DETROIT -- It was Willie Horton Day throughout the state of Michigan on Friday, honoring the Detroit native and former Tigers great for his contributions on the field and in the community. Unfortunately, Horton wasn't able to partake in any of the festivities on his 71st birthday.
Horton was sick and missed his 10th annual celebration at his former high school, Detroit Collegiate Preparatory High School at Northwestern. His birthday was declared Willie Horton Day in the state in 2004 on a bill signed by then-governor Jennifer Granholm. Members of the Willie Horton Foundation were at the high school on Friday afternoon to present a college scholarship to a selected student.
"Willie and I grew up in the projects," said Walter Terrell, one of Horton's high school teammates. "We've been knowing each other since 1955. He went on to the pros, and God gave him some exceptional abilities. But one thing he's always had was respect for Northwestern."
As a senior in high school, Horton helped lift his high school baseball team to a city title. Afterward, he signed with the Tigers, which led to an 18-year Major League career that included 14 seasons with his hometown team. In addition to helping Detroit to its 1968 World Series championship, Horton was a four-time All-Star and finished with 1,993 hits, 325 home runs and 1,163 RBIs.
Horton, who is now a special assistant in the Tigers' front office, had his No. 23 retired by the team in 2000. He also has a statue in the center-field stands.
"Detroit was a great place in 1968," said Gary Pollard, who serves on the Board of Governors at nearby Wayne State University. "Motown was putting out hit after hit, but the biggest superstar in town was Willie Horton. ... Willie Horton made you proud to be from Detroit."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. Bobby Nightengale is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.