Today’s Tiger: Gee Walker

Gee Walker

  • Born: March 19, 1908, in Gulfport, Miss.
  • Died: March 20, 1981, in Jackson, Miss.
  • Seasons in Detroit: 7 (1931-37)
  • Uniform Numbers: 6, 11
  • Awards: All-Star (1937)
  • Stats: .317 avg., 61 HR, 32 triples, 468 RBI, .820 OPS

Gee WalkerGerald Holmes “Gee” Walker debuted with the Tigers on April 14, 1931, and though he didn’t see a great deal of playing time as a rookie (59 games, 189 at bats) he made the most of his opportunities, hitting .296 with 27 doubles. The following year he was even better, hitting .323 with 32 doubles and 78 RBI. (Quick aside: Walker’s older brother, Hub, played alongside him with the Tigers in 1931 and ’35.)

Walker was a hitting machine for the Tigers as he matured, hitting under .300 only once after his rookie season. Near the end of his time in Detroit he began showing a power stroke and a knack for driving in runs.

His time in Detroit coincided with two World Series appearances, 1934 and ’35. Against the Cardinals in October ’34, he had one hit in three at bats. The following postseason, he went one for four in three Series games against the Cubs. Walker’s Tigers career ended on Dec. 2, 1937, when he was traded with Marv Owen and Mike Tresh to the White Sox for Vern Kennedy, Tony Piet and Dixie Walker. He played eight more seasons in the majors, two with the White Sox, four with the Reds, and a season with both the Senators and Indians. His major-league game was on Sept. 30, 1945. According to Walker’s Baseball-Reference page

Baseball Digest from August 1976 states that Walker had arthritis during his later years in baseball and after his playing days he worked in real estate in Florida and Mississippi.

He died on March 20, 1981, in Whitfield, Miss., a day after his 73rd birthday.

Year Age Tm Lg G AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
1931 23 DET AL 59 189 56 17 2 1 28 .296 .345 .423 .768
1932 24 DET AL 127 480 155 32 6 8 78 .323 .345 .465 .809
1933 25 DET AL 127 483 135 29 7 9 64 .280 .304 .424 .728
1934 26 DET AL 98 347 104 19 2 6 39 .300 .340 .418 .758
1935 27 DET AL 98 362 109 22 6 7 53 .301 .329 .453 .782
1936 28 DET AL 134 550 194 55 5 12 93 .353 .387 .536 .924
1937 29 DET AL 151 635 213 42 4 18 113 .335 .380 .499 .880

Today’s Tiger: Champ Summers

Champ Summers

 

  • Born: June 15, 1946 in Bremerton, Wash.
  • Died: Oct. 11, 2012
  • Acquired: Traded by the Reds to the Tigers for a player to be named later on May 25, 1979. The Tigers sent Sheldon Burnside to the Reds to complete the trade October 25, 1979.
  • Seasons in Detroit: 3 (1979-81)
  • Bats: Left Throws: Right
  • Height: 6′ 2″, Weight: 205 lb.
  • Uniform Number: 24
  • Stats: .293 avg., 40 HR, 132 RBI, .896 OPS

Champ Summers was a fan favorite in Detroit and for good reason. He came to the Tigers as a career underachiever — at least at the major-league level — in an under-the-radar trade roughly a week before they hired Sparky Anderson in 1979.ChampSummers

The year before, John Junior Summers was the Minor League Player of the Year for the Reds’ top farm club, Indianapolis of the American Association. He led the AA with a .368 average, 34 homers and 124 RBI. It was in the majors, though, where Summers struggled to out together a career — and it wasn’t from a lack of opportunities. After debuting with the A’s in 1974 — a team with a loaded outfield featuring Reggie Jackson, Joe Rudi, Rick Monday and Bill North, among others — he spent two seasons with the Cubs (hitting only .217 with four home runs.) Next up was parts of three seasons with the Reds … and a .199 average.

In 1979, Summers was hitting .200 with a single home run after 27 early-season games with the Reds. But on May 25, the Reds sent him to the Tigers and, at the age of 30, he began the best three seasons of his career.

That season he batted .313 with 20 home runs (14 solo) in 90 games and posted a .614 slugging percentage along with a 1.028 OPS. Anderson played Summers primarily in rightfield with a few DH assignments sprinkled in.

The Tigers rewarded him with a three-year contract near the end of the ’79 season. He told the UPI:

“I really enjoy it here. I really feel at home,” Summers said. “Sparky likes me and I like him.”

(snip)

Summers approached the club recently the possibility of signing a contract for next season.”I wanted to know so I could make plans for this winter,” he said. “After I signed, it was like a great weight lifted off my shoulders. I never felt wanted before.”

Tigers fans loved Summers and he continued to provide punch to a young lineup. In 1980, his numbers slipped ever-so slightly but they were solid: .297/17/60 with an OPS of .897. His production dropped further in the strike-shortened season of 1981 when, at age 35, his average fell to .255 and his power numbers plummeted, too. Summers hit only three home runs and eight doubles in 64 games in what would be his final season in Detroit.

In March 1982 the Tigers dealt him to the Giants for first baseman Enos Cabell. Summers would struggle in his two seasons in San Francisco, posting a .231 average and four home runs. In ’83 he hit .136 in 29 games.He was on the move again in December 1983 when the Giants traded him to division rival San Diego. Summers appeared in just 47 games for Dick Williams’ Padres and hit .185 with no home runs.

Summers’ career would end in the ballpark where he had his greatest success, albeit on the losing end of the 1984 World Series. His lone career World Series at bat came as a pinch hitter in game four at Tiger Stadium. Pinch hitting for Alan Wiggins with two out in the top of the eighth, Summers struck out swinging against Jack Morris.

The next day NBC showed him as he sat on the top step of the visitors dugout watching the Tigers celebrate their championship. I still wonder if they showed him because he was a former Tiger or because he looked so forlorn. Perhaps both.

At the age of 38, Champ Summers’ career had come to and end — just as he predicted in the 1979 UPI story announcing his Tigers contract:

“If think I can play five more years,” he said. “If Yaz can play ’til he’s 40, I can play ’til I’m 38. I take good care of myself.”

Summers passed away from kidney cancer on Oct. 11, 2012. That day the Tigers defeated the A’s 6-0 in Game 5 of the American League Division series.

1961 Tigers: 101 Wins, But No Pennant in Detroit

If any term could describe the Detroit Tigers of the 1950s, a charitable one would be
uninspired.

A 95-win season in 1950 gave Tigers fans hope that some of the magic from the 1945 World Series championship would continue into the new decade.

Alas, the glory days quickly faded and the Tigers finished the Fifties 64 games under .500, at 738-802. Tigers fans looked to a new decade as a clean slate, a chance to renew past excellence.

Unfortunately, the 1960 Tigers didn’t cooperate. Though the team was stocked with premium young talent including sluggers Al Kaline, Rocky Colavito and Norm Cash, and an outstanding one-two punch in the starting rotation in Frank Lary and Jim Bunning, the Sixties got off to a bumpy start. The Tigers finished 1960 at 71-83, sixth in American League ahead of only a surprisingly weak Red Sox team, and the Kansas City A’s. That club churned through three managers: Jimmy Dykes, who was fired 96 games into the season, Billy Hitchcock (who managed all of one game) and Joe Gordon.

For 1961, the Tigers again changed leaders, hiring their fourth manager in a year, Bob Scheffing, most recently of the Cubs. In three seasons with Chicago, Scheffing led his clubs to one last-place finish and a pair of sixth-place finishes, finishing with a 208-254 record.

Heading into the season the Yankees were again the favorites in the American League — just as they had been for the better part of three decades. Even the most die-hard Tigers fan had no reason to believe that 1961 would be any different than the past dozen years. But it wouldn’t take long for them to realize it would be a special summer in Detroit.

Off to a Fast Start

The 1961 campaign ushered in two new eras in baseball: the extended 162-game season and, for the Tigers, a re-named ballpark, Tiger Stadium. On April 11, the Indians, now managed by former Detroit skipper Dykes, overpowered Jim Bunning for six early runs. Though the Tigers scratched their way back into the game they were unable to solve Indians righty Jim Perry and lost 9-5.

Three days later, presumably after a postponement, Frank Lary dominated the White Sox. He tossed nine one-hit innings on the way to a 7-0 win — the first of an eight-game winning streak that fueled an 8-2 start. Scheffing’s club finished April in first place, with a record of 10 and 4, and a one-game lead.

May proved to be just as successful. The Tigers spent then entire month in first place, ranging from a first-place tie to holding a lead as wide as 4.5 games. Perhaps most impressive was how they held their own against the Yankees, splitting the first six games, and proving they could play with the reigning American League champions. With summer approaching, the Tigers were out to show baseball — and perhaps still-skeptical fans — they were indeed for real.

Detroit continued to roll in June and into July, winning three of five from the Yankees over that span, including a split of a Fourth of July doubleheader at Yankee Stadium.

In the opener, Whitey Ford struck out 11, scattering five hits for a complete-game 6-2 win. The Tigers won a thrilling nightcap, 4-3, in 10 innings behind a solid nine-inning performance by Lary, who also drove in Steve Boros with the winning run on a squeeze play in the 10th. In the bottom half, Lary allowed a leadoff single to Tony Kubek single which prompted Scheffing to call on Hank Aguirre to face two of the Yankees’ most feared hitters. The lefty Aguirre retired Roger Maris then walked Mickey Mantle before coaxing Yogi Berra into a flyout to center. Right hander Terry Fox replaced Aguirre and got Moose Skowron to end the game with a flyout. Detroit was in first place, a game ahead of New York on July 4 — and that’s usually a good sign.

The Tigers notched another winning month in July, going 16 and 12, but saw their lead evaporate and on July 24, they were in first place for the last time. This club, though, would not go down easily as evidenced by their torrid month of August, winning 22 and losing only nine. Unfortunately the Tigers failed to gain ground thanks to the Yankees’ identical 22 and 9 mark in August.

Two Outstanding Seasons in One

On April 12, 1960, the Tigers orchestrated a trade with the Indians that would pay dividends for years to come. They sent infielder Steve Demeter to Cleveland for a raw, slugging first baseman named Norm Cash, who had just 138 at bats in parts of two seasons with the White Sox before being traded to the Indians the previous December. Cash never appeared in a game for Cleveland but would embark on a dazzling career in Detroit — while Demeter would play in only four games for the Indians and never play again in the majors.

Cash’s impact on the Tigers lineup was immediate. In 1960, at the age of 25, the native of Justiceburg, Texas, hit .286 with 18 home runs, 63 RBI and an OPS of .903. But those solid numbers would pale in comparison to the season he put together in ’61. Cash led the American League in five offensive categories: a .361 average, 193 hits, 19 intentional walks, .487 on-base percentage and a 1.148 OPS, and would be named a starter in the two All Star Games held that season — the first in Candlestick Park in San Francisco, the second at Boston’s Fenway Park.

While Cash waged an assault on American League pitching, fellow All Star Frank Lary
was carving up hitters. In his first six full seasons with Detroit, the right hander averaged nearly 16 wins — highlighted by his 21 victories in 1956 — and 16 complete games per season. In fact, over those initial half-dozen seasons, Lary tossed complete games in 45 percent of his starts. In 1961 he was crafting the finest season of his career: a 23 and 9 record, a 3.24 ERA and a league-leading 22 complete games — 61 percent of his starts. For many Tigers fans, Lary became known as “The Yankee Killer” for his ability to shutdown the powerhouse New York teams of the 1950s and early ’60s with regularity. Over the course of his 12-year career, Lary earned a 28-13 record against the Yankees, defeating them 10 times more than his next-closest foil, the Twins. His record in ’61 against New York was 4-2.

Final Push Comes Up Short

The Tigers arrived in New York for a crucial three-game, Labor Day Weekend series just 2.5 games behind the Yankees. With luck, they could leave the Bronx in first place or at least a bit closer. Instead they saw their season collapse.

On Friday, Sept. 1, the Tigers lost a heartbreaking 1-0 game when the Yankees scored
the lone run with two out in the ninth. Detroit lefty Don Mossi was superb, scattering eight hits over 8.2 innings, walking a single batter and fanning seven.

In the second game, the Tigers scored a pair of runs in the first inning but could do little else with Ralph Terry. Meanwhile the Yankees chipped away, scoring three runs in the first six innings. However, the game — and essentially the pennant — shifted dramatically in the Yankees’ favor when they tagged Lary with four runs in the eighth, sealing a 7-2 win.

The finale was perhaps the cruelest game of the series. Detroit entered the bottom of the ninth with a 5-4 lead but saw it vanish when Mickey Mantle drove a pitch from Gerry Staley into the right-centerfield seats for his 50th home run of the season. With two men on and two out, catcher Elston Howard drilled a three-run homer deep into the left-field stands off Ron Kline, giving the Yankees a 8-5 win and a series sweep.

Those three losses in New York were followed by five more, plunging the Tigers to 10 games out of first, by far their biggest deficit of the season. Though their pennant hopes were dashed over Labor Day, and despite the eight-game skid, the Tigers finished the 1961 season strong: winning 12 of their final 15, highlighted by a six-game winning streak and another of four straight to end the season.

Strong Finish Caps Remarkable Season

On the final Saturday of the season, Sept. 30, the Tigers won their 100th game of the season, a 6-4 win over the Twins. A win of the season finale gave the Tigers a final record of 101-61, the most wins by a Detroit team since pennant-winning 1934 club.

In the end, the 1961 Tigers finished eight games behind the eventual World Series champions, the Yankees, and 12 ahead of Baltimore. Still, they took Detroit baseball fans on a joy ride they hadn’t experienced in more than a decade. What’s more, they got to see the emergence of players that would make a summer seven years down the road one to remember — even if 1961 is a season Tigers fans might tend to overlook.

15 Years Ago Today: Luis Gonzalez for Karim Garcia

On this date in 1998, the Tigers signed free agent Gregg Jefferies to a two-year contract and traded outfielder Luis Gonzalez to the Diamondbacks for Karim Garcia.

A lifetime .289 hitter, Jeffries hit just .231 with a .639 OPS in 111 games for the 1999 and 2000 clubs.

In Gonzalez’s lone season with the Tigers he hit .267, 23 homers and 71 RBI with a .816 OPS. So you can understand why the Tigers were eager to deal him. He would become a legend in Arizona over eight seasons, hitting .298, with 224 homers and a .919 OPS.

Garcia? Well, he had less remarkable career in Detroit: in parts of two seasons, 1999 and 2000, he hit .236 with 14 homers and .708 OPS.

The Case for Jack Morris – and Everyone Else

Scott Raab of Esquire lobs this grenade into the Jack Morris/Hall of Fame discussion:

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America was founded in 1908 and boasts more than 800 members, many of whom were hypnotized at some point during the 1980s and programmed to vote Jack Morris into the Hall of Fame because — they really say this — “Jack Morris knew how to win,” which means that although Jack’s numbers aren’t dazzling in the context of Cooperstown, he had grit, and he was savvy, and he was a warrior, a legend, one of the best big-game pitchers baseball has ever seen.

In the other corner, living in their parents’ basements: the Sons of Bill James … He is Yahweh to a 30-year generation of dweebs, baseball writers and broadcasters, and general managers, and there is a general consensus among them that — based on a fair, square preponderance of data — Jack Morris, while a very good pitcher, was not among the very greatest, and is thus unworthy of the Hall.

Read the rest here.

 

 

Video: Today in Tigers History: McLain Wins #31, Surrenders Mantle’s #535

On this date in 1968, Denny McLain earned his 31st win and along the way, grooved nothing but heat* to Mickey Mantle, helping The Mick hit his 535th career homer.

Five years ago, in a nod to the 40th anniversary of that 31-win season, The New York Daily News caught up with McLain:

Who has only two of his own teeth, could pass for a sumo wrestler and yet still eats a pack of Twinkies most every day?

Turns out that Dennis Dale McLain is still pitching after all these years. It’s just not fastballs and curves anymore, and not with his signature leg kick.

“I am who I am,” McLain says. “I’m not going to change after 64 years. I get up every day and do Denny.”

On that night 45 years go, before just 9,063 at Tiger Stadium, McLain went the distance in the Tigers’ 6-2 win – the club’s 99th of the season.

Here’s Mantle telling his side of the story:

*From Baseball-Reference: McLain allegedly calls catcher Jim Price** out and tells him to inform Mantle he’s throwing the slugger nothing but fastballs. The home run gives Mantle undisputed hold of third place on the all-time home run list. Mantle tips his cap to McLain as he rounds third base. Joe Pepitone, the next
batter, signals where he would like the ball, and McLain dusts him. The Tigers win the game, 6-2, the 12th straight complete game for the Tigers staff.

**Price went 0 for 4.

 

Sept. 18, 1984: Tigers Clinch American League East Title

On this date in 1984, the Tigers clinched the American League East title, beating the Brewers 3-0.

Randy O’Neal pitched seven shutout innings, allowing four hits, one walk and striking out six. As he often did, Willie Hernandez earned a two-inning save, his 30th of the year.

Tom Brookens hit a solo homer off Brewers’ starter Bob McClure. Lance Parrish drove in Detroit’s other two runs.

If you want to take a deep dive into the ’84 club, pickup a copy of Detroit Tigers 1984: What a Start! What a Finish! from Amazon.com. (Disclosure: I wrote the bios of Rusty Kuntz, Johnny Grubb, Chet Lemon and Carl Willis that appear in the book.)

225 Words about Cup-of-Coffee Tigers RHP Jim Proctor

Jim Proctor

There’s always an interesting story about the Tigers birthdays. Take, for example, Jim Proctor, who was born on this date in 1935.

He debuted at age 23 for the Tigers on Sept. 14, 1959 against the Senators in Washington, pitching in relief of starter Ray Narleski. In the bottom of the sixth, he allowed one run on three hits — also, he allowed a sac bunt by future Tigers bench coach Billy Consolo and a walk to Harmon Killebrew.

In the seventh, he gave up a leadoff triple to Julio Becquer before retiring the next three men in order.

Proctor’s next appearance was on Sept. 26 at Briggs Stadium against the White Sox and Hall of Famer Early Wynn. It would Proctor’s first and last career start and the second and final big-league appearance as well. He wouldn’t escape the first inning, allowing four runs, all earned, on four hits and two walks. The final hitter the right hander faced was the eighth man to bat in the inning, Sox left fielder Johnny Callison.

One interesting side note from this game: Norm Cash replaced first baseman Ted Kluszewski in the bottom of the second, batting cleanup. He went 0 for 1 with a flyout and a walk.

As for Proctor, his major league career came to a close less than two weeks after it began. His career line:

W L ERA G IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
0 1 16.88 2 2.2 8 5 5 0 3 0 4.125
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/9/2013

Mud Hens Sign New Closer

So perhaps we haven’t seen the last of Jose Valverde in a Tigers uniform after all.

Chris Iott reports Valverde signed a minor-league deal …

with no major-league commitment from the Detroit Tigers — general manager Dave Dombrowski announced late this morning.

Valverde will report to extended spring training in Lakeland and face some hitters before joining Triple-A Toledo.

Is this a sign of desperation after yesterday’s ninth-inning loss to the Twins? Not according to the story; the Tigers watched Valverde pitch recently and liked what they saw – more zip on the heater and a good splitter.

So Bruce Rondon, was probably thinking he might have to compete with Valverde in Spring Training, if the Tigers re-signed him. He likely didn’t figure he’d have to compete or pitch alongside Valverde in Toledo.

If nothing else, it will be an interesting Papa Grande Watch for the next 30 days.