Editors note: Dan Ewald, Detroit Tigers public relations director in 1979-1995 and author of Sparky and Me: My Friendship with Sparky Anderson and the Lessons He Shared about Baseball and Life, sends along this tribute to former Tigers trainer Bill Behm, who died this morning.
Longtime former Detroit Tigers trainer Bill Behm died this morning in Dearborn, after a long illness. He was 90.
Retiring after the 1984 World Series championship season, Behm holds a franchise record that might stay for many years. During his 19 years with the franchise, he became the only Tigers trainer to have served the position for two World Series champion teams. The first came in his third season, with the 1968 Tigers.
Behm also served as an American League trainer for two All-Star Games the 1969 game in Washington and the 1972 game in Montreal.
Behm, who turned 90 on April 6, died of natural causes in Dearborn. He is survived by his wife, Donna, and their daughter, Annemarie.
Behm was one of those colorful baseball characters who became as well known in the community as the players he treated. His scratchy voice and outwardly gruff demeanor couldnt hide his love for the game nor his respect for all players.
Players held a special kind of respect for their friend, whose grit and determination refused to let a physical affliction get in the way of his dreams. Behm was born with a club foot that might have dissuaded an ordinary person from pursuing athletics.
But Behm never was just an ordinary guy.
Despite his personal physical challenge, Behm played basketball for his junior high and high school teams in his hometown of Pittsburgh. Before graduating from Wake Forest University in 1943 with a bachelor's degree in business administration, he served as the student manager for the football and basketball teams.
Behm got his first break in professional baseball when he was hired as the trainer for the minor league team in Norfolk, Va., in 1945. When the season ended, he returned to Wake Forest, where he worked with the football team.
In 1947, he got a job with the Denver Bears, a New York Yankees minor league affiliate. In addition to his trainer responsibilities, he also served as the teams equipment manager and traveling secretary.
One of the managers he served during his 15-year stay in Denver was Ralph Houk, who later managed the Yankees and then the Tigers, in 1974-78. Houk was nicknamed The Major for his battlefield commission and received a Silver Star for bravery in World War II.
When we got a dog, Donna recalled, we named him Major Ralph, and his wife, Betty, always teased us as being godparents to the dog.
Behm tried hard to enter military service, even in an office position, but was rejected because of his physical affliction.
On the evening of Sept. 14, 1968, Behm and Donna married. Behm had to scramble to make it to his wedding on time. Earlier in the afternoon, Denny McLain notched his 30th victory of the season, and Tiger Stadium erupted in celebration.
Fan favorite Mickey Stanley had to cut his celebration short. He was serving as the couples best man.
In contemporary baseball, teams now are mostly staffed with at least three trainers. Behm, of course, was a one-man show.
And thats the way he liked it. He always did enjoy a challenge.
Although incomplete, final arrangements will be handled by the Howe-Peterson Funeral Home, 22546 Michigan Ave., in Dearborn. For more information, call 313-561-1500 after 3 p.m. today.