Former Free Press writer John Lowe wins BBWAA Career Excellence Award, going to Hall of Fame

Detroit Free Press

John Lowe’s commitment to journalism, to baseball, and to service, has made him a Hall of Famer.

Lowe, the former longtime Detroit Tigers beat writer for the Free Press, has been elected the 2023 winner of the Baseball Writers Association of America Career Excellence Award, the BBWAA announced on Tuesday.

He will be honored during next summer’s Baseball Hall of Fame ceremony in Cooperstown, New York, in July.

When he first heard he won the award, Lowe told the Free Press he first “thought about the countless number of people through my life that helped me and helped make this possible. And I also thought how honored I was to be on the ballot. And then I thought how honored I was to be on the ballot with Gerry Fraley and Bruce Jenkins, both people I truly respect.”

Renown among baseball scribes and professed “seamheads” for his shirt, tie, suitcoat and Panama hat in the press box, Lowe covered the Tigers for 29 seasons. His mark on how journalists and fans view the game has been etched in time with his creation of the stat “quality start” for when a starting pitcher throws six or more innings and allows three earned runs or fewer.

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“To say I have received this honor, I is now a plural pronoun,” Lowe said. “… This is so much about the Free Press, not only that they let me cover baseball so long, but they allowed me to cover in the way I felt was best. In 29 years at the Free Press, I never heard the phrase, ‘we don’t do it that way.'”

One of Lowe’s former colleagues was also once a mentee. Former Free Press sports writer Jon Morosi covered the Tigers with Lowe from 2006-08, before Morosi joined Fox Sports and later the MLB Network. The Bay City native still lives in Michigan while covering baseball on a national scale.

“To sit by John as he watched a game, he would pick up a lot of nuances that you wouldn’t notice,” Morosi said. “… For John, he had this incredible ability to focus on the game. And he would notice things that others didn’t, and then he had the presence of mind to slow it down and ask the question that had to be asked to really illuminate what happened.”

A former BBWAA president, Lowe joined the Free Press in the early stages of the 1986 season from the Philadelphia Inquirer, after spending time covering the Angels and Dodgers for the Los Angeles Daily News. The Southern Cal grad went on to cover the 1987 American League East Division winners, Mike Ilitch’s purchase of the Tigers, the retirements of Sparky Anderson, Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell, the final game at Tiger Stadium and the team’s most successful run in franchise history.

Lowe was named Michigan sports writer of the year in 2012.

Morosi said much of Lowe’s legacy is his commitment to mentoring future sports writers and other professions, especially students at the Michigan Daily, U-M’s student newspaper.

Morosi said Lowe would read and review his stories covering Harvard hockey, whether Lowe was in the Tigers press box or Lakeland or anywhere else.

“He was a Hall of Fame person before he was a Hall of Fame writer,” Morosi said.

“It’s almost like one of the great coaching trees in football. John has his tree in baseball,” Morosi said. “John is so ‘other-centric.’ He wants to build people up. With John, there’s two parts of this legacy. It’s the quality of his work, but the quality of his mentorship I think has made an equally enduring impact on the game.”

Lowe said his willingness to help mentor others comes from not only his Christian faith, but his urge to pay forward what he was afforded, covering Major League Baseball as early as age 19.

“I just feel incredibly fortunate and in debt of people, and many of those folks worked for the Free Press,” Lowe said.

In an ironic twist fit for a baseball writer, John Lowe’s final game he covered for the Free Press was the Tigers’ final loss in the 2014 playoffs, at home to the Baltimore Orioles. He announced his retirement from journalism the following week. The Tigers have not been to the postseason since.

Lowe, who often told people he covered an institution, for an institution, is the third writer from Detroit to earn the Career Excellence Award. Former Free Press and Detroit News columnist Joe Falls was the 2001 winner, and Tom Gage, Lowe’s counterpart for many years at the Detroit News, won the award in 2015. Other recent award winners include Tim Kurkjian (2022), Jayson Stark (2019), Claire Smith (the first woman; 2017) and Peter Gammons (2004).

“In this day in age, the rewards and the satisfactions are often so immediate and also very fleeting,” Morosi said. “And this is an enduring honor for someone who did his job in a very persistent and conscientious and thoughtful way. Those virtues still win, and they should win. And this is a win for the virtues that John represented so completely throughout his career.”

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