Cooperstown had a Detroit flavor during Hall of Fame Weekend

Jack Morris and Alan Trammell at their Hall of Fame Induction in Cooperstown on July 29, 2018. (Photo by Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

Cooperstown is located approximately 488 miles from Detroit, but over Hall of Fame Weekend, so many former Tigers came to town for the inductions of Alan Trammell and Jack Morris that it turned the small village into Detroit East. A veritable “who’s who” of Tigers baseball descended on Cooperstown, ranging from the old school generation of Al Kaline, Willie Horton, and Denny McLain to a more recent era of success headlined by Sweet Lou Whitaker.

Kaline, Horton, McLain, and Whitaker were four of the biggest Tiger names in town, but not the only ones. Others who came out for Hall of Fame Induction 2018 included World Series hero Kirk Gibson, Travis Fryman (who at one time was considered the next Trammell), underrated slugger Darrell Evans, 1980s standout Lance Parrish, utility man and third baseman Tom Brookens, outfielder Dan Gladden, first baseman Sean Casey, and former rotation mainstay Dave Rozema. And let’s not forget ex-manager Brad Ausmus and current general manager Al Avila, both of whom also attended the Sunday induction at the Clark Sports Center.

One of those former players was a special guest of the Hall of Fame. Horton, a former Tigers star and an iconic figure throughout the state of Michigan, arrived at the Hall on Saturday afternoon as a guest of the Museum’s education department. For nearly an hour and a half, Horton enthralled a capacity crowd in the Bullpen Theater, recalling his life growing up in the Detroit projects, his rise to the major leagues, and his involvement in calming the Detroit riots, among a long list of themes and topics.

Horton initially told the audience about growing up in a house with 21 children, but also emphasized how all were well taken care of by two loving parents. As a young boy, Horton played in a Detroit Little League filled with future major leaguers, including Ted Sizemore, Alex Johnson, and Dennis Ribant. “I was a catcher,” Horton told the Cooperstown audience, “and when I left, Sizemore took over. And when he left, Ted Simmons took over. We all came up with the same coaches. And then there was Bill Freehan. We all knew each other since we were about 11 years old.” Horton recalled playing in a Babe Ruth League World Series tournament with Freehan; the Detroit-area team, led by Horton and Freehan, defeated a Cincinnati, OH team that featured a young Pete Rose, future Tigers shortstop Eddie Brinkman, and eventual Boston Celtics great John Havlicek, who was the team’s pitcher.

As a high school star at Northwestern High, Horton hit the most memorable home run of his amateur career at Tiger Stadium. The blast won the city championship for Horton’s team. Beyond the significance of helping his team win the title, the home run remains remarkable for its length. “When you’re in Tiger Stadium, as a kid, everything looks big,” Horton said during the Saturday sit-down. “That same tower that Reggie Jackson hit at the 1971 All-Star Game, I hit that tower as a right-handed hitter. That ball took off, and I said, ‘Wow.’ ”

Horton was such a dominant high school player that he drew interest from numerous major league scouts, including Buck O’Neil, working for the Chicago Cubs at the time. Although O’Neil put on his usual charm, Horton decided to take the hometown route, accepting an offer from the Tigers for just over $100,000, which included a sizeable bonus. “I signed with the Tigers just before I turned 18 years old. I signed as a hardship case to help my parents. We were able to [use that money] to get a new home for them.”

Sadly, Horton would lose his parents in a 1965 auto accident. He heard the devastating news while playing winter ball in the Caribbean. As Horton recalled, the Tigers did everything they could to ease his burden and heartache. “Jim Campbell [the Tigers’ general manager] told me that I didn’t have to play that year, if I didn’t want to. He took my hand, and put a check in my hand for $20,000. He said to me, ‘Take care of your family.’ ”

As a minor leaguer, Horton also learned about the perils of Jim Crow segregation, while also becoming close to a player who would become a longtime teammate with the Tigers. Playing ball one day in Asheville, NC, Horton recalled beginning his solitary walk to a black hotel in the city. But a teammate soon made sure that Horton would have some company. “This particular night, it was very late. And Mickey Stanley said to me, ‘I’m going with you.’ We walked up to the hotel together. We get there, and they wouldn’t let Mickey stay at the black hotel! Starting that day, I got involved [in civil rights].” Throughout the talk, Horton mentioned Stanley repeatedly, emphasizing his efforts to bridge the gap between a white player and a black player. The close relationship between Horton and Stanley continues to this day.

Segregation also affected Tigers players at spring training during the first half of the 1960s. According to Horton, the Tigers’ white and black players remained at separated hotels and living quarters until 1965, a full year after the Civil Rights Act was passed.

Two years later, the issue of race once again arose, this time in the form of rioting that broke out in response to multiple arrests of black citizens at a local speakeasy. The rioting began on Sunday morning; by afternoon, the problem was evident to Horton and the rest of the Tigers, who were playing a doubleheader at Tiger Stadium. “Going into the second game of the doubleheader, you looked across the stadium and you could see black smoke in the sky. It was around 12th Street, not far from where I used to have a paper route as a kid. In between games of the doubleheader, the Tigers told us they wanted us to go right home [after the second game] for our own safety. Well, I didn’t think about even taking a shower, I just took my street clothes and put them in a duffle bag and went over there.”

In his Tigers uniform, and without the benefit of a megaphone, Horton jumped on top of his car and began imploring the nearby rioters to reconsider their actions. “Most of them were just following the crowd,” said Horton. “I remember getting on top of my car and trying to bring peace. It looked like a war had broken out. I said [to the rioters], ‘When you burn down stuff and take stuff, you defeat the purpose.’ ”

While it has long been reported that Horton’s words had little tangible effect in stopping the riots, Horton has a different recollection. “Oh yeah, they stopped. The people who know me, they stopped [rioting]. They saw who I was, and they stopped. Some of them went home. I’m trying to bring peace to them, and some of them said to me, ‘Go home,’ for my [own] safety.” Certainly, rioting did persist in the city streets, but Horton believes that at least some of the rioters listened to his words, helping to decrease the level of violence.

There’s little doubt that the Bullpen Theater crowd listened intently to Horton’s words throughout the Saturday program. After a discussion of the 1968 championship and the influence of Billy Martin, Horton was presented a designer jacket by the Hall’s education department. Later that he night, Horton attended a Tigers party for Morris and Trammell. And then on Sunday, Horton made his way back to town for the Induction Ceremony. As a special assistant to the general manager, Horton helped represented the Tigers’ front office at the induction. In the meantime, the Hall of Fame’s membership roll grew by six—including the two Tigers.

Horton was just one of approximately 53,000 people to watch the ceremony, placing this crowd as the second highest in Hall of Fame history (behind only the 2007 induction of Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, Jr.) Based on the number of Tigers jerseys and caps in evidence, it seemed like at least 20 to 25 percent of the crowd either came from Detroit, or would at least call themselves Tigers fans.

After Chipper Jones began the proceedings with his speech, Trammell stepped to the podium on the Clark Sports Center stage. Near the beginning of his speech, delivered with his usual sincerity and grace, Trammell thanked the greatest living Tiger of them all. “To Mr. Tiger, Al Kaline, thank you for being a role model that you are, doing everything with class and dignity. I’m proud to have worn the Old English D my entire playing career, just like you did.”

Trammell also thanked the late Sparky Anderson, who managed him for most of his career, ranging from 1975 to 1995. Additionally, a lesser known baseball man received credit from Trammell during his speech. Without that man, Trammell’s career in Detroit would never have happened. “Dick Wiencek, the scout who signed me, deserves a lot of credit,” Trammell told the thousands gathered in Cooperstown. “Dick was able to convince Bill Lajoie, who was the Tigers’ scouting director, to draft a skinny, 165-pound shortstop with no power. Looking back, Bill respected Dick’s judgment. Dick Wiencek would sign 72 major league players, the most in baseball history. I remember Dick telling me if I hit .250 and played good defense, I would play in the big leagues a long time. I doubt scouts are telling young shortstops that today.”

As Trammell spoke, his longtime double play partner watched from the VIP section of seating at the Sports Center. Trammell made sure to devote a significant portion of his speech to the player known as “Sweet Lou.” “My whole career I have been linked with one person,” said Trammell. “For 19 years, Lou Whitaker and I formed the longest running double-play combination in the history of baseball. I doubt that record will ever be broken. Lou and I were called up to the big leagues from Double-A on the same day. We both played in our first big league ballgame at Fenway Park on the same day. We both got hits at our first major league at-bats off the same pitcher, Reggie Cleveland, and we both got our last hits of our careers off the same pitcher, Mike Fetters. Can you believe that? That’s truly amazing.

“For all those years, it was Lou and Tram. Lou, it was an honor and a pleasure to have played alongside you for all those years, and I hope – my hope is someday you’ll be up here as well.”

After Trammell addressed the Cooperstown throng, Trevor Hoffman and Vlad Guerrero made their speeches, setting the stage for Morris. Mellowing in recent years, Morris delivered a poignant address in which he spoke about first joining the Tigers’ organization. “In 1976 after three years in college, I was drafted by the Detroit Tigers,” said Morris. “I had no idea how I would come to appreciate and love the hard-working people of Michigan and Detroit. I will always cherish the friendships I made there. My teammates, coaches, managers in my Detroit years taught me what winning was all about. Many of us players came up together through the amateur draft, the minor leagues, Instructional League, and even winter ball. Could any of us have guessed who would finally make it to the major leagues?”

During his minor league career, Morris particularly appreciated the mentoring that came his way from a future Tigers manager. “Thank you, Jim Leyland, for your tough love that I needed during our time together. Your encouragement helped me to realize that I never want to go back to the minor leagues.”

Once Morris made it to the major leagues, he developed strong relationships with a longtime coach who is now 83 years old. “Dick Tracewski, thanks for making me smile and laugh at myself and for your lifelong love and commitment to our game,” said Morris. “1984 was an incredible year. A 35-5 start, wire-to-wire in first place, and a world championship that brought joy to a lot of people.

Like Trammell, Morris did not forget about his manager. “I know Sparky Anderson is with us here today. He taught me so many things, especially to respect this great game. In 1980 I was struggling late in games. Sparky told me he had confidence in me, but that I needed to finish games to rest the bullpen. He said he couldn’t tell me how to do it, wasn’t coming out to get me, so I shouldn’t look for any help. He taught me a valuable lesson by allowing me to fail and fight through adversity.”

Of course, Morris would not have become a staff anchor without the influence of the pitching coach who helped him develop a split-fingered fastball. “I understood what my role was, and appreciated his willingness to guide me into being a complete game pitcher. Our conversation had a huge impact on my role in baseball. Thank you, pitching coach Roger Craig. Even though we didn’t always agree, I knew you were always in my corner.”

In a way, it was fitting that Morris entered the Hall of Fame on the same day as Trammell. Both were drafted by the Tigers in 1976, a year that also saw the Tigers bring Dan Petry into the organization. Morris remembered the Trammell connection during his speech on Sunday. “To go into the Hall of Fame with my friend and teammate Alan Trammell is a dream come true. We signed together in 1976, spent 13 years together in Detroit, and now 42 years later, Cooperstown. Wow, wow. Thanks to the owners in Detroit, Tom Fetzer and Tom Monaghan, and a special thanks to Mike and Chris Ilitch for what you’ve done for me and the city of Detroit.”

Near the end of his Induction speech, Morris moved beyond his team experiences and offered some advice for young players at all levels of the game. “Whether in Little League or in the big leagues, I would encourage all baseball players to learn the history of our game. Learn about the great players behind me. Learn about the owners and the history of the players’ union. Only then will you have a better understanding of who you are and where you fit into history.”

By the end of Induction Weekend, the roles that Morris, Trammell, and Horton played in Tigers history became even more distinct, more profound. Clearly, even though decades have passed since they last took the field, these players remain memorable to fans, even to those of younger generations.

For those hoping that the Tigers franchise and its history would gain special notice during Hall of Fame Weekend, your wish came true—with ease.