John Lowe was a baseball reporting legend in Detroit for three reasons: his thoroughness, his invention of the “quality start’’ and the variety of gentlemen’s chapeaus that he wore to the ballpark.
John and I spent numerous nights aligned in the press box, in Tiger Stadium, in the Metrodome, and also at the World Series – where invariably the Detroit and Twin Cities reporters wound up in close vicinity.
The most jovial night we spent in a press box was on June 21, 1996, in Tiger Stadium, when Detroit’s Felipe Lira went nine scoreless innings to beat the Twins 2-0 on four hits. The shutout lowered Lira’s ERA to 6.56.
This was before Baseball Reference, but as Lira kept putting up zeroes, the light bulb went on for Lowe. He remembered another strong performance for Lira on the Summer Solstice of his rookie season.
Sure enough, Lira had gone 8 1/3 scoreless innings to beat Texas 1-0 on June 21, 1995.
“Clearly, Felipe Lira is Senor Solstice,’’ said John, and I stole that for the next day’s Star Tribune with nary a pang on conscienc.
Earlier this week, I received an e-mail from Lowe concerning a column I had written a few days earlier on Orlando’s plan to build a plaza on the location of Tinker Field, the city’s long-time ballpark that was demolished in 2015.
The Twins had held spring training at Tinker Field for 30 years (1961-1990), and the Griffith-owned Washington Senators long before that.
John’s e-mail included the following:
“Isn't Tinker Field where Koufax first put it all together? Didn't he mow down the Twins there in '61 after Norm Sherry got him to ease up a bit?
“So Koufax went from Tinker Field to Game 7 at the Met in '65.’’
I had to admit to Lowe that I wasn’t aware of that legend. Of course, thorough that he remains, John checked further and came up with confirmation. This was Lowe’s next e-mail, a synopsis of a passage in Jane Leavy’s biography of Koufax:
“In the spring of '61, some Dodgers folks had been trying to get Koufax to ease up just a bit, to give up some speed for accuracy.
“The first time he tries this is at a ‘B’ game at Tinker. Only three pitchers were scheduled to make the trip, and one missed the flight. (Aside from Lowe: I flew on the Dodgers plane in spring training; I don't doubt they flew from Vero to Orlando.)
“On the flight, catcher Norm Sherry told him to get the ball over the plate.
“Koufax walked the bases loaded with none out in the first. But he then threw seven scoreless innings and didn't allow a hit. I think you know the rest.
“So: The Twins become a part of baseball history before they play their first official game in Minnesota.
“And Koufax throws four no-hitters. The Twins manager that day, when Koufax took the big step toward those four no-hitters, was Cookie Lavagetto, who as a Dodger broke up Bill Bevens' no-hitter and beat him in Game 4 of the 1947 World Series.
“And Tinker Field is where Sandy Koufax became SANDY KOUFAX.’’
I’m writing this blog from the press box at an otherwise empty Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers. Looking out at the green and the boardwalk and a beautiful ballyard awaiting spring exhibitions, I can’t say that I miss Tinker Field.
I do miss John Lowe. Thorough, inventive and those hats, man … outstanding.