Al Kaline Became My Hero in ’62 with Game Saving Catch

On Saturday May 26, 1962 at Yankee Stadium before a national television audience, Al Kaline once again demonstrated why he was one of the greatest right fielders in baseball history.

Al Kaline makes a game saving catch and breaks his collarbone at Yankee Stadium on May 26, 1962.

With the Tigers leading 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and the tying run on base, Yankee catcher Elston Howard sliced a fly ball to shallow right field. Kaline raced in and reached down to snare the ball while rolling over on his right shoulder.

Number six saved the game for the Tigers but he would be out for two months with a broken collarbone. It turned out to be a huge loss for the Tigers who had nearly won a pennant the previous year. Kaline was batting .345 with 13 home runs and 38 RBI and off to what might have been the best season of his career.

As a seven year old I can still remember picking up the next day’s Detroit News with a banner headline on the top of the front page: KALINE OUT 2 MONTHS WITH BROKEN BONE. The photo that accompanies this article also appeared with the screaming headline. In the sports section there appeared six photos in sequence of Kaline making his spectacular catch and then writhing in pain.

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.

Kaline made so many fantastic catches, whether it was diving for balls, running down long fly balls, or climbing a fence and with perfect timing robbing a batter of a home run. I have five different photos of Kaline making great catches and every one is against the dreaded Yankees. Four of the five are at Yankee Stadium.

Never mind his remarkable ability to make spectacular catches.

Kaline’s arm was a howitzer.

He once threw out at runner at second while making a throw from a sitting position. And when a hitter sliced a ball into Kaline’s Corner at Tiger Stadium, Al would make his patented spin playing the ball off the wall before whirling to make a throw at second. If he didn’t throw the runner out, chances are its because the runner didn’t even try for second knowing of Kaline’s powerful arm.

One of my greatest memories at Tiger Stadium occurred while sitting in the third row of the upper deck between home and third.

A long fly ball was hit to Kaline, and as he caught it, Baltimore’s Paul Blair tagged from third and headed home. Suddenly, half way down the line, Blair turned back and dove for third because Kaline had thrown the ball directly into catcher Bill Freehan’s glove on the fly. I am not kidding, the whole crowd stood as one and gave Kaline a loud standing ovation.

It still gives me chills.

If you want to read more on Kaline’s legendary career, check out the two new books on number six that were just released. The first is Al Kaline: The Biography of a Tigers Icon by Jim Hawkins (Triumph Publishing) and Six: A Salute to Al Kaline by Dan Ewald (Olympia Entertainment). The latter is only available at Comerica Park.

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About Bill Dow

Bill Dow has written numerous articles on Detroit sports history as a regular freelance contributor to the Detroit Free Press sports page, and some of his work has been published in Baseball Digest magazine. He also wrote the Afterword to the latest editions of George Plimpton’s book Paper Lion.