Al Kaline 1954 #201
by William Szczepanek
Al Kaline was an outfielder and later first baseman for the Detroit Tigers in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. "Mr. Tiger" is the proper name for the most popular Tiger ever. His 22 seasons with a lifetime .297 batting average, 399 home runs and 3007 hits enabled him to be only the tenth player to be elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility at the time. He finished second in MVP Award voting twice, once in 1955 and again in 1963. In his 1968 World Series appearance, Kaline hit .379 with two home runs and eight RBIs. He earned 10 Gold Gloves during his career.
Kaline became the youngest player to ever win the batting title when he hit .340 in 1955 at the age of 20. He was one day younger than Ty Cobb who held the record prior to that. He also led the league with 200 hits and 321 total bases that year. He led the league with a slugging percentage of .530 in 1959 even though he had only 27 home runs. A 15-time all star, Kaline was Mr. Consistency throughout his 22 seasons.
Kaline came to the majors right out of high school as an 18 year old bonus baby in 1953. He placed behind Bob Grim and Jim Finigan for AL Rookie of the Year honors in 1954. It was early in 1955 that Kaline would show what he was capable of. He could do it all. He could throw out base runners with his rifle arm. He could snare fly balls that looked uncatchable. He also could hit.
"I didn't know who was on the team, but I saw every eye as I walked down the aisle. It looked like a thousand eyes were staring right at me saying, 'Who is this young punk?' I just kept my eyes straight ahead." ─ Al Kaline
It was in April, the 17th to be exact, of 1955 that the kid would open everyone's eyes. In a game against the Athletics, he would hit three home runs (the youngest to do so), two in one inning (only 13th to do so at the time), get another single, drive in six runs and score three himself. By the end of the first week of the season he was hitting .540 on his way to the batting title.
Kaline's pale complexion and boyish looks fooled people for a little while, but then his powerful wrists would rip line drives all over the park for the rest of his days in Detroit and he became one of the most feared hitters in clutch situations.
His professionalism and devotion to the game were an example for the kids of the day.
"What gets me upset about with the newer players is their lack of intensity. They tend to go through the motions a little bit. They don't understand that you've got to practice the way you play." ─ Al Kaline