The hero the Detroit Tigers did not deserve: Bobby Higginson

(Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images) /

After creating a Detroit Tigers team out of only 2000s utility players, then following it up with a deep history of the hero Shane Halter, I came across so many players that I had personally forgotten about. From single-season wonders to career Tigers, there are certainly many great Detroit players that have been lost to the annals of time.

One of these great Detroit Tigers: Bobby Higginson. Drafted out of Temple University in the 12th(!) round of the 1992 MLB Draft, Higginson spent his entire 11-year major league career in Detroit. He was an incredible fielder and hitter and was the team MVP/Tiger of the Year twice, in 1997 and 2000, one of only ten players in Tigers history to win multiple times.

“Higgy” was a fan favorite and excellent player, though he never won any MLB recognition, likely making him one of the most underrated players of the time. He was a great player on some bad Detroit teams; he never saw a winning season in Detroit. 11 seasons, and not one with a team finish better than a .498 winning percentage (2000).

Introductions out of the way, let’s take a deeper dive into Tigers lore and allow me to tell you the story of Bobby Higginson, a true winner that only ever played on losing squads.

The Detroit Tigers’ light in some truly awful years was Bobby Higginson.

As mentioned earlier, Higginson was drafted in the 12th round of the 1992 draft. He was taken out of Temple University, where he played between 1989 and 1992. In his time there, Temple’s best record was 28-28, meaning he did not have a winning college season. He grinded through three seasons in the minors, raking as he went (.290/.368/.466 slash, 32 homers; did not end the season on a winning team).

He got his call to the bigs in 1995 and did not look back (aside from a three-game Toledo stint in 1996). Higginson was a rookie as Kirk Gibson was in his final season, and it was evident in his rookie year that Higgy would be Gibby’s heir apparent. Although he had a rocky start (.721 OPS, 87 OPS+ rookie season), he learned how to hold down left field and think like a ballplayer (according to Baseball Almanac).

He followed up his rookie season with a career year, hitting .320/.404/.577 with 26 home runs, 65 walks, and a team-leading 3.6 bWAR. Ironically, this was the second-worst record the Tigers would achieve in his tenure (they allowed 1103 runs that season, the most in team history). Over the next seven years, Higginson hit exceptionally well and fielded at a top clip.

However, all good things must come to an end, and after 2000, the power started to fade away. The steady decline of his SLG% started to show his age, and even he fell victim to the 2003 Tiger woes of poor play. That year he posted a full season-worst 0.3 bWAR, and even a slight resurgence in 2004 couldn’t sustain his career. He retired following shoulder surgery in 2005.

Bobby Higginson had some great moments in his Detroit Tigers career.

Though Higgy never ended a season on a winning team in his playing career, he was a star through it all. Despite being overshadowed by the Griffey’s, Bonds’s, and Rodriguez’s of the time, Higginson was outstanding in his own right.

One of these great moments was a warm June 30th, 1997, in Detroit. The Tigers faced up against the New York Mets with 15,009 fans in attendance. Higginson stepped up to bat five times that day, hitting three home runs, walking twice, driving in seven runs, and scoring four runs himself. The Tigers won that day 14-0 (and started a sweep) behind Higginson and a strong eight innings from Ryan Thompson.

There was also his July 6th, 1999, day against the New York Yankees. He walked up to bat against stud closer Mariano Rivera 0-for-3 on the day with a walk and a strikeout. In a full count, Higginson blasted a line drive to deep right to tie the game. Though the Tigers later lost, Higgy handed Rivera his second blown save of the season and accounted for the only game-tying homer Rivera allowed that year.

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After his retirement, the Tigers became a winning ballclub again, winning a pennant the year after his retirement. He bridged the gap between eras in Detroit history and consistently played his heart out for teams that didn’t seem to deserve it. Let us never forget Higginson’s impact on the field and in our hearts.