Few players have benefited as much from a change of scenery as did Damion Easley. After the Detroit Tigers acquired Easley from the Anaheim Angels in a trade in the middle of the 1996 season, Easley blossomed in Tiger Stadium, going on to have the best seasons of his career.
In a Tiger uniform, Easley was given a full-time job as the starting second baseman, and he took full advantage of the opportunity. A small, right-handed hitter (he was listed at 155 pounds), Easley used a compact swing to launch home runs into the left field lower and upper decks with alarming frequency. In 1997 he belted 22 homers, the next year he hit 27 and drove in 100 runs, earning an All-Star selection and a Sliver Slugger Award. That year he even participated in the All-Star Game Home Run Derby.
Easley became a fan favorite for his surprising power, hustle, and good attitude. He was one of the best liked teammates in the Tiger clubhouse. He was sure-handed in the field, setting a franchise record with 99 consecutive games without an error. In 2001, he hit for the cycle and also had a game in which he went 5-for-5 with an inside-the-park-homer. In an era when the Tigers had lost several marquee players, were languishing near the bottom of the standings, and employed a revolving door of managers, Easley was one of the few bright spots.
“He’s carried us at times,” teammate Bobby Higginson said in 1998. “He seems to get the big hit or make the key play in the field when we need it.”
After the team moved to Comerica Park in 2000, Easley’s offensive numbers sagged – he hit just 13 homers in spacious Comerica Park in three seasons. In 3 1/2 years in Tiger Stadium, Easley had slugged .469 with 43 homers in 232 starts. He left the Tigers as a free agent in 2003, playing for Tampa Bay, Florida, Arizona, and finally the New York Mets before hanging up his glove after the 2008 campaign.
Easley never again approached the level of play he displayed when he called Tiger Stadium home from 1996-1999, but his tenure as a second baseman for the Tigers helped ease the loss of retired Lou Whitaker. The smiling Easley was a welcome fixture near the top of the Detroit lineup in the 1990s, and his years as a Tiger deserve to be remembered.