Remembering Al Kaline Day 40 Years Later

Forty years ago on August 2, 1970, the Detroit Tigers honored the man who so richly deserved recognition for being “Mr. Tiger.”

Albert William Kaline was still four seasons from retiring and in his 18th season, but the man who was idolized by Tiger fans ever since he became the youngest American League batting champion in history at age 20 in 1955 was given his day in the sun. The year before the Yankees had honored Mickey Mantle at Yankee Stadium. It was only right that the Tigers gave number six his due.

When Kaline signed his 1970 contract for $90,000, (yes I wrote just $90,000) the team announced that August 2 would be “Al Kaline Day.” It was the first commemoration for an active Tiger player in three decades. The previous one was in 1940 for Charlie Gehringer.

I sat in the upper deck in left field that sweltering day along with 44,112 other fans to see my hero honored. I remember looking down and seeing Kaline and his family circle the field in a chauffer driven luxury convertible as the fans gave Al a standing ovation.

Among those honoring Kaline that day were Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, American League President Joe Cronin, Governor William Milliken, Detroit Mayor Roman Gribbs, hockey legend Gordie Howe, and the other half of the “KK Boys” of the 1950’s, Harvey Kuenn. Singer Mel Torme sang “Thanks for the Memories” with special lyrics.

It was on this day that Cherry Street was officially renamed “Kaline Drive”.

In his speech thanking the fans, Kaline broke down and wept. These were his words:

“This is the greatest day of my life. There have been so many people who have helped me to get to the big leagues and who have helped me stay there, it would be impossible for me to acknowledge them all. I can still remember back to June, 1953, and I can honestly say I thank God I chose to play for the team here in Detroit, as I did. I will always remember this day, and I will always remember you, the fans, and the support you have given me, and I say that from the bottom of my heart.”

Ten years later, nearly to the day, Kaline was once again honored at Tiger Stadium.

Just a few days following his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, during pregame ceremonies, Kaline’s number six became the first Detroit Tiger number ever retired.

Al Kaline breaks down as he is surrounded by his wife Louise and sons Mark and Mike during pregame ceremonies at Al Kaline Day, August 2, 1970.

5 replies on “Remembering Al Kaline Day 40 Years Later

  • Reed C. Andrew

    Thanks to Bill Dow for a great article about a true gentleman and one of the game’s finest players. The year after the 8/2/70 Al Kaline Day mentioned in the article, Kaline was offered a contract for $100,000. He said “No player should make that much” and signed a contract for $90,000 instead. It has also been reported that on the 8/2/70 Al Kaline Day when he was to be given a new car, Kaline declined it in favor of having the car or its cash equivalent given to the Boys Club. The game has sadly changed since the Kaline era.

  • Tim Winn

    11 years old at the time, my brother in law Ron Lockwood, convinced my mom to let me skip mass that morning so he could take me to the game. Got the commemorative “Al Kaline Day” pin and kept score of the game with the scorebook and Tiger pencil they gave out. I remember the sights, sounds and smells of that day like it was yesterday. Thanks for the memory Ron!

    • Pete Kurzyniec

      I was also at that game, I was 6 years old. Like you I can remember it like it was yesterday.

  • George Gozzard

    I vividly remember Al Kaline Day in August of 1970. I was a seven-year-old boy at the time. My dad Harry Gozzard was in the band. He took his entire family to that game. We, unfortunately arrived a little late. My dad literally had to run out onto the field so they could begin the festivities. My dad was able to get many of the Tigers to sign a baseball for him, which went to my older brother! Many of the 68 World Series Champs signed that ball!

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