One Year Ago Tiger Fans Lost George Kell

One year ago today George Kell passed away as Tiger fans said goodbye to the beloved former broadcaster who first became a fan favorite when the 23 year old third baseman was traded to Detroit on May 18, 1946.

The Philadelphia A’s third baseman was caught completely by surprise when he stepped into the elevator at the Book-Cadillac Hotel in downtown Detroit where he was headed for his room following breakfast.

On the day they were traded for each other, Barney McCosky admires the old English D on George Kell.

Standing in the elevator was his manager and team owner Connie Mack who had a serious look on his face.

“Mr. Mack said, ‘George, come up to my suite I need to talk with you,’” Kell told me in an interview I did with him for a Detroit Free Press article in 2006.

“In his room he told me I was traded to the Tigers for Barney McCosky,” said Kell. “It was such a shock and felt like a rejection but Mr. Mack told me, ‘George, you’re going to be a good ballplayer and I’m sending you to a team that will pay you the kind of money that I can’t.’ As it turned out, it was the greatest day in my life,” said Kell.

At first Tiger fans were shocked and upset with the trade because McCosky, a hometown hero, had been a fan favorite since helping to lead the Bengals to the American League pennant in 1940.

Prior to the game, the two players met in the Tiger locker room as Kell put on the Old English D for the very first time.

In his 1998 autobiography, Hello Everybody, I’m George Kell, the Arkansas native recalled what it was like when he met up with McCosky before the game:

“I remember McCosky looking at me. I know he didn’t want to leave Detroit. He probably felt a whole lot worse than I did. But he was a veteran. He must have sensed how displaced I was feeling.

‘You’ll be better off in Detroit,’ he said. ‘You’re going to love it here. I hate to leave because this is home. I’ve had good years here. I went to school here. My family is here.’”

Kell’s popularity soared in Detroit as the American League’s premier third sacker batted over .300 in each of his six and a half Tiger seasons and in 1947 began a run of eight consecutive All-Star Game appearances (10 in total). In 1950 Kell set an AL record for fewest errors by a third baseman (a record that would stand for 24 years) and led AL third basemen in fielding percentage seven times.

Kell said his greatest baseball thrill occurred when he beat out Ted Williams to win the closest batting title in history (.3429 to .3427) on the last day of the 1949 season, depriving Williams of the coveted Triple Crown.

To the shock of Tiger fans everywhere, Kell’s Detroit playing career suddenly ended in June of 1952 when general manager Charlie Gehringer traded the star third baseman as part of a blockbuster nine player deal with Boston to try and “shake up the club He later played for the White Sox before ending his 15 year Hall of Fame career with Baltimore in 1957.

While injured at the end of the season, Baltimore announcer Ernie Harwell had Kell join the broadcast booth as a color commentator. Two years later Kell was hired by the Tigers to join Van Patrick in the broadcast booth and the following season after Patrick was fired due to a change in beer sponsors, at Kell’s recommendation Harwell joined him in the booth.

For 37 seasons, Detroit fans had the privilege of listening to Kell’s wonderful play by play during telecasts of Tiger baseball.

“Good afternoon everybody, I’m George Kell. It’s a bright, sunshiny day here at Tiger Stadium . . .”

Simply put, George Kell is irreplaceable. He was the very essence of Tiger baseball.

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