This article was written by Jerry Nechal
For most former big leaguers their time as an active player is the zenith of their athletic careers. This was not the case for Don Lund, who as a career .240-hitter appeared in only 281 games with the Brooklyn Dodgers, St. Louis Browns, and Detroit Tigers over parts of seven seasons. His ten-year stint as a professional baseball player was simply one part of a captivating fifty-year journey through the worlds of intercollegiate athletics and professional baseball. This journey included being present, as a rookie player, at one of baseball’s historic moments and later, as an executive, helping to build a World Series championship team. Lund also spent several years as a scout and a major-league coach. At the collegiate level, he was a nine-letter athlete, coached a NCAA championship baseball team, and served as an administrator in one of the country’s premier athletic departments.
Donald Andrew Lund was born to Andrew and Marguerite Lund on May 18, 1923, in Detroit, Michigan. Don had one sibling, an older sister Virginia. His father, an automobile worker, took his son to his first major-league game in 1929 to see Don’s favorite player, Charlie Gehringer, play against Babe Ruth and the Yankees.
Lund began his baseball career on the Detroit sandlots and rose to prominence while playing for Southeastern High School. He was a three-sport star there from 1939 to 1941. Don was named to the All-Metropolitan basketball team for three years and in his senior year was named both All-City and All-State. In football, he captained the team in his senior year while being named All-City. He was also president of his graduating class.
Lund was recruited by several Midwest colleges, but chose to attend the University of Michigan in nearby Ann Arbor. At a time when freshmen were not eligible for varsity teams, Don became a nine-letter athlete. Playing during the WW II era, he was rejected for military service due to a “trick knee.” While in college, he married Betty Huff, his high school sweetheart. They would remain married for more than fifty years before Betty died in 1998.
Lund was a fullback on the 1943 Michigan team that shared the Western Athletic Conference championship with a 6-0 record. In 1944 he became the starting fullback and regular punter, while also serving as co-captain. The Wolverines lost to Ohio State, 18–14, in the final game for the Big Nine championship.
Don was named MVP of the team; nevertheless, he considered baseball his favorite sport in college. “The most fun of all was baseball. It was just great.” The baseball team, under Coach Ray Fisher, a former big-league pitcher, won conference championships in 1944 and 1945. For his college career, Lund had a .307 batting average and was team captain in his senior year.
After graduation, Don had to choose between baseball and football. He was the first round pick of the National Football League’s Chicago Bears in 1945, but at that time, professional football lacked the prestige of major league baseball. Meanwhile, the legendary baseball star George Sisler, a Michigan alumnus, had been scouting Lund. The day after Don graduated; Sisler accompanied him to New York to meet with Branch Rickey, another Michigan graduate. When Rickey asked what it would take to sign him, Lund replied, “$7,500 and a major league contract.” They agreed quickly “I should have asked for $25,000” Lund recalled.
After signing in June of 1945, Lund went directly to the big leagues. He appeared in four games with no hits in three at bats before being optioned to St. Paul of the American Association, where he hit .263 in 72 games. In 1946 Don experienced what was likely his worst season in professional baseball. He missed part of spring training due to the birth of his daughter Susan in Detroit. After batting only .200 in fourteen games with St. Paul, Lund was assigned to San Diego in the Pacific Coast League. There he again struggled, hitting only .152 in thirty-three at bats. Don was then told to report to the Fort Worth Cats of the Texas League. The morning he reported to the Fort Worth team he was informed that Branch Rickey wanted him in Mobile instead. He batted a meager .240 in seventy-four games for the Southern Association Bears.
The 1947 season was a different story. At training camp, Don was assigned to the Montreal Royals, Brooklyn’s Class AAA team in the International League. The Royals played most of their spring training games against the Dodgers. Lund’s hitting prowess returned. He hit several home runs, including one against Ralph Branca in the final game of the exhibition season at Ebbets Field. Three Montreal players were selected to start the season with the Dodgers: Lund, Jackie Robinson, and Spider Jorgensen. All three were signed to big-league contracts on the same day. After signing, Don and Jorgensen left via a back entrance while the press flooded the room to cover the Robinson story. Don played sparingly in the early season, and in May he was sent back to St. Paul where he hit .280 in 90 games with 16 home runs.
After finishing the season in St. Paul, Lund joined the first-place Dodgers in St. Louis. On September 12, Don was sent up as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning with a man on base and the Dodgers trailing by three runs. Facing Cardinals’ pitcher Howie Pollet, he came through with his first big-league home run. Two days later Lund started the second game of a twin bill against Cincinnati and delivered two doubles in a 6–3 victory. On September 17 in Pittsburgh, he had two hits, including his second home run. A few days later the Dodgers clinched the pennant. Lund finished the season with six hits in 20 at bats for an even .300 batting average. Don was ineligible for the World Series, but watched from the stands as the Dodgers lost in seven games to the Yankees.
On June 28, 1948, with Lund batting a lowly .188, the Dodgers sold him on waivers to the St. Louis Browns. Don learned about the sale while reading the newspaper at dinner. In 2004, Lund remembered St. Louis as being very hot, “but it was the big leagues and I was playing.” Used primarily against left-handers, he had a .248 average with three home runs home runs in sixty-three games for the sixth-place Browns.
Before the start of the 1949 season, Lund was sold to his hometown Detroit Tigers, which was a dream come true. That winter, “I was working out at my local high school and someone came up to me and said, ‘Hey Don, you just got traded to the Tigers.’” Don made the opening-day roster; however, he was sold to Toledo of the American Association on May 19 after only two plate appearances. He spent the rest of the season with the Mud Hens, finishing with a .298 average, seventeen home runs, and eighty-one RBIs.
At the start of the 1950 season, the Tigers informed Don they had sold him outright to Toledo and he could not be reacquired without going through the unrestricted draft. Lund traveled to Cincinnati to protest his status to Commissioner Happy Chandler. The protest was unsuccessful. Chandler told Lund “It’s a rule and there is nothing I can do about it.”
Much to his dismay, Don spent the next three years playing in the Tigers’ minor-league system. Nevertheless, he used this period to build relationships that would pay future dividends. Lund befriended Jim Campbell, who later became the Tigers general manager, and Jack Tighe, who went on to manage the team. In 1950 Don spent another season in Toledo, where his average dropped to .245, but he had a career high of twenty-three home runs. Back in Toledo in 1951, he hit .259 playing for manager Tighe.
In 1952 both Lund and Tighe moved to Buffalo of the International League where Don hit .302 with sixteen home runs. That September the last-place Tigers, under GM Charlie Gehringer, brought Lund back to Detroit. Don had two hits in his first game back and finished with a .304 average while playing in eight games. Early in 1953 a spot opened in the Tigers’ outfield, and Lund was inserted into the lineup. He finished the season with a .257 average, and had career highs in games played (131) and plate appearances (470).
After finishing the previous season thirty-four games under .500, the 1954 Tigers went with youth in the outfield, including rookie Al Kaline. Lund struggled in his reduced role. Through late July he had appeared in only thirty-five games with sixty plate appearances while hitting a paltry .130. On July 29 the Tigers sent him to the Minneapolis Millers, the New York Giants’ American Association farm team, in exchange for Hoot Evers. Don finished the season with the Millers hitting .287 with six homers in forty-two games.
During the offseason Lund, at age thirty-one, evaluated his options. The Tigers offered him a position as Michigan area scout. Rather than return to Minneapolis, “I figured I had better take advantage of that,” he recalled in 2009. Don worked as a scout for the next two seasons. In October 1956 Jack Tighe, was named to manage the Tigers and selected Lund to be his first base coach. Tighe was replaced in mid-1958 by Bill Norman, who retained Lund as a coach.
The 1958 season was also the last of Ray Fisher’s thirty-eight years as baseball coach at the University of Michigan. Offered the job as his replacement, Lund resigned from the Tigers to accept the position. The Wolverines had a losing record in 1959, Don’s first season. The 1960 team included Lund’s first recruits and improved its record to 19-12-1. Among those recruits was future Major League catcher Bill Freehan.
Lund’s 1962 Wolverines finished second in the Big Ten but qualified for the NCAA tournament, where they surprised everyone. The Wolverines advanced to the College World Series and claimed the championship in a fifteen inning, 5–4, victory over Santa Clara. Lund was named Coach of the Year by the American Association of College Baseball Coaches.
In September 1962 Don’s old minor league acquaintance Jim Campbell was named general manager of the Tigers. Campbell recruited Lund to become his replacement as director of minor league operations. Don accepted the position and it was on to a new challenge, building the Tigers farm system. The culmination of that work came in 1968. Seven of eight position players for the world champion Tigers that year were products of Detroits’s farm system.
Lund remained with the Tigers until 1970, when he accepted Michigan’s offer to serve as assistant athletic director. Eventually he was promoted to associate athletic director where he served until his retirement in 1992. For many years, Don was also the commentator on Michigan football radio broadcasts with play-by-play announcer Bob Ufer.
In his later years Lund had numerous honors bestowed upon him. In 1984 Don was inducted into the University of Michigan Hall of Honor. In 1987 he was elected to the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame. In 1999 his University of Michigan baseball number 33 jersey was retired. The SABR chapter in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was also named in his honor and he was an occasional guest at chapter meetings. As of 2011, Don Lund still lives near the university, just outside of Ann Arbor.
On December 10, 2013, Lund passed away of natural causes at the age of 90.
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Dickson, James. “Well-played: The story of University of Michigan three-sport legend Don Lund,” AnnArbor.com, November 23, 2009.
Jim Lannen and Art Neff interview with Don Lund, 2004.
Author interview with Don Lund, 2009.