Willie Horton was born in Arno, Virginia but grew up in Detroit, Michigan. He became the first African American superstar for his hometown Tigers and spent 15 seasons with the team. As a powerful right-handed hitter, Willie Horton was one of the strongest men in the game and launched 325 home runs throughout his career, ranked sixth among American League right-handed hitters when he retired. Mr. Horton enjoyed his best season in 1968 with the world champion Detroit Tigers, finishing second in the American League with 36 home runs, a .543 batting average, and 278 total bases. Mr. Horton works in the Tigers Front Office as the Special Assistant to the Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager, Al Avila.
The Willie Horton Legacy Award was created in 2009 to honor African Americans who have strengthened the legacy of baseball in the African American community and have contributed to the rich history of the Detroit Tigers. Each year it is awarded during Negro Leagues Weekend.
Gates Brown joined the Detroit Tigers in 1963 and spent his entire career with the organization. Brown holds the American League record for the most pinch-hit at bats in a career, with 414. Brown's timely hitting was crucial in sealing the Tigers' World Series Championship in 1968, where he hit .462 as a pinch hitter during the season.
In 1978, Brown returned to the Tigers as their hitting coach, a position he would hold through the championship season of 1984.
Jake Wood was signed by the Detroit Tigers in 1957. The 20-year-old from Delaware State went on to play in the minor leagues for the next four years before making his Major League debut with the Detroit Tigers on April 11, 1961. When Jake Wood stepped on the field at Tiger Stadium that day, he became the first African-American player to climb the ranks of the Tigers farm system and take his rightful place on the field in the Major Leagues. When he put on the Old English D as a Major Leaguer, he became an inspiration to all African-American Tigers farmhands that they too, could be able to reach the peak of their profession.
Wood lead the American League in triples in 1961 with 14 and he finished third in the American League in stolen bases for three straight year (1961-1963). He finished 6th in voting for 1961 Rookie-of-the-Year.
Earl Wilson began his major league career with the Boston Red Sox, but posted his best seasons on the mound with the Detroit Tigers after being acquired from the Red Sox on June 14, 1966. Wilson was 5-5 in 15 games with the Red Sox in 1966 before posting a 13-6 record down the stretch with the Tigers to finish the season with 18 wins and 200 strikeouts in 37 starts.
The 1967 season was Wilson's best as he posted a 22-11 record and 3.27 ERA to become the first African-American pitcher in Detroit Tigers history to win 20-or-more games. His 22 victories that year tied the American League record at the time and finished 12th in the American League Most Valuable Player voting by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Following the successful 1967 season, he was part of the starting rotation for the World Champion Detroit Tigers in 1968. He posted a 13-12 record and 2.85 ERA in 34 games for the Tigers in 1968, while also contributing at the plate with seven home runs and 17 RBI. He remains one of the best hitting pitchers in baseball history, finishing his career with 35 home runs and 111 RBI in 740 career at-bats.
Following his retirement in 1970, Wilson remained active in the Detroit community, often making charitable appearances on behalf of the Tigers until his death in 2005.
Larry Herndon made his Major League debut with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1974 and played six seasons with the San Francisco Giants (earning The Sporting News' National League Rookie of the Year award in 1976.) Traded to the Tigers on December 9, 1981, he became an integral piece of the great Tigers teams of the 1980s. He batted .280 in 125 games as a member of the Tigers World Series Championship club in 1984. The image of him catching the final out of the 1984 World Series is an indelible image in the minds of all Tigers fans.
In 1987, he supplied all the scoring the Tigers would need in their final game of the season, hitting a solo home run to give the Tigers a 1-0 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays to clinch the American League East Division Title. After his playing days ended, Herndon served as the Tigers hitting coach for seven seasons (1992-98).
Bill Bruton began his major league career with the Milwaukee Braves in 1953 after hitting .325 the previous year in the minors. The speedy outfielder had an immediate impact. Playing in 151 games that year, Bruton led the league in stolen bases and finished second in triples. Paired in the outfield with Hank Aaron, the Braves won the World Series in 1957 and repeated as National League Champions in 1958.
Bill Bruton was traded to the Detroit Tigers prior to the 1961 season and immediately became a fan and clubhouse favorite. Bruton slugged a career-high 17 home runs in 1961 and received rave reviews from his teammates for his defense. As his teammate, Al Kaline once said, "It spoils you, playing next to a guy like that. You expect him to catch everything hit out there - and he does." As the Tigers regular centerfielder, Bruton batted from .256 to .278 in 1961-64; was the American League's leading pinch hitter in 1963 and led the team in steals in his final season at the age of 38.
More important than his contributions on the field, Bill Bruton was an influential voice for the Tigers young African-American players including Willie Horton and Jake Wood.
On September 9, 1977, Lou Whitaker made his major-league debut with the Detroit Tigers in the second game of a doubleheader in Boston. In 1984, his first full year as a Detroit Tiger, he received the American League Rookie of the Year award hitting .285. For the next 18 seasons, "Sweet Lou" would be a fixture at second base in Detroit and was a crucial member of the 1984 World Series Championship team. His career totals include 2,390 games, with 2,369 hits, 1,386 runs, 1,084 RBIs, 244 home runs, 143 stolen bases, a batting average of .276, and an on-base percentage of .363.
He finished with an overall fielding average of .984. Upon completing his career, Lou joined Rogers Hornsby and Joe Morgan as the only second basemen to score 1,000 runs, have 1,000 RBIs, collect 2,000 hits, and launch 200 home runs. During his career, Whitaker was selected to five All-Star games, received three Gold Gloves, and four Silver Slugger awards.
Chet Lemon played 16 seasons in the Major Leagues with the Chicago White Sox from 1975-1981 and the Detroit Tigers from 1982-1990. Lemon was known as one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball from 1977 to 1987. In 1977, Lemon led the American League with 512 outfield putouts, the fourth highest single-season tally in major league history and the highest since 1951. He also totaled over 400 outfield putouts in four other years.
During his career, Lemon was selected to the MLB All-Star team three separate times. While with the Detroit Tigers, Lemon was part of the 1984 World Series Championship team.
Gary Sheffield made his Major League debut with the Milwaukee Brewers at Tiger Stadium on September 3, 1988 at the age of 19. For the next 21 seasons, he would be an intimidating presence at the plate, staring down pitchers before unleashing a whip-fast swing that made baseballs jump out of the park. While many remember the powerful middle-of-the-order presence, Gary Sheffield was also versatile enough to play five positions (SS, 3B, LF, RF, 1B).
When he joined the Tigers in 2007, he provided a strong veteran presence to a team that had fallen just short of a World Series Championship. The nine-time All-Star finished his career with 509 home runs, 2,689 hits and an average of .292. He also received five Sliver Slugger awards over his career.
On August 22, 1997, Torii Hunter made his Major League debut for the Minnesota Twins, beginning what would be a 19-year career in the big leagues. Hunter spent his first 11 seasons with the Twins before a five-year stint with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Tigers signed Hunter to a free agent deal on November 16, 2012 and he immediately became a clubhouse leader and mainstay in right field during his two seasons in Detroit. In 2013, Hunter batted .304 with 17 home runs and 84 RBIs, earning an All-Star Game appearance and winning a Silver Slugger award. He followed that up by hitting .284 with 17 home runs and 83 RBIs in 2014. In both seasons, the Tigers were crowned as AL Central Champions.
During his time in Detroit and throughout his career, Torii Hunter fought for increased African American participation and inclusion at the highest levels of professional baseball, calling for reforms to combat the dwindling percentage of African Americans in the pros. Hunter retired in 2015, ending an illustrious career that included five All-Star Game appearances, two Silver Slugger awards, and nine Gold Glove awards, solidifying his status as one of the best defensive outfielders in Major League Baseball history.
Craig Monroe played nine seasons in the majors with the Texas Rangers (2001), Detroit Tigers (2002-07), Chicago Cubs (2007), Minnesota Twins (2008) and Pittsburgh Pirates (2009). He was originally drafted in the eighth round of the 1995 MLB First-Year Player Draft by the Rangers. The Texarkana, TX, native joined the Tigers organization on February 1, 2002, when he was selected off waivers from the Rangers. He played his first full season in 2003, hitting 23 home runs. On July 19, 2006, Monroe hit a grand slam off Javier Vazquez of Chicago (AL) that was decisive in the Tigers' 5-2 win. A career .252 hitter, he recorded career highs with 28 homers and 92 RBI with Detroit in 2006. He also hit five home runs in the 2006 postseason, which culminated in a World Series appearance. Monroe's five post season home runs tied the tigers career postseason record set by Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg.
Currently, Monroe serves as a studio analyst for the Detroit Tigers on FOX Sports Detroit and occasionally serves as an analyst on game broadcasts.