Advice from Ted Williams helped Al Kaline become a mature hitter

Al Kaline, Ted Williams, and Harvey Kuenn together at the 1957 All-Star Game in St. Louis.

When Al Kaline arrived at Shibe Park in Philadelphia for his first major league game on June 25, 1953, he was 18 years old and just a few weeks removed from his high school graduation. He was about 155 pounds – a scrawny, fresh-faced kid – when he crept into the visitor’s clubhouse escorted by scout Ed Katalinas to meet his new teammates. He couldn’t possibly have imagined that he was beginning a career in baseball that would last nearly six decades with the Detroit Tigers, and as of 2012, still going strong.

Kaline was greeted in the clubhouse by his manager, Fred Hutchinson, who also pitched for the club. “Hutch” was a tough guy, with a  reputation as a sore loser, but fair with his players. He had made his major league debut in the game at Briggs Stadium in 1939 when Lou Gehrig’s record 2,130 game streak had come to end. Also in the clubhouse was Hal Newhouser, who would pitch just one more game in a Detroit uniform before being given his release.

Kaline was entering the major leagues at an intersection in history. Many of his teammates (including Hutchinson) were winding up careers that had been interrupted by service in World War II. Now, the great National Pastime was moving forward: every week there were games broadcast live on television; black players were integrating the game and becoming stars; Joe DiMaggio had retired two years earlier; nearly every team was playing night baseball.

At that time the rules of baseball dictated that a young player like Kaline who had received a bonus, was required to be kept on the active major league roster for two years or be lost to another team. The 18-year old Kaline watched and learned a lot in ’53 before playing regularly in right field in ’54. He hit .276 with little power and was frequently overmatched in that first full season. Then, in ’55 the 20-year old led the league in batting with a .340 mark, becoming the youngest player (by one day to Ty Cobb) to win a batting title.

At the All-Star break in ’55, Kaline was hitting .371 with 19 homers and 67 RBI in 81 games. He was selected to start in right field for the American League, batting sixth behind Yogi Berra of the New York Yankees. Boston slugger Ted Williams hit third in the lineup for that game in Milwaukee. Prior to the game, Williams sought out young Kaline at the batting cage. The four-time batting champ (he would win two more later in his Hall of Fame career) counseled the young Tiger on the art of hitting, no doubt explaining his most important philosophy – hit the right pitch. If there was one thing that the hard-headed Williams refused to do, it was swing at a bad pitch. Williams also stressed the importance of physical conditioning, recognizing that the young Kaline had a quick bat but was not physically mature. He advised Kaline to develop his wrist and arm strength by squeezing rubber balls and doing modest weight lifting.

Kaline took Williams’ advice and worked on his strength conditioning in the off-season. He hit .300 again in 1956 and increased his extra-base hits and runs batted in with a career-high 128. He was once again an All-Star, where he met with Williams again to discuss hitting. The two remained friends until Williams passed away in 2002. In 1999, Kaline was inducted into the Ted Williams Museum Hitters Hall of Fame, a validation from Williams himself that the Red Sox legend respected Kaline as a hitter.

6 replies on “Advice from Ted Williams helped Al Kaline become a mature hitter

  • Mark Goldberg

    Thanks for a great article. If you haven’t been to the Ted Williams Hitters Hall of Fame in Florida, it’s well worth the trip!

  • twaodood

    Ted Williams was his own worst enemy. He was arogant, and vain. He could been a great leader, but he arrogance was exceeded only by his ego!! He was a choke player, just like Barry Bonds. Bonds hated reporter, and was really egotistical, and arrogant too.

    They were both choke players, neither one even came close to winning a world series!!

  • Raymond Trella

    Very nice article thank you for sharing
    Ted Williams was actually helped as a hitter by a Tiger legend Ty Cobb. Ty took a liking to the young Williams and gave him many tips that Ted passed along as well. One of Tys favorite piece of advice was don’t miss your pitch which was Ted Williams philosophy through out his career
    Raymond in Troy

  • Art Greenstone

    When I was 12 yrs old, I caught a ball at Briggs stadium. After the game I ran up to Ted Williams in the parking lot to sign the ball. An attendant practically lifted me up by the back of my neck to get me away from Williams. But Ted grabbed the men’s wrist, Told him to leave me alone. Ted then patted me on the top of my head, signed the ball, & told me to always watch the ball as it left the pitcher’s hand. I have never forgotten that! To this day I have a picture of Ted Williams in my office

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