With Derek Jeter‘s announcement of his retirement at the end of the 2014 baseball season, there is no doubt that he will be inducted in Cooperstown in the summer of 2020. In doing so, he will join fellow baseball greats in baseball immortality. Over the last few days, I’ve been reading some of the biographies and memoirs released by Triumph Books. By no means am I finished but am only just beginning with my Baseball Hall of Fame reading.
After reading a book by the late Ralph Kiner and one about Ernie Banks, I moved on to Al Kaline, Harmon Killebrew, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins, and Mike Schmidt. All these books have been enjoyable and very well done.
In Al Kaline: The Biography of a Tigers Icon by longtime Detroit sportswriter Jim Hawkins, we have the definitive portrait of the man they call Mr. Tiger.
While other players are synonymous with the Motor City, Kaline has been a part of the Tigers franchise since signing with the team as a bonus baby in 1953.
Hawkins does a splendid job in telling the story of Kaline, who grew up on the “wrong side of the tracks” in Baltimore. The son of parents that worked at a factory and distillery did not stop Al’s dream of getting to the big leagues.
Other biographies don’t have the pleasure of being able to interview their subject but Hawkins was able to do that with Kaline and sheds light on Kaline’s many accomplishments.
The original plan called for Kaline to ride the bench for the mandatory two years before hitting the minor leagues for seasoning. That never transpired as Kaline became the young player to win the American League batting title in 1955. When his career ended in 1974, Kaline had won 10 Gold Glove Awards, played in 15 All-Star Games, and played for the World Series champions in 1968.
In 1974, Kaline became a member of baseball’s exclusive 3,000 hit club. As ballplayers go, he’s under-appreciated as a baseball great similarly to that of Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals. Maybe it’s the fact that both teams played in the midwest, I don’t know.
Kaline was only the 10th player inducted on the first ballot in 1980. Tigers fans that didn’t have a chance to see him play in his prime were able to watch him broadcast games with Tigers Hall of Famer George Kell. Kaline was a commentator from 1975 to 2002. These days, he can be found sitting in the executive suites watching the games.
This definitive bio is enlightening as Hawkins reveals stories that had never been told before, both on and off the field. It’s not only a must read for Tigers fans but all of baseball fans. Take it from me, I like learning about those in the Baseball Hall of Fame.