Top Ad
I DIG Radio
www.idigradio.com
Listen live to the best music from around the world!
I DIG Style
www.idigstyle.com
Learn about the latest fashion styles and more...

Kurkjian: Late HOFer Al Kaline could do everything on the diamond

Written by 
Published in Baseball
Monday, 06 April 2020 14:44

With the news of Hall of Famer Al Kaline's passing away at the age of 85 on Monday, Tim Kurkjian looks at the life of the Detroit Tigers great.

Al Kaline, at age 75, still looked elegant and regal and athletic as he pulled on his famous uniform No. 6 before a workout in spring training at TigerTown several years ago. As he sat quietly in a corner locker, virtually every Tigers player who walked by said something reverential to him because they all knew that, after Ty Cobb, this might be the best player in the club's long history in Major League Baseball.

"You know," Kaline said, smiling, when asked specifically about it, "in high school, I think I might have been a better basketball player than I was a baseball player."

Well, he must have been a great basketball player because he became one of the greatest baseball players of all time, a Hall of Fame right fielder whose talent was exceeded only by his class, integrity and leadership. In 22 seasons, all with the Detroit Tigers, Kaline batted .297 with 399 home runs -- the most by anyone in history who never hit 30 homers in a season -- and 1,583 RBIs. He recorded 3,007 hits, one of 32 members in the exclusive 3,000 hit club. He never won an MVP, but he finished second twice and had nine finishes in the top 10. He made 15 All-Star teams, including 13 years in a row. He had more walks than strikeouts, plus he never struck out more than 75 times, and only one season did he have more than 66.

"I know he was the best I ever saw here," said legendary Ernie Harwell, a Tiger play-by-play broadcaster for 42 years. "There was nothing that Al Kaline couldn't do on that field."

Right field in Detroit was always known as Kaline's Corner, and very few players in major league history ever played that position better than Kaline, especially defensively. He won 10 Gold Gloves. Only the great Roberto Clemente, with 12, won more as a right fielder. In part because of his basketball background, Kaline was a tremendous athlete, and he had great range in the outfield. And Kaline had one of the best throwing arms of all time.

"He was the best thrower in our league," said teammate Willie Horton. "Always on the money."

But money wasn't abundant for Kaline growing up in a row house in South Baltimore. His father worked in a broom factory, his mother in a whiskey distillery. Kaline decided at a young age that he wanted to be a major league player. But at age 8, he had surgery on his left foot for a chronic bone disease called osteomyelitis, which caused great pain for the first 12 years of his career and forced Kaline to run on the left side of his foot until he had another procedure done in 1965.

Nevertheless, Kaline became a two-sport star at Southern High School. He was drafted by the Tigers in 1953 and -- despite weighing just 150 pounds -- went straight from high school to the major leagues. He never played a day in the minor leagues, and two years later at age 20, weighing 175 pounds and making $9,000 a year, Kaline hit .340 to become the youngest player in major league history to win a batting title.

"We couldn't believe he was that good that soon," Mickey Mantle told me. "He was amazing."

"I remember seeing him as a kid," Ted Williams told me, "and I knew he would be a great hitter the first time I saw him. He stood in that box like a guy who was ready to hit. He had great strength in his hands, and that's something you must have to be a great hitter."

Williams was right. And in 1968, in the World Series against the Cardinals, the best came out in Kaline at the most important time. The Tigers roared back from a 3-1 series deficit to win the final three games and the World Series. Mickey Lolich was magnificent in that series, winning three games, including Games 5 and 7, but Kaline was also sensational. In seven games, he batted .379 with an OPS of 1.055, two homers, eight RBIs and great defense. He was the leader of that team in every way, especially with the way that he played.

"It didn't take long to realize he was one of the best I'd seen," said the Cardinals' Lou Brock. "We marveled at him, his defense, his arm, his hitting. And he was a fierce competitor."

Kaline retired at age 39 after the 1974 season because he wasn't the hitter he used to be and he couldn't play right field like he once did and that bothered him. But on Sept. 24 of that season, he recorded hit No. 3,000, a slicing double just inside the right-field line against the Orioles' Dave McNally at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium, not far from where Kaline had grown up. Five years later, he was elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

"That was the greatest honor for me; it was huge,'' Kaline said.

And yet, from that batting title at age 20 all the way to Cooperstown, you would never hear Kaline talk about himself, his accomplishments, because as he once told me, "I was never comfortable doing that."

He got lost somewhat in the shadow of Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson and Clemente, but they knew -- everyone knew -- of Kaline's greatness.

And as he dressed in the tiny clubhouse at TigerTown, with players 50 years younger than him at the nearby lockers, Kaline talked about how much he still loved the game. He said he never begrudged young players for the money they made and the fame they achieved.

"That's because he's Al Kaline, one of the best men I've ever met," said former Tigers manager Sparky Anderson. "Every time I walk in this clubhouse and see him, my day gets better. Our players feel the same way. They know there will never be another like Al Kaline."

Read 277 times

177 comments

Leave a comment

Soccer

Lockout looms as MLS push back on latest offer

Lockout looms as MLS push back on latest offer

The Major League Soccer Player Association announced that it voted to approve its latest counteroffe...

Messi: Football, life will never be same after virus

Messi: Football, life will never be same after virus

Barcelona forward Lionel Messi said life and football will never be the same again once it returns f...

Hernandez: Real a 'dream' but I'm 'always a Red'

Hernandez: Real a 'dream' but I'm 'always a Red'

LA Galaxy striker Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez has said that his loan move from Manchester United t...

Basketball

Haslem: Community, cops should work 'together'

Haslem: Community, cops should work 'together'

Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem said on Sunday he's "torn" amid the nationwide protests following t...

NBA awards debate: Zion vs. Ja and big MVP questions

NBA awards debate: Zion vs. Ja and big MVP questions

As the NBA prepares for a possible return to play in the midst of a hiatus due to the coronavirus pa...

Baseball

MLBPA proposes 114-game season, sources say

MLBPA proposes 114-game season, sources say

The Major League Baseball Players Association delivered a return-to-play proposal to MLB on Sunday t...

Olney: It's not just the 2020 season at stake, but the future of MLB

Olney: It's not just the 2020 season at stake, but the future of MLB

Many of the folks inside baseball but outside of the Zoom labor negotiations assume that, eventually...

Sports Leagues

  • FIFA

    Fédération Internationale de Football Association
  • NBA

    National Basketball Association
  • ATP

    Association of Tennis Professionals
  • MLB

    Major League Baseball
  • ITTF

    International Table Tennis Federation

Sponsored Links

I DIG® Newspapers
www.idignewspapers.com
I Dig® Newspapers, stay up to date with the latest news from around the world.
I DIG® Casino
www.idigcasinos.com
I Dig® Casino, explore our online casino games, play a wide range of free slots and casino games at our online casino today.
I DIG® Radio
www.idigradio.com
I Dig® Radio HD is the only place in the internet where you can find free, super high bit rate internet radio stations from around the world. On I Dig® Radio HD you can find free radio stations streaming at 256kbps.

About Us

I Dig® is a leading global brand that makes it more enjoyable to surf the internet, conduct transactions and access, share, and create information.  Today I Dig® attracts millions of users every month.

 

Phone: (800) 737. 6040
Fax: (800) 825 5558
Website: www.idig.com
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Affiliated