Champ Summers

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John Junior Summers

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Biographical Information[edit]

" . . . we were trying to leave Tiger Stadium after losing the World Series. Rioting fans shook our bus until I came out the door and stopped them because they knew who I was from having had a few good years with the Tigers. It was scary." - Champ Summers

Champ Summers, who started in professional ball at age 25, bounced from the Oakland Athletics to the Chicago Cubs to the Cincinnati Reds before finally establishing himself in the majors with the Detroit Tigers at age 32. In 1979, he hit 20 home runs in 90 games with the Tigers after being traded from the Reds, and the next year he hit 17 while primarily playing designated hitter.

According to a 2003 Chicago Sun Times article, Summers was discovered playing men's softball after having served in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive. His father was a Navy prizefighter and a railroad worker, while his mother was a professional bowler and a waitress. Growing up in Belleville, Illinois, he was already an excellent athlete, and Gloria Connors, the mother and coach of a young Jimmy Connors, asked him to play tennis against her son so he could play against an older and tougher opponent; it was Summers who had trouble keeping up against Connors, who was six years younger. Summers enrolled in Francis T. Nicholls State College where he played two years of basketball. He got into a fight with a teammate and was kicked off the team. No longer in school, he was drafted into the Army and spent two years in Vietnam. He then enrolled at SIUE, where he played two more years of basketball. He did not try out for baseball until his senior year. When he was looking for his first baseball contract, Summers said that the St. Louis Cardinals didn't want to sign him because he was 25. He was signed by scout George Bradley for the Oakland A's for $500.

He first came up with the Oakland Athletics in 1974, hitting .125 in 20 games; the A's won their third consecutive World Series that year, but he was not on their postseason roster. He spent the 1975 season with the Chicago Cubs after being traded for pitcher Jim Todd and hit .231 in 76 games, mainly as a pinch-hitter. In 1976, he hit .206 in 83 games. He was 30 at the times, and had never had more than 126 at-bats in any season. He was on the move again after that season, moving to the Cincinnati Reds in return for OF Dave Schneck before the 1977 season, but hit just .171 in 59 games. On June 12th that season, he hit an inside-the-park homer as a pinch-hitter in a 14-8 win over the Montreal Expos; he was the last to do that until Stuart Fairchild in 2024. He also played with the Reds in 1978 and 1979, hitting .257 in 13 games the first year, and .200 in 27 games the second. His career was pretty undistinguished until then, but a trade to the Detroit Tigers in return for P Sheldon Burnside on May 25th would change that.

After joining the Tigers, Summers went on a tremendous tear, batting .313 in 90 games with 20 homers and 51 RBIs, for an OPS+ of 171. He was the team's main rightfielder after the trade and continued to hit well in 1980, when he hit .297 in a career-high 120 games, with 17 homers and 60 RBIs. His OPS+ fell slightly, to 143, but was still outstanding. He returned to earth in 1981, to a degree, as he hit .255 in 64 games with just 3 homers and 21 RBIs for an OPS+ of 99. he played for two more teams after that, the San Francisco Giants in 1982 and 1983, where he was back to pinch-hitting as a principal occupation, then the [[[San Diego Padres]] in 1984, when he hit .185 in 47 games.

His last major league appearance was in the 1984 World Series with the Padres against the Tigers, his former team. He went 0 for 3 as a pinch-hitter during the postseason, in what were the only postseason games of his career. In 1989, Summers played for the Fort Myers Sun Sox of the Senior Professional Baseball Association. He batted .292 in 10 games. He was also a big league coach with the New York Yankees in 1989 and 1990. Summers was also a coach for the Columbus Clippers in 1987-1989.

He moved to Ocala, FL in retirement and died there in 2012 at age 66 after a long bout with kidney cancer.

Notable Achievements[edit]

Year-By-Year Managerial Record[edit]

Year Team League Record Finish Organization Playoffs
2001 Gateway Grizzlies Frontier League 37-44 8th Independent Leagues

Further Reading[edit]

  • Scott Ferkovich: "Champ Summers", in Chip Greene, ed.: Mustaches and Mayhem, Charlie O's Three-Time Champions: The Oakland Athletics 1972-74, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2015, pp. 537-542. ISBN 978-1-943816-07-1

Related Sites[edit]