Former Tigers Avila, Tanana among world-class athletes who have made the Catholic League proud

DETROIT — According to Baseball-Reference.com, there have been 19,429 players in Major League Baseball history dating back to 1871.

Twenty-two of those players are alumni of the Catholic High School League, established in 1926. The first CHSL player in the majors was pitcher Steve Gromek, from Hamtramck St. Ladislaus, who made his debut on Aug. 18, 1941, for the Cleveland Indians, the start of a 17-year career, the last four of which were with Detroit.

Pat Preston, a 1965 graduate of St. Martin of Tours High School (closed in 1970) in the Jefferson-Chalmers area where he played football, basketball and baseball, has become a kind of historian of CHSL athletics. He shared his list of the CHSL players who made it to the major leagues, and I fleshed out their history.

Here’s our lineup. Did we miss anyone? Let me know.

1B-Catcher: Alex Avila (Warren De La Salle)

When, in 2002, his father Al was named vice president and assistant general manager of the Tigers, the family moved to the Metro Detroit area, and Alex attended De La Salle Collegiate for his sophomore year. He moved back to Florida for his junior and senior years of high school. Played with the Tigers (2009–2015), White Sox (2016), Tigers again (2017), traded to the Cubs (2017); and, since 2018, with the Diamondbacks.

2B: D. J. LeMahieu (Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice)

Eight years in the majors (2011-2018), seven years with the Colorado Rockies. Led majors in batting in 2016 with .348. Career .298 hitter. Three Golden Gloves, three-time Defensive Player of the Year; two All Star game selections. In January, signed a 2-year, $24 million contract with the Yankees. In his senior year at Rice, he batted .574 with eight home runs, 70 runs scored, 32 runs batted in, and 39 stolen bases. Full name: David John.

SS: Ted Kazanski (Hamtramck St. Ladislaus)

He played 417 games as a second baseman, shortstop and third baseman for six years (1953-1958) for the Philadelphia Phillies. One of the most highly rated schoolboy ballplayers of his time, he was given a reported $100,000 bonus to sign with the Phillies in 1951. In 1956, he belted an inside-the-park grand slam and started a triple play in the same game.

3B: Chris Sabo (Novi Detroit Catholic Central)

Nine years in the majors (1988-1996), seven with Cincinnati Reds. Rookie of the Year in 1988: he hit .271 with 11 home runs, 44 RBIs, stole 46 bases, hit 40 doubles. Led the National League with 31 double plays turned as a third baseman. Played in three All Star games. In the Reds’ 1989 World Series championship, he batted .583, including two home runs and five RBI. Currently he is the head baseball coach at the University of Akron.

Left field: Tom Paciorek (Hamtramck St. Ladislaus)

Played 18 years in the majors with six teams (1970-1987): the Dodgers, Mariners, White Sox, Braves, Rangers and Mets. Played all three outfield positions, third base, first base, and one game as catcher. Second in 1981 American League (w/Mariners) batting .326. Following his retirement, he worked as a color commentator for various MLB clubs, most notably the White Sox.

Center field: Ron LeFlore (Detroit St. Rose)

He attended St. Rose for one semester. He played nine years in the majors (1974-1982), six with the Tigers, who signed him on parole from Jackson State Prison after Manager Billy Martin saw him play baseball for the prison team. He led the American League with 68 stolen bases in 1978 and the National League in 1980 with 97 steals for the Montreal Expos, the only player to accomplish that feat. He had 455 steals in his career. In the summer of 2011, LeFlore had his right leg amputated from the knee down due to complications caused by arterial vascular disease. He lives in Florida.

Right field: John Paciorek (Hamtramck St. Ladislaus)

He debuted in 1963 with the Houston Colt 45s in the last game of the season. He went 3 for 3, walked twice, drove in three runs, and scored four runs. He had suffered a back injury earlier that year in the minors. He retired after playing parts of four more seasons in the minors. He graduated from the University of Houston, and became a physical education teacher. Paciorek is rare among MLB players in having a perfect batting average of 1.000, the only player to achieve this distinction with three turns at-bat. Some 23 players have batted 1.000 with one at-bat, three with two at-bats.

Catcher: Jim Essian (Detroit St. Martin of Tours)

Played 12 years for five teams (1973-1984): Phillies (signed when he was 18 years old), Athletics, White Sox, Indians and Mariners. Essian later became a coach for the Chicago Cubs, and in 1991 he managed the Cubs after Don Zimmer was fired; he finished that year with a won-loss record of 59-63. Essian was the first-ever manager in baseball of Armenian heritage. He is the current head coach of the Greek National Baseball Team and in 2017 became the manager of the Utica Unicorns of the United Shore Professional Baseball League, which plays its games at Jimmy Johns Field in Utica.

Designated Hitter: Jim Paciorek (Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Prep)

The youngest of the Paciorek brothers, he spent most of his career in the minor leagues, but played 48 major league games in 1987 for the Milwaukee Brewers. He played first base, third base, and outfield. From 1988-92, he played in Japan, where he became one of the league’s best hitters, batting over .300 four years in a row.

Utility: Gerry Schypinski (Novi Detroit Catholic Central)

He played for the Kansas City Athletics in 1955, appearing in 22 games with 20 starts (two of them as a second baseman) during the waning weeks of the season. He missed part of 1953 and all of 1954 while serving in the U.S. military during the Korean War.

Utility: Al Moran (Novi Detroit Catholic Central)

Originally signed by the Boston Red Sox before the 1958 season, Moran was traded to the Mets in January 1963. He played shortstop for two years with the New York Mets (1963-1964). Moran played in 135 games, collecting 69 hits in 353 at-bats for a .195 batting average.

Utility: John McHale, Sr. (Novi Detroit Catholic Central)

Played first base five years, all with Detroit (1943-1945; 1947-1948). Only 125 times at bat in 64 games, a .193 average. He won a World Series ring in 1945, getting three at-bats in those seven games. He became a highly esteemed major-league executive from 1948 through 1989. He worked for the Detroit Tigers, the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves, the commissioner’s office, and the Montreal Expos. He died at the age of 86 in 2008.

Utility: Daniel Fields (Detroit U-D Jesuit)

He was an outfielder drafted by the Tigers in 2009 in the sixth round out of high school. He made his major league debut on June 4, 2015, (he was 24) against Oakland. His first major league hit was a double in the ninth inning. He is in his ninth season in the minors.

Frank Tanana warms up before a game in 1992 in the Tigers bullpen while pitching coach Billy Muffett watches. (Mike Fitzpatrick | Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-2.0)

Starting Pitcher: Frank Tanana (Novi Detroit Catholic Central) 

Left-hander pitched 21 years (1973-1993) in the majors for six teams: Angels (8 years), Red Sox, Rangers, Tigers (8 years), Mets and Yankees. Career 240-236, ERA 3.66, 34 shutouts, 4,188 innings pitched. In 1975, led AL with 269 strikeouts. Career 2,773. He is one of only 23 major league pitchers to have struck out at least 2,700 batters in his career. Tigers fans remember the final day of the 1987 season, when Tanana pitched a 1-0 complete game shutout over the second-place Toronto Blue Jays to clinch the American League East title.

Starting Pitcher: Art Houtteman (Novi Detroit Catholic Central) 

Pitched 12 years (1945-57), eight for the Tigers. Record 87-91; 78 complete games, 14 shutouts. As 1949 spring training began in Lakeland, he was nearly killed while driving home from Florida Southern College, crashing into a fruit truck and fracturing his skull. He rebounded from his injuries and went on to win 15 games that season and made his only All-Star appearance in the following year. He died in 2003 at the age of 75.

Starting Pitcher: Ray Herbert (Novi Detroit Catholic Central)

Pitched 14 seasons (1950-1951; 1953-1955; 1958-1966) for the Kansas City Athletics, Tigers (4 years), White Sox and Phillies. (He missed 1952, in the Korean War service. From 1956-57, he was in the minors). Record 104-107; 68 complete games, 13 shutouts and 15 saves. Led the AL in 1963 with 7 shutouts.

Starting Pitcher: Steve Gromek (Hamtramck St. Ladislaus)

Pitched 17 years (1941-1957) for Cleveland and Detroit 4 years. Record 123-108, 3.41 ERA, 92 complete games, 17 shutouts. He was the winning pitcher in game four of the 1948 World Series with the Indians. His career is best remembered for a post-game celebratory photo taken of him hugging Larry Doby, the first black player in the American League, whose third inning home run provided the margin of victory. The photo became a symbol for integration in baseball. He died in 2002 at age 82.

Relief Pitcher: Bob Miller (Redford St. Mary’s)

Pitched 10 seasons (1949-1958), all with the Philadelphia Phillies. Record 42-42, 3.96 ERA. He was a member of the 1950 “Whiz Kids,” only the second Phillies team to win a National League pennant. He was the head coach at the University of Detroit from 1965-2000, compiling 896 wins.

Relief Pitcher: Scott Kamieniecki (Redford St. Mary’s)

Pitched 10 years (1991-2000) for Yankees, Orioles, Indians and Braves. Record 53-59. Played four years at Michigan; drafted in 14th round in 1986 by the Yankees.

Relief Pitcher: Dennis Ribant (Detroit St. Joseph)

Pitched six seasons (1964-1969) for six teams: Mets (3 years), Pirates, Cardinals, Reds, Tigers and White Sox. Record 24-29, 3.87 ERA.

Relief Pitcher: Dave DeBusschere (Detroit Austin)

Pitched two seasons (1962-1963) for the Chicago White Sox. Record 3-4, 2.90 ERA, 102.1 innings, 61 strikeouts, 57 walks. In 1964, the Pistons offered him their coaching job as an incentive to quit baseball. With that, DeBusschere, 24, became the youngest head coach in NBA history — and went on to be acclaimed as one of the 50 greatest players in the NBA. He died in 2003 at the age of 62.

Closer: Paul Assenmacher (Southgate Aquinas) 

Pitched 14 years (1986-1999) for the Indians, White Sox, Braves and Yankees. Record 61-44, 3.53 ERA; 884 games (only 1 start), 817 innings, 807 strikeouts, 56 saves.

Contact Don Horkey at dhorkey@wowway.com.


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