Willie Horton

William Wattison Horton
Inducted to the Hall of Fame in: 2019
Connection to Michigan: Northwestern H.S., Detroit Lundquist, Detroit Tigers
Primary position: Outfielder


 

Willie Horton was born in Arno, Virginia, in 1942, moving to Detroit when he was five years old. When he was 16 years old, a sophomore catcher for Northwestern High School lineup, he slammed the first of many home runs to come at Briggs Stadium. “The ball exploded off my bat,” he wrote in his 2004 autobiography, The People’s Champion: Willie Horton, “and it kind of shocked me. I had never hit a ball quite that hard before. I just stood there and the umpire had to tell me to run.” The blast was estimated at 450 feet, the highlight of Northwestern’s 13-10 victory over Cass Tech for the Detroit Public High School Championship.

A year later, he was in the outfield for Detroit Lundquist, batting in front of future Tigers teammate and fellow Michigan Baseball Hall of Famer Bill Freehan. With Horton and Freehan leading the way, Detroit Lundquist won the 1960 national sandlot championship in Altoona, Pennsylvania.

Horton signed a $50,000 contract with the Detroit Tigers directly out of high school. He played his first pro season in the Northern League in 1962, moving up rapidly through the South Atlantic League and the International League to the American League in 1963, making his Major League debut at the age of 20 on September 10, 1963. Thus began an 18-year MLB career, with All-Star Game appearances in 1965, 1968, 1970 and 1973. He finished his Major League career with 1,993 career hits, 1,490 with the Tigers, and 325 home runs, 262 with the Tigers. He played in 2,028 games, 1,515 with the Tigers.

1968 was a particularly special year: Horton batted .304 in the World Series, homering in Game 2, throwing out St. Louis speedster Lou Brock at the plate in Game 5, and posting an overall OPS of 1.013 as the Tigers defeated the Cardinals in seven games to capture their third championship.

A year earlier, however, Horton took center stage for a different reason. On July 23, 1967, the first day of what would become five days of rioting in Detroit, the 24-year-old outfielder ventured out still clad in full Tigers uniform, out into his old paper route where emotions and buildings were equally ablaze, to attempt to pacify the rioters.

Willie Horton was truly a champion of Detroit, at every level, in every way.


 
 
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