Al Kaline, a Hall of Famer who played all 22 years of his career in Detroit, earning the nickname “Mr. Tiger,” died on Monday, a team official confirmed to ESPN. He was 85.
Kaline, an 18-time All-Star and a 10-time Gold Glove winner in right field, retired shortly after recording his 3,000 hit in 1974 and joined the Tigers broadcasting team. He continued to work for the Tigers after his retirement from the booth in 2002.
He became the first Tiger to have his number retired, with the “Six” by which he was known in the clubhouse going up on the walls in 1980. He was also elected to the Hall of Fame that year, his first on the ballot.
Born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, Kaline joined the Tigers right out of high school, making his major-league debut in 1953. By 1955, he had become the youngest player ever to win the American League batting title and finished second to Yogi Berra in voting for the AL MVP.
Like many players of his era, Kaline worked in the off-season after getting into the majors, as a salesman in a Baltimore sporting goods – even after he won the batting title in 1955.
“I was a terrible salesman,” Kaline said. “Most of the time, I was down in the basement practicing my swing.”
Kaline made his lone appearance in a World Series in 1968, on the Tigers team led by pitchers Denny McLain and Mickey Lolich. Kaline had been sidelined for part of the season with a broken arm, and when he returned he was used mostly as a pinch-hitter or first baseman because the outfield trio of Willie Horton, Mickey Stanley and Jim Northrup was playing well.
When the Tigers clinched the penant, Kaline went to manager Mayo Smith and told him that he didn’t deserve to start. Smith ignored him and played Kaline, who he batted .379, hit two home runs and drove in eight as the Tigers beat the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games.
Kaline finished his career 3,007 hits, 399 home runs and a .297 career batting average.
On his 80th birthday, he said “To this day, I can’t believe the life I’ve had. I wanted to be a baseball player – and do the one thing I was good at. “Even now, I love it so much.”