Friday, April 16, 2010
In 1963 a young slugger burst onto the scene in Detroit. In his first major league at bat, he hit a pinch hit home run off of Boston's Bob Hoffner.
Gates was one of Detroit's first home grown black stars, working his way through the minor league system as an outfielder. He had an impressing minor league resume, winning a batting title while at Durham of the Carolina league in 1961. After making an impression with his perfomance in 1963, he would make the parent club out of spring training in 64, and took over the full time left field job in May of that year. A good hitter, he hit 15 home runs in 123 games and batted over .300 as late as July 30.
In 65 he was expected to be a regular int he outfield, as his competition in spring training for the three spots were Willie Horton (a home grown sandlot star from Detroit), who had a total of 40 games of major league experience. Al Kaline, the established superstar. Dom Demeter, a veteran acquired in 64 in the Jim Bunning trade. Demeter had a string of 228 consecutive error less games as an outfielder (he committed two errors as a first basemen) going into 65. Purn Goldy, a 27 year old minor leaguer with a lifetime .231 bating average in 29 career games. Jim Northrup and Mickey Stanley, two young outfielders who appeared in 4 and 5 games respectively with Detroit in 64. George Thomas was the the final main outfielder.
What would happen to "Gator" in 65? He would become the main pinch hitter off of the bench, batting .265 in 37 appearances (he played in a total of 96 games). Pinch hitting would become a role that Gates would know well later in his career.
I never got to see him play as he retried before I started watching baseball. I only remember him as the hitting coach for the 84 World Champions.