The Major, former Tigers manager Ralph Houk, passed away Wednesday at the age of 90.
A baseball lifer, The Major will be best remembered by most baseball fans as the Yankees manager at the end of their mid-20th century dynasty, winning a pair of World Series titles in 1961-62. Younger fans will look back at his tenure with the Red Sox in the early 80's.
But in Detroit, Houk is very fondly remembered for guiding the Tigers through the very tough waters of the mid-70's.
The team had fired Billy Martin near the end of the '73 season, and needed a much calmer hand running the clubhouse. Enter Ralph Houk.
The Major took over the Tigers when the franchise was in transition from the group who won the '68 Series and went to the ALCS in '72, to the young core who would eventually win the '84 Series under Sparky Anderson.
When Houk entered the Tiger Stadium dugout in '74, aging greats like Al Kaline, Norm Cash, Willie Horton and Bill Freehan were in the Tigers' daily lineup. When Houk left after the '78 season, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Jack Morris, Lance Parrish, Steve Kemp and Jason Thompson were playing for the franchise.
The Major led the Tigers through one of their worst seasons in franchise history, 1975, The team had begun the rebuilding process in earnest, and Houk was given a lineup full of of journeymen and glorified backups. With the likes of Leon Roberts, Tom Veryzer and Gary Sutherland, the Tigers finished 57-102. When one of your biggest offensive threats is Aurelio Rodriguez...well, that says it all.
But Houk steadily guided the team through the minefield that is rebuilding. In 1978 his very young Tigers finished 86-76, and a new era of Detroit baseball was underway. The rebuilt Tigers wouldn't have another losing season till 1989, much in thanks to the foundation laid by Houk.
Houk retired from managing after the '78 season. He was coaxed out of it for one last managerial go-round, taking the helm of the Red Sox from 1981-84.
Regardless of his fame as a manager of both the Yankees and the Red Sox, Houk was the head man of the Tigers when my fandom truly began to blossom. In my mind, Houk isn't a Yankee or a Red Sock. He's a Detroit Tiger.
Ralph Houk was the bridge between two of the greatest eras of Detroit Tigers baseball. The Major deserves a salute from all Tigers fans.