A look back at the life of Al Kaline, the genius of the Detroit Tigers, who died on April 6, 2020, aged 85.
Detroit Free Press
Somewhere, probably locked up in Kirk Gibson’s basement, there’s a dancing Al Kaline VHS tape.
It was from 1985, at the Detroit Yacht Club, during his marriage – a double affair with Detroit Tigers teammate Dave Rozema, who married sisters in a ceremony “that may never be matched in baseball history,” wrote the Chicago Tribune.
“You should see him dancing there,” said Gibson on Wednesday.
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Gibson has one of the fondest memories of Kaline, a man he grew up idolizing when he was young on the Detroit subway, which he attributes to making him a good player. field, and with whom he shares a certain bond and friendship as two of the most identifiable figures in the history of Tigers.
“Getting to know him and understanding who he was on and off the pitch was pretty amazing as he was,” said Gibson. “As I have said to people, he has treated me better than I probably should have been. He was like (former Tigers manager) Sparky (Anderson) in that sense, they are determined to make the game better than it was when they arrived. This is their big problem. ”
Kaline died Monday at age 85. He was the all-time franchise player for the Tigers, known as Mr. Tiger, and when he met people, they were better at it.
[For 1968 World Series champion teammates, Al Kaline was ‘the guy’]
“You must have good Kaline stories,” asked someone the other day, and I didn’t. But when the old Tigers beat the writer Chris Iott posted a photo the other day of Kaline sitting alone on a bench on the back fields of Tiger Town, it incited my keenest memory of Kaline.
At the start of my career, I sat next to him for a few days of training in the spring, asking him questions about hitting and playing and how he played. A few years, once he started to recognize my face, he would be a guy I would walk with and chat with. His good friend Jim Price approves me as a “recruit” for the first few years certainly helped.
As Tigers general manager Al Avila said Wednesday who has spent the past 18 seasons watching baseball alongside Kaline, everything you hear about him, everything you read and see about him, is right.
MLB.com Columnist and Former Free Press Sports Journalist Jon Morosi tweeted about calling his father after his first meeting with Kaline. I also called my father. ESPN journalist Pedro Gomez has met legions of sports dignitaries during his career. Gomez, who grew up as a Tigers fan, said he only asked for a few photos with players – but Kaline was one of them, before a playoff game in 2011.
There are thousands of these stories about Kaline, passed down from generation to generation of Tigers fans, lived by those he met. Tales of humility, of respect, of a childhood idol who was even better in person, as Gibson learned on these same grounds in Tiger Town.
Al Kaline, born December 19, 1934 in Baltimore, Maryland, is best known as “Mr. Tiger” and his 22 years playing for the Detroit Tigers. Kaline was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1980. (Photo: JULIAN H. GONZALEZ, Detroit Free Press)
“He taught me almost everything,” said Gibson. “More than 90 percent of what I knew. “
Gibson shares a special bond with Kaline, as the Detroit champion with deep local ties. Kaline has spent more than two decades broadcasting games on television with George Kell at the time; Gibson is now in his second stint as color commentator for Fox Sports Detroit.
“A lot of the things I talk about on TV are Kaline,” said Gibson.
[[Les larmes de Willie Horton sur la mort d’Al Kaline résonnent avec des générations de joueurs et fans des Tigers]
As part of this link, Kaline found a way to improve Gibson during those hot afternoons in Lakeland, Florida, and windy afternoons in the right corner of the field named after him at Tiger Stadium. It is a side of him that most people have not seen.
“He was really an easygoing kind of guy with most people,” said Gibson, “But this guy competed. I tell you, he didn’t want to be mediocre. He wanted everything. He wanted to win. He wanted you to give everything you could give him. “
Gibson remembers the last time he spoke to Kaline this spring in a Lakeland Chili’s in an “Only in Tiger Town” scene. He was sitting at the bar with Alan Trammell when they saw Kaline and his longtime wife Louise in a cabin around the corner.
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“If you’ve ever killed someone you know, a friend or someone special and you say to yourself, ‘I wish I had said something I didn’t say,’ said Gibson.” It’s something I never really want to happen. Don’t let this happen. If you’re in this conversation, man, don’t force it, but you really have to put yourself in this situation. It will happen with people like that. “
Over the past three seasons, Gibson has seen Kaline’s connection to modern players up close. He has shared a special bond with former Tigers ace Justin Verlander, their lockers a few yards apart and countless others over the years.
“He loved all of these guys, man,” said Gibson. “I just hope they know it. I hope they realized the treasure. ”
When asked if he had made the treasure, Gibson replied, “Oh yes. There are so many. “
Contact Anthony Fenech at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @anthonyfenech. Learn more about the Detroit Tigers and subscribe to our Tigers newsletter.