Dennis Ribant, who starred in Detroit sandlots, pitched for ’68 Tigers, dies at 81

Detroit News

Dennis Ribant grew up in Detroit and also played minor-league hockey for the Red Wings.

A member of the 1968 Detroit Tigers has died.

Dennis Ribant, a right-handed pitcher who was born in Detroit and grew up starring on the city’s sandlots against the likes of Willie Horton and Bill Freehan, died Monday in California. He was 81.

Ribant pitched sparingly for the 1968 Detroit Tigers, exclusively out of the bullpen, before he was traded away to the Chicago White Sox at midseason. He didn’t get to pitch for his hometown team in the 1968 World Series. Ribant pitched 14 games in relief and had a 2.22 ERA in 24.1 innings, before he was dealt for White Sox right-handed reliever Don McMahon, who pitched two innings in the 1968 World Series.

Ribant, admittedly, didn’t click with Tigers manager Mayo Smith.

“I was happy to be coming back to Detroit, but I didn’t get much of a chance to pitch,” Ribant once said, according to the Society for American Baseball Research. “I wasn’t crazy about him, because I didn’t pitch much for him.”

Ribant pitched parts of six seasons in the major leagues, debuting with the New York Mets in 1964. As a starter, he went 11-9 with a 3.20 ERA, one of the best pitching seasons at that time for the expansion franchise. He then went to Pittsburgh in 1967, before he was traded to Detroit in November 1967 for fellow right-hander Dave Wickersham.

It was an exciting development for Ribant, who grew up in the East Forest-Chene neighborhoods, and attended old St. Joseph High School. He didn’t play high school baseball because, according to SABR, the season was too short and the competition wasn’t good enough.

He made a name for himself in the sandlots and in the higher-caliber travel leagues, catching the attention of a scout from the Milwaukee Braves, who signed him before the 1961 season.

Tigers general manager Jim Campbell told Ribant not to sign with Milwaukee, because Detroit was interested.

“Jim Campbell told me before I went to Milwaukee, ‘Dennis, before you sign, we’d like to talk to you. We’re really interested in having you join the Tigers,'” Ribant once said, according to SABR. “But I’m 19 years old, I’m happy as can be. The Milwaukee (Braves) fly me out there and I’m in County Stadium with my dad, throwing batting practice to Eddie Matthews and Joe Adcock. I see Warren Spahn walking by and they say, ‘Dennis, we want you to sign, otherwise we don’t know if we’ll make any offer.'”

Ribant pitched three seasons in the Braves’ minor-league system, including a spectacular 17-2 year in the Midwest League in 1961. He had a 1.86 ERA.

In August 1964, the Braves traded Ribant to the Mets for veteran right-hander Frank Lary, a former Tiger.

After three seasons in New York and one Pittsburgh, he finally found himself back in Detroit, making $24,500. He roomed with Mickey Lolich, and was in awe of Al Kaline. In June, Ribant, featuring a curveball taught to him by his father, had a five-outing scoreless streak, but wasn’t Smith’s top option out of the bullpen, or even the second or third. He often went a week or more without pitching.

He pitched in 17 games for the White Sox in 1968, and split the 1969 season with the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds (while his old Mets were on their way to the World Series title).

Ribant pitched in the minor-league systems of the Pirates, San Diego Padres and Philadelphia Phillies before retiring after the 1973 season, and entering the life-insurance selling business. For his career, he was 24-39 with a 3.87 ERA.

“Dennis and I were teammates for a short while during the Detroit Tigers magical 1968 season,” former second baseman Dave Campbell, a Manistee native, posted in the condolences section of Ribant’s obituary. “Just a couple of Michigan kids living the dream. I was only with Detroit three weeks that year but still remember Dennis’ humorous demeanor and outgoing personality.”

Growing up in Detroit, Ribant also was a standout hockey player, even playing in the Red Wings’ minor-league system in the early 1960s.

According to the New York Post, Ribant is survived by wife Elizabeth; children Deron and Tracy; grandchildren Cortland, Jack and Peyton; and sister Marcia.

Twitter: @tonypaul1984

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