Probably more than anyone who ever played the game, Al Kaline was all ballplayer. he never knew anything else, and he was never expected to be anything else. By the time he was 18 years old and a high school senior in Baltimore, he was ready to start earning the title.
Beginning at the age of about 10 or 11, young Al Kaline started to play ball on a regular basis. He was often the “throw-in” on a side that needed an extra player in sandlot games between workers at nearby factories. Playing against men two or three times his age, little Al’s skills matured quickly. By the time he was a sophomore in high school he was the best amateur player in Baltimore. At the age of 17 he hit .470 , setting a Maryland prep record. In his senior year he did even better, batting .488.
Though he was lean – almost scrawny looking – Kaline was incredibly athletic. He had remarkably quick hands and strong wrists. Though he averaged nearly .450 for his high school career and dominated summer leagues with his offensive exploits, Kaline possessed one overwhelming trait that dazzled those who saw him play – his throwing arm. The rangy outfielder who weighed all of 150 pounds, could throw the ball long distances with amazing accuracy.
Major league scouts crawled over each other to get Kaline, but it was the Tigers who gained the inside track, thanks to the efforts of scout Ed Katalinas. ”To me,” said Katalinas, “he was the prospect that a scout creates in his mind and then prays that someone will come along to fit the pattern.”
On June 18, 1953, a day after he had graduated from high school, and on the day he was preparing to go to his high school prom, Kaline sat at his kitchen table with his father and Katalinas and put his name on a big league contract. Detroit gave him $15,000 as a signing bonus and a $20,000 in salary over three years.
Since that day more than 58 years ago, Kaline has been an employee of the Detroit Tigers. First as a ballplayer, then as a TV broadcaster, special instructor, and now assistant to owner Mike Ilitch.
What a ballplayer he was! 22 years on the diamond in Detroit earned him the respect and adulation of fans, teammates, opponents, umpires, you name it. No one has a bad thing to day about “Number Six.
Today, December 19, Kaline turns 77. Happy Birthday, Al, and thanks for choosing to spend your life as a Tiger.