Remembering Jim Northrup: My First Big-League Autograph

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?”

Of course I knew who he was. I listened over and over to the album (which is now available on CD!) my Dad bought for me, The Year of the Tiger ’68, that chronicled Mayo Smith’s amazing team.

Still, he was no Bird. Or my then-hero Jason Thompson or Steve Kemp.

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 241939 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

[/callout]

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 unJim 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.

Today’s Tiger: Mickey Stanley

Mickey Stanley

  • Born: July 20, 1942 in Grand Rapids, Mich.
  • Acquired: Signed by the Tigers as an amateur free agent in 1961
  • Seasons in Detroit: 15 (1964-78)
  • Uniform Numbers: 49, 24
  • Stats: .248 avg., 117 HR, 500 RBI, .675 OPS
  • Awards: 4 Gold Gloves (1968-70, 1973)

MickeyStanley.jpgFor many fans, Mickey Stanley’s defining moment with the Tigers came in the 1968 World Series when manager Mayo Smith shifted him from the outfield to shortstop — a position he’d played only in nine major-league games.

The move was made specifically to keep Al Kaline in the lineup while adding some pop to the ’68 team’s woeful production at shortstop. Ray Oyler played most at short that year (111 games) but hit just .135, while backups Tom Matchick and Dick Tracewski combined hit an anemic .180.

In his terrific bio on Stanley, which appears in the 2008 book Sock It to ‘Em Tigers, Jerry Nechal sums up the new shortstop’s performance in the Series against the Cardinals:

Obviously a quick learner, Stanley went on to amaze the baseball world in the Series. In the first inning of Game 1 he was tested by a leadoff ground ball off the bat of the speedy Lou Brock. Brock was out on a close play and Mickey’s fielding at shortstop became a nonfactor. He successfully handled 30 of 32 chances, making two inconsequential errors.

Mickey Stanley broke in with the Tigers on September 13, 1964, singling in his first at bat off Claude Osteen, and appeared in just four games that season. He played in 30 games the following season before making the big club out of Spring Training in 1966, and soon became a fixture in centerfield for the Tigers until a speedy rookie Ron LeFlore took over in the mid-’70s.

My greatest memory of Stanley comes from Aug. 10, 1977, the first Tigers game I ever attended. The starting pitcher for the Tigers was rookie Jack Morris who would pitch 7.2 innings on the way to his first major-league win, but he wouldn’t have gotten the win that night without a dazzling play by Mickey Stanley with two out in the ninth inning.

With Von Joshua at first, Cecil Cooper stood at the plate as the potential tying run. He launched a pitch from Steve Foucault deep to right field and from my lower deck seats on the first base side, it looked like it would indeed tie the game. Instead, Stanley timed his jump and took away a home run, securing a 5-3 win for the Tigers — and Morris.

And it took no time for me to decide who my favorite Tigers were.

Mickey Stanley retired after the 1978 season, his 15th, after playing in 1,516 games — all with the Tigers. According to Nechal’s biography, today Stanley lives in the Brighton, Mich., area.