George Kell’s Hall of Fame induction speech

George Kell giving his Induction speech at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983.

George Kell giving his Induction speech at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983.

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.

14 replies on “George Kell’s Hall of Fame induction speech

  • Tim

    What a smooth voice and a great broadcast broadcast team. George’s playing days were before my time but he is a Hall of Fame announcer in my book. Growing up with him and Al on the TV and Ernie on the radio couldn’t have been better for a young baseball fan.

  • Tim Weber

    George Kell to me will always be the best play by play television announcer the Tigers have ever had. Think about this, between Mr. Kell, and Ernie Harwell, we had at one time the best baseball announcers in all of baseball. I could tell that he had a passion for baseball, and that trancended into his announcing. A true legend for Detroit sports.

  • Phil

    I will always have fond memories of both George Kell and Ernie Harwell. Both were true gentlemen of the game. Thanks for the many memories George. RIP

  • Jon Gallagher

    What I remember most about Mr. Kell was his passion for the game of baseball and its’ traditions and history. He was a wealth of knowledge about the game and the way it should be played – at the highest of levels and EVERY SINGLE DAY. He is still a great treasure that the fans of Detroit are lucky to have known.

  • dennis

    I remember george and al as a great team in the booth. He was knowkefgeabke and easy to listen to and the pair seemed to work well together. Miss his siuthern draw and personality in the booth. George and ernie were my voices of the Tigers growing up. Oh an I dont remember george taking about his playing career much at all.

  • Steve Thomas

    I’ve often wondered why the Detroit Tigers wouldn’t hire broadcasters from either Georgia or Arkansas who have southern accents similar to Ernie Harwell’s or George Kell’s. If they were truly qualified announcers, it would be such a cool way to pay tribute to these great men who hold such a special place in Detroit sports history.

  • Robb Borland

    No question, George Kelly was one of the best, both on the field and in the booth. I’m too young to remember this, but there was a period of time in the early 1960’s when George and Ernie worked together on the radio. My father said they were easily the best baseball radio broadcasting duo of all time. How incredibly fortunate Tigers fans have been to have these two.

  • J.D. Danielewicz

    My mom met Mr.Kell while working as a waitress at a sports banquet where he was the featured speaker. She told me he was as HUMBLE, KIND and GENUINE as he appeared on TV. A GREAT Tiger. An even GREATER human being!!!

  • Rick

    Great comments by all. George Kell and Ernie Harwell were two living legends and now sadly just legends. RIP both of you. I to like Steve wonder why the Tiger’s don’t hire announcers from the south. The announcers they have now are pathetic! Mario Imbemba and Rod Allen annually rank in the top 5 worst in all of baseball and have been ranked #1 a few times. Sad that such a tradition of great announcers has not been replaced by twits and morons!

  • K5NRK

    Well done Dan! Great article and tribute to George.

    I have a special memory of George Kell. My family and I came over from Mississippi to watch the Tigers play the Rangers in Arlington for my Dad’s 80th birthday. He bought his grandkids, including my daughter who at the time was about 5 years old, baseballs to try and get Tiger player autographs during batting practice. During practice my daughter came back to our seats with tears streaming down her cheeks saying “the big kids were pushing her away” and she couldn’t get any autographs. I told her to come with me and we would get one. We went to the top of the second deck where the broadcast booth sat. There were Al Kaline and George Kell calmly sitting there awaiting the start of the game. I told Mr. Kaline we came over from Mississippi for the games and asked if he would sign my daughter’s baseball. “Sure, throw it up,” he said. After signing, he said “Do you want George’s too?” Of course my daughter said yes. So her first autographed baseball had two Tiger Hall of Famers on it! I told her that she could have the ball back when she was 40 years old!

    A couple years ago, we took three exchange students we hosted to a four game wrap around series the Tigers had with the Rangers. During the first game, one of our exchange students caught a foul ball (I’ve been to about 200 games and never have been so lucky!) During that series he used that ball to get many Tiger player autographs. About a month later he returned home to Norway as a devoted Tiger fan. That night after he left, when I went to bed, my head hit something hard under the pillow. It was that baseball and a note from him saying thanks and that he will come back when he was 40 to collect the ball!

    Always a Tiger!

  • Randy

    Thank you Dan for remembering a true Hall of Famer and great broadcaster. Unfortunately Tiger fans of the past 25 plus years didn’t get to here Mr. Kell broadcast a game. He was every bit as talented and loved as the more recognizable Ernie Harwell. My generation was spoiled (and blessed) by the voices of Ernie and George. Their ability to convey what was happening on the field as well as their gentlemanly mannerisms makes them both worthy of honor and praise. Mr. Kell always will be one of the truly all time greats.

  • Lynne sommer

    To me George Kell IS Tiger baseball!!! Every time I would here his voice or Ernie’s , I was a ten year old little girl sitting on the front porch with my dad in my pajamas, freshly bathed listening to the Tigers play. Still smiling!

  • Paul

    I have fond memories of listening to George Kell’s and Ernie Harwell’s radio broadcasts of Tiger baseball and of he an Al Kaline’s TV broadcasts. It brings back memories of happy times and simpler lives. I miss hearing them broadcast the games. Tiger Baseball is on the air!

  • Dan Holmes

    K5NRK — thanks for sharing your memories of George Kell.

    Some great comments here. I loved listening to Mr. Kell when I was growing up. I was honored to have met him a few times while I worked for the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was a very kind man.

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