It’s always a sad day when a Hall of Fame baseball player dies, even if the player never played with the Baltimore Orioles.
Today, Al Kaline, who played his entire 22-year career with the Detroit Tigers, died at the age of 85. While he never donned the Baltimore Orioles uniform, he was born in Baltimore on December 19, 1934.
Affectionately known as Mr. Tiger by fans of all stripes, Kaline began his illustrious career at age 18 as the iconic “bonus baby” of the 1950s. The Tigers signed him right out of high school for $35,000. He played his first game in June of 1953 where he was a pinch runner; his first complete game was in September of that year.
Prior to his time with the Tigers, Kaline played baseball, basketball, and football at Southern High School in Baltimore. He played outfield because the team was loaded with pitchers. He was an all-state varsity baseball player during all four of his years in high school. He graduated in 1953, and went right to the Major Leagues.
Kaline’s prowess on the diamond was evident before he went to high school. According to Nick Waddell with SABR, “By the time he was nine, Al had learned a fastball, curveball, and changeup, and the work paid off. Kaline, while pitching for Westport Grammar School, won 10 straight games.”
On July 21, 1953, Kaline scored his first run against the Washington Senators. At the time, he was pinch running, and was on first. Don Lund hit a double and Kaline scored racing around the bases from first. Before he was known as Mr. Tiger, he was called the Baltimore Greyhound because of his speed.
Kaline played in the MLB between 1953 and 1974. The St. Louis Browns became the Baltimore Orioles in 1954. During his years at the plate, he faced several notable Orioles pitchers. Against Milt Pappas, he hit .237/.318/.305 in 66 plate appearances. He hit .217/.321/.370 in 53 plate appearances against Jim Palmer. And, against Dave McNally, he hit .265/.333/.451 in 126 plate appearances. Interestingly, in his 22 years in the MLB, he only faced four pitchers more frequently than he went against McNally.
In fact, Kaline hit his 3000th hit off of McNally on September 24, 1974 in Baltimore at Memorial Stadium. His final MLB game was against the Orioles on October 2 of that same year at Tiger Stadium in Detroit.
After he retired from the game, he was a TV analyst for the Tigers until 2002. Later, he became a prominent front office member of the Tigers staff, attending spring training and regular season. He is already sorely missed by baseball fans everywhere.