The first-ever autograph I scored was Jim Northrup’s.

I’m fairly confident the year was 1978 and it was at my baseball banquet at St. Isaac Jogues in St. Clair Shores. Word had spread that there would be a Tigers player at the banquet and I held out hope, despite my brother’s assurances I was nuts, that the Tiger would be Mark Fidrych.

Instead, it was Northrup and I remember thinking, “This guy?”

Of course I knew who he was. I listened over and over to the album (which is now available on CD!) my Dad bought for me, The Year of the Tiger ’68, that chronicled Mayo Smith’s amazing team.

Still, he was no Bird. Or my then-hero Jason Thompson or Steve Kemp.

Ultimately it didn’t matter a whit because I was standing next to a man who played for the Tigers.

My encounter with Northrup was memorable for another reason: I think I annoyed him. We were one of the first families to arrive at the banquet, which was held in the church basement that five days a week served as my school lunchroom. I remember my Mom encouraging me to take the banquet program and asking him for an autograph. So I made a beeline to the little stage area where he was standing by himself and got his impeccably written signature.

A while later a player from my team showed up and he ran over to a table and grabbed a banquet ticket. He asked Northrup to sign it. So enthralled was I about Northrup being there — and mind you, it could’ve been any former Tiger at this point — I took one of the same tickets from that same table and scurried up to the stage and asked him for another autograph.

He looked down at me and said, “How many autographs do you want, kid?”

I was more than a little embarrassed but he winked at me and I didn’t feel so stupid. (As it ends up, the ticket I used for the second autograph belonged to my teammate’s sister and I had to relinquish it to her. No one, it seemed, was pleased with autograph number two.)

The Jim Northrup File

Bats: Left  Throws: Right
Height: 6′ 3″, Weight: 190 lb.

Born: November 241939 in Breckenridge, Mich.
High School: St. Louis (Mich.) High
School: Alma College
Signed
by the Tigers as an amateur free agent in 1960.
Debut: September 30, 1964
Numbers worn with Tigers: 30, 5
Teams (by games played): Tigers/Orioles/Expos 1964-1975
Final Game: September 27, 1975

Tigers Stats (11 seasons): 1,279 games;  .267 avg., 145 HR, 570 RBI, .763 OPS

I don’t remember much about what Northrup said during his after-dinner remarks but I do recall lots of laughter and my parents enjoying his reminscing about the ’68 team.

A few years later I got to know and appreciate Jim Northrup when he was Larry Osterman‘s partner on the old PASS network broadcasts. I can’t verify this but I would be shocked to learn that Northrup did one nanosecond of preparation. What I can guarantee is that no other Tigers announcer in my lifetime was as appropriately critical of players and the plays they made or didn’t make as old number 5. He was, in many ways, the un-Jim Price and I thoroughly enjoyed every game he called.

More on this from Lynn Henning in his column today:

No question, Northrup was glib and acerbic. So much so, his tongue got him into trouble as much as it got him noticed.

Exhibit A there was his career as a Tigers television announcer. It ended in 1995, and no one had to explain why Northrup was unceremoniously yanked. He was blunt, unapologetically so. A new front-office regime wasn’t interested in subjecting owner Mike Ilitch to Northrup’s reviews, no matter how accurate or welcomed they might have been by a Tigers audience.

Back to the baseball banquet. The event was winding down and we all had our trophies – which we’d earned and not every kid got one. Imagine.

Anyway, my Dad suggested I get an autograph on the bottom of my trophy. I explained I already had asked for two from Northrup and he might get mad. Dad shrugged and said, “Go ask him.”

So I walked up and ever-so meekly asked him to sign the trophy and he just smiled, signed it and as he handed it back to me said, “Way to go.”

From that moment on I was a Jim Northrup fan, though I never saw him play a single game.