Northrup Was Clutch Hitter Who Delivered Decisive Hit in ’68 Series

“The Gray Fox” is no more. Michigan has lost a native son who was a hero of the magical 1968 season for the Detroit Tigers.

Jim Northrup, who played 11 seasons for the Tigers in the 1960s and 1970s, and who started in right field and left field for the Tigers in 1968 when they won their first pennant in 23 seasons, died Wednesday in Grand Blanc from complications due to Alzheimer’s disease. He was 71-years-old.

Northrup was a tall, muscular left-handed hitter from Breckenridge, a small town due west of Saginaw and south of Mt. Pleasant. After graduating from St. Louis High School, Northrup stayed close to home, attending Alma College, five miles from St. Louis. At Alma, Northrup was a five-sport star. He was quarterback of the football team, and was named a small college All-American. He was a forward on the basketball team, ran track, and golfed, but Northrup’s great love was baseball. “I was born to play baseball,” Northrup beamed.

Northrup was one of the talented players who came up through the Tiger organization in the early 1960s, along with Bill Freehan, Mickey Lolich, Willie Horton, Dick McAuliffe, Denny McLain, John Hiller and others.

In 1968 he busted out with his first big season, hitting 21 homers and driving in 90 runs. He was especially adept with the bases loaded: clubbing four grand slams and batting .533 with the bags full. He added another grand slam in the World Series. On June 24, Northrup hit grand slams in consecutive at bats in the 5th and 6th innings. This made him one of only 13 players to have hit two grand slams in one game, and the first to do so in consecutive at-bats. Five days later, Northrup hit another grand slam, becoming the first major league player to hit three grand slams in a single week.

Northrup got hot at the right time in ’68, batting .356 after September 1. He carried his performance over into the Fall Classic, hitting a pair of homers through the first six games. In a scoreless Game Seven Northrup came up in the seventh inning facing Cardinal ace Bob Gibson and slashed a triple that scored the runs to break open the game and provide the winning runs for the Tigers.

On August 28, 1969, Northrup became the first Tiger since Ty Cobb to go 6-for-6, finishing the game with a 13th-inning game-winning home run over the Tiger Stadium roof.

After his big hit in Game Seven of the ’68 Series, Northrup was a fan favorite the rest of his career in a Detroit uniform. In the 1972 playoffs he again performed brilliantly, batting .357 against the Athletics. In 1974 the Tigers sold Northrup to the Expos and the outfielder retired after that season.

Northrup finished his career with 153 homers, all but eight of them as a Tiger. In his retirement years, Northrup signed with the Detroit Caesars, a professional softball team and played two seasons. The Caesars played in the American Professional Slow Pitch Softball League, winning leagues titles in both seasons with Northrup. The team was owned by Mike Ilitch who would later become the owner of the Detroit Tigers. The Caesars had extensive talent from the amateur softball leagues, and both Northrup and fellow former-Tiger Norm Cash played part-time roles.

From 1985-1994, Northrup was a color analyst for the Tigers on the PASS Sports cable television service. He was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 2000.

One reply on “Northrup Was Clutch Hitter Who Delivered Decisive Hit in ’68 Series

  • Getting Older Every Day

    I was shocked to see his age–71!! Seems it was just yesterday I was listening to the ’68 Series on a transistor radio at school. A very special team with some colorful players….long gone now.

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