Tom Matchick, member of 1968 world champion Tigers, dies at 78

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

He played only three seasons with the Tigers, but one of those years was 1968.

And that was long enough, and opportunity enough, for a part-time player like Tom Matchick to earn a high-profile place in Tigers history.

Matchick, 78, died Tuesday in his native Ohio, it was announced by the Tigers.

Tommy Matchick blows a kiss to the crowd after he is introduced at a ceremony in 2018.

His grand moment for the Tigers came during Detroit’s merry, season-long romp to a world championship in 1968 — on a Friday evening at Tiger Stadium, July 19.

There were 53,208 tickets sold, the most in seven years at Tiger Stadium, as the then-regal Orioles came to Detroit with ideas of putting heat on the first-place Tigers.

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Earl Weaver’s team was about to move a game closer with a 4-3 lead, a man on base for the Tigers, and the left-handed batting Matchick arriving, with two out, to duel with Orioles right-handed reliever Moe Drabowski.

Matchick was a swing-infielder and hardly a power-hitter (four homers in six big-league seasons). But he wheeled on a Drabowski fastball and dropped it into the lower deck in right field. The Tigers won another game from their Broadway-worthy stream of ’68 scripts, and Matchick had his biggest moment as a big-leaguer.

He was traded in 1970 to the Red Sox in a deal that brought Dalton Jones to the Tigers. Matchick later played also for the Royals, Brewers and Orioles before wrapping up his career during a series of minor-league seasons.

A red-headed, ever-beaming gent — and a Toledo native — Matchick returned to Detroit in 2018 for the 50th anniversary of the ’68 Tigers during weekend ceremonies at Comerica Park.

He also appeared with Al Kaline, Willie Horton, and with ex-Lions quarterback Greg Landry during a fan celebration at The Corner Ballpark, operated by the Detroit Police Athletic League, at the site of old Tiger Stadium in Detroit. Landry was included because of the Lions’ years at Tiger Stadium.

During the reunion, Matchick talked about the team on which he most made an imprint:

“I’ve been to Boston, Kansas City, Baltimore, and Milwaukee,” he said, “and had the honor of playing with Hall of Fame members like Al Kaline and Carl Yastrzemski, Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer.

“But my favorite place was Detroit. I loved the Detroit fans. Of all the places I’ve played, I wish I could have stayed longer in Detroit. The fans supported their team.

“Even now,” he continued, acknowledging that the then-rebuilding Tigers were having some rough years, “fans always come to the games.”

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.