves were the name of the game. Henneman made over 4 million dollars that season and it was clear that whoever wound up taking the reins was going to rebuild the team with young cheap talent…it is really too bad for a generation of Tigers’ fans that Randy Smith was brought to town and he embarked on his now infamous five year rebuilding plan.
People tend to forget about Henneman because of the era of the Tigers in which he played…outside of 1987 and 1993 there were not a lot of highlights during this period of Tigers baseball and by 1995 the bottom had fallen out on the team. However, without a doubt he remains one of the finest relief pitchers to ever serve here in Detroit.