Longtime Tigers writer Lowe wins BBWAA’s highest honor

Detroit Tigers

SAN DIEGO — For the second time in nine years, a former Tigers beat writer is receiving the highest honor from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. That, as the great John Lowe would probably say, is outstanding.

Lowe, whose 36-year career as a baseball writer included the creation of the quality start statistic, two golden eras of Tigers baseball and the mentoring of a generation of young writers, has won the BBWAA’s Career Excellence Award, presented annually to a journalist “for meritorious contributions to baseball writing.”

Lowe, who covered the Tigers for the Detroit Free Press from 1987 through 2014, will be honored at the National Baseball Hall of Fame as part of its induction weekend in July in Cooperstown, N.Y. He’ll join Tom Gage, his longtime counterpart at the Detroit News, and longtime Detroit columnist Joe Falls as winners of the honor.

Long before advanced metrics became a standard part of baseball lexicon, Lowe came up with the quality start in 1985 as a way to measure the effectiveness of a starting pitcher as complete games became more rare. The math was simple — six or more innings with three earned runs or fewer allowed — and reflected his experience talking with managers, coaches and executives around the league on what makes for an effective start.

Lowe’s appearance was old-school — a collared shirt and tie underneath a blazer, a straw hat protecting him from the sun — and his writing reflected a deep understanding of the game’s history. Yet his love for the game and the craft of covering it crossed generations.

From words of advice and encouragement to talks with journalism students at the University of Michigan and elsewhere, Lowe mentored writers aspiring to enter the business and others who already had arrived. He could pass on tips on how to conduct interviews in the clubhouse, how to assemble a game story on deadline, how to log and compile daily statistics before the internet did that for everybody and many other topics.

Part of that reflects a writer who got his start while he was still in college. Lowe covered Angels games for the L.A. Daily News before the paper made him its Dodgers beat writer. After four years chronicling the Dodgers, including their World Series season in 1981, Lowe moved east to the Philadelphia Inquirer to cover the Phillies. He moved to Detroit two years later. Between his stops, he covered 147 World Series games and more than 300 postseason contests, as well as Cal Ripken Jr’s record-setting consecutive games streak in 1995 and the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home-run chase in 1998.

All the while, his passion for the game and for writing was too strong to not share.

Lowe won the award by two votes out of 382 ballots cast by BBWAA members with 10+ consecutive years covering baseball. The late Gerry Fraley, who covered the Phillies, Braves and Rangers for nearly 40 years, finished a close second.

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