George Kell Could Have Been Manager of the 1968 Tigers

The photo that accompanies this blog entry (see below) shows Tiger television telecaster George Kell interviewing Tiger General Manager Jim Campbell in the Tiger Stadium locker room after Detroit won the pennant on September 19, 1968.

But if Jim Campbell had his way, it would have been George Kell and not Mayo Smith who would have managed the Bengals to their third world championship.

Many people may not realize this, but George Kell was more than a former Tiger third basemen and television telecaster.  He was truly part of the team’s brain trust and someone whom Jim Campbell would confer with on a regular basis. His contributions in the front office were later officially acknowledged when he was named a director of the ballclub when Tom Monaghan owned the team.

I had the pleasure to interview George Kell on several occasions and in one interview he revealed something that hardly anybody knows.  Following the tragic 1966 season when both manager Charlie Dressen and interim manager Bob Swift passed away, Campbell was looking for a new skipper to lead the young and talented Tigers to the Promised Land.  Kell told me that Jim Campbell had asked him if he would manage the ball club.

Kell was one of the most respected minds in the game who subsequently was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame for his stellar career as a top third basemen and hitter. (He should also be in the Hall of Fame as an announcer).

Although Kell probably would have been a great manager, he turned Campbell down largely because he enjoyed announcing so much but also because he liked to return to his beloved Swifton, Arkansas home and remain close to his family.

Kell had started in the radio broadcast booth for the Tigers beginning in 1959 but after the 1963 season he left the booth because he wanted to be with his family. In 1965 he was persuaded to return to the booth for television games only on the condition that he could commute to Arkansas and not have to be away from his family all year. He remained in the booth until his retirement after the 1996 season.

Personally, I am glad he did not take the manager job because we would have missed his wonderful Arkansas accent as he described the game so well.

On March 24, 2009 Kell passed away at age 86. This past August 23rd it was announced that the U.S. Post Office in Swifton will be named after George Kell.

It is truly appropriate.

George told me that everyday he would go to the post office to get his mail and to also drop off mail consisting of the autographs that he would sign every day for his long-time admirers and fans who would contact him. He never turned down an autograph request.

For me, nobody, and I mean nobody, epitomizes Tiger Baseball more than George Kell.