Talkin’ Baseball With Willie Horton

By Tim Twentyman
Updated: July 26, 2007

DETROIT — Getting to know former Tiger Willie Horton, now a special assistant to president Dave Dombrowski:

Q . You grew up in Detroit and played most your career in Detroit. How much love do you have for this city?

A . I don’t think there is a word for the love I have. My life belongs to the people and that is what that statue up there signifies and that is what that No. 23 is all about. That is what I made my testimony about when they unveiled that statue. Thanks to my dad and the promises he made, I learned to live my life for the fans.

Q . You have been to all the major cities. What makes Detroit unique?

A . Detroit is Detroit. Detroit is something special to me. I look at myself playing strikeout on the Tiger Stadium wall as a kid and growing to a young man playing professional ball and getting involved in the rise of seeing the city grow. This is a new region, but I see some things in front of us that are going to be very beautiful in the next few years.

Q . How has the city changed in 40 years?

A . Coleman Young was a state representative and came on to be one of the great mayors we had in the city. I became part of his staff later in my life after baseball and I learned a lot from him about, really, how to work with people. When it comes to people, you might be a Republican or Democrat, but when it comes to family and kids you put all that aside and that is when things get done. I hope that starts to happen in the near future. The city council and the mayor’s office and all of those good people need to forget them little stars on their shoulders and start thinking about our grandbabies and things can getting done around here.

Q . You were always a power guy and a strength guy. What is that feeling like watching the ball fly out of the park?

A . A home run never excited me. I’ve been hitting balls out of the park ever since I was 9 years old. I just thought it was something everyone did.

Q . So you never really swung for the fences?

A . No. You don’t teach that. You can teach consistency and to be more of a contact hitter, but power is something you have to be born with. Some guys try to develop that and I think it hurts them.

Q . I read that you used the same batting helmet your entire career.

A . The same two helmets. I just gave one to the museum and the other one is here at the ballpark.

Q . How has baseball changed from when you played?

A . Baseball hasn’t changed. Baseball is the same — people change. Baseball is a ball and bat with nine guys in the field. Baseball is more corporate-run now, which has hurt the game in the last 10-15 years. They are trying to put the game before the fans. You can’t have the game without the fans. It has to be fans first and then baseball, the corporate world sometimes forgets that and starts looking at numbers. I’m very fortunate to have people like Mr. Ilitch and his family getting involved. You have more family run ownership getting back involved and you will see some of the old ways coming back where you see the Al Kaline’s and Willie Horton’s still involved. I think you need more of that in baseball because sometimes you get too corporate.