When I heard yesterday that George Kell had passed away, it was like a kick in the stomach. His death is a profound loss to those who grew up listening to his beautiful Arkansas accent when he would open up his broadcast with: “Thanks Eli and good afternoon everybody, this is George Kell along with Al Kaline, and it’s a bright sunshiny day here at Tiger Stadium.”
As a kid in the 60’s, I really loved to watch George do his pregame interviews from behind the batting cage at Tiger Stadium as he interviewed the likes of Norm Cash and Rocky Colavito as the wonderful sounds of batting practice echoed throughout the ballpark.
Three years ago I had the pleasure to interview George over the phone for an hour for a Detroit Free Press article I did on his recovery from a near fatal car accident. I treasure the handwritten note that he sent me after the article was published and I have it framed in my office. He was a true gentleman and that is the most common description of him that you will read.
Of the many sports personalities I have interviewed over the years, no one was more gracious or more helpful than George Kell.
Although Ernie Harwell is most often considered the voice of the Tigers, I think George Kell was every bit as important and special. Certainly no one was more imitated, and who didn’t try to say their favorite “Kellism” in an attempted Arkansas accent.
“Kout!” (inside pitch to the head) “They’re going to wave him……….” “This ball is well hit, it might be and….. it…….. is……. Gone!…….. a home run for Willie Horton.” “He hit it like a bullet”, “You are so right Al Kaline.”
Many don’t know this but Kell was a major part of the Tiger brain trust and was truly Jim Campbell’s most trusted advisor, according to former Free Press baseball writer George Cantor.
George told me that after Tiger manager Charlie Dressen died during the 1966 season, Campbell offered him the manager’s job. Kell politely turned him down because he didn’t want to travel that much and he loved being able to fly back to his little home town of Swifton, Arkansas between broadcasts.
Kell lived in Swifton his entire life, and I think that’s a major reason he was so humble and down to earth. When I interviewed Dick McAuliffe for a Free Press article yesterday, I told him about Kell once being offered the manager’s job. He said he didn’t know that but he said he would have been a fabulous manager and that he would have loved to have played for that “great man.”
After I did my article on him, I would periodically stay in touch with George. Last year he called me to say that his only son, George Jr. had died of cancer. Although he lost his first wife to cancer, nearly died in a house fire that destroyed his home (and all his memorabilia) and survived a horrible auto accident that nearly killed him, the death of his son was really a final blow. He said you can’t imagine how difficult it is to bury your child.
George was very fortunate to have married his wife Carolyn who really looked out for him. He loved going back to Cooperstown to the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies where he enjoyed talking with all the former ballplayers and meeting with the fans.
He also enjoyed going to the post office every morning where he would faithfully pick up his fan mail and return home to answer it all. George loved watching with Carolyn every Tiger telecast which he picked up on his satellite TV. (He really liked Brandon Inge at third but was frustrated with his hitting)
George will be greatly missed, but we will all keep him in our hearts and fondly remember his wonderful voice.