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Baseball great Al Kaline passed away today April 6, 2020 at his Bloomfield Hills home at age 85. No cause of death has been given although it is known that he suffered a heart attack several months ago. Kaline, who was born and raised in Baltimore, MD, was an early “bonus baby” signing with the Detroit Tigers at age 18 for enough money ($35,000) that the rules of the time required that he stay with the major league club. He would stay with the Tigers from that first day forward in 1953 for the next twenty-two years until his retirement following the 1974 season thus being one of the few major league players never to spend even a day in the minors.
Kaline came into his own as a player in 1955 as the 20-year old led the league in hits (200), total bases (321) and in the process became the youngest batting champion (.340) in history. The following season he would drive in a personal best 128 runs and he would continue to play at an all-star level for the better part of the next two decades. Kaline took as much pride in his defense as he did with his hitting and the right fielder would garner 10 gold gloves to go along with 15 All-Star Game selections. He would not win an MVP but he would finish second in the voting twice and be considered one of the ten most valuable players in the league nine times. For his career, he would join the 3,000 hit club with 3,007 hits but would just miss several other round numbers with 399 home runs, 498 doubles, and a career .297 batting average. The newer advanced metrics also attest Kaline’s greatness – his 92.8 WAR ranks 29th all-time among position players, while his 443 Win Shares is 28th all-time among position players. The highlight of his playing career probably came in 1968 as his Tigers beat the St Louis Cardinals for the World Series Championship as he did his part hitting .379 with 8 RBI. Kaline played his entire career with a deformed left foot due to a childhood bout with osteomyelitis which caused him problems off and on during his playing career. Here is a link to his statistics.
Kaline’s playing career was capped with his selection to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1980. After his playing career, “Mr. Tiger” joined the Tigers as an executive and he would remain employed by them until his death. Kaline, who had been a clubhouse leader during his playing career was universally liked and respected throughout the baseball world. He is survived by Madge, his wife of 66 years, and their two grown children.