Detroit Tiger great Al Kaline has died.
He was 85.
In the pantheon of great Detroit baseball players, only one is known as “Mr. Tiger.”
Al Kaline became one of the few players to move straight from high school to the major leagues when he made his major league debut in June of 1953. Two decades later, he retired as one of the best to play the game.
Sports commentator John U. Bacon says Kaline did everything a ballplayer could do “really well.”
“A great fielder, a great arm, a great hitter….could hit for both power and average,” says Bacon. “But (Kaline was) also a great, great clubhouse guy. He was…'Mr. Tiger'.”
In 1955, at the age of 20, Kaline won the American League batting title. He was the youngest to do so since a 20-year-old Detroit Tiger named Ty Cobb won the batting title in 1907.
Perhaps the pinnacle of Kaline’s career came in the 1968 World Series. The St. Louis Cardinals jumped to a three-game-to-one margin in the series.
In game five, the Tigers trailed the Cards going into the 7th inning.
“Well you can see the crowd coming alive here at Tiger Stadium,” Tiger Hall of Famer George Kell told the audience listening to the game. “A walk to Stanley loaded the bases...and here’s the old pro Al Kaline. Bases loaded. One out. Cardinals lead by a run in the 7th inning....”
Kaline strode to the plate for a moment die-hard Tiger fans will always remember.
“There’s a drive into right center. A base hit for Kaline,” an excited Kell shouted. “A run in. There’s another run coming in and the Tigers have taken the lead...”
After the Kaline hit, the Tigers rallied to go on and win the 1968 World Series.
Kaline retired in 1974, after recording the 3,000th hit of his career.
But when most players fade into memory, Kaline’s career as “Mr. Tiger” began a second life in the broadcast bo0th.
Al Kaline and George Kell spent decades broadcasting Tigers games, making both a part of baseball memories for another generation of Detroit baseball fans.
In his 1980 Hall of Fame induction speech, Kaline said he considered himself to be “one of the luckiest people in the world.”
“I played on All Star teams with the greatest players of the game….I was able to finish with over 3,000 hits….I played on a World Championship team,” Kaline told the crowd at the Cooperstown induction ceremony. “But most of all for 22 years I was able to make my living playing a game that has been my whole life.”
It’s worth noting: The Detroit Tigers have the fewest retired jersey numbers among Major League Baseball franchises that date back to 1901. One of those numbers will always belong to Al Kaline.