On May 1, 1901, Detroit Tigers pitcher Ed Siever gave up the first grand slam in American League history. It happened at South Side Park in Chicago, and it was the third road game in Tigers history.
The man who hit the grand slam was William Ellsworth Hoy, and he didn’t hear any of the cheers from the reported 2,400 fans. He couldn’t. He was unable to hear or speak. In fact, he wasn’t known as William or even Bill. He was known as Dummy Hoy, an incredibly insensitive name to put on someone who had been hit with such a devastating situation. However, he actually referred to himself as Dummy and would correct people when they called him something else.
Hoy, who lost his hearing due to an illness in his childhood, hit his grand slam in the bottom of the fifth inning as the White Sox pinned a 19-9 thumping on the Tigers, who arrived in Chicago with a 4-0 record after sweeping four home games against the Milwaukee Brewers. Detroit split two games in Chicago before the game on May 1.
Hoy, a graduate of the Ohio School for the Deaf in Columbus, Ohio, was no gimmick. At the time of his grand slam, he had played in the major leagues since 1888, and he led the National League in walks with 117 in 1891. In his only season with the White Sox in 1901, he led the American League with 86 walks and hit .294 with two home runs, 60 RBIs and 112 runs scored.
Hoy was three weeks shy of his 39th birthday when he hit the grand slam, and he played one more season in the majors. Amazingly, he finished his major-league career with 2,048 hits and a .288 career batting average.
He is credited with the use of hand signals that are still in the game today. When he began playing, umpires shouted out the calls, but when Hoy would bat, he requested that umpires raise their right arm to signal a strike and raise their left hand to signal a ball.
Hoy lived to be 99 years old and died on December 15, 1961, in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Siever, meanwhile, spent his first two major-league seasons with the Tigers in 1901-02 and the final three of his time in Detroit in 1906-08. He led the American League with a 1.91 ERA in 1902 despite an 8-11 record, and he was 18-11 in 1907 for the first pennant-winning team in Tigers history.
Siever started Game 3 of the 1907 World Series against the Chicago Cubs at West Side Gronds in Chicago and was the losing pitcher in a 5-1 game. He died in Detroit at age 44 on February 4, 1920.
It certainly is not big-time breaking news that the Tigers signed free agent pitcher Ivan Nova on Monday, but it is a low-cost move that could pay off in a small dividend.
First, and most important to the Tigers, he cost $1.5 million for one year plus some unnamed incentives. That’s fine, if he meets the unnamed incentives, that should mean that he would be having a good enough season to be traded for a low-to-mid level prospect in July. If he flops, $1.5 million isn’t a huge loss.
He also might have cost the Tigers young left-hander Matt Hall, who was taken off the 40-man roster to make room for Nova. Hall has been terrible in two stings with the Tigers, but he did have 27 strikeouts in 23 and one-third innings last year. Some team might claim him on waivers and take a shot at a 26-year-old lefty with those strikeout numbers, but I think he’ll go unclaimed and end up in Toledo.
Nova, who had his best years with the Yankees, is a 33-year-old right-hander who has had a roller-coaster career. He is coming off a season in which he allowed a league-high 225 hits, which isn’t good. However, he matched a career-high with 187 innings, and after what happened to the Tigers last year – free agents Matt Moore and Tyson Ross did not combine to make 10 starts – the health factor is not a big risk.
Let’s face it, this team isn’t going anywhere in 2020, but for the first time in a few years, the Tigers seem to be trying to make a bid for respectability. Or at least to not be the butt of jokes. They added Andrew Romine to start as catcher, Jonathan Schoop to start at second base and C.J. Cron to start at first base. That is four actual major-league players who, barring injury, will fill nearly half the daily lineup that last year looked like graduates from the Toledo Mud Hens fantasy league camp.
Nova brings some veteran leadership to the staff and takes some heat off Matthew Boyd, who is the staff ace but has little behind him. The rest of the rotation is very questionable:
Jordan Zimmermann has been awful, and fortunately this is the final year of his ridiculous contract. Hopefully he regains some of his effectiveness and can be traded at the deadlne;
Spencer Turnbull showed flashes of promise last summer, but he faded at the end and really has not been a high-end prospect;
Daniel Norris has not shown he can go deep into games and be effective, and he was used more as an opener than anything else in the second half last year.
The wild card there is Tyler Alexander, a former second-round selection in the 2015 draft and, despite his 4.86 ERA, really showed some potential. Specifically, his strikeout-to-walk rate was an eye-opener. He walked just seven in 53 and two-third innings with 47 walks. That is something to get excited about for a 25-year-old left-hander in his first season in the majors. But he needs to get batters out. They hit .302 against him with an .834 OPS, so if he can keep his strikeout-to-walk rate down and get more batters out, the Tigers might have someone they can count on in the future.
And then there is Michael Fulmer, who hopefully will be back in the summer after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He is no more than a wild card, but he’s a wild card with real upside.
But back to Nova. He probably slots in as the No. 2 starter in the rotation behind Boyd. He pitched in a hitter’s ballpark last year for the White Sox, and Comerica Park is better suited for pitchers. Two years ago, Nova was putting the finishing touches on back-to-back seasons with the Pirates with an ERA of 4.14 and 4.19. While that is not exceptional, it would be a big addition for the Tigers.
The metrics, however, suggest Nova is slowing down, and at age 34 that can’t be a surprise. The spin rate on his curveball was the lowest of his career, and his strikeout rate dipped for the second year in a row. One thing Tigers fans can look forward to a pitcher who limits walks, and that will be a welcome addition.
Tigers fans can expect a pitcher who can go out and give the team a solid outing every now and also can get shelled for five or more runs in the first three or four innings. Between those two, he should be good to get into the sixth inning for more than half of his starts.
I give the Tigers a B- for the signing. It adds some stability and leadership to the staff at virtually no cost and could end up gaining a low-to-mid level prospect in a trade. But the end of July, Fulmer hopefully will be back and Zimmermann will be dealt if he has any trade value. Alexander might have pushed his way into the rotation, and Matt Manning and Casey Mize will be knocking in the door.
The Tigers don’t need a lot from Nova. Four solid months would be worth the investment.
Prediction: Nova goes 6-11 with a 4.44 ERA and is traded in July for a low-level prospect.
It was a Sunday afternoon in late June of 1987. Just one game out of a scheduled 162, and it matched a third-place team against a sixth-place team. There was no reason for it to me a memorable game, but it turned out to be a classic. That’s the way baseball works, and more than 31,000 fans at Tiger Stadium were in for a treat.
The pitching matchup was rookie right-hander Jeff Robinson of the Tigers against rookie left-hander Eric Bell of the Baltimore Orioles. Detroit, which had lost three of its past four games, fell behind 3-0 in the top of the first inning on a three-run homer by Fred Lynn, who would be traded to Detroit the following year. The Tigers bounced Bell from the game with two runs in the bottom of first inning as veteran Bill Madlock hit a two-run home run.
Madlock, a 36-year-old veteran in his 15th and final season, had signed with the Tigers three weeks earlier after he was released by the Los Angeles Dodgers. In his prime, Madlock was one of the best hitters in baseball. He was a four-time batting champion, winning two with the Chicago Cubs and two with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but the first of those two came in the 1970s, and the last two came in the early 1980s. This was 1987, and Madlock had not hit above .280 since 1983.
Actually, Madlock came into the game in an 0-for-21 slump, so the home run had to make him feel a lot better. There was no score until the fourth inning, when the Orioles added three more runs to drive Robinson from the game. Another run in the top of the fifth made it 7-2 and a bleak outlook for Detroit.
With one out in the bottom of the fifth, Madlock hit a home run off right-hander John Habyan. It was the ninth and final game with two home runs or more for Madlock, who finished his career with 163. It was a nice way to break out of a slump.
Eric King was pitching for the Tigers, and he did his job keeping the Orioles off the scoreboard, but Detroit failed to score in the sixth and seventh. A single run in the eighth inning on a run-scoring single by Chet Lemon offered little hope as the Tigers trailed 7-4 going into the bottom of the ninth inning.
If anybody left, and surely some did, they are probably still telling the story of what they missed.
Johnny Grubb led off the bottom of the ninth inning with a home run to cut the deficit to 7-5. Matt Nokes followed with a home run to make it 7-6, and the veteran Madlock came to the plate. He had never hit three home runs in a major-league game, and he was in the final summer of his career.
The Baltimore pitcher was Tom Niedenfuer, who had been teammates with Madlock on the Dodgers earlier in the season. Niedenfuer fell behind 2-0 in the count, and Orioles manager Cal Ripken Sr. visited the mound. Madlock drilled the next pitch into the upper deck in left field for his third home run, and the score was tied 7-7.
“All during that slump, I was behind in the count every time,” Madlock said in the Detroit Free Press. “I was 0-2 17 times, I know that.”
Three home runs in three consecutive at-bats against the same pitcher. It doesn’t happen every day.
“I’ve seen three straight homers before, but I’ve never seen them all come off the same pitcher,” Madlock said in the Free Press. “Usually the pitcher is gone before the third guy comes to bat.”
Tigers manager Sparky Anderson was equally amazed.
“I’ve seen three straight, too, but never in the ninth inning, not like that,” he said in the Detroit Free Press.
The Tigers could not get any more runs, but they had done their job, and the game was headed to extra innings.
Neither team scored in the 10th inning, and Willie Hernandez blanked the Orioles in the top of the 11th. The Tigers were facing Orioles reliever Doug Corbett in the bottom of the inning with a chance to win it. Nokes led off with a single between first and second base, and Madlock strolled to the plate. Could he make it four home runs in one game? It had never been done in Tigers history.
We’ll never know. Tigers manager Sparky Anderson gave Madlock the bunt sign. Who orders a batter who already has hit three home runs in a game to bunt? Sparky did, and it worked.
“I’d let him know before Nokes got on that I wanted him to bunt when Nokes got on,” Anderson said in the Free Press. “A sacrifice is the only way to play.”
Madlock got the bunt down and successfully and moved Nokes to second base. After Kirk Gibson was walked intentionally, Alan Trammell singled to center to score Nokes with the winning run.
After the game, Madlock said had no issues with Anderson’s decision to have him bunt.
“You’ve got Kirk Gibson coming up after me, then Alan Trammell,” he said in the Free Press. “I’m not a home-run hitter. That’s the first time in my life I’ve hit three in a game. My game is just hitting. That’s my strength and what I try to do.”
The Tigers went 59-32 the rest of the way and won the American League East Division title by one game over the Toronto Blue Jays. One game. And they had the best record in baseball, although their season ended in the ALCS against the Minnesota Twins.
Madlock hit eight more home runs in his final season, and the last one came against Bell, the pitcher who gave up the first of his three on that Sunday afternoon in June.
Madlock is one of 14 players with at least four batting championships in baseball history. The other 13 – Ty Cobb (12), Tony Gwynn (8), Honus Wagner (8), Rod Carew (7), Rogers Hornsby (7), Stan Musial (7), Ted Williams (6), Wade Boggs (5), Dan Brouthers (5), Cap Anson (4), Miguel Cabrera (4), Roberto Clemente (4) and Harry Heilmann (4), all are in the Hall of Fame or, as in Cabrera’s case, are headed for the Hall of Fame.
Detroit had not been the home to a major-league baseball team since 1888, when the Detroit Wolverines played in the National League. It became a major-league city again in 1901 when baseball added a second major league to the National League. It was the American League, and the Detroit Tigers were a charter member.
The season was supposed to begin on April 24, but inclement weather postponed three of the four scheduled games, including the game at Detroit. It was rescheduled for the following day, and on Thursday afternoon, April 25, 1901, the Detroit Tigers played as a major-league team for the first time.
The opponents were the Milwaukee Brewers, but they are not the same Milwaukee Brewers who are playing today. Those Milwaukee Brewers became the St. Louis Browns in 1902. The franchise left St. Louis after the 1953 season and became the Baltimore Orioles in 1954, and the franchise has remained in Baltimore.
The game was played at Bennett Park. It was located on the corner of Michigan and Trumbull – the same site as Tiger Stadium. However, at Bennett Park, home plate was where the right-field corner was at Tiger Stadium. Bennett Park was named for former Detroit Wolverines catcher Charlie Bennett, who lost a leg after he slipped trying to board a train that was departing a station in Kansas. Bennett’s leg landed over the track, and the train ran over it.
Bennett had been one of the most popular players with the Wolverines and was a fine player who some feel deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame. He took part in the first-pitcher ceremonies to open the season in Detroit every year until 1927, the year of his death.
The Opening Day festivities started in the morning with a street parade, featuring the Tigers decked out in red coats accompanied by city officials and various invited guests.
The first casualty was a fan. During practice, Tiger shortstop Kid Elberfeld overthrew Pop Dillon at first base, and the ball hit one of the spectators who was on the field. He was taken away bleeding from the mouth.
The Tigers’ mascot, “Oom Paul,” a dog owned by J.B. Beattie, was brought out and placed at home plate. The dog was considered a good-luck charm for the Tigers, who were 21-1 in 1900 as members of the then minor-league American League when “Oom Paul” was present.
Former Judge Byron S. Waite made a speech and presented a cup to owner Jimmy Burns and manager George Stallings, who owned a share of the club. Jacob J. Haarar, president of the common council, threw out the first pitch Bennett.
Finally, it was time for baseball.
An overflow crowd of 10,023 jammed Bennett Park for the first major-league game in Tigers history. But many of them were not around for one of the most incredible ninth-inning comebacks in baseball history.
Milwaukee jumped on Tigers rookie starting pitcher Roscoe Miller, scoring seven runs off him in two and one-third innings before Emil Frisk came on in relief. Although Miller gave up six hits and walked one, he didn’t get any help from the defense. Elberfeld made three errors in the first three innings, including one on a ground ball by rookie center fielder Irv Waldron in the first at-bat of the game.
The Tigers went into the bottom of the fourth trailing 7-0 but got two of them back on back-to-back run-scoring doubles by Dillon and Elberfeld. Kid Gleason, who later would be known as the manager of the 1919 Chicago White Sox – the team made famous in the Black Sox Scandal for throwing the World Series, added a run-scoring double in the fifth as the Tigers cut Milwaukee’s lead to 7-3. The Brewers seemingly put the game away with three runs in the seventh and three more in the eighth to build a 13-3 lead.
Kid Nance singled in Dillon, who had doubled, in the bottom of the eighth to cut Milwaukee’s lead to 13-4, and Bennett Park begin to empty.
What happened next defied logic.
Trailing 13-4, the Tigers opened the ninth inning with six consecutive hits: A double by Doc Casey, a single by Jimmy Barrett, a run-scoring single by Gleason made it 13-5. A run-scoring double by Ducky Holmes made it 13-6, and a two-run double by Dillon made it 13-8. Elberfeld added a run-scoring double, and it was 13-9 and maybe a little interesting.
Milwaukee player-manager Hugh Duffy decided to pull left-handed relief pitcher Pete Dowling and replace him with right-handed reliever Bert Husting. The Brewers still led by four runs, and the Tigers had Elberfeld on second with nobody out.
Husting uncorked a wild pitch, allowing Elberfeld to advance to third, and retired Nance on a grounder as Elberfeld remained at third. At that point, the crowd that circled behind the outfielders (there was no outfield wall at Bennett Park and fans were allowed to stand a reasonable distance behind the outfielders) began to inch closer, and the game was delayed as some of the Tigers players had to urge the fans to retreat.
Husting then walked catcher Fritz Buelow, and Frisk, the Tigers’ pitcher, drove home Elberfeld with a single to cut Milwaukee’s lead to 13-10, still with just one out. The Detroit Free Press reported that at this point of the game the fans were throwing hats and coats onto the field as they cheered the rally.
Casey, who had started the inning with a base hit, beat out a bunt to load the bases, but Barrett was called out on strikes. The bases remained loaded, but the Tigers trailed 13-10 with two out. Gleason then hit a hard grounder to Brewers third baseman Jimmy Burke, who made an error that allowed a run to score and slice Milwaukee’s lead to 13-11. If Burke had made that play, the game would have been over.
Holmes followed with a slow roller to Burke and beat it out for a hit as Frisk crossed the plate to bring the Tigers within one run at 13-12. Dillon, who already had collected three doubles in the game, came to bat. He delivered again, smashing the ball over the head of left-fielder Bill Hallman for a double, scoring Casey with the tying run and Gleason with the game-winning run.
The Detroit Free Press described the scene like this: “Dillon was the hero of the day and pandemonium broke loose when he made his last hit. The crowd surged out onto the field, and everybody wanted to pat the hero on the back. The big first baseman was almost torn to pieces by the fans, and finally he was picked up and carried around on the shoulders of some of the excited spectators.”
Dillon finished the game with four doubles, a franchise record that was tied by Billy Bruton on May 19, 1963. Dillon was 4-for-6 with three runs scored and five RBIs. Frisk was the winning pitcher in relief.
Overlooked in the game was the Tigers’ defense. The Tigers made seven errors as Elberfeld had three, while Gleason, Holmes, Dillon and Nance had one apiece. But game-winning rallies of 10 runs in the bottom of the ninth have a way of making people forget about errors, even seven of them.
Chuck Hostetler, the epitome of a war-time major-league baseball player, was a 40-year-old rookie for the Tigers in 1944. He had not played professional baseball since 1937.
Hostetler, who mainly played right field and pinch-hit for the Tigers in 1944-45, spent 10 years in the minor leagues from 1928-37. He was with the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Senators, but none of them called him up.
During Hostetler’s 10 years in the minors, he hit .300 or better five times with his best season in 1931 when he hit .358 in 119 games for the Class A Topeka Senators. He hit .338 for the Wichita Aviators of the same league the following year and finished with 1,466 base-hits for a .307 average with 30 home runs in the minors.
After the 1937 season, Hostetler quit baseball. He was 34 and married and took a job on a mooring boat and played semi-pro baseball in Bayton, Texas. He moved to Wichita, Kansas, and worked at Boeing at the start of World War II.
“I gave up the idea of playing in the majors a few years ago,” Hostetler said in The Associated Press in the summer of 1944.
Hostetler continued to play for the Boeing team, and former Tigers pitcher Red Phillips, who umpired some of those games, saw him and recommended him to the Tigers, who were searching for big-league talent like the rest of the league with the rosters ravaged by World War II.
Hostetler was 40, but he was listed as 38 when he reported to spring training in 1944, and he made the team. He became the oldest player to make his major-league debut in history, and since then he has been surpassed by two pitchers. He remained the oldest position player to make his major-league debut as of 2019.
A hot start kept Hostetler in the Tigers’ plans. He had a pinch-hit single in his major-league debut. He was hitting .429 (9-for-21) at the end of April, and his average never dropped below .300 until August 21. He finished at .298 with 42 runs scored, no home runs, 20 RBIs and four stolen bases, and earned a return trip to the Tigers.
Hostetler did not duplicate his rookie season, and his playing time suffered. He went from 265 at-bats to 44 and hit just .159 with three runs scored and two RBIs
However, the Tigers won the American League pennant, and Hostetler was on the roster. He appeared in three World Series games and was 0-for-3 as a pinch-hitter.
With his lack of playing time and many players returning to baseball after the end of World War II, Hostetler was not offered a contract by the Tigers, and he left baseball. He worked as a sports announcer at KHOX in Arkansas and became a farmer, but those did not last long. He went back to work for Boeing, and he went back to baseball as he was one of four managers for the Chanute Giants in the Class D Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri League in 1950.
Hostetler became ill with mesothelioma in 1970 and died the following year at age 67.
“D” TALES:” Chuck Hostetler had just turned 42 years old a month before the start of the 1945 World Series. Although he was on the Tigers’ roster, he didn’t expect to see much game action, and he didn’t.
However, Hostetler could not have expected or hoped to commit a blunder on baseball’s biggest stage.
It was Game 6 of the World Series at Wrigley Field in Chicago, and the Tigers had won three of the first five games. One more victory would secure the second World Series title in franchise history, but they trailed the Chicago Cubs 5-1 going into the top of the seventh inning.
Hostetler led off the inning as a pinch-hitter for Skeeter Webb. Hostetler reached first on an error by Cubs third baseman Stan Hack. Hostetler took second on an infield out, and Doc Cramer followed with a single to left field. As Hostetler charged around third base and had made it about two-third of the way to home when he sprawled face first onto the ground. He scrambled to his feet, but by then Cubs catcher Mickey Livingston had the ball. Hostetler tried to get back to third, but Livingston threw to third baseman Hack, who tagged Hostetler.
Tigers manager Steve O’Neill, in the third-base box, did not give Hostetler the signal to keep running.
“We would have won if Chuck Hostetler had only caught my signal to hold up when he was rounding third after Eddie Mayo had singled,” O’Neill said in the Detroit Free Press, “but Chuck didn’t see it until he was past third. I shouted at him and Chuck, trying to pull up short, fell down and was tagged out. Later in that inning, we scored two runs, and for Chuck’s faux pas, we would now have been headed home.”
O’Neill also reasoned that because Hostetler was a fast base runner, he understood why Hostetler might not have been expecting to be held up at third base and did not see the sign.
Detroit trailed 5-3 with runners on first and second when the third out was made in the inning, so Hostetler’s flop – it became known as “Hostetler’s Flop” – might have cost the Tigers more runs. The Tigers did finally tie the game, but they lost 8-7 in 12 innings.
It was Hostetler’s final moment on the field during a major-league game, but two days later, it didn’t matter. The Tigers won Game 7 to secure the World Series, and Hostetler was a world champion. On June 15, 1946, the Tigers welcomed back Hostetler and the other members of the 1945 team to witness the raising of the World Series and American League banners. They also were presented with gold rings.
Or maybe it is more fair to say that minority coaches miss Dungy.
Five head coaches were fired after the season, and four of the five positions have been filled with white coaches. The fifth was Ron Rivera, an Hispanic fired by the Carolina Panthers and hired by the Washington Redskins. The Rooney Rule? It’s nothing but a formality. NFL owners are going to hire who they want to hire, and for some reason the black candidates are not landing jobs.
Many years ago, before Dungy was a head coach, he tried to explain how it happened that there were no head coaches at that time. He said that when an owner prepareed to hire a head coach, he had a certain type of person in mind. He sees Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, Tom Landry, Chuck Noll or Bill Walsh. Those were the stereotype head coaches.
That was 20-30 years ago. Now, the owners don’t necessarily visualize the old, white veteran head coaches. They like the young, white assistant coaches who have trendy offensives minds. A year ago, the Arizona Cardinals hired Kliff Kingsbury, who had been fired the previous November by Texas Tech and had accepted a position as offensive coordinator at USC.
Instead, he became a head coach in the NFL, and in its press release, the Cardinals listed one of the key things about Kingsbury was that he was friends with Rams head coach Todd McVay, then the stereotype for head coaches of the present. It doesn’t seem like a qualification to be a head coach.
So how does all this relate to Dungy? Well, probably more than anyone else, Dungy hired and developed black coaches into NFL coaches. He was a pipeline for them, and he brought them in from college and mentored them. And not just black coaches, either, he developed plenty of white coaches, too.
Six of Dungy’s assistant coaches became head coaches in the NFL, and five of them were black:
Herm Edwards: He was on Dungy’s first coaching staff at Tampa Bay in 1996, and five years later became head coach of the New York Jets. He currently is the head coach at Arizona State University.
Lovie Smith: Smith was Dungy’s linebackers coach at Tampa Bay in 1996, and he became head coach of the Chicago Bears. In Super Bowl XLI, Dungy’s Colts defeated Smith’s Bears.
Jim Caldwell: He actually started with Dungy as quarterbacks coach at Tampa Bay in 2001. He was on Dungy’s staff at Indianapolis, and when Dungy retired, Caldwell became the head coach. Caldwell also spent two seasons as head coach of the Detroit Lions.
Mike Tomlin: Tomlin’s first NFL job was as a defensive back coach for Dungy’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2001. Tomlin became head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2007 and remains the Steelers head coach.
Leslie Frazier: In 2005, Dungy hired Frazier as a defensive assistant with the Indianapolis Colts. Frazier became interim head coach of the Minnesota Vikings in 2010 and became the full-time head coach from 2011-13. He spent the season as the defensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills, who made the playoffs and lost in the wild-card round.
Rod Marinelli: The lone white assistant coach who became a head coach, Marinelli received his first NFL job from Dungy on the Tampa Bay staff in 1996. He was head coach of the Detroit Lions from 2006-08 and spent last season as defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys.
Today, there are three minority head coaches in the NFL: Tomlin, Anthony Lynn of the Los Angeles Chargers, and Rivera, the new coach of the Redskins.
Obviously, there are qualified candidates, black, white and Hispanic, just waiting for the call. At the top of the list is Eric Bieniemy, a finalist for the Heisman Trophy in college and offensive coordinator for the high-powered Kansas City Chiefs. If Todd McVay was seen as an offensive mind, Bieniemy should be in the same classification.
Two of Dungy’s former assistants-turned-head coaches also are strong candidates. When last we saw Caldwell, he had back-to-back 9-7 seasons with the Lions. That alone should get him a job. Since then, the Lions have fallen on hard times despite hiring two former New England Patriots in Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia. Caldwell deserved better.
The other is Frazier, who has helped transform the Buffalo defense into a strong unit.
Both Caldwell and Frazier have experience as a head coach, and neither sniffed a job.
If Dungy were still coaching, he would be adding to his coaching tree. He wants to win as much as anyone, but he wants to do more than win. When he took over the Indianapolis Colts, he told the team that if it won the Super Bowl and that was all it did, it would not be a total success. He wanted his players to become involved in the community and become positive role models. He achieved both goals.
Dungy also feels strongly about minority coaches. Back in his days growing up in Jackson, he idolized Michigan State quarterback Jimmy Raye, who was black. For the first time, it seemed real to him that maybe he could be a quarterback, and it happened in high school and at the University of Minnesota.
He knew the roadblocks then, too. He felt he could have been an NFL quarterback. Instead, he was slotted into the defensive secondary. He felt he could become an NFL head coach, but he was passed over more than once before he finally landed the job and probably should have been hired earlier.
Dungy made it part of his mission to give opportunities to deserving coaches. Note the word deserving. Dungy wasn’t going to give out any gift jobs, and if he felt a white coach was more deserving of a job than a black applicant, he would hire the white coach.
However, he always left the door open for the minorities, and he recruited and groomed them when he could.
Now, Dungy is on TV doing the NBC network show prior to Sunday Night Football. His influence still reaches far, but he can’t do as much in that role as he can as a hands-on head coach.
So, yes, the door is still open for black head coaches in the NFL. It just isn’t wide open, and the NFL does not have a Tony Dungy to serve as a mentor to those trying to still break the barrier and beef up the numbers of minority head coaches in the NFL.
Dungy’s legacy is as the first black head coach to win a Super Bowl. It was a big reason why he made it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But I’d bet he doesn’t feel it’s his greatest contribution. That would be men like Herm Edwards, Jim Caldwell, Mike Tomlin, Lovie Smith and Leslie Frazier, and many others.
Just like Dungy wanted his Colts to do, he didn’t just win a Super Bowl. He made a difference in the sport. And the void of black head coaches in the NFL shows that he is missed.
There is one record that no member of the Detroit Tigers would ever want to own, and it belongs to Herm Merritt. He is the only person to play for the Detroit Tigers and die before his 27th birthday.
Merritt was playing in an amateur league in Grey Bull, Montana, when the Tigers discovered him. He joined the Tigers in late August of 1921. He was 1-for-4 in his first six games – all as a defensive replacement at shortstop or as a pinch-hitter or pinch-runner.
Finally, on September 5, the Merritt got his chance in a doubleheader with the Chicago White Sox at Navin Field in Detroit. Merritt got a hit in the first game after entering as a defensive replacement, and he was 1-for-3 in the second game as he made his first major-league start. He made two errors, but they did not keep the Tigers from winning the game 4-3.
Merritt began to get more playing time, and he had a five-game hitting streak in the middle of September. It included three consecutive two-hit games and a four-game streak with one RBI in each game.
Merritt opened some eyes as he hit .370 (17-for-46) with a double, two triples and six RBIs. The Tigers sent Merritt to the Augusta Tourists of the South Atlantic League in 1922. Tigers player/manager Ty Cobb held stock in the August team and hoped Merrite would develop into a player who could help the Tigers in the future. But he never got the chance to put in another season of baseball.
On April 23, 1922, Merritt and four teammates were involved in an automobile accident outside of Greenville, South Carolina. The car Merritt was driving flipped, and everyone inside was injured. The Detroit Free Press reported that Merritt said he was driving at a safe speed but the steering gear failed.
Merritt was thrown from the car and ended up pinned under the vehicle. He suffered a fractured spine at the base and was temporarily paralyzed. His baseball career was likely over, and doctors feared his life was in danger.
Surgeons operated on Merritt and saved his life. A touchy surgery that The Sporting News reported, “The operation is said to have been one of the most difficult and unprecedented in the history of surgery at Greenville.”
Merritt lived another five years, but on April 26, 1927, he died of acute nephritis, a result of the fracture.
“D” TALES: The fine late-season run by Herm Merritt in 1921 left him near the top of one list of Tigers achievements. His .370 batting average in 46 at-bats is the fourth-best in franchise history for players with at least 40 at-bats.
Phil Clark, who played in 1992, holds the record with a .407 batting average in 54 at-bats. Timo Perez, who hit .389 in 90 at-bats in 2007, is second, and Tom Hughes, who had a .373 mark in 59 at-bats in 1930, is third, Merritt, who was 20 at the time of his appearance in the majors, was the youngest of those four players.