Al Kaline, Hall of Fame Detroit Tigers Outfielder, Dead at 85
Al Kaline, Hall of Fame outfielder and 1968 World Series Champion who played his entire career for the Detroit Tigers, died at his home in a Detroit suburb Monday afternoon. He was 85. The cause of death has not been announced as of press time. The news broke in the Detroit Free Press.
A Detroit Tigers Icon
Kaline played all 22 of his professional baseball seasons with the Tigers, mostly as a right fielder. He debuted in 1953, mere weeks after graduating from Southern High School in Baltimore. Due to the Bonus Baby rule of the time, since his signing bonus was greater than $4,000, he had to be on the major league roster for two full years before being sent to the minors. When he became eligible, he was in the midst of winning a batting title, so he never played in the minors. Consequently, he played his entire professional career for only one team, not just one organization.
Al Kaline made 18 All-Star teams in his illustrious career. Sixteen of those came across 13 consecutive seasons (1959-1962 had two games in each year; he made both in all but 1962). Although he only won one batting title and only reached the 200-hit plateau once, he still racked up over 3,000 hits.
The milestone hit fittingly came in his hometown of Baltimore on September 24, 1974, when he hit a fourth-inning double to right off three-time All-Star Dave McNally. It was his seventh-to-last game. He finished his career with 3,007 hits – only the 12th to ever do it. The group now has 32 members, for perspective. His career home run total was 399 – a record for the Tigers franchise. He asked to be pulled from his last game in the fifth inning due to a sore shoulder, costing him a few more chances at his 400th homer. However, the fans didn’t know that, and they booed his pinch-hitter – Ben Oglivie – mercilessly. They also gave manager Ralph Houk all kinds of grief over it, causing the kind-hearted Kaline to feel bad about both.
Al Kaline won 10 Gold Gloves as a right fielder, and they came in an 11-year span. He won three in a row from 1957-59 and then seven more from 1961-67. According to his obituary in the Detroit Free Press, “in one game as a rookie, Kaline threw out a Chicago White Sox runner for three consecutive innings – at home, third, and second.”
Al Kaline after Retirement
After retirement, he was the Tigers color commentator on television from 1975-2002. He is one of six Tigers to have a statue outside Comerica Park and is one of nine to have his number retired (10 when including Ty Cobb, who played before jersey numbers). In 1980, the BBWAA elected Kaline to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. He garnered 88.3% of the vote, making him only the 10th player ever elected in his first year.
His kindness and status as an ambassador of the game will be missed. Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson said he was the best he ever played against, and was “a super nice guy, too.” What a great way to be remembered.
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