Six things you didn’t know about Al Kaline

Al Kaline played 22 years for the Tigers, spent 26 years as an announcer for the team, and was an adviser in the front office since 2001.

To Detroit fans he was known simply as “Mr. Tiger,” a graceful performer during his playing career and a stately gentleman after.

On Monday, April 6, 2020, Kaline passed away at the age of 85.

Kaline played 22 seasons for the Tigers, arriving as a fuzzy-faced bonus baby of only 18, and lasting into the 1970s as a veteran Gold Glove right fielder. He became the youngest man to win a batting title, in 1955. Thirteen years later in the World Series he batted .379 with a pair of home runs to pace the Tigers to a championship. In 1974, Kaline became the twelfth member of the 3,000 hit club.

After stepping off the diamond, Kaline served in the television broadcast booth with George Kell for more than two decades. The pair were immensely popular in the state of Michigan, and Kaline continued his connection to the players who wore the Old English D.

Following his retirement from broadcasting, Kaline was invited to serve as a special assistant to the front office under the Ilitch family, and he helped mentor young players like Curtis Granderson, Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, and others over the next twenty-plus years. As recently as 2018, Kaline was in uniform in Lakeland as a special assistant during spring training. He exemplified the history and tradition of the franchise.

Here are six things you may not know about Albert William Kaline.

1. Owed a lot to Mom & Pop

When he was a kid growing up in Baltimore, Kaline loved to play baseball. He was often in two or three leagues each summer, including the American Legion league where he hit an amazing .609 one season. His father, a broom maker, and his mother a homemaker, allowed Al to play as much baseball as he could, they never required him to have a job when he was a teenager. “They knew I wanted to be a major leaguer, and they did everything they could to give me the time to play baseball,” Kaline told the Detroit News. “Even though the family could have used the money I might have made at odd jobs, my father never would let me earn a dime. I never had to take a paper route or work in a drugstore or anything. I just played ball.” On many summer days, Kaline’s mother drove Al to two different ballgames or tournaments so he could play baseball. By the time he was 16, Al was drawing attention from big league scouts in the area.

2. Overcame a gimpy foot

Kaline was born with a condition called osteomyelitis, a chronic condition that required the removal of part of the bone from his left foot. As a result, Kaline had a limpy gate throughout his life and frequently played in pain. At a young age he taught himself to run on the side of his left foot. Nevertheless, he was a fast runner and quick in the outfield.

3. Signed with Tigers while wearing his prom suit

When he was still 18 years old and just one day after he had graduated from high school, Kaline was signed to a major league contract by famed scout Ed Katalinas, who arrived at the Kaline home as early as he could and spoke with Kaline’s parents. Al was preparing for his prom dance and came down to the dining table and signed the deal, which called for a $15,000 bonus and a $15,000 salary in his first season. Since that day in June of 1953, Kaline was under the employment of the Detroit Tigers in some capacity for more than six decades.

4. Received valuable advice from Teddy Ballgame

In his rookie season, Kaline was introduced to Boston Red Sox star Ted Williams by manager Fred Hutchinson. Williams spoke at length with the young Kaline, telling him how to hit the low fastball. Williams also suggested that the scrawny Kaline work on adding muscle to his upper body and that he squeeze a rubber ball in his hands to improve his grip strength. Kaline and Williams remained friends throughout their lives.

5. Right field was transformed to help Kaline

In 1954, Kaline was hurt when he collided with the first row of seats in right field at Briggs Stadium. As a result, team president Spike Briggs ordered the row of seats, which jutted out into foul territory along the right field line, removed. Later, more improvements were made to the right field corner and the wall to ensure that Kaline would be safe as he scaled the walls and ran down the line. the area become known as “Kaline Corner.”

6. Asked out of the World Series

The 1960s were filled with a series of frustrations for Kaline, even as he continued to be an All-Star. In 1967, after striking out, Al slammed his bat into the bat rack and broke his right hand. He missed almost a month of the season. In 1968 he was hit by a pitch from Lew Krausse that broke his left arm, and as a result he was sidelined for six weeks. When he returned, the Tigers were in first place and the outfield trio of Willie Horton, Mickey Stanley, and Jim Northrup was clicking well. Kaline was used as a pinch-hitter and at first base for much of the rest of the season, and when the Tigers clinched the pennant (with Al scoring the winning run), Kaline put the team first. He went to manager Mayo Smith and told him that he didn’t deserve to play in the World Series, that the guys who got the team there should start. Smith refused to accept that notion, played Kaline in the Series, and Al led the Tigers with 11 hits and 8 RBI. Famously, Kaline had refused to attend a World Series until he played in one, despite numerous offers to participate in the Fall Classic in some capacity by MLB. In ’68 he finally fulfilled his dream of playing in the World Series and he proved clutch, hitting two homers to go along with his .379 average in the seven-game victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

Share your memories of Al Kaline below in the comments section.

12 replies on “Six things you didn’t know about Al Kaline

  • Tom

    Just want to wish Mr. Kaline, (aka Mr. Tiger) a happy birthday from Bay City, Mi.. I am hoping his schedule works out so I can meet Mr. Kaline in the Spring Time.

  • Cecilia Barzyk

    He is one of the few players who never played in the minors. And he is one of the nicest gentlemen you could ever meet.

  • Gary Walton

    I grew up idolizing Mr.Kaline. I got to meet him when I first got home from SE Asia during the Vietnam War while still in the US Air Force and stationed in Fla. in spring training 1968. I asked him how his foot was when he strolled in from RF to talk to his Wife and kids during spring trainning. He was very nice and told me it was fine. That meant a lot to me then and still does now. I was only 21. So I wish him a happy b-day and wish him many more healthy ones!

  • Dan Holmes

    Gary, that’s a cool story. I wish I had seen him play in his prime. I was 6 years old when he played his last game.

  • Gary Walton

    Dan, I watched his entire Carear from 1956 on and I tell my grandson Andy who is now 15 and plays high chool ball and idolizes the Tigers, that Al Kaline was the smoothest and most amazing all around ball player “I” ever saw. No one could go into the RF corner scoop up one down the line spin and throw a liner type frozen rope all in the same motion a strike to 2nd base to throw out the runner like he could. I have his book. My grandson took it and is reading it right now. I found him to be a humble classy man all the way. Tiger fans need to appreciate him all the while we have him !!

  • KalineCountry Ron

    My first game at Briggs Stadium was in late July 1954 with dad, going on 7 and the Tigers were playing the redsox his team.
    I was so wide eyed looking at “all” the people, and how green grass was, and the skinny kid throwing fast darts/baseballs, I was hooked. Kaline had one of the very strongest and also what separated him from other right fielders past and present, the most accurate throwing arm ever. Al came down from a higher league turning right field play into art form. Picture perfect, elegant, smooth as silk, never a wasted motion, like when circling under catching a fly and getting ready to throw the ball in to 2nd, 3rd, or home, he would try to catch it with the glove to his right side so the transfer from glove to right hand was split second quicker. Mickey Mantle told me at an autograph show back in the mid 80’s when I shook his hand got his sutograph and told him he was my second favorite player growing up next to Al, he replied, “When we played, Al was the best all-around player in the American League”.

  • John

    I just met Al Kaline after being a lifelong fan. I always thought him to be a class guy. Boy was I wrong. Seven or eight people were waiting near the entrance to Joker Marchant Stadium on Sunday Feb. 24, 2013. Well at least he treated us all equally: like dirt. He uniformly had a nasty statement for every one from children to grandpas. He would have been miles ahead if he had just kept his mouth shut and kept on walking. When we talked to others while waiting to get into the stadium, 90% said they had similar experiences with him! He is a miserable human being. So sad he does not show gratitude for having lived a charmed life. At 77 he doesn’t have much time to undo what was a near universal reputation amongst loyal fans who were in attendance that day. Sadly he may never know that it is easier to be nice and it will make him happy, let alone the fans who still pay his salary.

  • George

    I have met Al Kaline and one time he was signing autographs in sporting goods store near Tiger Stadium. Not only was the autograph free, so was the picture!! I have friends at Lakeland Florida and ran across Al at Joker Marchant Stadium and had a totally great experience with Al. Frankly, I don’t believe what John said in his comments. It probably was not even Al that he saw. John’s statement is the only negative thing anyone has ever said about Al that I know of and I have been a Tiger’s fan since the 50’s.

  • Cindy ray

    I just turned 75 last week and often.remember al Kaline at the ballpark. Even though I no longer live in Detroit he is still my favorite player. I was at his first game at Briggs. Love calif. but al is all baseball. My kids tease me about my crush. Fun memories. Happy new year

  • Naomi Moore

    I was marries to his wife’s 1st cousin, Jim Hamilton. Our son, Lance Hamilton, christened Uncle Ralph, when he was a few months old, at the house in so. Baltimore, where he and Aunt Ruth were living in 1960. When Lance was 9 years old he met the”real” Al Kaline. He was thrilled to meet “the real Al Kaline”.
    I could continue to authenticate my, somewhat, sketchy relationship with Mr. Kaline.
    If by some chance he receives this note, would love to make a connection with the family.

  • Dr. John H. White

    I can claim being related to 115 cousins in SE Pensylvania. In “The Day” we were playing HS baseball and within driving distance to NYC, Philly and Baltimore. Today we are all Tigers fans because Al Kaline became our superstar-of-choice! Happy to have met him and several family members, I remain a loyal fan.

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