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DETROIT — The sight of longtime Twins starter and Tigers nemesis Francisco Liriano in a Detroit uniform took some getting used to. He’s gone, but the Tigers’ rebuilding effort has resulted in other veterans looking unfamiliar in the Old English D, from Matt Moore to Tyson Ross to Jordy Mercer.
Years from now, few will probably remember Liriano as a Tiger. But there are plenty of other, bigger names over the years whose Tigers tenures might have been forgotten. Some were bit players for contending teams. Others were prospects dealt well before their prime. And a few were simply making brief stops near the end of their careers.
Here’s a look at 10 players you might forget were Tigers, led by a Hall of Famer:
Eddie Mathews, 1967-68
Though Mathews will always be remembered as a Milwaukee Brave, the Hall of Famer finished his career as a World Series champion in Detroit. The Tigers acquired Mathews from the Astros in mid-August of 1967 for a player to be named to fill in for an injured Don Wert at third base. Detroit fell just short in the American League race that year. Mathews played in just 31 regular-season games in 1968 thanks to back issues, but came back for the World Series and started in Game 4, singling off Bob Gibson.
Johnny Damon, 2010
Damon was a free agent looking for landing spot after winning a World Series with the Yankees in 2009. The Tigers were looking for veteran outfield help and a clubhouse presence after trading Curtis Granderson to the Yankees. Agent Scott Boras made the match in Spring Training after discussions with then-owner Mike Ilitch. The 36-year-old Damon was one of their more durable players, batting .271 with eight homers and 51 RBIs, but the Tigers faded down the stretch to an 81-81 record. He later moved on to Cleveland and Tampa Bay.
2010 Highlights: Johnny Damon
2010 Highlights: Johnny Damon
Nov. 4th, 2010
Eugenio Suárez, 2014
Before Suarez became a slugging All-Star third baseman in Cincinnati, he was a shortstop prospect in Detroit, where he held down the job for much of the summer with José Iglesias injured. Suarez batted .242 with four home runs in 85 games, then was traded to the Reds that winter for starting pitcher Alfredo Simon.
AJ Hinch, 2003
Fourteen years before Hinch won a World Series managing the Houston Astros, he was a backup catcher on a Tigers club that set an American League record with 119 losses. He played in just 27 games for Detroit but hit a go-ahead home run at Comerica Park that June for one of the Tigers’ 43 wins that season.
John Farrell, 1996
The Tigers posted a 6.38 ERA as a team in 1996. Farrell, a former second-round pick of the Indians, posted a 14.21 ERA in two starts for Detroit in what would be his final Major League stop. Seventeen years later, he managed the Red Sox past the Tigers in a dramatic AL Championship Series en route to Boston’s third World Series title in 10 years.
Freddy Garcia, 2008
Garcia was a workhorse starter for the 2005 World Series champion White Sox, and he tormented Tigers hitters for years. For three late-season starts, however, he wore the Old English D as he tried to resuscitate his career following shoulder surgery. The Tigers, out of contention and out of pitching, gave him a shot and ended up starting him against the White Sox in a season-ending makeup game Chicago needed a win to force a division tiebreaker. Garcia pitched well but lost, and became a free agent at season’s end.
Hideo Nomo, 2001
The Tigers made a slew of win-now moves to try to open Comerica Park with a contender in 2000. One of those moves was to sign a 31-year-old Nomo, five years removed from his Rookie of the Year season with the Dodgers. Nomo went 8-12 with a 4.74 ERA in 31 starts, allowing a career-high 31 home runs in Detroit’s spacious new home.
Jose Mesa, 2007
The Tigers wanted to add a veteran presence to their young, talented bullpen when they signed a 40-year-old Mesa for $2.5 million. Mesa didn’t make it to June, allowing two or more runs in six of his 16 appearances before being released following a four-run eighth inning in Cleveland.
Billy Beane, 1988
Long before Beane gained fame as the A’s general manager and the subject for a Brad Pitt movie, he was a first-round pick of the Mets. His nondescript playing career included six April games with the Tigers, followed by a season at Triple-A Toledo. His lone hit in six at-bats in a Detroit uniform was an RBI single off Mark Langston at Tiger Stadium.
Billy Bean, 1987-89
Yes, the Tigers had Billy Beane and Billy Bean in their organization at the same time; both played in Toledo in 1988. Bean, a fourth-round pick of the Tigers in 1986, made his Major League debut at Tiger Stadium the following April with a four-hit game against the Royals. Bean played in 45 games over three seasons for the Tigers, then made it back with the Padres in the early 1990s. He became Major League Baseball’s first ambassador for inclusion in 2014 to help support those in the LGBT community.