It has been nearly 20 years since former Detroit Tiger pitcher Hank Aguirre passed away at age 63 in 1994, but his oldest daughter Pam Aguirre is often reminded of her father through the baseball memorabilia and photos he left behind that chronicles a 16-year major league career with the Cleveland Indians, Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Chicago Cubs that spanned from 1955 to 1970.
The crafty, fun loving left-hander known as “High Henry” would later become a very successful businessman as founder of Mexican Industries in Detroit.
According to Pam, her father was a true romantic about baseball and his favorite baseball movie was Field of Dreams, the 1989 American baseball fantasy-drama based on W.P. Kinsella’s novel Shoeless Joe and starring Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones.
“My dad had multiple copies of the movie and I remember he even went to Iowa to see the baseball diamond from the film,” says Pam.
As it turns out, based upon the autographs that appear on a game-used Al Kaline bat that Aguirre left for Pam, the tall left-hander secured a rare treasure upon witnessing a true Field of Dreams moment in his first year with the Tigers.
On June 28, 1958, a two inning old-timers game between former Tigers and Red Sox players was played at Briggs Stadium prior to the regular contest between Detroit and Boston. Nearly 50 former Detroit and Boston greats were on hand including Ty Cobb.
Aguirre obtained a bat from Kaline, who would become a close friend and roommate, and then proceeded to have former Tiger heroes sign the Kaline gamer, a model M110 Louisville Slugger.
The cracked Kaline bat contains the signatures of 24 former Tigers that participated in the old-timers game. Those who signed the bat for Aguirre include five Hall of Famers (Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg, Goose Goslin, Mickey Cochrane, and Hal Newhouser) in addition to Tommy Bridges, Schoolboy Rowe, Dizzy Trout, Rudy York, Elden Auker, Marv Owen, Billy Rogell, JoJo White, Vic Sorrell, Gee Walker, Barney McCosky, Dick Wakefield, Pete Fox, George Moriarty, Chet Laabs, Clyde Manion, Pat Mullin, Steve O’Neill, and Bernie Boland.
The Tiger Stadium closing ceremonies on September 27, 1999, was certainly a Field of Dreams moment for Detroit fans when numerous former Tigers returned and walked in from center field. But it is hard to rival what happened just ten years prior to the Tigers winning the 1968 World Series.
On that summer afternoon in 1958 at Briggs Stadium, Aguirre and other lucky witnesses saw Ty Cobb reunited with fellow outfielders Sam Crawford and Davy Jones while the entire lineup of the first Tigers’ world championship team of 1935 came back with Cochrane behind the plate for the two inning affair. Hall of Famers Joe Cronin, Jimmie Foxx, and Lefty Grove were among the old-timers playing for Boston. The game ended in a 1-1 tie thanks to White belting a home run into the right field lower stands off of Grove.
In the regular game the Tigers lost 6-5 in 12 innings. After meeting the Tiger greats, Aguirre pitched a scoreless inning. The legendary Ted Williams entered the game as a pitch hitter but failed to get a hit.
Thinking of Hank Aguirre and Ted Williams reminded me of my favorite baseball story.
As a rookie pitcher facing Ted Williams for the first time, Aguirre struck out the Splendid Splinter. The excited and proud left-hander went into the Boston locker room after the game to have the slugger autograph the baseball. Ted politely accommodated the young man who got the best of him that day.
However, the next time Williams faced Aguirre he hit a towering home run and as the last slugger to hit over .400 rounded third base, he yelled to the pitcher, ‘Hey kid, if you find that baseball I’ll sign that too.”
“I can still see the smile on my dad’s face when he told that story,” Pam Aguirre told me. “One time Bill Reedy brought Williams to his saloon in Detroit for a fundraiser to support the Jimmy Fund, Ted’s favorite charity. When he walked in and saw my dad he said, ‘I remember you rook,’ and Ted told the story again to everyone there.”
Although several auction houses have stated that they would open bids between $4,000 to $5,000 for the autographed Kaline bat, and the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association has suggested that it be donated to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Pam Aguirre would consider selling it to a baseball fan in Detroit who would truly appreciate the history behind this rare piece of lumber.
High Henry certainly did.