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In baseball, you play to win. But in life, you play for your family and for your community. That’s what Willie Horton says. You play with the hope that the next generation has a better life than you did. 

Horton, a hero in Detroit for nearly 60 years, has been building a better life not just for his own children but for children and fans of baseball across the city of Detroit. And he still does today.

Horton’s commitment to his own family is extraordinary. He and his wife, Gloria, have been pillars of strength for their family, and he’s proud to boast about his 45 grandchildren and great grandchildren.

“I’m fortunate in the journey that I’ve been on,” said Horton. “That journey has taught me to reach back and make it better for everybody else.”

The youngest of 21 children, Horton’s family moved to Detroit in the 1950s. By 13, he was turning the heads of area baseball scouts, and on Aug. 6, 1961, he signed his first professional contract with the Tigers after an outstanding career at Detroit’s Northwest High School.

Horton went to earn All-Star recognition four times in his career with the Tigers and to win the World Series with the team in 1968.

This Sunday, for the 17th year, the Detroit Tigers celebrate “Willie Horton Day.” The celebration honors Horton’s career in baseball and his lifelong achievements in shaping our community.

Horton is known for his strong values and generosity. His work with the Detroit Police Athletic League encouraged more kids from the city of Detroit to learn the game of baseball, with the organization doubling over the years.  

“Every kid should have the opportunity to play sports,” Horton said. “God gave me the ability to play this game. I wanted to represent all people.”

For that spirit, Horton has been a legend on and off the field, and is recognized for his incredible community impact.

“Willie Horton’s values and commitment to inspiring youth and community continue to influence us all,” said Christopher Ilitch, Chairman and CEO of Detroit Tigers. “What’s so endearing about Willie is his humble approach and his genuine love for people.  We are blessed to have a man of Willie’s stature and integrity represent the Olde English D, and it’s only fitting we celebrate him.” 

On July 15, 2000, the Detroit Tigers retired Horton’s uniform number 23, and a statue in Horton’s likeness was unveiled in Comerica Park, where it stands today. 

These, just a few markers of Horton’s great career, stand as a reminder of a man who put his family and community first.