DETROIT -- Jim Price, who followed a career as a Tigers backup catcher with a 31-year tenure as a beloved voice broadcasting Tigers games on radio and television, has passed away at age 81.
“All of us with the Detroit Tigers are deeply saddened to learn of Jim Price’s passing,” said Tigers chairman and CEO Chris Ilitch. “Jim was a champion on the field, in the broadcast booth, and throughout the community. That Jim was with the organization for much of his life, doing what he loved, is such a powerful sign of his dedication and loyalty to the Tigers and the city of Detroit. Those are among the many reasons Jim was one of my mother and father’s favorite people, and they had such a strong relationship for many years. The thoughts of my family, and everyone across baseball, are with Jim’s wife, Lisa, and the entire Price family.”
Born in 1941 in Harrisburg, Pa., Price signed with the Pirates out of high school and spent seven years in their farm system before the Tigers purchased his rights and brought him up to pair with All-Star Bill Freehan.
Price played five years in Detroit, hitting 18 home runs with 71 RBIs to go with a .214 career average. His second career home run was a walk-off homer to beat the White Sox at Tiger Stadium on Aug. 21, 1968, and he played in the Tigers’ World Series victory over the Cardinals that fall.
Price went into business after his playing career ended in 1971 but dabbled in broadcasting over the years as a way to stay involved in the game. He joined the Tigers after Mike Ilitch purchased the club in the early 1990s, and he became part of the team’s new cable broadcast team alongside former Tigers great Jim Northrup, Detroit broadcasting legend Frank Beckmann and later the great Ernie Harwell, who had called Price's games as a player.
The Price-Harwell partnership carried over to over-the-air television, then to radio, where they worked together from the late 1990s until Harwell’s retirement in 2002. Though Price was well known as an analyst, he would also do play-by-play for parts of games. Once Dan Dickerson took over primary play-by-play duties in 2003, he and Price became a familiar soundtrack for summers in Michigan as the Tigers rose from 119 losses in 2003 to the World Series in 2006 and then a decade as perennial contenders. Price, true to his first profession, would refer to catchers and their equipment as “the tools of intelligence” rather than the tools of ignorance, as the oft-used saying went. Every on-air mention of a town or city in Michigan, large or small, would bring a mention of “nice area” from Price. His broadcasting style and personality fostered such a following that a Jim Price Fan Club began.
“This is such sad news,” Dickerson said in a statement. “Jim and I were together for 24 seasons, and experienced both ends of the spectrum with our beloved Tigers -- from a tough season in the first year after Ernie retired, to two trips to the World Series. Jim helped get me through that first season, which made what happened three years later all the sweeter.
“My favorite memories working with Jim were the days when Al Kaline would stop in the booth -- and I’d get to hear them tell stories, swap some tall tales, just make each other laugh about something from the past, or current day. The ’68 team was my team -- the team that got me hooked on baseball, and I loved hearing all about the wildly different personalities that made up that team. And learning about things like the origins of Jim’s famous ‘Yellowhammer’ -- his colorful description of a good breaking ball. Jim said it came from teammate Pat Dobson and was named after a bird. So one day, we looked it up -- and sure enough, a Yellowhammer is a bird that is known for its ability to sharply dart down and away, just like a good curveball.
“We both got such a kick out of discovering that, and it always added to the moment whenever Jim would break it out -- and then we could share a laugh, knowing the history behind the word. ‘Buggywhip,’ ‘Qualify the speed of the runner,’ ‘Cut the pie,’ ‘Yellowhammer’ -- these folksy ‘Jim-isms’ were what made him such a fan favorite. As well as the way he connected us to the past, and to one of the greatest teams [he always said 'the greatest'] in franchise history. Every time I see a good curveball, I can’t help but think of Jim. I’m sure he won’t mind if I break out the occasional yellowhammer when I do. He will be missed.”
Price was also an active voice in the community, not just for the Tigers causes but for autism, a cause close to his heart. Jack’s Place for Autism, named after Price’s son, provides resources, services, programs and support for families to create a nurturing environment for children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The Tigers made Autism Awareness Day an annual event at Comerica Park.
“This is an incredibly sad day for the Tigers family,” said Price’s Tigers teammate and 1968 World Series champion Willie Horton. “Jimmy was one of a kind, and one of the best ambassadors for the organization since he retired as a player. He was an incredible teammate and friend to so many, and his impact will never be forgotten. My thoughts are with Lisa and all of Jim’s family.”
Price dealt with health issues in recent years, including multiple battles with cancer that he fought and won. He began to pare back his broadcast schedule in recent years, focusing on home games, but quietly took absences from games at Comerica Park this summer. He was on the air with Greg Gania for the Tigers’ combined no-hitter against the Blue Jays on July 8, his next-to-last game.
“He’s given almost all of his adult life to the Tigers, as a player, as a broadcaster,” said manager A.J. Hinch, who played with the Tigers with Price on the call in 2003. “He’s done so much for the organization and throughout the game. Sad to get that news today. We’ll think of his family and all the Tiger fans who loved him.”