Friday, October 21, 2011

#266 - Jim Northrup

Detroit of the late '60's and early '70's really did a good job of corralling local sports stars, didn't they? Jim here grew up in Michigan, as did Al Kaline, Bill Freehan, Willie Horton, and Mickey Stanley. Jim is smiling here while admiring the end of his bat in Detroit but all was not well for him in '73. Although he posted the highest average of his career that season he had a bad relationship with manager Billy Martin which led to his being benched a significant amount of time and being moved way down in the order, killing his RBI totals. It was too bad because most of the time Jim was an agreeable guy who prospered when the team was rocking. In the end he would only outlast Martin in Detroit by about a season.

As indicated above Jim Northrup was a local Michigan boy, an all-around athlete in high school who went on to play five sports at Alma College in Michigan. In baseball there he pitched and played outfield and first base. In '59 he threw a no-hitter. He was a QB in football and both the Bears and Titans showed some interest, but Detroit put some money on the table so Jim opted for baseball and signed with the Tigers in '60. He began his career the following spring in C ball but didn't start off too hot so moved down to D ball where his stroke improved. In '62 the same thing happened in A ball and he revived things in C ball, hitting .324 with some power and a .434 OBA. In '63 he moved to Double A without needing a reboot, and in '64 to Triple A. Both seasons he won his league's rookie of the year award and after stats of .312, 13 triples, 18 homers, and 92 RBI's the latter year he came up for good.

In '65 Northrup would be the fourth outfielder behind Willie Horton, Al Kaline, and Gates Brown even though he saw more games in right field than anyone that year. The next season he took over that position and would occupy it more-or-less for the duration of his time in Detroit. On occasion he would move to center - like in '67, '69, and '71 - when either Al Kaline or Mickey Stanley was injured or had to play elsewhere. He would show increasing power, particularly in clutch situations, peaking with 90 RBIs in '68, and 31 doubles and 25 homers in '69. He was a very competitive guy and a hard worker, endearing him to the Detroit fan base. in '71 Jim missed a few games to injuries and when Martin arrived to manage his playing time got crimped further, ostensibly due to platooning but probably truly due to Jim's troublesome relationship with his manager. He would have an excellent playoff in '72 and an eight-RBI in day in '73 but late in August of '74 he would be traded to the Expos right before his tenth anniversary as a Tiger which would have allowed him to nullify the deal. After a few games in Montreal he was sold to the Orioles. He would play a full season in Baltimore as a back-up outfielder in '75 and then retire. Jim finished with a .267 average, 153 homers, and 610 RBIs. In 12 post-season games he hit .286 with two homers and nine RBIs.

After taking some time off to be with his family Northrup returned to Detroit where he worked color on local Tigers broadcasts from the mid-'80's to the mid-'90's. He also sold insurance and worked in marketing. He passed away earlier this year at 71 from complications of Alzheimer's.

Jim, whose nickname was The Grey Fox, was for a time also known as The Grand Slam Kid, He hit four in the '68 regular season and then the big one in the Series. He was also inducted into the State of Michigan hall of fame, another future employer.

On October 20, 1973, "Angie" by the Rolling Stones, took over first place in the stateside charts, a marked uptick from Cher's "Half-Breed." In '74 "Nothing From Nothing" by Billy Preston was number one in the States while in the UK "Sad Sweet Dreamer" by Sweet Sensation took over from John Denver's " Annie's Song." That song is a mellow R&B number reminiscent of the Chi-Lites stuff. The video is pretty funny (it can be seen on YouTube) in that there is a sax solo and there is no sax player on stage.

These two guys probably would have hit it off but they never played each other:

1. Northrup and Tony Taylor '71 to '73 Tigers;
2. Taylor and Tug McGraw '75 to '76 Phillies.

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