By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe
Bill Christiansen met Neil Berry in October 2013 when Berry was 91. Christiansen had recently met Berry’s daughter, Linda, and when she mentioned that her father was the “oldest living Detroit Tiger,” Christiansen had no qualms about asking to meet him.
The meetings and research that followed became a book: “The Shortstop from Kalamazoo.”
In preparation for this first meeting, Christiansen combed eBay for any memorabilia suitable for this former Tiger player to sign. To his surprise, when he handed over a vintage photograph of a play at the plate, Berry was immediately able to recognize the team and face of the catcher he had played against 65 years ago. He remembered his life in amazing detail. His anecdotes were colorful and razor-sharp.
Neil Berry was a star athlete for Kalamazoo Central and made the majors in 1948. Berry is not a household name, even among the most ardent Tiger fans, but he played with or against many of the greatest players in the game: Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, Yogi Berra, Ted Williams, Bob Feller, Hal Newhouser and Don Larsen, to name a few. Through the ups and downs of his seven-year major league career, Berry witnessed many unique or onetime events in the history of the sport. Berry was playing shortstop when the shortest player in the history of the major leagues made the only plate appearance of his short (pun intended) career. Berry witnessed a teammate throw a no-hitter in his first major league start, and another teammate set a record with 12 consecutive hits. Berry’s favorite game forced the first playoff game in the history of the American League.
From that first meeting, he shared his stories and scrapbooks with Christiansen almost weekly until Berry passed away in 2016. These scrapbooks had been dutifully and lovingly compiled by Berry’s wife Gloria. She collected every word the press wrote about him starting with his high school days until his final days playing major league ball. From the perspective of the sportswriters of the time to the hours of recorded conversations from the “oldest living Detroit Tiger,” Christiansen presents the life and times of “The Shortstop From Kalamazoo.” More information is available at neilberrybook.com.