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Detroit Tigers legend Al Kaline dies at age 85, sources say

Kaline played all 22 MLB seasons with Tigers

DETROIT – Detroit Tigers legend and Hall of Famer Al Kaline died Monday at the age of 85, sources tell Local 4

Kaline played 22 season in MLB, all with the Tigers, from 1953 to 1974. He was a member of the 1968 World Series team and amassed 399 home runs, 3,007 hits and 1,582 RBI in 2,834 career games.

Kaline won 10 Gold Glove awards and was named to 18 All-Star teams. He had 1,277 walks compared to 1,020 strikeouts in his career, leading the way for a .376 on-base percentage and .855 OPS.

He was work 92.8 WAR in his career, according to Baseball Reference.

After his playing career, Kaline remained with the Tigers organization as an analyst and a consultant.

Personal life

Albert William Kaline was born Dec. 19, 1934 to Nicholas and Naomi Kaline in Baltimore, Maryland.

He was a multi-sport athlete as a child, but suffered from osteomyolitis, a disease that forced him to have surgery to remove a piece of bone from his left foot. He had to learn how to run on the side of his foot. It gave him a bit of a limp, but that couldn’t stop him.

Kaline’s parents noticed his baseball talent early and drove him all around Baltimore so he could play in as many leagues as possible.

He flourished at Southern High School, and pro scouts started noticing.

Early Tigers career

In June 1953, his senior year, Tigers scout Ed Katalinas inked Kaline to a major league contract. It was worth $30,000, which was big money for the time.

The contract also came with a ticket straight to the major leagues, as Kaline completely bypassed the minors.

His first game with the Tigers was June 25th, 1953.

“I hit the first pitch to center field and I was so nervous I don’t remember a thing about it," Kaline said.

He hit one home run in 28 at-bats that year.

In 1954, he played regularly but injured himself running into the right field wall, prompting then-Tigers owner Walter Briggs Jr. to remove a row of Briggs Stadium seats jutting out into the field.

That’s how “Kaline’s Corner” got its name.

Kaline turns into star

In 1955, Kaline’s second full season, he won the American League batting title. No. 6 hit .340, becoming the youngest player ever to do so -- a record that stands to this day.

He made the American League All-Star team and would do so for the next 15 seasons -- and twice more in the 70′s.

Kaline made a reputation for himself as an all-around extremely consistent player with a strong arm and a timely bat. He became known as “Mr. Tiger.”

He did have a temper, though. In 1967, he struck out and slammed a bat into the bat rack, breaking his hand. He missed a month of the season.

1968 World Series

During the storied 1968 season, a wild pitch broke Kaline’s left arm. He missed six weeks, and by the time the Tigers made the World Series, he hadn’t played much.

He offered to sit out the series, but in a move that’s now legendary in baseball circles, Tigers Manager Mayo Smith decided to put Kaline in right field and move Mickey Stanley to shortstop.

Early on, the Tigers didn’t play well. Trailing the Cardinanls 3-1, with Lou Brock leading the way for the Redbirds by pounding a 420-foot home run deep into the stands.

In game five, Kaline had his shining career moment. His clutch bloop single to right scored two runs, setting up Tigers history.

“I’m just happy that our team’s been able to bounce back, and now we go to St. Louis, and maybe we can just squeeze it out, you never know," Kaline said after the game.

They bounced back in a memorable way, clinching the title with a 4-1 win over the Cardinals.

Kaline’s reaction, of course, was quiet, classy and humble.

“It’s a good thing about my back, and a tremendous feeling to think I was able to do something for the fans after all these years," Kaline said.

Rest of playing career

He kept playing at a high level for the next six years, yet toward the end, he felt he hadn’t played particularly well and turned down a $5,000 raise.

In 1974, as the new designated hitter, he reached another historic milestone: 3,000 hits. At the time, Kaline was just the 12th player to reach 3,000 hits.

He retired at the end of the season with 3,007 hits and 399 home runs. He hit .300 nine times.

Former Tigers Manager Billy Martin had high praise for Kaline when he retired.

“Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays and Al Kaline -- those are the three greatest players I’ve seen as far as doing everything -- base running, outfield, throw, hit," Martin said.

Post-playing career

Retirement wasn’t really in the cards. Immediately, Kaline went to the Tigers’ broadcast booth, doing Tigers television color commentary with George Kell on WDIV and PASS Sports.

Major League baseball remembered Kaline’s noteworthy career, which also included a .297 lifetime batting average and 10 Gold Glove awards. In 1980, the minute he was eligible, Mr. Tiger found himself giving a speech in Cooperstown.

“By far, being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame is the proudest moment of my life," Kaline said.

He called the team’s 1984 World Series win and many lean seasons in between. When he left the booth in 2002, Kaline stuck with the team, becoming an advisor who utilized him heavily during spring training.

In all, Kaline spent an incredible 64 years with the Tigers. He would talk Tigers with our Bernie Smilovitz over the years, but he always harkened back to that one magical summer in 1968.

“I hope a lot of the guys are able to get back here, because I’ll never forget, and we will never forget 1968, because we were World Champions for one year," Kaline said. “We were the best."

Statements

Detroit Lions released the following:

“It is with heavy hearts that we as an organization join the entire city of Detroit in honoring the life and career of Al Kaline. Forever a Detroit icon, ‘Mr. Tiger’ was part of our sports community for a remarkable 67 years. His decorated baseball career as a player, broadcaster and member of the Tigers front office made him one of the most revered figures in our community. Just as his legacy will forever live in baseball lore, the history of professional sports in Detroit cannot be written without the name Kaline. We extend our deepest sympathies to the entire Kaline Family and Detroit Tigers organization.”

Club Statement from the Detroit Tigers:

“It’s with a heavy heart that the Detroit Tigers confirm Al Kaline has passed away at the age of 85. One of the most distinguished and decorated players in the history of baseball, “Mr. Tiger” was one of the greatest to ever wear the Olde English ‘D’. The Hall of Famer has been a pillar of our organization for 67 years, beginning with his Major League debut in 1953 and continuing to present in his duties as Special Assistant to the General Manager. Our thoughts are with Mr. Kaline’s wife, Louise, and family now, and forever.”

Statement from Detroit Tigers Chairman and CEO, Christopher Ilitch:

Baseball lost a titan today. Anyone who knew Al Kaline would describe his gentle soul and passion for baseball as an unbelievably powerful combination, making him one of the most respected players in Major League Baseball history. My mother, father and I cherished the special relationship we had with Al Kaline, who was a trusted advisor and dear friend for many years.

His dedication to Detroit was unparalleled and he was affectionately known as ‘Mr. Tiger’. His positive contributions to the sport will forever be realized by baseball fans everywhere. The impact of his life is wide-reaching, and he will be greatly missed by millions in Detroit, the state of Michigan and across the baseball community. On behalf of everyone in the Tigers organization and the Ilitch family, we extend our deepest condolences to Al’s wife, Louise, and the entire Kaline family."

Statement from Detroit Tigers Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager, Al Avila:

“This is an exceptionally sad day for all of us in the Detroit Tigers family. Al Kaline was a giant in this industry, a man of great humility, and has been a friend to me and many in this community for decades. I was blessed to sit next to him during nearly every home game at Comerica Park, and I hold close our bond that has been created over nearly two decades of working together. My family’s thoughts and prayers are with Louise, and the Kaline family.”


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