Detroit Tigers: The Bowling Green University Connection


On May 15, Bowling Green University announced that it was cutting its baseball program as part of a round of budget cuts necessitated by financial troubles brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Of the 19 players that Bowling Green sent to the major leagues, five have direct ties to the Detroit Tigers organization. Three saw in-game action with the Tigers, one was a pitching coach, and one was a prospect that became part of the biggest trade in franchise history.

John Knox

The Tigers drafted Knox in the eighth round in June 1970. None of the Tigers’ picks in the first seven rounds made it up to the big leagues. Knox debuted with the Tigers in 1972 and became the first drafted Bowling Green University player to reach the majors.

Knox made a cameo appearance in the 1972 American League Championship Series. He was added to the playoff roster as a replacement for shortstop Eddie Brinkman, who was forced out of action due to an injury after Game 1. In what turned out to be the decisive Game 5, the Tigers trailed the A’s 2-1 when Willie Horton singled to lead off the bottom of the eighth. Knox pinch ran for him but was promptly forced out at second when the next hitter, Dick McAuliffe, grounded back to the pitcher.

A second baseman by trade, Knox saw sporadic action in each of the next three seasons with the Tigers. He had two big late-inning hits that turned out to be game-winners in 1974, a seventh-inning RBI single in Cleveland on May 18 and a seventh-inning two-run single in Milwaukee on September 20.

Knox and Al Kaline played in the field together for four innings in Kaline’s final game. Knox replaced second baseman Gary Sutherland to begin the top of the second inning. That suddenly placed him ahead of Kaline in the batting order. In his first at-bat, in the bottom of the third, Knox bunted for a single. Kaline then flew out to left. In the fifth, Knox singled to right. He was on first base when Ben Oglivie pinch hit for Kaline.

Kip Young

Young was the Tigers’ 23rd round pick in the June 1976 draft that added Alan Trammell, Dan Petry, and Jack Morris to the organization. At the time he turned pro, Young held a number of Bowling Green pitching records.

He debuted with the Tigers in July 1978. After two innings of relief in his first appearance, Young joined the starting rotation. In his first start on July 24, he went the distance in a 4-1 win over the A’s. He finished with a flourish, retiring the last 12 hitters he faced. That prompted “We Want Kip!” chants from an excited Tiger Stadium crowd that wanted a curtain call.

Young followed that up with complete game wins at home on July 29 (Tigers 9, Mariners 1), August 4 (Tigers 7, White Sox 1), and August 9 (Tigers 5, Rangers 2). That last one resulted in another curtain call for Young. A year after Dave Rozema’s impressive rookie season and two years after Mark Fidrych’s meteoric season for the ages, it briefly looked like the Tigers had stumbled onto a new pitching phenom. About the ovation, Young commented,

"“I like it. When I get the crowd behind me like that, it drives me on. If they want me to come out, I’ll keep going out there. The fans have been good to me all along. Of course, I’ve been winning, too. I can’t 100% believe what’s happening. But I’m really pleased. And a little surprised.”"

The rookie relished the moment but kept it all in perspective. He said,

"“I know this streak is going to end sometime. At least I imagine it will. I don’t expect to complete every ball game I pitch. And I know I’m going to get hit hard sooner or later. It’s inevitable. No pitcher ever went through life without getting hit hard once in a while. All I want to do is pitch my best each game.”"

Young finished the season 6-7 with an ERA of 2.81 and seven complete games in 13 starts. He won a spot on the 1979 Opening Day roster, but after seeing limited action due to early season postponements, he struggled in his first four starts. Young was sent to the minors in early May. The Tigers called up Jack Morris to replace him. Morris, who had been the last cut before the team broke camp, blossomed into the Tigers’ ace that season. Young was called up again later but didn’t make an impact. He was sold to the Mariners in November and didn’t return to the majors.

Doug Bair

Bair pitched a no-hitter for Bowling Green in 1970, but he made his mark in the big leagues as a reliever. The Tigers were AL East contenders when they picked him up in a June 1983 trade to bolster their bullpen. Manager Sparky Anderson was excited about the addition. He said,

"“Doug’s a good boy. He’s a very outstanding human being. A very quiet guy. You’ll never hear him around the clubhouse. Never. He’s a gentleman at all times.I had him in ’78 (with the Reds), and he had 28 saves for us. This guy’ll help. He has a real good fastball and an excellent breaking ball…He’s got a hell of a live arm, and once in a while, he’ll really pop you. Nice and easy motion.”"

In his Tigers debut in Baltimore on June 25, Bair took over with two out in the fifth. The Orioles had rallied against starter Dave Rozema to cut a Tigers lead from 4-0 down to 4-3. With two runners on, Bair struck out John Lowenstein to end the threat. He followed with two scoreless innings. The Tigers went on to win 9-3. Because Rozema didn’t go five full innings, Bair was credited with the win. The victory put the Tigers into a temporary three-way first-place tie with the Orioles and Blue Jays.

Bair could put out fires quickly. On July 14 in Seattle, a two-run home run off Jack Morris with one out in the bottom of the ninth cut the Tigers’ lead to 4-2. After Morris walked the next hitter, Sparky went to Bair. A foul pop fly to Lance Parrish and a flyball to Chet Lemon later, and Bair had wrapped up the save. On July 18 in Oakland, Aurelio Lopez got into a ninth-inning jam. With one run in already, Lopez turned a bases-loaded situation and a 4-2 lead over to Bair. There were two out, and the dangerous Rickey Henderson was up. Bair fell behind 3-2 in the count before getting Rickey to fly out to right and end the game.

When Sparky needed innings from Bair, Bair delivered. He pitched in three or more innings on nine different occasions. On August 23, when Sparky needed a spot starter in Texas, Bair stepped up. In his first major league start, Bair threw six scoreless innings against the Rangers. He gave up only four hits, and his only walk was intentional. Explaining his approach, he said,

"“I took it one inning at a time…I sat in the dugout before I went out there in the first inning and I told myself, ‘Doug, pitch this first inning like its the only one and get through this first inning without them scoring a run.’ And then I did the same thing every inning after that. It was a matter of super concentration.”"

In 1984, Bair was an unheralded contributor, especially in comparison to high profile relievers  Lopez and Willie Hernandez. With the exception of a rough August, Bair was dependable. In his first appearance of the season, on a Friday the 13th in Boston, he was called upon in the first inning. The Tigers had scored eight runs in the top half, but the Red Sox quickly rocked Milt Wilcox for five. Bair got the last out in the first to quash the rally. He pitched four more innings, allowing the Red Sox only one more run as the Tigers triumphed 13-9. Bair was credited with the win.

On June 20, with the Tigers up 5-4 at home, the Yankees tied the game against Lopez in the eighth inning. The Tigers took the lead right back in the bottom half, but the Yanks re-tied the game against Hernandez in the ninth. Hernandez stuck around through the eleventh, and Bair took over to start the twelfth. He pitched two scoreless innings and got the win on Howard Johnson’s walk-off home run in the 13th. Bair described the Tigers’ post-game mood as “jubilation”.

Bair had a dominant performance in Minnesota on July 14. The Twins had just taken a 4-3 lead against Wilcox in the sixth. With a runner on second and two out, Sparky called Bair in. Bair got the third out and then pitched three straight 1-2-3 innings. The Tigers eventually pulled out a 6-5 win in 12 innings. It was that type of performance that had earned Bair the respect of both Sparky and pitching coach Roger Craig. Craig stated,

"“He’s been a lifesaver. He comes in in the middle of the game, so it goes unnoticed. But he does his job as well as any man in baseball.”"

When Hernandez blew a save opportunity for the only time all season in New York on September 28 as the Yankees tied the game in the eighth, Bair took over to start the ninth. He kept the Yanks off the board for four innings. Lou Whitaker’s two-run homer in the 12th gave Bair the win. It was the Tigers’ 103rd win of the season, which tied the franchise record set by the 1968 Tigers. (The Tigers finished with 104 wins in 1984.)

Bair was primarily a spectator in the post-season, however, pitching to only one batter in Game 2 of the World Series. He induced an inning-ending double play and got credit for pitching two thirds on an inning.

Jeff Jones

Jones, who was born in Detroit, attended St. Clair Community College in Port Huron before moving on to Bowling Green. There, he was a teammate of the school’s most famous baseball alumnus, Orel Hershiser. The Oakland A’s drafted Jones in the 13th round in 1977, and he debuted with them in 1980. Jones pitched at Tiger Stadium as a visitor three times. On July 10, 1983, he gave up a walk-off grand slam to Lance Parrish.

After pitching the last two years of his career in the Tigers organization, Jones transitioned to coaching. From 1989 through 1994, he was the pitching coach for Tigers’ farm clubs in Fayetteville, North Carolina (A); London, Ontario (AA); and Toledo (AAA). In 1995, Jones became the bullpen coach in Detroit, which made him a part of Sparky Anderson’s last Tigers coaching staff. When Buddy Bell replaced Sparky after the season, Jones returned to his role as minor league pitching coach with stops in Jacksonville, Florida (AA), and Toledo.

Bell was replaced by one of his coaches, Larry Parrish, with a month left in the 1998 season. Jones was called up to fill Parrish’s slot on the staff and took over as the Tigers’ bullpen coach again. He remained in that role in 1999. In July that year, the Tigers fired pitching coach Rick Adair. Instead of moving Jones into that role, they brought up Dan Warthen from Toledo. He was the Mud Hens’ pitching coach, but because Warthen had prior coaching experience at the major league level, he got the nod over Jones.

Phil Garner replaced Parrish after the season and didn’t retain Jones, who resumed his role as Toldeo’s pitching coach. After briefly filling in for an ailing Tigers coach, Bob Melvin, late in 2000, Jones got another crack at the majors in April 2002. Just days into the season, Tigers’ president and general manager Dave Dombrowski fired Garner and made some changes to new manager Luis Pujols’ coaching staff. Bullpen coach Ed Ott was out, and Jones was back in.

Jones was back out when another managerial change happened after the season. Incoming skipper Alan Trammell didn’t select Jones for his first coaching staff, and Jones once again became Toledo’s pitching coach. He stayed down there through 2006.  Heading into 2007, second-year manager Jim Leyland had an opening on his staff. Hitting coach Don Slaught retired, and bullpen coach Lloyd McClendon took over that role. When Leyland offered Jones the familiar bullpen coach position, Jones said that it took him two seconds to accept.

He got a scare in October 2008 when he was let go along with pitching coach Chuck Hernandez, but was brought back later in the month after the Tigers hired pitching coach Rick Knapp, who wanted a bullpen coach with a pitching background. Jones remained the Tigers’ bullpen coach until he received one last promotion in July 2011 when Knapp was fired.

After bouncing around and toiling for over 22 seasons in an often turbulent organization, Jeff Jones had finally become the Detroit Tigers’ pitching coach. The Tigers’ ERA improved from 4.41, when Knapp was fired, to 4.04 by the end of the year, and the Tigers won their first of four straight AL Central Division titles. Under Jones’ tutelage, the Tigers’ ERA dropped to 3.75 (8th best in MLB) in 2012 and 3.61 (9th best in MLB) in 2013. Leyland said,

"“I don’t say much about him because I don’t like to brag about him, but I’ve got a terrific pitching coach. He’s very good at spotting stuff. I think Jeff does a terrific job of in-game adjustments.”"

Max Scherzer was one pitcher who blossomed greatly under Jones’ watch. The season before Jones became the Tigers’ pitching coach, the team had optioned a struggling Scherzer to Toledo at one point. He’d seemingly hit a wall again at the time of Jones’ promotion in 2011, and fixing Scherzer became Jones’ first project as pitching coach. With Jones’ guidance, Scherzer developed into a Cy Young Award winner for the first time in 2013. He said,

"“He was such a good pitching coach for me because he related to me. He understood what I thought and how I wanted to pitch. He helped simplify my mechanics to make me more consistent. But most importantly, he helped develop my curveball. It all started in [a bullpen session] in Cleveland and it has really helped me achieve a level of pitching I never knew I had.”"

Leyland retired after the 2013 season. Jones had also contemplated retirement, but new manager Brad Ausmus talked him into staying. Jones finally retired after the 2015 season.

Burke Badenhop

After leading the Mid-American Conference in victories in his senior year at Bowling Green, the Tigers drafted Badenhop in the 19th round in June 2005. Although he was planning a career in economics, the lure of pro ball proved to be too strong to resist. He signed and made 14 starts for the short season A-ball Oneonta Tigers in the New York-Pennsylvania League. His 2.92 ERA led the O-Tigers’ starters.

Badenhop spent 2006 with the Low-A West Michigan Whitecaps in the Midwest League. He was the ace of the staff that year. In 171 innings, he struck out a team-leading 124, walked only 31, and put up a 2.84 ERA and 1.175 WHIP. He helped lead the Whitecaps to a Midwest League championship and was named the Tigers’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year.

In 2007 Badenhop spent most of the season with the High-A Lakeland Flying Tigers, where he was again one of the most productive starting pitchers on the team. He also made three starts for the Double-A Erie Seawolves in the Eastern League and completed two of them. Following the season, the Tigers sent him to the Arizona Fall League.

Badenhop’s career path changed in a big way when he was included in the package of prospects that the Tigers sent to the Florida Marlins in exchange for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis in December 2007. Badenhop played for five teams in the majors from 2008 through 2015. He faced Cabrera five times in his career. Miggy got two hits and a walk, although Badenhop once got him to ground into an inning-ending double play.