Jim Northrup career highlights

Yesterday, sad news broke in the baseball world: Former Tigers outfielder Jim Northrup died at age 71 of Alzheimer’s disease.

Though he was no one’s idea of a Hall of Famer and never an All-Star, he did have a rather impressive career. He played a key role for the 1968 world champion Tigers, and helped them win a division in 1972. In his prime in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he appeared among the league leaders in several slugging categories, including doubles, triples, home runs, RBIs and slugging percentage. Twice he received some support in MVP voting.

He also had many notable career highlights, as the list below makes clear. Below were important games for him, his best and most noteworthy games, and the most distinctive contests he participated it.

Jim Northup career highlights

Sept. 30, 1964 orthrup debuts. He grounds out against Ralph Terry while pinch-hitting for Detroit’s pitcher in the first game of a doubleheader. He also has an unsuccessful pinch-hit attempt in the second game as New York sweeps the doubleheader.

May 22, 1965: Hits his first homer. It’s off Robin Roberts.

Aug. 3, 1966: First of five walk-offs. It’s a pinch-hit shot off Hoyt Wilhelm. DET 2, CWS 1.

April 30, 1967: Northrup goes 0-for-4 but he’s not alone as he and his Tigers teammates are no-hit by Steve Barber (8.2 IP) and Stu Miller (0.1 IP). However, in the rarest of rarities, the Tigers win, 2-1. Really.

They score both runs in the ninth. Barber begins the frame by issuing his eighth walk of the game, this one to the ever-dangerous Norm Cash. Then he makes it nine by giving a free pass to the never-dangerous Ray Oyler. After opposing pitcher Earl Wilson bunts both runners along, Willie Horton flies out to put Barber one out from victory. Instead, he throws a wild pitch to tie the game, 1-1. After walk No. 10, Stu Miller comes on in relief, but an infield error lets the final run in. Ouch. Oh, Northrup is one of two members of the lineup to never bat that inning.

June 11, 1967: Northrup takes part in a never-ending doubleheader. The A’s and Tigers battle for nine hours and five minutes. The first game is pretty easy: a 7-6 win for Detroit in regulation. Northrup doesn’t start that game but does score the winning run after he led off the ninth with a pinch-hit single. The second game goes 19 innings, though. The A’s win that 6-5 as Northrup goes 1-for-8 with a walk and K while playing all day in right field.

July 25, 1967: Tigers-Orioles game postponed on account of the Detroit race riots.

Sept. 16, 1967: Northrup steals two bases in one game for the only time. In all, he has 39 steals in 77 attempts in 1,392 games played.

May 17, 1968: Second of five 5 walk-off home runs. It’s a walk-off grand slam. DET 7, WAS 3. It’s the second consecutive year he’s hit a grand slam on May 17. He now has three total career slams, and will end his career with eight.

May 26, 1968: Northrup takes part in a brawlgame against the A’s. There is bad blood after yesterday’s game, in which a pitched ball broke the arm of Detroit star Al Kaline. In the second inning of today’s game, Detroit gets vengeance when starting pitcher Joe Sparma plunks Oakland catcher Jim Pagliaroni. In the sixth inning, Oakland reliever Jim Aker beans Northrup right in the head. A 15-minute brawl ensues. Northrup leaves the game (he’d already gotten two singles and a walk before the HBP). Northrup will recover and play the next game.

Actually, there is something weird going on all year with the 1968 Tigers. Less than three weeks after this game White Sox southpaw Tommy John hits four batters in less than six innings against Detroit. Northrup isn’t one of the hit, but he was in the game. That could be excused as bad control, except that on Aug. 22 John tosses one over the head of Dick McAuliffe. The front-running and pennant-winning Tigers find themselves in the midst of all kinds of beanball wars that year.

June 24, 1968: Northrup hits grand slams in consecutive innings: fifth and sixth in game against Cleveland. He collects eight RBIs in all during 14-3 Tiger win over the Indians. This is easily the greatest game of his career.

Aug. 25, 1968: Northrup appears as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning and grounds out to end what might be the strangest game he ever appeared in. The opposing New York Yankees defeat the Tigers 6-5 behind the pitching of former Tigers star Rocky Colavito. That’s mighty impressive, since Colavito is an outfielder. No other position player will record a pitching decision until St. Louis’ Jose Oquendo in the 1980s and none will win until Colorado’s Brent Mayne in the 21st century.

What makes this Colavito game so especially odd: Unlike Oquendo and Mayne, who entered the game in extra innings after the bullpen was used up, Colavito enters in the fourth before the Yankees went to the bullpen at all. Two days earlier the Yankees-Tigers played a double header in which one game lasted 19 innings, so New York’s bullpen was already tired. And they were down 5-0 so figured they couldn’t beat the first place Tigers. Instead, Colavito pitches a scoreless 2.2 i9nnings in which time the Yanks take a 6-5 lead, which they hold.

Sept. 14, 1968: Northrup helps set up the tying and winning runs in the bottom of the ninth in one of the most famous games he ever played in: the game Denny McLain lodged his 30th win of the season. With one out and runners on the corners in the ninth and Detroit trailing the A’s 4-3, Northrup hits into a fielder’s choice at first, only to have the first baseman make an error. The tying run scores, and the winning run scampers to third, where Willie Horton singles him in a few pitches later.

Oct. 2, 1968: World Series Game One. Bob Gibson famously fans 17 Tigers, including Northrup twice, as St. Louis wins 4-0.

October 3, 1968: World Series Game Two. Tigers win 8-1 to even the Series. Northrup gets his first World Series hit, going 1-for-5 and scoring a run.

Oct. 5, 1968: World Series Game Three. Cardinals 7, Tigers 3. Northrup continues to have a lackluster Series (so far), going 0-for-4.

Oct. 6, 1968: World Series Game Four. Gibson dominates again, as St. Louis moves one game from a world championship with a 10-1 win. Detroit’s only bright spot comes from Northrup, who hits a solo home run.

Oct. 7, 1968: World Series Game Five. Detroit begins its comeback, winning 5-3. Northrup is 1-for-3 with an RBI and an intentional walk.

Oct. 9, 1968: World Series Game Six. A 10-run third inning allows the Tigers to romp, 13-1, setting up Game Seven. The big blow comes from Northrup, a grand slam.

Oct. 10, 1968: World Series Game Seven. Tigers 4, Cardinals 1. Detroit does it, winning it all and coming back from a three-games-to-one deficit. The big star is Mickey Lolich who wins his third game of the Series, pitching a complete game on two days rest. Northrup is a star on offense, going 2-for-4 with two RBIs. On the Series as a whole, he tied Al Kaline for the team lead in home runs (two) and RBIs (eight).

Aug. 28, 1969: Northup has one of the greatest days of his career. First, he goes 6-for-6, one of the greatest offensive days by any Tiger ever. As an added bonus, he tops it off the best way possible: with a two-run walk-off home run. It’s his third (of five) career walk-offs. DET 4, OAK 3 (13).

Sept. 14, 1969. His longest hitting streak maxes at 13 games. Began Sept. 2.

April 14, 1970. In his first plate appearance ever against Rich Hand, Jim Northrup hits a single. He’ll never do that again, ending his career 1-for-22 against Hand, the most plate appearances he has against anyone with just one hit.

June 21, 1970. Remember how Northrup once got six hits in a game? Well, that’s nothing as teammate Cesar Guiterrez goes 7-for-7 in a 12-inning game. Guiterrez is a lifetime .235 hitter. Northrup goes 2-for-5 with two homers and five RBIs in this game. Guiterrez is two of his five runs he drives in.

July 2, 1970. Northrup goes 1-for-3 with a solo home run when teammate Joe Niekro almost no-hits the Yankees. With one out in the bottom of the ninth, Horace Clarke laces a single against Niekro. The Yankees hadn’t been no-hit since Hoyt Wilhelm in the early 1950s and wouldn’t be again until the Astros did it in the 21st century.

July 9, 1970. In one of the game’s quirky plays, Northrup teammate Dalton Jones hits an apparent pinch-hit grand slam but has to settle for a three-run single when he passes a teammate on the bases. Northrup can only wish his worst moment of the day was that. In the third inning, he apparently pulled something while legging out a double and has to leave. Northrup misses the next nine games after that.

Aug. 1, 1971: Northrup hits his fourth of five career walk-off home runs. DET 4, CAL 3 (16). Ironically, this was arguably the worst game of his career until his big blast. Until that point, he was 0-for-6 with a career high four strikeouts.

Sept. 7, 1971: Northrup goes 5-for-5 with two home runs and a double. It’s one of the best games of his career. His two homers make the difference as Detroit beats Washington, 3-2.

June 26, 1972 Northrup is on hand for a memorable major league debut, when Tigers starter Bill Slayback threatens to throw a no-hitter in his first day in the bigs. After seven hitless innings, the Yankees get two hits off him in the eighth and two more in the ninth, chasing him from the game before the Tigers nail down a 4-3 win. Northrup appears only as a late game substitute. Slayback would win only six games in his career.

July 14, 1972: Northrup plays right field when history is made at the plate. For the first time, the backstop and home plate umpire are brothers: Tigers catcher Tom Haller and arbitrator Bill Haller. It doesn’t do the Tigers any good as the Royals win 1-0. Northrup has one of the team’s only four hits.

Aug. 13, 1972: Tigers manager Billy Martin has a novel approach to breaking the team out of its recent four-game losing streak: He picks his lineup out of a hat for the first game in today’s doubleheader. The results work overall for the team, as the Tigers beat the Indians 3-2, thanks largely to an RBI double from cleanup hitter Ed Brinkman, a power-impaired shortstop who hit .203 on the year. The strategy is less successful for Northrup, as he goes 0-for-4 in the No. 2 slot.

Oct. 7, 1972: ALCS Game One. After winning the AL East by a half-game, the Tigers enter the ALCS against the Oakland A’s, a team they had an on-field brawl with on Aug. 22. A’s win the opener 3-2 in 11 innings after it was deadlocked 1-1 after 10 frames. Northrup goes 1-for-3 with a walk.

Oc. 8, 1972: ALCS Game Two. A’s 5, Tigers 0 as Blue Moon Odom pitches a three-hitter, including a single by Northrup. Detroit once again needs to win the last three games of a postseason series to emerge victorious. Controversy mars this game when Oakland shortstop Bert Campaneris tosses his bat at Tigers pitcher Lerrin LaGrow in the seventh inning.

Oct. 10, 1972: ALCS Game Three. Tigers 3, A’s 0. Northrup goes 0-for-1 as a late game substitute in left, as Detroit starts its comeback attempt in the best-of-five ALCS.

Oct. 11, 1972: ALCS Game Four. Tigers 4, A’s 3 (10). This is a great game. It’s 1-1 after nine innings, and the A’s score twice in the top of the tenth to seemingly clinch the pennant—only to see the Tigers win it with three runs in the bottom frame to send the Series to a fifth and final contest. Northrup plays a key role in the bottom of the 10th, stepping to the plate with the score tied 3-3 and the bases loaded, he hits the game-winning single.

Oct. 12, 1972: ALCS Game Five. The Tigers have been 5-0 in must-win postseason games with Northrup. Now they’re 5-1 as the Mustache Gang beats them 2-1 to take a hard-fought postseason series. Northrup is 2-for-2 with a walk before he’s due up in the bottom of the ninth and the tying run on base. Instead of getting a chance to help win it, he’s lifted for a pinch hitter, who grounds out. Northrup never plays in the postseason again. Fun fact: Reggie Jackson steals home in a delayed double steal in this game, and injures his leg in the process.

April 27, 1973: Steve Busby of the Royals no-hits Northrup and the Tigers, 3-0. Northrup, the leadoff hitter, is 0-for-4 with four groundouts.

June 20, 1973. In the 51st time he’s faced Northrup Dick Bosman strikes him out. Two innings later, Northrup doubles off him in what will be the last time they ever face each other. One K in 52 PA is Northrup’s best match-up against any opposing pitcher.

July 9, 1973: First of two lead off homers. He hits the other one four weeks later.

July 11, 1973: Still batting leadoff, Northrup collects eight RBIs by going 3-for-4 with two home runs and a sacrifice fly in 14-2 win for Detroit over Texas. It’s one of the greatest RBI totals ever by a leadoff hitter.

July 15, 1973: Nolan Ryan no-hits the Tigers, as the Angels win 6-0. Northrup is 0-for-4 with three fly outs and a K. Ryan will no-hit the Orioles when Northrup plays for them at the end of his career, but Northrup has that day off.

April 5, 1974: Not exactly clutch: Northrup fans with the bases loaded and his team down by one to end the game. BAL 3, DET 2. It helps create his worst ever one-game WPA: -0.364. In all, he goes 0-for-5, though he does manage an RBI on a first inning ground out.

July 3, 1974: Northrup has his greatest game, according to WPA: 0.809 WPA, keyed by his fifth and final career walk-off home run. It’s off Sparky Lyle for a 7-6 Tigers win over New York. In all, Northrup is 3-for-4 with two homers, five RBIs, two runs, and a walk.

Sept. 27, 1974: Northrup, now an Orioles, appears in the greatest pitching duel of his career: Baltimore 1, Milwaukee 0 (17). Jim Palmer tosses a four-hitter for 12 innings while Jim Colburn spreads eight hits over 13 innings. Neither, obviously, allows any runs or factors in the decision. Northrup enters the game in the 12th, and draws a walk in the all-important bottom of the 17th to load the bases with one out, immediately before a fielder’s choice scores a run to end it.

Sept. 27, 1975. Jim Northrup plays in his final game. He pinch hits for shortstop «  Silver anniversary of bizarre Wade Boggs injury (6/9/11)

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12 years ago

He was a five sport athlete at Alma College (football, basketball, track, golf, and, of course, baseball).

Jim G.
12 years ago

Nice article, Chris. I was too young (barely) to watch him play, but my grandfather told me many stories about him, and I enjoyed watching him as a broadcaster.
As much of that 68/72 Tiger core moved on, the Tigers certainly went into a deep dark hole. Northrup, Kaline, Cash followed soon by Lolich. They all seemingly left at the same time.

12 years ago

I was eight when Northrup hit his World Series home run.  I believe it was a shot to right field, over Roger Maris’ head.

Chris Jaffe
12 years ago

Oh – and I apparently left out that he hit a key triple in Game Seven of the 1968 World Series.

12 years ago

Northrup’s bat and Ray Oyler’s lack of bat brought about one of the greatest risky decisions in baseball history.  Tiger Manager Mayo Smith switched Mickey Stanley, maybe the best centerfielder of his era, to shortstop and installed Northrup into the starting line-up in center.  Oyler had hit a miserable .135 for the ‘68 season and the other shortstops, Tracewski at .156 and Matchick at .203 weren’t much better.  The Tigers defeated the Cardinals in seven games.

Bob Evans
12 years ago

I believe it was Northrup who in Game 7 of the ‘68 Series hit the ball that Curt Flood initially went in on, only to have it go to the fence for a triple.  Again, IIRC, Gibson didn’t blame Flood, saying something like, “Remember, Northrup hit the damn ball 400 feet.”

Maggie Putnam
12 years ago

My greatest memory of Jim Northrup was not of his performance on field, but off.  He gave his tickets to my family so my 8 year old son could see his first Tigers game.  It was a thrill no one in my family will ever forget.

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6 years ago

Less than 24 hours earlier, a record 17,500 fans, many of them decked in Los Angeles Lakers purple and gold, had surged forward in their seats each time NBA rookie Lonzo Ball touched the basketball.