There’s been a lot written about Jim Northrup in the past 24 hours. Here are some of the more notable pieces:
- At The Hardball Times, Chris Jaffe pulled together Northrup’s career highlights. Among the more interesting tidbits? His first home run came off Robin Roberts.
- The New York Times placed his obituary its home page.
- Lynn Henning’s memories.
- Drew Sharp remembers watching the Gray Fox when the Freep columnist was a kid.
- Don’t miss Jim Sargent’s biography of Northrup on the SABR Bio Project website; it also appeared in Sock It to ‘Em Tigers, the terrific book of bios from the 1968 Tigers club.
The first-ever autograph I scored was Jim Northrup’s.
I’m fairly confident the year was 1978 and it was at my baseball banquet at St. Isaac Jogues in St. Clair Shores. Word had spread that there would be a Tigers player at the banquet and I held out hope, despite my brother’s assurances I was nuts, that the Tiger would be Mark Fidrych.
Instead, it was Northrup and I remember thinking, “This guy?”
Ultimately it didn’t matter a whit because I was standing next to a man who played for the Tigers.
My encounter with Northrup was memorable for another reason: I think I annoyed him. We were one of the first families to arrive at the banquet, which was held in the church basement that five days a week served as my school lunchroom. I remember my Mom encouraging me to take the banquet program and asking him for an autograph. So I made a beeline to the little stage area where he was standing by himself and got his impeccably written signature.
A while later a player from my team showed up and he ran over to a table and grabbed a banquet ticket. He asked Northrup to sign it. So enthralled was I about Northrup being there — and mind you, it could’ve been any former Tiger at this point — I took one of the same tickets from that same table and scurried up to the stage and asked him for another autograph.
He looked down at me and said, “How many autographs do you want, kid?”
I was more than a little embarrassed but he winked at me and I didn’t feel so stupid. (As it ends up, the ticket I used for the second autograph belonged to my teammate’s sister and I had to relinquish it to her. No one, it seemed, was pleased with autograph number two.)
[callout title=The Jim Northrup File]
Bats: Left Throws: Right
Height: 6′ 3″, Weight: 190 lb.
Born: November 24, 1939 in Breckenridge, Mich.
High School: St. Louis (Mich.) High
School: Alma College
Signed by the Tigers as an amateur free agent in 1960.
Debut: September 30, 1964
Numbers worn with Tigers: 30, 5
Teams (by games played): Tigers/Orioles/Expos 1964-1975
Final Game: September 27, 1975
Tigers Stats (11 seasons): 1,279 games; .267 avg., 145 HR, 570 RBI, .763 OPS
I don’t remember much about what Northrup said during his after-dinner remarks but I do recall lots of laughter and my parents enjoying his reminscing about the ’68 team.
A few years later I got to know and appreciate Jim Northrup when he was Larry Osterman‘s partner on the old PASS network broadcasts. I can’t verify this but I would be shocked to learn that Northrup did one nanosecond of preparation. What I can guarantee is that no other Tigers announcer in my lifetime was as appropriately critical of players and the plays they made or didn’t make as old number 5. He was, in many ways, the un–Jim Price and I thoroughly enjoyed every game he called.
More on this from Lynn Henning in his column today:
No question, Northrup was glib and acerbic. So much so, his tongue got him into trouble as much as it got him noticed.
Exhibit A there was his career as a Tigers television announcer. It ended in 1995, and no one had to explain why Northrup was unceremoniously yanked. He was blunt, unapologetically so. A new front-office regime wasn’t interested in subjecting owner Mike Ilitch to Northrup’s reviews, no matter how accurate or welcomed they might have been by a Tigers audience.
Back to the baseball banquet. The event was winding down and we all had our trophies – which we’d earned and not every kid got one. Imagine.
Anyway, my Dad suggested I get an autograph on the bottom of my trophy. I explained I already had asked for two from Northrup and he might get mad. Dad shrugged and said, “Go ask him.”
So I walked up and ever-so meekly asked him to sign the trophy and he just smiled, signed it and as he handed it back to me said, “Way to go.”
From that moment on I was a Jim Northrup fan, though I never saw him play a single game.
Like so many others, I started to write a post tonight about Ernie Harwell. Then I realized I’d already written everything I possibly could about him in a post on January 25, 2008 — Ernie’s 90th birthday. I wrote the following post in much better spirits than the ones in which I find myself tonight.
Opening Day 1979 was, like so many in Detroit, bitter cold. (How cold was it? Neither team held batting practice.) It was the first Opener I’d ever attended but I remember it like it was the day before yesterday.
Not because the game was on a Saturday. Not because it was a blowout, 8-2 loss to the Rangers behind Ferguson Jenkins‘ complete game. (Johnny Grubb went 2 for 5 with a first-inning homer off starter and losing pitcher Dave Rozema.)
And not because Dan Gonzalez pinch hit for Alan Trammell (!!) in the bottom of the ninth, one of only 25 big-league at bats Gonzalez would ever get. (He flied out to right to end the game.) No, what I’ll always remember about that day was that I met today’s birthday boy, Ernie Harwell.
My brother, his friend Freddie and I were walking around the field in the lower deck when my brother spotted Ernie chatting it up with fans behind the Tigers dugout. We took our place in the makeshift line and Ernie signed my program.
(I have no idea where that signature ended up, but I take solace in the fact I have the one shown here from a signed copy of Ernie’s 1985 book Tuned to Baseball.)
I had the chance to ask a question and here’s what my nine-year-old bean came up with: Is Paul up in the booth?
Ernie replied that Paul Carey was, in fact, up in the booth preparing for the game and that he hoped I had fun at the ballpark that day. Talk about a thrill — even more thrilling than getting Jim Northrup‘s autograph at my annual baseball banquet later that year. And every year on Opening Day I think of it (Ernie’s signature, not Northrup’s).
Even if you didn’t get a chance to meet him in person, given the number of games he called for us on the radio, doesn’t it feel like you did?
I can’t explain why I don’t: (a) Own a copy of Ron LeFlore‘s autobiography (with Jim Hawkins) or (b) Own the CBS TV movie on DVD.
Thanks to eBay, I can get the book. The movie is proving to be a tougher find — at least in tangible form. Thanks to YouTube we can enjoy clips from the 1978 epic.
A few things to point out: the bush-league replica Tigers jerseys worn by nearly afro’d “Mickey Stanley“, Jim Northrup‘s silver hair
(we’re supposed to believe he was a current-day player?), and Norm Cash’s un-sculpted build.
Also, check out the mix of old-school dark green paint with the blue that replaced it.