Harvey Kuenn made eight All Star Games for the Detroit Tigers. The 1953 Rookie of the Year batted over .300 six times in seven years before being traded for home run hero Rocky Colavito. Kuenn peaked for the Tigers in 1959. His .353 average led the American League and he set career bests in many offensive categories. In the end, Kuenn enjoyed a fabulous 1959 campaign for a mediocre Detroit club and won the first Tiger batting crown since Al Kaline in 1955.
Kuenn’s seventh major league season proved his finest. He began the season with two hits on Opening Day against the White Sox. However, Kuenn began slowly in his first five contests. The outfielder batted just .200 after two series against Chicago and Cleveland. Then, he took off in game 6 at Comiskey Park. Between April 17 and April 30, Kuenn racked up three games with three hits and a four hit effort against the A’s. After an 0-for-2 against the Senators on April 30, Kuenn’s average stood at .387.
The Tigers entered May with a pitiful 2-13 record. They fired manager Bill Norman after two more losses. Kuenn went 2-for-4 in those two losses against Boston and Philadelphia. Jimmy Dykes replaced Norman and Detroit went 74-63 the rest of the way. Kuenn continued his hot pace through May 24. He totally nine games with two or more hits, including three games with three hits over 18 days in May. His average reached .400 after going 6-for-9 in a doubleheader at Cleveland. Then, Kuenn slumped with three hits in the next six contests. He finished May at .354.
The Tigers went 18-10 in the 28 games after Norman’s firing. Kuenn batted .358 in June with 13 multiple hit games. The outfielder totaled two three-hit games and knocked four hits against the Yankees on June 14. On top of this, his OBP for the month reached .428 and slugging hit .569. Kuenn finished June with his average at .358 and OPS .997.
The Tigers finally topped .500 in June and entered July with a 38-36 record. Kuenn and Detroit both slumped in July. The Tigers dipped to 50-54 while Kuenn batted “only” .310 for the month. The centerfielder tallied five multiple hit games. His best performance came on June 23 against the Senators. Kuenn went 4-for-4 with four runs, a walk, and three RBI. By the end of July, Kuenn’s average dipped 13 points to .343.
Kuenn and the Tigers rebounded in August. The outfielder hit .383 for the month and raised his overall average to .351. He managed nine multiple hit games including a 5-for-5 game against the Orioles. Kuenn slapped three hits on five occasions that month. Meanwhile the Tigers evened their overall record to 65-65 by August 31.
Detroit finished 1959 with a 76-78 record. In September, their star outfielder batted. 360 to clinch the batting title. On September 1 and 20, Kuenn raked four hits against the White Sox. He added two three hit games and had two hits on five occasions. In the end, Kuenn won the batting title by a wide margin. Only seven other qualifying batters reached the .300 mark. Kuenn finished at .353 while Al Kaline finished second with a .327 average.
Kuenn batted .361 at home and .345 on the road. He enjoyed a 22-game hitting streak and knocked 16 go-ahead hits. Despite this, Detroit went 66-73 when Kuenn played. Overall, the batting champ also led the league with 198 hits and 42 doubles. Additionally, he scored 99 runs, hit nine home runs, drove in 71 RBI, posted a .402 OBP, .501 slugging, and finished with a .903 OPS. His efforts led to an eighth place finish in the MVP race and two All Star appearances. The following April, Detroit traded Kuenn to Cleveland for Rocky Colavito.
Harvey Kuenn had one last summer in the sun with Detroit. The Tiger won his only batting title with a .353 average. It was the first Tiger batting title in four years. Norm Cash would win the next crown in 1961. Kuenn gets lost in popular memory because Al Kaline was the youngest batting champion and Detroit went decades without a batting champion after Cash. He was tracking as a possible Hall of Famer before the trade. Age and injuries hampered the rest of Kuenn’s career. However, 1959 represented the high point in his baseball life.