Chris Shelton (TRADING CARD DB)

Chris Shelton

This article was written by David Bilmes

Chris Shelton (TRADING CARD DB)In a span of two weeks in April 2006, Chris Shelton’s life changed forever. The relatively unknown Detroit Tiger became one of the biggest names in the game. He went 14-for-20 in his first five games and 24-for-51 in his first 13, including nine home runs. Although Shelton was back in the minors by August, his legacy was sealed. After all, no other player in the history of the American League – and only two in the history of major-league baseball to that point – had ever hit nine homers in their team’s first 13 games.

“I don’t regret anything. I had some moments and did some great things,” said Shelton. The righty-hitting first baseman hit 19 homers at the top level before 2006, 10 that April, but only eight more over the rest of his career. “It’s always exciting to be a part of people’s memories.”1

Those memories are manifested almost every time a relatively unknown player – especially a Detroit Tiger – gets off to a fast start. In 2021, for example, the Tigers’ Akil Baddoo became the first player to hit a grand slam, another home run, and a walk-off hit in his first three games. Sure enough, as soon as that happened, Shelton’s phone started ringing with requests for interviews.2

That attention, though, was nothing compared to the focus Shelton received during his April 2006 surge. He routinely met with the press for 90 minutes after games and was invited to appear on national TV shows. It was quite a lot for an unassuming young man from Utah.

“It was exciting. I’m not going to lie,” Shelton said. “But it was something that I was not prepared for at all. I didn’t know how to handle it. It takes life to figure this out. When you’re 25 years old and it’s going on, it’s just trying to keep people happy and please everybody.”3

There was a lot for Tigers fans to be happy about in 2006. Detroit, only three seasons removed from losing an AL-record 119 games, snapped a streak of 12 straight losing seasons, spending most of the year in first place before a late collapse. But the Tigers still made the playoffs as a wild-card team, knocking off the New York Yankees and Oakland A’s in the postseason before losing to St. Louis in the World Series.

It was a bittersweet time for Shelton, though – despite being called back up to the Tigers in September, he was left off the postseason roster. It was also the last time Shelton would be in a Detroit uniform in the majors. He spent the next season in the minors and finished out his five-year big-league career with brief stints with Texas (2008) and Seattle (2009).


Christopher Bob Shelton was born on June 26, 1980, in Salt Lake City. His parents, Bob and Tracy Shelton, were both small-business owners. Chris was the oldest of four children, including his sister Melissa and brothers Rian and Brady. There were some athletic genes in his family. A second cousin, Alex Smith, was a quarterback for 16 years in the National Football League.4

Growing up in the Salt Lake City suburb of Murray, Chris’s favorite sport was hockey. But with only two rinks in the entire state, his options were limited. By his junior year at Cottonwood High School, he was focusing on baseball. A catcher/first baseman, Shelton had only one scholarship offer – to Salt Lake City Community College. He had two productive seasons there in 1999 and 2000, batting .362 his first year and .415 his second, leading the Scenic West Athletic Conference in batting to earn team MVP honors.5

Despite his junior college success, Shelton was told by a major-league scout, who was critical of his fielding ability, that he would never play Division I baseball.6 “That motivated me,” Shelton said. “I said to myself, ‘I’ll show you.’”7

Shelton ended up being recruited by several Division I schools. He stayed close to home by accepting a scholarship from the University of Utah. That proved to be a good decision: in 2001, playing mostly at catcher and designated hitter, Shelton was named the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year while batting .374 and leading his team in nearly every offensive category.8 Heading into the June draft, Shelton had high hopes. “It was a lot more stressful than I had thought,” he said. “Scouts had told me I was going to be drafted early, on the first day. Back then, the first day ended with the 20th round. When nothing came, that was frustrating. I even called my college coach and said, ‘It looks like I’m coming back to school.’”9

The next day, though, the Pittsburgh Pirates selected Shelton in the 33rd round. He signed for a bonus of $25,000, and the Pirates also agreed to pay four semesters of college tuition. Shelton batted .305 for the Williamsport (Pennsylvania) Crosscutters in the rookie-level New York-Penn League that summer. However, he said, “Defensively, I was way behind. I needed a lot of work. I was a self-taught catcher. I didn’t have anybody to work with me. I just tried to learn by watching guys on TV.”10

Taking note of Shelton’s defensive struggles, the Pirates in 2002 had him play twice as many games at first base than at catcher. After starting the season sidelined by a hamstring injury, Shelton put up big offensive numbers again in the Class A South Atlantic League. In 93 games for the Hickory (North Carolina) Crawdads, he batted .340 with 17 homers and an OPS of 1.013.

In 2003, playing mostly first base with the Lynchburg (Virginia) Hillcats of the advanced Class A Carolina League, Shelton continued to post impressive statistics. His .359 batting average in 95 games broke Lenny Dykstra’s 20-year-old Lynchburg record, and his 21 homers and 1.119 OPS helped him win league MVP honors. Although he didn’t go deep in 122 at-bats following a late-season promotion to the Altoona (Pennsylvania) Curve of the Double-A Eastern League, Shelton hit a respectable .279 against better pitching.

The Pirates named Shelton the organization’s minor-league player of the year, but then surprised him by leaving him unprotected in the Rule 5 draft that fall. The Tigers – coming off a 119-loss season – were happy to take a chance on him with their first pick.

“He was really an unknown,” said Al Avila, then Detroit’s assistant general manager. “The main thing I can remember is our scouting reports said he was a pure hitter who could hit to all fields, had a good eye. Really, we kind of rolled the dice on him.”11

Initially, Shelton was disappointed to be selected by a team coming off a historically bad season. “At first, it was ‘oh man, what am I getting myself into,’” he said. “But after two or three days of looking into it, I told myself it was going to be a good opportunity.”12

The Tigers had to keep Shelton on their major-league roster for the entire 2004 season, or risk having the Pirates reclaim him. As expected, he spent most of the 2004 season on the bench (Detroit was also carrying another Rule 5 pick, pitcher Wilfredo Ledezma). He made his MLB debut on April 15 in the ninth game of the season, grounding out as a seventh-inning pinch-hitter against future Hall of Famer Roy Halladay in an 11-0 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. Nine days later, Shelton doubled off the Minnesota Twins’ Carlos Silva in a 6-4 loss for his first hit. Shelton’s first and only home run of the season came off the Orioles’ Eric DuBose in the fourth inning of a 7-5 loss at Comerica Park. Overall, he appeared in just 27 games, batting .196 in 46 at-bats. Shelton actually got more plate appearances (73) during his 18-game midseason rehab stint with the Triple A Toledo (Ohio) Mud Hens in the International League while he was recovering from plantar fasciitis. The Tigers improved by 29 games but still finished 72-90.

Despite his limited playing time, a determined Shelton made the most of his situation, working on his defense with Tigers coach Mick Kelleher. “I spent a ton of time on that, getting groundballs at first base,” said Shelton, who was listed at 6 feet, 220 pounds. “With my body type, I don’t think people thought I was as athletic as I was. I knew I could play first, but I just needed the opportunities and the reps.”13

Shelton’s dedication paid off. According to, he was among the AL leaders in Defensive Runs Saved at first base in both of the next two years. Later, Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge said, “More impressive to me than all the stories that have been written about how he’s knocking the cover off the ball is how he’s emerged as an above-average first baseman. He’s worked hard and now I’m glad to have him out there. He picks me up all the time.”14

That offseason, Shelton got a chance to play every day in the Arizona Fall League, where he was named league MVP after batting .404 with a 1.137 OPS. He came into spring training in 2005 with confidence, but was stuck behind Carlos Peña at first base and Dmitri Young at designated hitter. Shelton began the season in Toledo, where he batted .331 in 48 games. With Peña struggling in Detroit, Shelton was rewarded by being recalled on May 31. “That (2004) really set me up for success,” he said. “It wasn’t different to me. It was that I knew that I’d been here before.”15

Although the 71-91 Tigers had another mediocre season in 2005, it was a success for Shelton. He fell one hit shy of batting .300 and produced 18 home runs and 59 RBIs in 107 games.16 One of his highlights came on September 21: a tremendous home run to left field in Kansas City, to the left of the famous waterfalls beyond Kauffman Stadium’s outfield fence. The blast, which came off Jimmy Gobble, hit a white pickup truck which was parked toward the top of the hill next to the waterfalls as part of a promotion for a local car dealer. “They always said that if anybody hits the truck, that player will get the truck,” Shelton said. “The next day, they said that if any Kansas City Royal hit the truck, that player would get the truck, so I never got it.”17

In 2006, Shelton again found himself in a spring training battle with Peña, who had also hit 18 homers the previous season. “It was one of the worst springs of my life,” Shelton said. “I struggled with some anxiety. It was hard.” Yet Peña struggled even more and was released on March 26. “I remember hearing the news,” Shelton said. “We were in Tampa playing the Yankees and I was shocked.”18 The move was a blessing in disguise for Peña, who went on to hit 46 home runs in 2007 for Tampa Bay. Meanwhile, Shelton felt like a weight was off his shoulders. “It freed me up,” Shelton said. “Maybe that’s why the first part of 2006 was so great. I didn’t have any pressure on me.”19

Both the Tigers and Shelton opened the season with a bang. On Opening Day in Kansas City, Shelton singled off Royals starter Scott Elarton. Then, showing his power to all fields, he pulled a hanging slider into the left-field seats, followed by a homer that he tucked just inside the right-field foul pole. Shelton’s first career multi-homer game helped Detroit to a 3-1 victory.20

In the next game, he added three more hits, including a double, in a 14-3 win over the Royals. When the Tigers improved to 3-0 with a 10-4 victory over Texas, Shelton had three hits again, including two of Detroit’s six home runs off knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. The magic continued in a 4-0 victory over the Rangers the following evening. Shelton had a double and another homer that made him the first player to open the season with five homers in his team’s first four games. “I knew at that point, something was going on,” Shelton said. “I told myself, ‘You’d better enjoy this, because this is going to be fun.’”21

The fun continued the next day in Arlington. Detroit’s 7-0 win over Texas was one of Shelton’s favorites, because he legged out two triples and added a single. “(Tigers manager) Jim Leyland pounded into my head to always think the next base, always think more,” said Shelton, who finished his career with seven triples. “You don’t have to be fast to be a good baserunner.”22

Through five games, Detroit was undefeated, and Shelton was batting .700 (14-for-20) with five homers. “He hit knuckleballs, fastballs, curveballs. He hit sliders,” said teammate Carlos Guillén, who was in the on-deck circle for most of Shelton’s at-bats. “He hit balls in the dirt for base hits, home runs, everything that first week.”23 Leyland called Shelton’s historic start “a kind of a total surprise out of nowhere.”24

On April 10, a crowd of 44,179 attended Detroit’s home opener at Comerica Park, ready to see if Shelton and the Tigers were for real. Although the White Sox won, 5-3, to spoil the day, Shelton’s RBI double drove in one of the Tigers’ runs. In front of a much smaller crowd two days later, Shelton’s two-run homer off Chicago closer Bobby Jenks brought the home team to within 4-3 in the ninth, but Jenks nailed down the final out as he’d done in the 2005 World Series six months earlier. The White Sox closed out the sweep the next day by winning a 13-9 slugfest which included three hits by Shelton, one of them a two-run homer.

When Cleveland came to town, Shelton’s hit parade continued. He helped the Tigers snap their four-game losing streak by hitting a double and a triple off Jake Westbrook in a 5-1 victory. After going hitless the next day in a 7-2 loss to Cleveland, Shelton’s fourth-inning homer off Cliff Lee proved to be the difference as the Tigers won a 1-0 pitching duel. Shelton’s second-inning home run was one of the few bright spots for Detroit in its 10-2 defeat in the series finale. That wrapped up a historic 13-game stretch for Shelton, who batted .471 (24-for-51) over that time with three doubles, three triples, nine homers and 17 RBIs. His OPS was an otherworldly 1.716.

The nine home runs in his first 13 games made Shelton the first AL player to achieve that feat. Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt and Larry Walker had even more notable sprees in the NL. For the 1976 Phillies, Schmidt homered 11 times in his first 12 games, while Walker went deep nine times in the first 12 contests for the 1997 Rockies. In 2001, another NL player – five-time all-star Luis Gonzalez – needed just 10 games to homer nine times for the Diamondbacks.25

“We were almost numb, to be honest with you,” Leyland said later. “We couldn’t believe what was going as far as Chris was concerned. We had no idea something like that was going to happen.”26

Shelton said he wasn’t trying to “go yard” every time up. “There may have been individual at-bats where I would take a shot,” he said. “But I don’t think my approach ever changed. I knew what kind of hitter I was. I knew I wasn’t the hitter that I had shown for the first month, but I knew I wasn’t an awful hitter.”27

Shelton’s exploits inspired Tigers announcers and fans to come up with nicknames for him. His red hair led Tigers TV announcers Rod Allen and Mario Impemba to call him “Big Red,” which proved popular with the fans. He was also called “Red Pop,” a reference to his home-run power and the fact that Detroit was the long-time home of Faygo soda. Another nickname was “Orange Crush.”28

Meanwhile, the Pirates were criticized for leaving Shelton unprotected three years earlier in the Rule 5 draft. “Listen, first and foremost we were wrong,” Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield said that April. “If we could redo it, we certainly would . . . believe me: It’s one we wish we could redo.”29

As stunning as Shelton’s quick start was, though, it didn’t take him long to cool off. As scouting reports on how to pitch to him took effect, he went 4-for-29 over his next nine games before hitting his 10th – and final – home run of the month off Brad Radke of the Twins. He finished April with a .783 slugging percentage and 1.186 OPS, but never came close to matching those numbers the rest of the season.30 His batting average slipped below .300 to stay on June 2.

“It became hard to repeat things in a manner of what that first month was like,” Shelton said. “In my eyes, it felt a little unfair at times. To me, that’s an unfair expectation of anybody.”31

Despite Shelton’s struggles, the Tigers built up a big lead in the AL Central. At the trading deadline on July 31, the Tigers acquired veteran first baseman Sean Casey from Pittsburgh. Not only did Casey take over at first base, but Shelton was sent down to Toledo. The news came as a double surprise to Shelton, who had heard rumors that the Tigers were trying to get Matt Stairs from Oakland. “We all thought it was going to be Matt Stairs,” Shelton said. “When they called me into the office, I honestly thought I was part of that trade. I was kind of shocked.”32

Leyland said the Tigers, who were making a push for their first postseason spot in 19 years, had to make a move. “He (Shelton) was struggling, obviously,” Leyland said. “And we knew we had a shot, and we knew we were getting a veteran guy. It’s always tough to send somebody down, but that’s part of the business. And Chris Shelton was a great guy. He just never really resurfaced.”33

After having spent the better part of two seasons as the Tigers’ starting first baseman, Shelton was disheartened to find himself back in the minors. “It was almost impossible to stay positive,” he said.”34 Shelton never regained his early-season form in Toledo, either, batting just .266 with three home runs in 28 games. Even so, the Tigers called him back up on September 4, when the rosters expanded, to serve as an emergency backup catcher to Iván Rodríguez.

With Shelton mostly watching from the bench, the Tigers blew a big lead to the Twins in the battle for the AL Central, but still managed to qualify for the playoffs as the wild-card team with a record of 95-67. After his call-up, Shelton had only 21 at-bats in 13 games. Even so, after finishing at .273 with 16 homers in 373 at-bats, Shelton thought he had a shot at being named to the postseason roster. Instead, he had a front-row seat to the Tigers’ run to the World Series from the dugout, where he was in uniform, just like his teammates, but wasn’t on the active roster. “Jim Leyland called me into his office and said, ‘We want you to stay with us as long as this goes on,’” Shelton recalled. “A lot of my teammates were surprised I wasn’t on the roster. When Sean Casey got hurt in the ALCS, a lot of my teammates said to me in the dugout, ‘Hey, you better get ready.’ They didn’t realize I wasn’t eligible to play.”35

Shelton said he bore no ill will toward Leyland for sending him down to Toledo and for later keeping him off the postseason roster. “Even though I only played for him for a year, people always ask me what it was like playing for Jim Leyland, ‘Are you mad at him?’” Shelton said. “Why would I be mad at him? If he asked me to run through a wall for him today, I would do it.”36

When Shelton reported to spring training in 2007, he found himself in competition with Marcus Thames for one of the final roster spots. Despite having a good spring, Shelton found himself back in Toledo, although he did go to Comerica Park Opening Day to receive his AL championship ring along with the rest of the 2006 Tigers.37 “That spring was one of my best springs,” Shelton said. “I hit .400 and slugged close to .500 or .700. To get sent down was really frustrating. A bad attitude really hurt me down there. I should have looked at it as an opportunity to perform for 29 other teams, but I didn’t.”38 Shelton’s numbers at Toledo – a .269 average with 31 doubles, 14 homers, and an .801 OPS – were not good enough to get him back to Detroit. “It’s exactly what people say: ‘It’s easier to get to the big leagues than it is to stay in the big leagues,’” Shelton said.39

A bright spot in 2007, though, for Shelton was his marriage that year to Heather Urry, whom he had met on a blind date.40

On December 5, 2007, Shelton was traded to Texas for Freddy Guzmán, an outfielder who had played just 17 games in the majors the previous two seasons and who never played a game for Detroit. The Rangers designated Shelton for assignment, though, on January 14, 2008, to make room for Japanese reliever Kazuo Fukumori. Shelton cleared waivers and began the year in Oklahoma City with the Triple-A RedHawks. He was called up to Texas on April 29. But after hitting just .216 in 41 games with only two home runs, he was designated for assignment on June 26 to clear space for Chris Davis. After clearing waivers again, he was sent back to Oklahoma, where he ended up hitting .340 with 11 home runs in 67 games. “I didn’t get a fair shot with Texas,” said Shelton, who said manager Ron Washington had promised him he would platoon at first base but didn’t follow through.41

Shelton became a free agent after the 2008 season, and on December 9 he signed a minor-league contract with Seattle. Despite a solid spring training, where he batted .460, the second-highest average on the team, Shelton was sent to Triple-A Tacoma to start the season.42 The Mariners called him up on July 9, and three days later his pinch-hit single in the seventh inning drove in the winning run in a 5-3 victory over Texas. But he appeared in only nine games for Seattle, all in the month of July, hitting just .231 with four RBIs in 26 at-bats. After he went 0-for-4 on July 30 in a 7-1 loss to Texas, he was sent back to the minors. That was his 299th – and final – game in the majors. He could still hit Triple-A pitching, batting .314 in Tacoma that season with an OPS of .905. But he didn’t fit into Seattle’s plans and was once again a free agent after that season.

On December 2, 2009, Shelton signed a minor-league deal with Houston. He spent all of the 2010 season in the minors, mostly at Triple-A Round Rock (Texas) in the Pacific Coast League. There he batted .249 with just 10 home runs in 82 games. He became a free agent again after that season, and on February 11, 2011, right before spring training began, he signed with the Mets, who cut him during spring training. Even so, Shelton didn’t want to retire. “I was ready if anybody had given me a shot, but nobody called,” he said.43

In the meantime, Shelton had already started a new career as a coach, joining the staff at his alma mater, Cottonwood High School. In addition to coaching at Cottonwood, which won a state title in 2018 and has his name and number painted on the outfield wall, Shelton gave private lessons and worked at baseball camps. His new goal was to break into the college coaching ranks. “This is what gets me up in the morning – to find a way to get there (into college coaching),” Shelton said in 2021. “It’s a passion of mine. It’s been a lot harder than I thought.”44

Shelton, who as of 2021 still lived in Murray, divorced Heather that year. The couple had two children, Ki and Scarlett. Shelton also had a daughter named Delainey from a previous relationship.45 Previously, he had gone back to school and earned his degree from Utah in 2014, majoring in Health Promotion and Education. Although the Pirates had promised to pay for four semesters of college tuition when they had signed him in 2002, Shelton found out that the offer came with an expiration date. “I waited three months too long,” he said.46

Though his major-league career didn’t last as long as he would have liked, Shelton has no regrets. “If there was a ‘4-A,’ I would have been perfect for it,” he said. “And I’m OK in saying that. I’m honest with myself.”47 He ended his career with a .273 average, 37 home runs and a respectable OPS of .802. “It was 10 years professionally,” he said. “I know there wasn’t a ton in the big leagues, but I remember in high school, I just wanted to play college baseball. So, the fact that I got 10 years professionally is really exciting.”48

Last revised: January 11, 2022



Special thanks to Chris Shelton (Interview with David Bilmes, September 25, 2021)

This biography was reviewed by Malcolm Allen and Rory Costello and checked for accuracy by SABR’s fact-checking team.



In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author used



1 Chris Shelton, telephone interview with David Bilmes, September 25, 2021 (hereafter Shelton interview).

2 Jason Beck, “Rule 5 Rewind: Comparing Baddoo to Shelton,”, April 8, 2021. (last accessed November 9, 2021).

3 Shelton interview.

4 Shelton interview.

5 “Former Ute Chris Shelton Playing for Detroit Tigers,” University of Utah, April 5, 2004, (last accessed November 9, 2021).

6 Kurt Kragthorpe. “A Decade Later, Chris Shelton’s One Glorious Month in the Bigs Still Resonates,” Salt Lake City Tribune, April 11, 2016, (last accessed November 9, 2021).

7 Shelton interview.

8 “Former Ute Chris Shelton Playing for Detroit Tigers.”

9 Shelton interview.

10 Shelton interview.

11 Jason Beck, “How Chris Shelton Became ‘Red Pop’ One April,”, November 19, 2019, (last accessed November 9, 2021).

12 Shelton interview.

13 Shelton interview.

14 Jorge L. Ortiz, “Shelton’s Ascendancy Positive Take for Tigers,” USA Today, April 25, 2006.

15 Shelton interview.

16 Beck, “How Chris Shelton Became ‘Red Pop’ One April.”

17 Shelton interview.

18 Shelton interview.

19 Shelton interview.

20 Beck, “How Chris Shelton Became ‘Red Pop’ One April.”

21 Kragthorpe. “A Decade Later, Chris Shelton’s One Glorious Month in the Bigs Still Resonates.”

22 Shelton interview

23 Beck. “How Chris Shelton Became ‘Red Pop’ One April.”

24 Beck. “How Chris Shelton Became ‘Red Pop’ One April.”

25 Brendan Savage. “Tiger Trivia: Who Tied Team Record for April Home Runs on This Date?”, January 16, 2019, (last accessed November 9, 2021).

26 Beck, “How Chris Shelton Became ‘Red Pop’ One April.”

27 Beck, “How Chris Shelton Became ‘Red Pop’ One April.”

28 Vito Chirco, “When ‘Red Pop’ Hit Homers Like Babe Ruth for the Tigers,”, May 11, 2016, (last accessed November 9, 2021).

29 Alex Putterman, “In April 2006, Tigers 1B Chris Shelton Transformed into Babe Ruth,”, April 7, 2017, (last accessed November 9, 2021).

30 Chirco, “When ‘Red Pop’ Hit Homers Like Babe Ruth for the Tigers.”

31 Beck, “Rule 5 Rewind: Comparing Baddoo to Shelton.”

32 Shelton interview.

33 Beck, “How Chris Shelton Became ‘Red Pop’ One April.”

34 Shelton interview.

35 Shelton interview.

36 Beck, “How Chris Shelton Became ‘Red Pop’ One April.”

37 Adam Dietz, “The Best Two Weeks in Baseball History: The Legend of Chris Shelton,”, June 6, 2011, (last accessed November 9, 2021).

38 Shelton interview.

39 Kragthorpe, “A Decade Later, Chris Shelton’s Once Glorious Month in the Bigs Still Resonate.”

40 Shelton interview.

41 Shelton interview.

42 Dietz, “The Best Two Weeks in Baseball History: The Legend of Chris Shelton.”

43 Shelton interview.

44 Shelton interview.

45 Shelton interview.

46 Shelton interview.

47 Kragthorpe, “A Decade Later, Chris Shelton’s One Glorious Month in the Bigs Still Resonates.”

48 Dan D’Addona, “Chris Shelton’s Hot Start Still Remembered.” Holland (Michigan) Sentinel. Aug. 27, 2017.

Full Name

Christopher Bob Shelton


June 26, 1980 at Salt Lake City, UT (USA)

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