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First class man, even unexpectedly on an airplane in 1980



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

It was a routine January morning in 1980 when the phone rang. He was Free Press sports editor Tom Hennessey.

“We got a tip,” Hennessey told me. “We think Al Kaline will enter the Hall of Fame today. “

I was delighted for Kaline, who died Monday at the age of 85, especially since the only other job I had had was the six years of work for Sportservice at Tiger Stadium, where I learned to appreciate the brilliance of Kaline.

But I found it strange that the boss just called me to tell me the news.

“We want the first interview with him,” said Hennessey.

[ Al Kaline was truly ‘Mr. Tiger’: A man of humility, humor and elegance ]

Okay, I thought, but why was he telling me that?

“We want you to fly to New York,” he said. “When you get there, find out which plane he’s in, buy a ticket on this flight and ask him on the way home. “

Very well then.

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: Alan Kamuda, Detroit Free Press)

Nobody knew exactly what flight Kaline was – hey, we didn’t even know for sure that he was going to make the Hall of Fame. But I left for the airport a few minutes later and shortly afterwards I was on a plane to New York.

When I arrived, I looked for the next flight to Detroit and that door was about 20 yards from the arrival door.

[[Mitch Albom: Al Kaline prend son arc. Sa légende vivra pour toujours. ]

I explained to the ticket agent that I was to be on the flight with Kaline, but there was no one named Kaline on the flight manifest.

It was a very different time in 1980, so the officer took me on the plane because he did not know if he could identify Kaline.

” Wait a minute! Here it is! Shouted the agent. “Congratulations, Mr. Kaline! I had each of your baseball cards! “

Indeed, there was Al and his wife, Louise, seated in first class.

They did not show up on the manifesto, as they were listed as Al and Louise Hamilton, using his wife’s maiden name. It was the same name they used the day before on their flight to New York.

The ticket agent and I went back to his office and wrote me a first class ticket, a row behind the Kalines.

[ The last time Jim Leyland saw Al Kaline: ‘It felt like he was saying goodbye’ ]

My total time in New York was about 40 minutes before I returned to Detroit.

Kaline had no idea who I was, so I decided to wait until we were in the air to introduce myself.

He glanced at Sports Illustrated and fell asleep as we walked away from the door. It was the maximum he had slept in the past 24 hours.

Al Kaline is pictured with his family in 1974. (Photo: AP, Associated Press Photo)

The problem was that I had to interview him.

Once we took off, I worked on the base to wake him up and introduce myself, asking to interview him. He accepted.

“One more thing,” I added. “I need to sit next to you so I need to change seats with your wife, okay? “

Louise wasn’t thrilled, but Kaline was incredibly gracious and incredibly humble about her career and her love for the Tigers and their fans.

He became only the 10th player in history to be elected in the first year of eligibility, and as the day of the Hall of Fame announcement approached, he was distressed by the situation.

[[Mort de la légende des tigres Al Kaline: voici toutes ses étapes épiques]

“It wasn’t bad until the fans all got caught up,” he said. “Everyone said he was so sure I was going to succeed. Then would I stay in bed thinking it might be possible? ”

Kaline kept thinking of Joe DiMaggio, who failed his first year of eligibility. He wonders how he could possibly be named on the 75% of the required ballots.

“I thought I had 50 to 50 chances of success,” he said. “I was just hoping to have enough votes so that, in case I missed, I would be sure of next year.”

Kaline didn’t need next year. He was named on 88% of the ballots, which surprised him.

More thoughts on Mr. Tiger:

The great Lions Joe Schmidt has an epic piece of memories of Al Kaline

Al Kaline was Jeff Daniels’ childhood hero. This is how he remembers him

He doubted he belonged to the same category as Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Bob Feller, Warren Spahn, Ernie Banks and Stan Musial, the only other players to be registered in their first year of time eligibility.

He said he started thinking about a baseball career as a freshman in high school. As for the Hall of Fame, Kaline didn’t think about it even after the Tigers’ 1968 World Series victory.

“I hadn’t done enough before 1968 to think of the Hall of Fame,” he said. “It wasn’t until I hit 3,000 hits that the writers started writing about me as the future Hall of Famer. When I read it a lot, I thought maybe I had a chance. “

Kaline spoke at length about the World Series 68 and remained eternally grateful to manager Mayo Smith, who performed one of the most amazing moves in World Series history – taking a central defensive player and making a short stop for it. the World Series.


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Kaline was injured and missed six weeks, which means that Mickey Stanley and Jim Northrup shared the outside field with Willie Horton.

A few weeks before the World Series – there were no playoffs or card games at the time – Kaline went to Smith and told him to stay with Stanley and Northrup and not to worry about him .

“The writers had written about how he was to play me,” he said. “So I went to tell him he should play the guys who brought him there. He said he wanted me to train at third base and maybe he could use me there. But one day, he said he was moving Stanley to a shortstop. I couldn’t believe it, but everything went very well. ”

[ Al Kaline dies: Baseball world, Tigers fans, players mourn ]

Asked about it, he spoke of the time in 1971 when he refused a contract that would have made him a $ 100,000 player, which was then a status symbol.

Kaline suspected the Tigers of having offered this amount just to get rid of the press.

“I was getting closer, but I haven’t had a very good year,” he said. “I just wanted to have a good year and get the raise that way.”

He finished with 3,007 hits and 399 homers but bristled when told that they were superstar numbers.

“I don’t like the word superstar,” he said. “I think I was a good player. Not as good as a few, but better than most. “

The Tigers struggled for a few years before his selection, and Kaline was delighted with the reception he received when getting off the plane.

“Detroit fans have not had much reason to cheer on in recent years,” he said. “Now, in a very modest way, people may have something to be proud of. Maybe they can look up and say, “Hey, I’m from Detroit. “”

Kaline discovered that he had been elected to the Hall of Fame the day before the plane. And in less than 24 hours, he understood the importance of being in the Hall of Fame.

“This is the biggest thrill of all because I know the effect it will have,” he said proudly. “All my life, as long as I live, as long as my children live, my name will always be there.

“Whenever there is an election, my name will be there. Knowing what you have done is appreciated. ”

This interview has been appreciated for 40 years… and it continues.

Mick McCabe is a longtime former Detroit Free Press columnist. Contact him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ mickmccabe1.


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