Detroit Tigers: Once-In-A-Lifetime Home Runs
The foundation of punk rock was laid down in Detroit in the late 1960s, when bands like The Stooges and MC5 were running wild and ruling the stage at the city’s legendary Grande Ballroom. It took a couple decades, however, before the very different worlds of punk rock and Detroit Tigers baseball intersected. Jim Walewander was the player that brought them together.
The Dead Milkmen, who later became known for the song “Punk Rock Girl”, played a show in nearby Hamtramck on July 25, 1987. Walewander, a rookie infielder and pinch runner for the Tigers, was at the Saturday night gig.
The next day, the four band members were Walewander’s guests at Tiger Stadium. They even got to meet Sparky Anderson and posed for a photo in the dugout with the Detroit manager. The Milkmen didn’t stick around for the Tigers’ afternoon game against the California Angels, though. Walewander joked, “I guess they’re not used to sunlight.” That’s too bad. They missed out.
Detroit held a slim 2-1 lead in the bottom of the sixth when Walewander came up with a man on and two outs. The Tigers’ ninth-place hitter crushed a pitch from Angels’ right-hander Willie Fraser that bounced off the facing of the upper deck in right field for a two-run home run. Walewander said that he swung as hard as he could, but then admitted that he’d also swung as hard as he could at the pitch before that, which he missed. The homer was an unexpected moment for both the ol’ skipper and the youngster.
"Sparky: “Here I was sitting in the dugout, trying to figure out how to scratch out a couple more runs, and then Jimmy hits one. When it left his bat, I said, ‘That SOB is going out.'” Jimmy: “I knew I hit it good, but I thought it might go up the gap to the wall. I was kind of surprised it went that far.”"
The Tigers won 6-2. Although Walewander’s favorite band wasn’t on hand to witness his heroics, his parents were. It turned out that Mr. and Mrs. Walewander weren’t actually the only ones at the ballpark who were there to see Jim play. After he crossed home plate, a group of attendees from Marquette, Michigan, announced its presence by unfurling a 20-foot “Jim Walewander Fan Club” banner in the center field bleachers. The banner then ripped in half to punctuate the moment.
It was quite a weekend for Walewander, who sported a Dead Milkmen t-shirt while talking with reporters after the game. He was asked what he would do with the home-run ball. His answer was classic. The rookie replied,
"“I’m going to put it in my glove compartment with the one from my first hit. When I get enough balls to fill the glove compartment, then I’ll buy a new car.”"
(Note: in the video below, footage of the home run and the fan club’s banner can be seen in a 1988 ESPN feature about Walewander, which begins at the 16:57 mark.)