Tuesday’s Tiger: Richie Hebner

  • Born: Nov. 26, 1947 in Boston
  • Acquired: Traded by the Mets to the Tigers for Phil Mankowski and Jerry Morales on Oct. 31, 1979.
  • Seasons in Detroit: Parts of three seasons (1980-82)
  • Uniform Number: 2
  • Stats: .267 avg., 25 HR, 128 RBI, .769 OPS

Richie Hebner didn’t swing at the baseball as much as he chopped at it. That hacker’s cut was, the Tigers thought, an ideal fit for Tiger Stadium’s right field porch. It also served him well in the offseason when he dug graves in the Boston area.

According to the Associated Press story on the trade that brought Hebner to Detroit in October 1979, the Detroit acquired him for his punch:

“We’re really pleased to get somebody like Richie,” a Tigers spokesman said. “He’ll give us some power hitting we need.”

Power? Richie Hebner?

He came from the Mets where in 1979, his only season in New York, he hit just 10 homers. Keep in mind, no matter what Hebner did offensively in 1980, he’d be an upgrade over the featherweight hitting of Aurelio Rodriguez who hit only five homers in ’79. But by June of the 1980 season, Hebner was playing mostly at first base, replacing a true power hitter, Jason Thompson who was inexplicably traded to the Angels in May.

In fairness, Hebner arrived in Detroit as his career was closer to its end than its beginning. At 32, his best power were behind him but from 1971 through ’78, he averaged 17 homers for the Pirates and Phillies.

But on to his time in Detroit. Hebner’s first season was his finest, hitting .290 with 12 home runs, 82 RBI and an .826 OPS. The strike-shortened 1981 season wasn’t a good one for him, though. He hit just .226 with five homers. Hebner played in 68 games for the 1982 Tigers hitting .274 with eight home runs and — get this — 18 RBI.Hebner_Richie

On August 16 that season, the Pirates purchased his contract bringing him back to the city where he played his first nine seasons. He remained in Pittsburgh for the 1983 season and signed as a free agent with the Cubs where he spent the final two years of his career. The Cubs released him in April 1986. But back to his time with the Mets for just a moment. The AP story on his trade to Detroit has a delicious quote from then-Mets vice president and general manager Joe McDonald:

“Richie was unhappy living in New York — not that he was down on the Mets organization, me or (manager) Joe Torre, but he never did get used to the town. He didn’t like the city and the traffic disturbed him.”

He said Hebner only made three trips into Manhattan during his entire tenure with the club.

Now that is a strange thing to tell the media. Traded because of Long Island traffic?

According to the always reliable (ahem) Wikipedia entry on Hebner, he spent the 1989–1991 seasons as Red Sox hitting coach and the 2001 season in the same role with the Phillies. He also spent several seasons coaching and managing in the minors, most recently as hitting coach for the Norfolk Tides in 2010.

One final note on Hebner: he was the final Tigers player to wear number two before the club retired it in honor of Hall of Famer Charlie Gehringer.