Horton named All-Star honorary coach

Detroit Tigers

DETROIT — No matter how the rosters shape up for next month’s All-Star Game, the Tigers will be represented by one of their all-time greats at the Midsummer Classic at Dodger Stadium. Willie Horton, a four-time All-Star as a player and a longtime special assistant in the Tigers front office, has accepted an invitation to join Dusty Baker’s staff as an honorary coach for the American League All-Stars.

“It will be one of my greatest honors to stand alongside one of the best baseball men I know, Mr. Dusty Baker, as an honorary coach at this year’s All-Star Game,” Horton said in a statement. “Some of my greatest memories from his playing career came from my four All-Star appearances, and I’m excited to help represent the Tigers among baseball’s best and brightest at Dodger Stadium next month.”

All four of Horton’s All-Star selections came during his 15-year Tiger tenure. He was the American League’s starting left fielder in 1965 and 1968 before making it as a reserve in 1970 and 1973. He had two hits, an intentional walk and a run scored in the 1970 game at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium.

Horton’s 1968 season was arguably the greatest in his career, helping lead the Tigers to a World Series title while forging his role off the field as a prominent figure in a community trying to heal from the 1967 riots. Horton hit a career-best 36 home runs in 1968 with a .285 average, 85 RBIs and an .895 OPS. His production defied the offensive trends of a season that became known as the Year of the Pitcher. He finished fourth in AL MVP voting that season behind teammate and 30-game winner Denny McLain and catcher Bill Freehan. In the World Series, Horton hit .304 with a double, triple, home run, five walks, six runs scored and three RBIs, but he was best known for throwing out Lou Brock at home plate to help the Tigers avoid elimination in Game 5 on their way to overcoming a 3-1 deficit and winning in seven games.

The Tigers retired Horton’s number 23 and unveiled a statue in his honor in 2000; he’s the only Tiger not in the Baseball Hall of Fame who has his number retired, though that will change later this summer when the Tigers retire Lou Whitaker’s number 1.

Horton has been a special assistant with the Tigers since 2002, serving as a community ambassador, front-office advisor and player confidant. He regularly visits the clubhouse to talk hitting with players. Detroit City Council named an intersection near Horton’s childhood home as Willie Horton Drive in 2019. The state of Michigan has officially celebrated Willie Horton Day every year since 2004 on his birthday, Oct. 18.

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