Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Horton, Willie

William “Willie” Wattison Horton was one of the greatest baseball sluggers of his era, and a favorite with Detroit Tigers fans for his huge smile and monster hits. Born the youngest of 14 children in the small Appalachian town of Arno, Virginia, his parents moved the family to Detroit when he was young. 

In high school, Horton excelled at baseball, hitting his first homer at Tiger Stadium when 16-years-old, and later propelled his Northwestern High School team to the city championship in 1959. He signed with Tigers in 1961 and debuted in 1963 by launching a home run in his second major league at bat. 

A solidly built player, Horton played in the outfield through most of his career, and then became one of the league’s premier designated hitters. He posted double digit home run totals in 12 consecutive seasons, and regularly ranked near the top in slugging percentage. In 1977, the Tigers traded him to the Texas Rangers, and four trades later he retired as a player in 1980 after 2,028 games, posting a lifetime .273 batting average, 325 home runs, and a .457 slugging average. Despite his size, he also stole 20 bases.  

Besides being a presence on the Tigers 1968 World Championship team, Horton showed his mettle during the 1967 civil rebellion in Detroit when he left the stadium in his uniform, marched into the street, and attempted to calm the crowd without success. After his retirement from baseball, he became an integral part of the Tigers executive staff. In July 2000, Horton became only the sixth player to have his jersey retired by the team. He was also recognized in 2015 with the "Hank Aaron Champion for Justice Award." 



Willie Horton, c.1976

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