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Saluting "Mr. Tiger"

Posted by hughrandle@gmail.com on April 20, 2020 at 10:35 PM Word came today that Detroit Tiger great Al Kaline had passed away at age 85. For anyone who is a fan of the game, the name Al Kaline evokes two things: Mr Tiger and Number 6. Kaline not only spent his entire 22 season major league career with the Tigers, but also provided color commentary for the team for over 26 seasons and was a special assistant for the team for the last 18 years. All told, his 67 years with the Detroit organization rank as one of the longest tenures with any sports team. Born in Baltimore Maryland on December 19, 1934, Kaline suffered from Osteomyelitis as a child and played with a foot deformity during his career that would have crippled a less determined man. He signed with Detroit the day after graduating from Baltimore Southern High School in 1953, becoming one of baseball’s first “bonus babys” receiving a hefty $30,000 signing bonus. He made his major league debut on June 25, 1953 at the age of 18. He played with uniform number 25 during his first season and then requested number 6 from a teammate heading into the 1954 season. He kept that number 6 for the rest of his career, and he became the first Tiger to have his number retired in 1980. (Ty Cobb played in an era when players did not wear uniform numbers). The raw numbers of Kaline’s career were impressive. He is the Tiger career leader in games played (2834), home runs (399), RBI’s (1583), and walks (1277). He is ranked 31st in baseball history in hits with 3007 and played in 18 All Star Games. He was the youngest player to win a batting title, hitting .340 in 1955 as a 20 year old. In addition to his offensive numbers, he is considered one of the best right fielders of his era, collecting 10 Gold Gloves for fielding excellence. He led the Tigers to their first World Series win since 1945, hitting .379 during the 1968 Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. After a 1973 season which saw him playing 91 games, he came back as the Tigers full time designated hitter in 1974 and played 146 games, hitting 13 home runs and driving in 64. After he joined the 3000 hit club on September 24, 1974, he announced that he would be retiring at the end of the season. Kaline nearly became the first Major League player to ever die on the playing field on May 30, 1970. After a collision with centerfielder Jim Northrup, Kaline lay on the field motionless, with difficulty breathing. It seems that during the collision, Kaline had swallowed his tongue. Left fielder Willie Horton raced over and was able to open Kaline’s clenched jaw enough to free the tongue. Kaline had turned blue and Horton still carries the scar from his heroics as Kaline clenched down on Horton’s hand. Horton received an award from the Michigan Heart Association, which declared that in all likelihood his quick thinking saved Kaline’s life. Kaline, in typical fashion, missed only one game after the injury. After his career, Kaline became the Tigers color commentator from 1975 to 2002 and then served as a special consultant to the team from 2003 through 2019. In 1980, Kaline was selected to the Baseball Hall of Fame during his first year of eligibility, one of only 57 players to achieve that distinction. Kaline once said “I owe everything to baseball. Without it, I would have probably been a bum”. Mr Kaline was far from a bum. He is being remembered today around the baseball world as “Mr Tiger”, a player with natural talent, but more importantly, a man who worked on his craft tirelessly. He is credited with helping many young Tiger players such as Alan Trammel and Lou Whitaker achieve their best on the field. They all referred to him as “Mr. Kaline”. Upon hearing of his death today, the word that came to mind was loyalty. It is rare in today’s sports world to find someone whose name is synonymous with one team. Loyalty is a rare attribute today in sports and in life. Al Kaline defines the word, whether it is through his 66 year marriage to his wife Madge or his 67 years all spent with one very fortunate organization. He was a rare breed who stayed with the love of his youth, both on and off the field



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