A Few Thoughts About Al Kaline
What is it about certain players, who although they were not a member of the home team, and though you rarely got to see them play, stand out as favorites nonetheless? Baseball fans of a certain age may share the feeling, but not know exactly how to explain it. I can't either, but with Hall of Famer Al Kaline's passing today, I thought I'd share a few thoughts.
Growing up in Los Angeles, my early baseball-on-TV options were these: the Dodgers at Candlestick Park nine games per year, the Saturday morning "Game of the Week" with Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek, the All-Star Game and the World Series. The Tigers never faced the Dodgers in Los Angeles. So how did I become attached to certain non-Dodgers, I still wonder? Because there were plenty of them: Rod Carew, Roberto Clemente, Bob Gibson, Harmon Killebrew and Tom Seaver, to name a few. And Kaline.
I'm sure collecting and trading Topps baseball cards had something to do with it. And the hours on end thumbing through "Who's Who in Baseball" and the "Baseball Encyclopedia," the latter of which became a staple in my household in 1969, a few months after Kaline's one and only World Series was a thing of history. He'd hit .379/.400/.655 in the Tigers seven-game win over St. Louis, after all. That made an impression on this young baseball fan.
When batting average was still cool, I knew about Kaline's American League batting title, right out of the gate in his rookie 1955 campaign. I've always had a thing for batting titlests, sporting exactly these players in my autographed baseball collection: Tommy Davis, Bill Madlock and Frank Robinson. I knew that Kaline never spent a day in the minor leagues. And I was impressed.
Later, as I teenager, I remember his name being added to the 3000 hit club when it happened. And I was impressed. How could I not be?
The number, 399 -- as in Kaline's lifetime home runs -- was easy enough to memorize without even trying. And so I did, like millions of other baseball-is-everything children of the Sixties.
And I remember, probably from about the age of 10, looking at an alkaline battery, and thinking that's gotta be Al Kaline's offseason gig. I can't hold an alkaline battery in my hand to this day without thinking of the Tigers' great rightfielder. I can't not crack a smile. And I like it that way.
If you've read the obituaries or are just plain interested in this era of baseball, you know the key stats. Or some of them, anyway. But if not, and for posterity, here goes: 2834 games, 11596 appearances, 10116 at bats, 1622 runs, 3007 hits, 498 doubles, 75 triples, 399 homers, 1582 RBIs, 137 steals, 4852 total bases, 92.6 WAR and a .297/.376/.480 line.
Ten Gold Gloves, 18 All-Star Games, nine MVP top tens and one World Series ring. And a grand total of one career transaction, quoted directly from Baseball-Reference.com: "June 19, 1953: Signed by the Detroit Tigers as an amateur free agent (bonus baby)."
Rest in peace, Al Kaline. And remember glove conquers all.