Few men were ever as humble as George Kell, the gentleman from Arkansas who spent more than five decades in baseball as a player and broadcaster.
First as an All-Star third baseman who won a batting title, and later as a popular radio and TV announcer in Detroit, Kell became a favorite with Tiger fans over the years. As a player he was known for his flashy fielding and line-drive stroke at the plate. In the booth, he was famous for his homespun phrases (“He hit that one a country mile”) and his infectious enthusiasm.
Nearly 30 years ago, Kell was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown for his career as a third baseman. On a sunny afternoon on July 31, 1983, Kell was inducted during in a ceremony that also included Brooks Robinson, a third baseman who looked up to Kell as his idol. Kell mentioned Robinson in his speech, but the most heartwarming thing Kell shared that day were his feelings about his family, in particular his father and his brothers, each of whom were ballplayers, and one of whom died at a young age.
Here is the full text of Kell’s speech that day in Cooperstown:
Thank you Commissioner. I appreciate those remarks very much. My congratulations too to Si Burick and to Jack Brickhouse. My congratulations to Walter Alston and best wishes to Walter for a speedy recovery. I know he is watching today and I just want to say to Walter we miss you and we miss you very much on this day. My congratulations to Juan Marichal on this great day for him.
And to Brooks Robinson, my congratulations. Brooks, my cohort on the baseball field, today in the broadcast booth, friend of many, many years. I still find it, Brooks, almost unbelievable that we have traveled the same path for so long with the same goals in mind and we wind up here in Cooperstown in the Hall of Fame on the same day. Brooks, I know this too, that hundreds of your friends, hundreds, maybe thousands of your friends are here from Baltimore today. Wait just a minute. I’m not going to let him get away with that. Let me share, Brooks, let me share these friends with you for a moment. Because these people, I closed out my career in Baltimore, an old aging ballplayer, and they were good to me. They were so good. I share them with you here today.
When I was notified of my selection to the Hall of Fame I received the most beautiful note that you have ever seen from Hall of Famer, Jocko Conlan. And this is what it said, “You never choked up on a baseball field in your life but I guarantee you’ll choke up at the Induction Ceremonies when you get to Cooperstown.” Well, it could be. I hope not. But Jocko, I agree with you. It is a very emotional moment for an old baseball player.
I stand here today in awe of this great event. I stand here today in awe of the great players that are behind me. The players that I am joining. As Jack Brickhouse said in these hallowed halls, “you cannot possibly know the feeling that is inside of me unless you have stood at this podium in this same situation.”
I have suspected for a long time that George Kell has taken more from this great game than he would ever be able to put back and now today I know that I am more deeply in debt than ever before.
This is a very special moment, a very special moment for me and for my family and we want to share it with everyone, especially all of our friends who have kept the faith for all these many years, that one day this great honor would come our way.
I share this personally with my wife, Charlene. My wife of 42 years who is right out in front. Charlene started with me at a very young age as you might imagine. Not knowing exactly what she was getting into but not caring really if this is what I wanted to do.
I share this with my children. George junior who is out here and Terri out in front today and my grandchildren who are seated there with them. My children were not old enough to remember too much about their father playing ball. But they were old enough to know that their daddy was gone from home an awful lot in those days and I’m sorry for that, but I hope that in some small way that this day will make up for all of that.
I share this with my father, 83 years young, who is in a nursing home in Newport, Arkansas today, unable to be here but watching this on television. My father raised three boys, convinced that they would all be major league ballplayers, if not Hall of Famers. Two of us did reach the major leagues. My brother, Skeeter, played for the Philadelphia A’s, and myself. My other brother died in World War II, or who knows, my father might have been right. He might have had three major league baseball players.
Baseball has provided me with so much. Not just financial but the people that I have met and the friends I’ve made. Time does not permit me to mention all of those who have influenced my life but let me tell you this, I played for Mr. Connie Mack and I got to know this grand old man rather well.
I played for and I got to know Mr. Tom Yawkey who left a lasting impression on this game.
I’ve spent the past 24 years broadcasting and working for Mr. John Fetzer, a real giant in the game today. There is no more respected man in baseball than Mr. Fetzer. I’m lucky to have played for and to have known these men.
Milton Richmond, my good friend from the UPI, told me that being selected to the Hall of Fame would change my whole life and it has to a certain extent, but I would hope that I still know where the real values in life are; in home and family, in church and in friends.
When I was leaving my home town of Swifton, Arkansas this week for Cooperstown, a 12-year old lad, a neighbor of mine by the name of Ricky Roberts, came up to me as I was packing my car and he said, “Mr. Kell, we’re proud of you and we’re all going to be watching you on television on Sunday.” Now I mentioned this because this touched me very much. I’m proud too. I’m proud that I know people like Rickey Roberts and I’m proud that I know and have many, many other friends. So from the bottom of my heart I say thank you to all of you.
Lastly, I wanted to share a video of George and Al Kaline doing a game between the Tigers and Indians in Cleveland in 1987. This short clip (George comes on at about the 45-second mark) gives you an idea of how gentle and easy Kell was behind the microphone. For those who didn’t get a chance to listen to Kell, you really missed out.
What are your memories of George Kell? Leave comments below.