Al Kaline was a teen phenom from Baltimore who became the regular right fielder for the Detroit Tigers in 1954 at age 19. He was signed by Tiger scout (later an executive) Ed Katalinas for a reported $25,000, who told the front office that he was a better player than the starting outfield they had. In 1955, he leapt into stardom, winning the batting championship, the youngest champion ever at 20, younger by one day than Ty Cobb. He played on for two decades, never winning another batting title but finishing in the top three in the league five more times. He hit 399 home runs although he didn’t think of himself as a slugger, and was honored with 10 Gold Gloves.
Though not as famous as Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle, his overall skills of batting for average, power, plus his speed and fielding ranked him second in the American League for his career, next to Mickey Mantle. He had a wonderful throwing arm, best in the American League combining power and accuracy. His Gray Ink score, a way of measuring how often a player is among the league leaders in offensive categories, is 228, well over the average Hall of Famer’s score of 144. Curiously, he retired one short of 400 career homers. Unfortunately, his career BA finally slipped under .300 at the end of his Tiger career.
On top of it all, he was a true gentleman. He won the first Roberto Clemente Award which honored his fine qualities as a human being. Later, he long served as a Tiger broadcaster, with another old Tiger hero and batting champ, George Kell.
“I wasn’t meant to be a superstar. I’m no Willie Mays, or Mickey Mantle.” – Al Kaline