Between Bill Freehan and Lance Parrish, the Tigers’ backstop bridge to the future was ol’ Milt May.
The Tigers picked up May in a Dec. 6, 1975 trade with the Astros. He came to Detroit with Jim Crawford and Dave Roberts for Leon Roberts, Terry Humphrey, Gene Pentz and Mark Lemongello.
May’s first season as a Tiger was Freehan’s last, and it was one to forget. A broken ankle limited him to a half-dozen games behind the plate. Freehan and Bruce Kimm, Mark Fidrych’s personal catcher, shared receiving duties that year.
Here’s how May, who wore number 12, was described in the 1978 Tigers Yearbook:
Steady it goes with Milt May, the Tigers’ experienced catcher. He missed all but six games of the 1976 season, his first as a Tiger, because of a broken ankle. But 1977 was another story, as Milt caught 111 games with fine defensive skill and some timely hitting.
His .249 at the plate [sic] included two eight-game hitting streaks and 12 home runs, the most for May in his major league career. One of the homers was Milt’s second grand slammer and he also hit two for the circuit in one game.
That year, May, the son of Phillies’ infielder Pinky May, caught in 94 games and despite being just 27, was being phased out in the transition to Parrish. The Big Wheel appeared in 85 games at catcher in 1978 and 142 in ’79.
After just five games in ’79, May’s tenure with the Tigers was over. On May 27, the White Sox purchased his contract and the Gary, Ind., native played in 65 games for Chicago. In the offseason, May signed with the Giants where he played from 1980 through August 1983 when he was dealt to his original team, the Pirates.
Milt May’s final season was 1984. In 50 games with Pittsburgh, he hit just .177. His final career line: 1,192 games, .263 average, 77 homers and 443 RBI.
After his playing career, May went the coaching route. First as Jim Leyland‘s hitting coach with the Pirates (1987-96), then the Marlins (1997-98). He spent the first half of the ’99 season with Tampa Bay and then became Leyland’s pitching coach in Colorado for the remainder of that season.
Happy 58th Birthday, Milt.