Wendel: ‘Something bigger’: Willie Horton, Gates Brown, and the ’68 Tigers

From SABR member Tim Wendel at The National Pastime Museum on January 2, 2017:

Few teams have been under more pressure to begin a season than the 1968 Detroit Tigers. Not only were expectations high for postseason play (the Tigers had finished one game back of the pennant-winning Red Sox the year before), but several local officials turned to the ball club in an effort to quell civic unrest.

Only nine months earlier, in the midst of a doubleheader, the worst riots since the Civil War had ravaged the Motor City. It took five days to restore order in Detroit, and when it was over, 43 were dead, 7,200 arrested, and more than 2,000 buildings had burned—many to the ground.

“Those were hard times,” Gates Brown, the team’s top pinch hitter, told me decades later. “Sometimes it was too much. I mean it just broke your heart. But we, as a team, found a way to hang together and perhaps show people that everyone can get along—black, white, whomever.”

None of the Tigers were under more scrutiny at the time than Brown and the other African-American players on the roster—Earl Wilson and Willie Horton. Time and again, they rose to the occasion and not only helped the Tigers capture their first championship in 43 years but helped a city take a major step back from the abyss.

Read the full article here: http://www.thenationalpastimemuseum.com/article/something-bigger-willie-horton-gates-brown-and-68-tigers

Originally published: January 3, 2017. Last Updated: January 3, 2017.