Home Sports Al Kaline’s Detroit Tigers legend will live forever

Al Kaline’s Detroit Tigers legend will live forever

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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

When there are so many dead, the death of a man can go unnoticed. This one will not be. Even with the shroud of the coronavirus causing us to fall in shocking numbers, no one in Michigan was numbed by the news that arrived with a sigh Monday afternoon:

Al Kaline is gone.

Mr. Tiger takes his bow. At a time of year when baseball should inflate its lungs, Al Kaline gave his last breath. He died at his Bloomfield Hills home at age 85, due to complications from various illnesses, according to friends.

“I just spoke to her this weekend,” said former Tigers teammate and dear friend Jim Price, battling tears after hearing the news. ” It was hard. It didn’t sound good. I said, “Al, call me. I’m worried about you. “He said he would. But of course… he couldn’t. “

He choked. ” My heart is broken. “

Purchase a photoAl 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: Jim Hawkins, DFP archive)

Isn’t it all of us? At a time when we had no sadness to spare, suddenly we gushed out. Al Kaline, who we all seemed to know, who was still there, who spent six decades of his life affiliated with the Detroit Tigers, left.

But his legend lives on.

This verdict has already been rendered. Kaline has not played a baseball game since 1974, but he is still one of the first Tigers that comes to mind when you say “grown up.”

He hasn’t been on the air for nearly 20 years, but his voice – like that of Ernie Harwell – still resonates in the ears of Tigers fans everywhere.

“Baseball lost a Titan today,” Tigers owner Chris Ilitch said in a statement.

A titan, yes. But in accomplishment only. Inside his No. 6 uniform, inside his sports coat and open collar, inside a TV booth, a banquet hall or a charity event, Al Kaline never played a titan. He was just a man. A good and kind man.

It’s the only way he sees himself.

And why we’ve seen so much more.

Mr. Tiger takes his bow.

“Seemed like goodbye”

“I had dinner with him a few weeks ago during spring training,” Le Jimland, the former Tigers manager, told me on Monday. “We went to the Lakeland terrace. We laughed about the good old days, we talked about the old days, we talked about the players, the GMs…

“After dinner, we returned to the Residence Inn and arrived at the door, he hugged me. Said, “Give me a hug, Jim.” So I hugged her. And he said, “You know, Jim, thank you for being my friend all this time.”

“It was almost like he knew something, (like) he probably wasn’t going to see me again. … I went back to my room and I lay there. And I thought, “It almost looked like goodbye. “

“And of course it was. “

A young Mark and Mike Kaline with father Al Kaline in 1965. (Photo: Jimmy Tafoya, Detroit Free Press)

Heartbreaking. However, if Kaline saw the end come, many of us did not. Consumed by the pandemic which shakes the world, we were shaken by the news, and we left to scramble to put his life in perspective.

Here’s a try.

It was a radiant star who never let the gleam in his eyes, a child of Baltimore born in poverty, the son of a broom maker, who would have signed his first contract at 18 years old when he was dressed in her ball gown. A man who won a batting title at 20, who made 18 all-star teams, who played until the age of 39, who inspired the 1968 Tigers to this classic World Series title, who has collected over 3000 hits, who still holds the franchise record. for home runs (399) and who threw three sub-runners once in three consecutive innings – of the right field!

He’s a man who got advice from Ted Williams, who hit a hit from Satchel Paige, who got into an auto parts business with Gordie Howe, and who made the Hall of Fame in the first round ballot.

But it was also a man who asked, when signing his first contract, if he could still play in an amateur match a few days later because he had promised the guys that he would. A man who has already refused a raise when he didn’t think he deserved it. A man who, as a professional ball player, worked during the off season in a sporting goods store, who was shy and respectful towards older and accomplished stars, who was aware of his grammar when broadcasting games, and who has never announced himself in a room and often go unnoticed, until a blinking observer with his mouth lowered gushes: “Hey, isn’t it Al Kaline? “

It was. He would offer that bright smile and a handshake, maybe an old story. And another fan would always be impressed.

“The perfect player”

“When I was traded here in 1967,” Price recalls, “Mickey Stanley and Gates Brown greeted me, and Al came by and said,” Who is this kid? “And they said,” Here’s our new receiver, Jim Price. And he said, “Welcome, kid.”

“He was the leader. He was our future Hall of Fame. We put it on a pedestal. … We worshiped him, even then. If there were bats to pick up, we picked them up. If there were extra balls, we would say, “Al, you don’t pick them up, we will.”

“If we were fighting, we would say:” Al, you stay in the canoe, we will fight. You stay in the shelter. These are the orders. ”

Despite these efforts, Kaline’s career has not been without pain. As a child, he had a left foot bone removed and he had to learn to run on the side of his foot. In major tournaments, he hit a wall and injured his knee. One time he broke his hand, slamming his bat into a rack. And he broke his arm during the 1968 campaign, and in fact suggested to manager Mayo Smith not to participate in the World Series because other players had won it more.

No way this would happen. Instead, Smith made the now famous move to juggle the lineup, moving Mickey Stanley to a shortstop to put Kaline in the right field. The Tigers rebounded from a 3-1 deficit to win the championship.

Over the years, Kaline has proven herself in attack and defense with equal balance. He always had an incredible arm. Legend has it that as a high school student, during a picnic competition, he threw a ball 173.5 feet in the air (nearly 60 meters). The judges didn’t believe it, so they tried it again. This time he launched it at 175 feet. This is a story that belongs to the “natural” of Bernard Malamud.

And in many ways, who he was.

“He played the game to perfection,” said Leyland. “Al Kaline was almost what you would call the perfect player. Maybe not the perfect talent, but the perfect player. “

The perfect player has left us now. But it is not the bat and the glove that will define its heritage. After all, it’s been years since we’ve seen him play baseball. But so many Michiganders this morning tell the story of shaking his hand, or telling a story, or cheering on their children, or mocking a memory. As Leyland points out, “I call him” Mr. Gentleman. “Because he was a gentleman who happened to be a big tiger, not the other way around. “

Amen to that. In this spring without baseball, in this season of global illness, another death could be easily overlooked with a depressed shrug and a “Isn’t it a shame”. But it’s not Al Kaline’s death that makes us sigh. This is the life he led and the fact that we may never see his tastes again.

Mr. Tiger takes his bow. Summer seems far away.

Contact Mitch Albom: [email protected] Check out the latest updates with her charities, books and events on MitchAlbom.com. Download the podcast “The Sports Reporters” every Monday and Thursday on demand via Apple podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.

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