OT- Al Kaline 50 years ago this weekend.

Submitted by Section 1 on May 28th, 2012 at 10:41 AM


Weekly Standard editor and conservative commentator Bill Kristol writes about the play made by Al Kaline 50 years ago this weekend.  It was such a surprise to see this story, in such an unlikely place; fascinating too that Kristol was there at the game, taken to Yankee Stadium by his father (the legendary Irving Kristol) and that as a young boy in New York, he was an admirer of Kaline and the Tigers, rather than the Yankees of Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford.   It is a very nice blog entry, and in it Kristol links to some other terrific sportswriting on the same subject of Kaline and the injury that broke his collarbone.  I am sure that there are other sports injuries in the great history of Detroit sports that must have loomed larger, but few that I can think of which had everybody talking the way that one did.  (I think of Gordie Howe's skull fracture but that was well before my time, and at a much larger level, the several on-field tragedies with the Lions -- Chuck Hughes and Mike Utley.)   Anyway, Bill Kristol and the writers he links to (Bill Dow from Detroit) really capture the event in some fine writing.

A fully-recovered Al Kaline looking up at the "short porch" in Tiger Stadium the following year in 1963:




May 28th, 2012 at 11:08 AM ^

The AL is way ahead of us, but it's early. Still plenty of time Jim. Keep on saying it. How can this team only be ahead of 3 in the AL? Wow, I really wish my employer was the Tigers. I wouldn't even need to go in.


May 28th, 2012 at 11:28 AM ^

"But by then I was an adult, and the childhood memory of Kaline's triumph and pathos is somehow more powerful."

There does seem to be something about childhood memories that make them seem more powerful or perhaps purer.



May 28th, 2012 at 11:34 AM ^

Is the "short porch" photo in your post the one where Kaline took away a home run with his feet dangling 5 feet above the ground? The headlines in the Free Press sports section would verify if I am remembering correctly.

Another thought I believe is accurate:  Ernie Harwell considered Kaline to have the best or second best arm in baseball in all the years he observed great fielders; the closest competition coming from Roberto Clemente. Kaline probably will always be remembered fondly as a classy guy and one of baseball's all-time greats!

Section 1

May 28th, 2012 at 12:40 PM ^

If Ernie Harwell said so, you better believe it.  I thought Kaline was a flawless rightfielder; so steady.  Balls hit to right field in Tiger Stadium were either home runs or outs.

I didn't see Clemente play enough.  I saw him in person at the '71 All-Star Game*, and on tv.  National League (no inter-league play) and all.  He was a beautiful ballplayer.  ;-( 

Dwight Evans was always the guy that I thought had the sneakiest best arm in the game when he played (overlapping just slightly with Kaline and Clemente, whose career numbers are so similar it is weird).

The strange thing about the photo I posted (not sure about more than what you see) is that it was rare that Kaline ever had a chance to make any plays like that, since the right field upper deck projected far enough out that everybody in that picture is looking up at a ball that might not make it back to ground level at all.

*Clemente and Kaline were both reserve outfielders in that game(!?).  For the simple reason that there were at least 8 hall of fame outfielders in the game.  For the National League -- Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Willie Stargell.  For the American League, Tony Oliva, Carl Yastrzemski and Frank Robinson.  I've lost count of how many Hall of Famers were on the two squads; more than twenty.  Without question it was the greatest baseball game I will ever see.


May 28th, 2012 at 2:09 PM ^

Perhaps you remember his home run was hit so hard, the crowd was deafeningly silent. People had no time to react to what may be the most powerful blast in baseball history; until the ball was out of sight, having broken a metal stanchion above the right-field roof. I seem to remember it bouncing back onto the field while Jackson did the home-run trot, and people started cheering wildly.

By the time people could arise from their seats, they were wondering what just happened. Especially astonished, were those in the lower left-field seats with an obstucted view of the right-field roof. It was over so quickly.

My recollection is, "Mr. October" was the only one, as far as I know, who would use some kind of winged plastic devise which looked like the tail-fins on a large aerial bomb, which he attached over the end of his bat in the on deck circle; because this object which created wind resistance; had been preparing him for a moment like this, to rip one into orbit. What an incredible game if I am remembering it all correctly.


May 28th, 2012 at 4:52 PM ^

hitting the roof or over it really wasn't all that spectacular of a feat.  Reggie's all-star home hit HALFWAY up one of the light towers, it was a monster shot of monster shots.  The only home-run that came close to that one was Kirk Gibson hitting one between the towers that cleared the roof on the fly and end up in the Brooks Lumber yard.


Here's an unofficial list

"According to the Detroit Free Press book "The Corner", the following have hit HR's out of Tiger Stadium:

Norm Cash (did it 4 times)
Mickey Mantle (did it 3 times)
Kirk Gibson (did it 3 times)
Jason Thompson (did it twice)
Mickey Tettlton (did it twice)
Tony Clark (did it twice)

The following is a list of players that did it once:

Ted Williams
Harmon Killebrew*
Don Mincher
Frank Howard*
Boog Powell
Jim Northrup
Cecil Cooper
Reggie Jackson
Ruppert Jones
Lou Whitaker
George Brett
Cecil Fielder*
Chad Kreuter
Melvin Nieves
Carlos Delgado
Mark McGwire*
Bobby Bonilla
Karim Garcia
Brant Brown

Players with asteriks by their names cleared the Left Field Roof, all others hit it over the shorter Right Field Roof."

Robert Fick hit one onto the roof which came back onto the field of play in the final game and final home run at Tiger Stadium.

Section 1

May 28th, 2012 at 3:43 PM ^

Jackson's shot came when he pinch-hit early in the game.  His hit was a shot; easily the hardest ball I have ever seen hit and since I was sitting in the centerfield bleachers, it was a pretty good view.  And yes; I have never heard anyone describe it quite like you did but it was a shot that was so startling, people hardly had time to recognize what had happened until the ball came back into view after rattling in the base of the right field lights.  Where I was sitting it looked like an optical illusion.  Hard to imagine a drive like that being fair ball.  I don't think that anything was broken by the ball (it hit the supporting steelwork and bounced off).  The television replays that I have seen miss the impact on top of the roof; the cameraman is shooting into the upper deck when the ball is 50 feet higher.

Blue in Yarmouth

May 28th, 2012 at 12:05 PM ^

thanks OP. Since Kaline was long before my time all I have to go on is statistics and stories like this. However, from those two things it is clear that Kaline was one of baseballs best outfielders of all time. Thanks again OP.


May 28th, 2012 at 12:31 PM ^

From OP:

I am sure that there are other sports injuries in the great history of Detroit sports that must have loomed larger, but few that I can think of which had everybody talking the way that one did.

Now that's an interesting point to ponder.

Some other potential candidates:

  • Mark Fidrych's rotator cuff (1977)
  • Dennis Franklin's collar bone (1973)

And in the category of "not Detroit" there's Gus Frerotte's 1997 neck sprain caused by a celebratory head-butt into the wall. I was living in the D.C. area at that time and there was considerable chatter about that.

I recall Kaline starting from the 1968 Series, but before that I was too young ... I was 2.5 years old 50 years ago.


May 28th, 2012 at 12:35 PM ^

"From that day on, I was hooked on Al Kaline. I used to imitate him making that diving catch and was just lucky I also didn’t break my right clavicle." - Bill Dow's blog, linked inside the OP

Both Kristol and Dow have great entries regarding this. I was born a couple years after Kaline retired, but growing up in Metro Detroit, everyone from my parents' generation would talk about watching Kaline play in person. Beyond the statistics, the accounts that people have really do describe someone who was one of the best outfielders of their generation, right down to a deadly accurate arm. 

The above quote, however, made me think about some of the plays I used to recreate in the backyard. I was a huge fan of TWIB, and after almost every episode, I would go outside and practice diving catches and ranging far in one direction to make that awesome grab on a grounder to throw out the runner. I miss those days sometimes. 

Thanks for sharing, OP.

Smash Lampjaw

May 28th, 2012 at 1:18 PM ^

I grew upon Michigan as a Yankee fan, perhaps because of school library books about Babe Ruth and Lou Gerig. Now that I don't live in Michigan I am all in for the Tigers.