Positions: Leftfielder and Designated Hitter
Bats: Right • Throws: Right
5-11, 209lb (180cm, 94kg)
Born: October 18, 1942 in Arno, VA
High School: Northwestern HS (Detroit, MI)
Debut: September 10, 1963 (Age 20-327d, 9,776th in MLB history)
vs. WSA 1 AB, 1 H, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 SB
Last Game: October 5, 1980 (Age 37-353d)
vs. TEX 3 AB, 0 H, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 SB
Full Name: William Wattison Horton
A sandlot star in Detroit, Willie Horton was the youngest of 19 children, a four-time All-Star and a fan favorite for the Tigers in the 1960s and 1970s. He drew attention when at the age of 16 he blasted a home run into Tiger Stadium’s right field stands in an All-City game. A tremendously strong man, Horton was the big power threat on Detroit’s 1968 World Series Championship team. Horton hit 325 homers in his career, combining strength with quick wrists. After his playing career, Horton worked briefly for the Yankees under Billy Martin as baseball’s first “harmony coach.” His role was essentially to make sure Martin wasn’t undermined by clubhouse politics, and to tutor young players on how to stay out of trouble.
A short, squat, but immensely strong righthanded slugger, Horton battled weight problems throughout his career but was always one of the AL’s most dangerous long-ball threats, hitting two home runs in a game 30 different times. He was the Tigers left fielder from 1965 to 1974, then became a designated hitter as he added both years and pounds, and in his final four seasons he played for six different AL clubs.
Horton stood barely 5’11”, and early in his career he often reported to spring training weighing 220-230 lbs., where he would attempt to shed 20 lbs. to reach his playing weight. He was an All-Star in his first full ML season (1965), hitting .273 with 29 HR and 104 RBI, and hit 27 HR with 100 RBI the following year. An ankle problem hampered him in 1967, but he recovered from off-season surgery to hit .285 with 36 HR in 1968 as the Tigers captured the AL pennant. In the World Series, he showed a surprisingly strong throwing arm, nailing Cardinals speedster Lou Brock at home plate on a key play in Game Five on the way to a seven-game Detroit victory. And in 1969 three of his 28 HR were grand lams.
Horton’s home run production tailed off considerably from 1970 to 1974, but he hit .305 in 1970 and a career-high .316 in 1973. Then, in 1975, he became Detroit’s full-time designated hitter and belted 25 HR. The Tigers traded Horton to Texas for Steve Foucault at the beginning of the 1977 season, and the Rangers shipped him to Cleveland with aborted phenom David Clyde for Tom Buskey and John Lowenstein before 1978. Horton was the DH for the Indians, A’s, and Blue Jays at various times in 1978, then signed with the Mariners as a free agent and played all 162 games in 1979, slugging 29 HR with 106 RBI. He retired after the 1980 season, fourth on the Tigers all-time home run list.
Horton’s career numbers appear modest because he toiled during the low-scoring 1960s and early 1970s. In 1968 he was second in the American League in slugging, OPS, total bases and homers (36). He was fourth in RBI (85) and batted .285, which was also fourth in the league. In the World Series he hit .304 with six runs scored, a homer and three RBI. In addition, his assist that nabbed Lou Brock at home in Game Five helped turn the series in Detroit’s favor.
After three teams had given up on his the previous year, in 1979 with the Mariners, Willie Horton was named the American League’s Outstanding Designated Hitter and Comeback Player of the Year.
Willie Horton used the same batting helmet his entire career, having it painted to match his new teams after leaving Detroit.