Former Negro Leagues star Cecil Kaiser, who became known to many Tigers fans over the years as part of their Negro Leagues tributes, passed away Monday at the age of 94.
Kaiser's son, Tyrone, told The Associated Press that his father died after a fall Monday at his home in Southfield, Mich., a suburb of Detroit. He moved back to Michigan following a playing career that included pitching success with the Detroit Stars, Motor City Giants, Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords in the 1940s and stints in various Latin American leagues.
Kaiser got his start in Detroit in sandlot leagues before getting his shot with the Stars in 1939-40. After several years with the Giants, Kaiser made it to prominence in 1945 with Homestead, where he was a teammate of such greats as Josh Gibson and Cool Papa Bell.
Kaiser pitched parts of four seasons with the Grays, and another with the nearby Crawfords. By the 1950s, however, he had reached his mid-30s and finished out his career back in semi-pro ball. He reportedly pitched for the Ford Motor Company in Detroit's Industrial League in the mid-1950s.
The rise in attention to Negro Leagues history over the past two decades earned Kaiser some long-deserved recognition. In turn, he became a great ambassador for the sport. He was a regular during the Tigers' annual Negro Leagues celebration weekends at Comerica Park since 2003.
"Cecil was a great friend to the Detroit Tigers, and was truly a pioneer to the game of baseball," the team said in a statement. "The Tigers are grateful of Cecil's participation in our annual Negro Leagues tribute games. Most notably, Cecil participated in the annual Honorary Passing of the Bat Ceremony, and was the Tigers' top draft selection in Major League Baseball's Negro Leagues Player Draft tribute in 2008. Cecil's warm smile and presence will be missed. We offer our heartfelt condolences to the Kaiser family."