With all this shit going on in the world, things can get lost in day to day survival. So much negativity in the news everyday as well as new updates on Covid-19 people can get lost in just enjoying being alive and celebrating the simple things.
On April 6th, the world lost one of its great humans and one of baseball treasures in former Detroit Tiger and World Series Champion, Al Kaline. When I was younger, I was blessed with a great family and got to enjoy a lot of time at Spring Training games through my younger years and at the Tigers Spring Training Complex in Lakeland, Florida, there was always a man who would line people up and sign for every person in line, never complaining and always generous. That man was Al Kaline .
Before people are baseball players, they are humans. Al Kaline was one of the lucky ones in the world where he only experienced baseball growing up. Not only did Kaline go straight from high school to the Majors at the young age of 18, but he was one of the rare ones in the baseball world that stuck with the same team for 22 years. By the age of 19 he was a full time big leaguer and a year later, at the age of 20, Kaline won a batting title and finished 2nd in the MVP voting slashing .340/.421/.546– .967 with 27 home runs, 102 RBI’s, a career best 121 runs as well as a career best 321 total bases. With that batting title, Kaline is the still the record holder for youngest batting title winner beating out the great Ty Cobb by one day, literally.
Kaline was known as a pure hitter. Could spray the ball to all parts of the field and utilized his skill set to the best degree he could. He knew his strong points and didn’t try and force anything he wasn’t. With him passing, there has been some former teammates and players that have had a few things to say about Kaline. Courtesy of the Detroit Free Press, here are some of there memories of Kaline:
Mickey Lolich, Tigers teammate 1963-74:
“Al was the best player I ever saw and was picture perfect. He wasn’t a rah, rah guy in the locker room but was the team leader by example. He hit in the clutch, ran well, and was an outstanding fielder with a dead accurate arm. He never missed the cut off man and I can tell you he saved my ass a few times pulling in some home run balls. He never dropped the ball. If he ever got an error it was likely because he threw to third and the ball was so accurate it hit the runner. I always enjoyed being around Al and I am going to miss him really bad.”
Reggie Jackson, Hall of Famer:
“I thought Al Kaline was the class of the American League along with Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, and Carl Yastrzemski. Al never made a mistake. I had such admiration for him. He had such a graceful style; it was Joe DiMaggio like. I would see him at the Hall of Fame and it was a badge of honor for me because he was always so nice to me. I saw him at spring training a couple of months ago and we hugged. I knew it was going to be the last time I saw him and it broke my heart. I could see he was leaving. He was such a genuine, graceful and beautiful human being.”
Denny McLain, Tigers teammate 1963-70:
“He was the best I every saw on an everyday basis. He knew everything that was going on in a game and what he had to do to make sure our ballclub won. I never saw a better outfielder and he had the most accurate arm. He was such a clutch hitter. Everything he did was with class and he never showed anybody up. He was the one to convince me to pitch in the 6th game of the ’68 World Series. My arm was killing me. He said, ‘you’re going to pitch right? We got nobody else, you’re it, you’ve done it all year, just do it one more time.’ That’s all I had to hear. When I had my personal troubles, Al was still with me 100%. He never got off the bus like some others. He never took a cheap shot. He said he would never say anything against me because your wife loves you, and you have four great kids.”
If you want to read what a few other players had to say, here’s the link –> https://www.freep.com/story/sports/mlb/tigers/2020/04/07/al-kaline-dies-detroit-tigers/2962353001/
Another great interview I found at one of my favorite websites, fangraphs.com, no free ads, is by one of their bloggers David Laurila, who sat down with Al Kaline a few years back that is a cool read. I reccomend checking it out. Here’s the conversation –> https://blogs.fangraphs.com/a-conversation-with-hall-of-famer-al-kaline-1934-2020/
Just from those quotes and that interview, you could see Kaline was gracious, humble, and impacted people just as much off the field and being a great human being as well as a great ball player. He didn’t seem to be the one that boasted and or was the center of attention, but his playing sure did put him in the spotlight. Kaline finished his career with 3,007 hits, slashed .297/.376/.480– .855 OPS, 498 doubles, 1622 runs, 399 home runs, 1582 RBI’s, was an 18 time All-Star, 10 time Gold Glove Award winner, one time World Series winner (1968), one-time Batting Title Winner, and of course, a Hall of Famer. Although I never got to see the man play or have a conversation with the guy besides saying “thank you” for an autograph, Kaline seemed to impact many peoples lives and should be remembered forever. RIP to the great Al Kaline.