Jim Northrup has died at the age of 71. Sad news for Tiger fans, especially for those of us whose fondest memories were those provided by the Tigers in their World Championship season in 1968. Kaline, Cash, Horton, Northrup, McLain... those names are synonymous with that Tiger team who, for a kid born in Detroit in the early 60's, were the only champions we knew, in any sport, until the Tigers did it again in 1984.
Those were difficult times in Detroit. Images of the Viet Nam war on the evening news on television. Race related riots had torn the city apart the previous summer of '67, and a police curfew required us to stay home after dark except in absolute necessity. The Tigers had come within a game the previous year, losing out to the Red Sox on the last day of the season, leaving us broken hearted, but filled with anticipation the following spring. For many of us, the Tigers were what we looked forward to every evening when Ernie would come on the radio.
Jim Northrup was a key member of that 1968 team. He was an up and coming young outfielder who could play all three outfield positions. He initially shared time in the outfield with Kaline, Horton, and Mickey Stanely. Kaline went on the disabled list in mid season, and Northrup was a regular starter from that point on. He played so well that, when Kaline returned and the Tigers waltzed to a pennant and straight into the World Series, manager Mayo Smith moved regular center fielder Mickey Stanley to shortstop, in order to keep all four bats in the Tiger lineup.
Northrup led the 1968 Tigers in hits and RBIs, hit five grand slams including one in the World Series, broke up three no-hitters, and had the game-winning triple off Bob Gibson in Game 7 of the 1968 World Series. I still list that triple as the greatest single moment in my Tiger memory, a span now of some 50 years. Gibson came into the series with an ERA of just 1.12 for the season, had struck out 17 batters in game 1, pitched a complete game victory in game 4, and held the Tigers scoreless into the sixth inning of game 7. Northrup, who had a solo home run against Gibson in Game 4 to account for the Tigers only run off Gibson so far in the Series, came to bat with two on and two outs in the 7th inning. Northrup hit a triple over center fielder Curt Flood's head, as Norm Cash and Willie Horton both scored. Bill Freehan doubled in Northrup, the Tigers won Game 7 and were World Series Champions. Such baseball joy I have never felt before or since.
Northrup played ten seasons with the Tigers, including another pennant run in 1972, when the Tigers lost out to the A's in the fifth game of a best of five series in the ALCS. Northrup had been feuding with manager Billy Martin, who feuded with many people. One game, Martin had a sniffing dog ready to run out to the mound to sniff Indians pitcher Gaylord Perry for substances. Most people figured that Perry was doctoring the ball. Northrup discovered the plan and told on Martin. In game five of the ALCS with the tying run on base, two outs in the ninth, Northrup was due up and Martin sent up Mickey Stanley, a weaker hitter than Jim, to bat and he made the last out, ending the Tiger season.
Northrup grew up in Michigan, just north of Saginaw. He lived in Michigan year round, and played softball for the Detroit Caesars along with Norm Cash after they retired. He was part of the Tiger broadcast team on PASS sports for a few seasons as well. They called him "the gray fox" as he was prematurely gray. Fond memories of Jim Northrup. RIP.