One of the most famous baseball quotes ever came from Hall of Fame slugger Ralph Kiner who stated in the 1950s: “Singles hitters drive Fords and home run hitters drive Cadillacs.”
I don’t know if Willie Horton was aware of that quote when he was driving balls into the left field upper deck at Tiger Stadium starting in the early 1960s, but the photo that accompanies this blog entry is proof positive that at least one home run hitter liked to drive a Cadillac.
In this May 19, 1969 photo, “Willie the Wonder” is seen perched on the hood of his Caddy that is parked in the players’ parking lot at Tiger Stadium. The lot was located behind a wall that fronted Michigan Avenue and the entrance was just a few feet from the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. Fans used to love to stand in the driveway to the parking lot and ask the players for autographs as they arrived and left the ballpark. It was later replaced in 1993 by team owner Mike Ilitch’s food court called “Tiger Plaza.”
Horton was a home run hitting machine for the Tigers.
His Tiger teammates often called him “Boomer” and when he went to the batting rack to get his stick, it was not uncommon to hear a player say, “It’s Boomer time!” At the same time, when number 23 approached the plate, the kids in Tiger Stadium’s lower left field grandstands would often chant in unison: “We want a homer, we want a homer, we want a homer.”
Believe me, often time he delivered.
Horton posted double-digit home run totals in 12 regular seasons from 1965-76, and hit two home runs in a game on 30 occasions. He had a career-high 36 HRs in 1968, a pitcher’s year in which Detroit won the World Series and finished second in the AL to his future teammate Frank Howard in homers, slugging and total bases. For his major league career, Willie hit 325 round trippers.
Willie may hold the distinction of being the youngest and oldest player to hit a home run at Tiger Stadium. As a 16 year old player for Northwestern High School, he hit a homer deep into the upper deck centerfield stands. And then in 1988 during an old-timers game between the Cardinals and Tigers, at age 46 I saw Horton hit a homer into the left field upper deck.
Either way, the guy deserved to drive a Cadillac in Motown.