Whether you like baseball or not (ok… there might be one or two), you must admit that it was exciting when Kalamazoo native Derek Jeter belted the 3,000th hit of his career in grand style on Saturday with a solo home run, a feat that only a handful of others have achieved—and the first New York Yankee to do so. Gazette writer Joyce Pines called for city-wide recognition for the “Kid from Kalamazoo. ” He deserves it.
But believe it or not, Jeter was not the first Kalamazoo kid to make significant “firsts” for the same New York team. Just over a century ago, “Big John” Ganzel, nicknamed for his imposing six foot, 195 pound stature (a truly BIG man by 19th century standards), signed a three year contract with the New York Highlanders (later Yankees) in 1903 and proceeded to make his mark with the team during its inaugural season. On May 5th of that year, John was responsible for the Highlander’s first ever triple play, and a week later, John belted the Highlander’s first ever home run against the Detroit team in his home state on May 11th.
John Ganzel was one of five brothers who made names for themselves in “America’s game” during the late 1800s and the early decades of the twentieth century. All five played local, regional and state league ball. John had a very successful career as player and later as a manager, and his brother Charlie, “one of the greatest catchers the world has ever produced” (Gazette), became one of the most famous ball players of his day with four National League Championships and one World Series championship to his credit. Charlie’s son, Foster Pirie “Babe” Ganzel, later carried on the tradition through the 1920s. Read the full story of the Ganzel Brothers, Michigan’s “First Family” of baseball in the “All About Kalamazoo History” section of the KPL website.
Once again, congratulations Derek! You continue to make Kalamazoo (and the rest of the country) very proud!