Native Baltimorean, Hall of Famer Al Kaline 'was a special guy' - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

Native Baltimorean, Hall of Famer Al Kaline ‘was a special guy’

Al Kaline
Photo credit: Ken Levine - Icon Sportswire

On September 8, 1963, Al Kaline had a double in four at-bats in the Detroit Tigers’ 5-2 loss to the New York Yankees. The double was one of 3,007 hits in Kaline’s career.

The day before he started second grade, a 7-year-old boy went to his first big league baseball game, and saw three future Hall of Famers — Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle for the Yankees, and Kaline for the Tigers.

Kaline, who died on Monday at 85 in his suburban Detroit home, wasn’t the main attraction for me that day, but I always remembered him for helping make that day memorable.

His career, which ran from 1953-1974, overlapped Mantle’s and those of Henry Aaron,  Roberto Clemente and Willie Mays.

Each played in multiple World Series. Kaline played in just one.

In 1968, the St. Louis Cardinals were just one win away from their third World Series championship in five years, but behind Mickey Lolich, who won games 5 and 7 and Denny McLain, the winner in Game 6, the Tigers broke the Cardinals’ hearts.

Kaline hit .379 in that series with a pair of home runs and eight RBIs, but it was Lolich, pitching on two days’ rest in Game 7, who got the headlines.

It was an underappreciated World Series, remembered harshly by St. Louis catcher, Tim McCarver. In 1985, the Cardinals were on the verge of losing the World Series to the Kansas City Royals after taking a 3-1 lead, and broadcasting for ABC, McCarver hauntingly recalled it.

“I’ve thought about it every day since, and it’s been 17 years,” he told the audience.

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Kaline, one of the most modest of all-stars remembered his only Series, but he wasn’t one to brag about his accomplishments.

Besides the 3,007 hits, there were 399 home runs and 18 All-Star Games, impressive numbers then. Adding the advanced stats of today, his career stands out even more — a 92.8 WAR and .855 OPS.

The son of a South Baltimore broom maker, Kaline went to Southern High School, just south of the Inner Harbor. He had many scholarship offers in basketball as a 6-foot-1 center, but a year before the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore, Kaline signed with the Tigers and, as a bonus baby, went right to the majors and never left.

Jim Henneman, who has probably seen more Orioles games than any other person, covered the team for many years for The Evening Sun and later The Sun. Before that, he pitched for Calvert Hall and, in three years, had no success against the future Hall of Famer.

“He was a guy who was obviously much better than any of us and, in his own way, I’m sure that in his own way, he had to know that or he certainly felt that way,” Henneman said. “But he never acted that way.”

Good fortune brought the men together at important junctures.

“I was actually the official scorer the night he got his 3,000th hit,” Henneman said.

It was September 24, 1974, and Kaline doubled against Dave McNally, leading off the fourth.

“It was one of the few times I went to a game in that capacity where I was kind of nervous,” Henneman said.

“The last thing in the world you want to do is make a [tough] call on a 3,000th hit. Fortunately, he was not a cheap-hit guy, anyhow. It was a memorable kind of a day. His career was over and mine was, in a lot of ways, just getting started.”

They weren’t friends growing up but became closer after Kaline’s playing career. For many years, Kaline served as a color commentator on Tigers’ telecasts and then as an adviser to the team’s front office.

The Orioles went to Detroit the next week to finish the regular season on the way to another ALCS, and Henneman covered Kaline’s final game. But he never forgot his early encounters.

“He beat me to death a couple of times,” Henneman said. “The one game we beat him, we walked him intentionally every time he came to the plate. It was kind of a running story between the two of us over the years, whether it was three times or four times. I thought it was three times. He thought it was four times. It didn’t matter. He never got to swing the bat.”

When people asked Henneman how he pitched to Kaline, he answered: “High and outside, that was the only thing that ever worked.”

Over the last decade, the two became close, seeing each other when the Tigers came to Baltimore or the Orioles went to Lakeland in spring training.

This humblest of all superstars lived a simple life and thoroughly enjoyed his post-career life, wearing a uniform in spring training until recent years and watching games in the press box.

Kaline’s career, all with the Tigers, ended just before free agency, and he couldn’t play with his hometown team. When he graduated from Southern in 1953, the Philadelphia Phillies approached him and wanted him to begin his professional career with their Triple-A team in Baltimore, but that’s as close as he came to being an Oriole.

“He was a special guy,” Henneman said.

Answers to Monday’s quiz: 1. C  2. B 3. B. 4. Don Larsen lost 21 in 1954. 5. Rodrigo Lopez 2006, Daniel Cabrera 2007, Jeremy Guthrie 2009 and 2011, Kevin Milwood 2010 6. C. 7. John Means 8. Rob Zastryzny with 2016 Chicago Cubs 9. Yusniel Diaz, Bruce Zimmermann 10. B 11. B. 12. D 13. A 14. D. 15. Jerry Hairston Sr. father of Jerry Hairston Jr. 16. C. 17. Brooks Robinson 18. D 19. Steve Barber, Hal Brown, Chuck Estrada, Jack Fisher, Milt Pappas, Hoyt Wilhelm 20. Bobby Thomson 21. Detroit Tigers 22. WFBR 23. C 24. California Angels 25. Lenn Sakata 26. Luis Montanez 27. Robert Andino on September 26, 2011 28. A 29. B 30. D

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. TxBirdFan

    April 7, 2020 at 8:22 am

    Nice article on Al Kaline, Rich. He was one of the good guys – a true professional and craftsman. He played on some great and colorful teams with motorcyclist Lolich, 31 game winner McClain, catcher Bill Freehan, Dick McAuliffe with his crazy batting stance, etc. Those were the good ol days.

    • Rich Dubroff

      April 7, 2020 at 8:28 am

      Thank you, Tx. Not so sure those were the good old days, but these sure aren’t.

  2. CalsPals

    April 7, 2020 at 8:47 am

    Rich, you’re an artist with your keyboard, great seeing MLB/ESPN playing some of the older O’s games…go O’s….

  3. Mike1966

    April 7, 2020 at 11:43 am

    I got to meet Al Kaline at a York Sports Night after he retired. I had him sign my scorecard that recorded his 3000 hit. He was very interested in looking at it and commented on the other plays. He was very humble and thanked ME for sharing the memories. He was a HOF person as well as a ball player. Rest In Peace Mr. Tiger.

  4. WorldlyView

    April 7, 2020 at 5:48 pm

    Al Kaline was one of the very few–maybe the only–player in the ‘bonus baby’ era that was not sent to the minors after their two(?) year mandatory stay on the roster of the MLB that signed them. Quite an achievement for a high school graduate.

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      April 7, 2020 at 7:06 pm

      WV … would you please explain that bonus baby mandatory stay? I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of it?

      • Rich Dubroff

        April 7, 2020 at 7:31 pm

        Ken, from 1947-1965, if a player received a large enough bonus, they were required to stay on the major league roster for a year or two.

        • WorldlyView

          April 7, 2020 at 11:47 pm

          The ‘bonus baby’ rule in the 1950s (I remember them well) was designed to discourage boatloads of money being spent on signing high school/college graduates. In what was the pre-draft era, the rule said anything over a $4,000 bonus required the signee’s two year residency on the MLB team’s roster. Not to be discouraged and in a spate of recklessness, the O’s signed five (5) bonus babies in 1955: Pyburn, Causey, Nelson, Gastall, and Swango. So one-fifth of the roster was taken up with untried youngsters (none of whom became anything approaching a star). After a few months, the number dropped to four. Bruce Swango, a pitcher, was released. He was so wild that not only did he never pitch in a game, he was not even allowed to throw batting practice! No word on what happened to the scout who signed him.

          • Boog Robinson Robinson

            April 8, 2020 at 3:23 pm

            Rich and WV … thanks for that explanation. I was born in 59, and didn’t start following baseball until 1969. I guess it doesn’t help that I was never one read a baseball /history book to learn such things. But that fact/story … is truly fascinating. Thanks again.

    • Rich Dubroff

      April 7, 2020 at 7:29 pm

      Sandy Koufax was another, Professor Cohen.

    • ClayDal

      April 8, 2020 at 12:17 am

      The bonus babies the Orioles signed didn’t amount to much. In fairness to Gastall, he was killed in a plane crash in 1956. He was the pilot. One player the Orioles signed that year who wasn’t a bonus baby was an 18 year old from Arkansas named Brooks Robinson. That worked out pretty well.

  5. G-man

    April 8, 2020 at 7:43 am

    Rich, I enjoyed your Pandemic quiz and I got about half of them right but on question 17, you listed Brooks Robinson as the first former Oriole player to be a color commentator, but I remember Clay Dalrymple doing color commentating before Brooks.

  6. nightowl1224

    April 8, 2020 at 12:38 pm

    Quiz – very confused by #3. Exactly 19 or 19+? Either way, Mussina won 19 in 1995 and 1996. Flanagan won 19 in 1978 and 23 in 1979. Obviously, Palmer had multiple 20+ but never won 19. Am I missing something or can you explain?

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