John Fetzer and Tigers Baseball: A Legacy of Love
The Detroit Tigers' return to the World Series brings back memories for fans across Michigan, including a deep history that involves Fetzer Institute namesake John Fetzer.
Fetzer owned the Tigers when they won the 1968 World Series and built one of the best farm systems in the game. Fetzer, who died in 1991 at age 89, also was active in negotiating broadcast contracts for Major League Baseball -- including baseball’s initial national TV contract in 1967.
Fetzer, a broadcasting pioneer who had radio stations in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and other Michigan cities, led a syndicate that bought the Tigers in 1956 for $5.5 million. The purchase was made in part to retain access to the lucrative baseball broadcasts, and Fetzer was a leader in negotiating larger and more ambitious deals for the game. He helped create a national World Series broadcast and the national game of the week, among other innovations. Fetzer became full owner in 1961 and sold the club in 1983 to Ann Arbor’s Tom Monaghan, remaining chairman and partial owner during the 1984 World Series championship and beyond.
"I think his vision was that he could get this thing off the ground and get baseball and national TV together," Hall of Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell told MLB.com in 2007. "It would have consequences that he envisioned, I think. I think he was a visionary in that regard."
Current baseball Commissioner Bud Selig regarded Fetzer as his role model.
"I think about my mentor, John Fetzer," Selig told the New York Times a few years ago. "I was a new owner, and I believed in keeping your mouth shut for a few years. Around 1971, while the Tigers were still a good team, Mr. Fetzer voted in favor of a motion that was not in the best interests of his team.
"I remember we were on a flight together from New York to Detroit, and I asked, 'Mr. Fetzer, let me ask you a question. Why did you vote for that motion?' I will never forget his answer. He said: 'Buddy, you have to learn not to be myopic. If it's in the best interests of baseball, it is also in the best interests of the Detroit baseball team.'"
Fetzer once said that he didn't see himself as the owner of the Tigers, but as the guardian. The team, he believed, belonged to the fans, which was partly why he renamed the ballpark from Briggs Stadium to Tiger Stadium. While the NFL's Detroit Lions and NBA's Detroit Pistons relocated to the suburbs in the 1970s, Fetzer was steadfast about keeping the team in the city.
In 2009, Fetzer came within a vote of being elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He received eight votes, one less than the 75 percent required by the 12-man committee inducting executives and game pioneers.