Steve Smith made a comment on the Mickey Mantle Final Card Friday posting asking if I would write a post on Al Kaline’s final card. Being a huge Detroit Tigers fan, I’m thrilled to do so.
If you’ve grown up a Detroit Tigers fan, you know Al Kaline. Even if he stopped playing when you were two years old, you know Al Kaline. If you ever had the privilege of attending a game at old Tiger Stadium, you know Al Kaline. The right field overhang was like a seat in his living room. The Detroit Tigers have had many great players throughout their history: Ty Cobb, Sam Crawford, Harry Heilmann, Hal Newhouser, Charlie Gehringer, and Hank Greenberg to name a few. Al Kaline is their most treasured. He was the perfect blend of off the field class and on the field excellence. That’s why, in 1980, his number six was retired before any of the other all-time great Detroit Tigers. That’s why he’s known as, Mr. Tiger.
When I was growing up, I knew Al Kaline as the color analyst on the local Tiger television broadcasts. He and fellow Hall of Famer, George Kell, would give entertaining insights about the Tigers of my youth. Kaline was the one who taught Kirk Gibson how to be a solid outfielder, and he was the main connection to the glory days of 1968. He was a living legend.
APBA was generous to Kaline with this card. For the season, Kaline hit a respectable .262. However, this card should produce a .281 average. If you figure the 35-40 is typically a re-roll, it might even hit .290. Sure, 7s can be outs against ace pitchers, but generally they’re a positive result. Overall, this is a very solid and productive final card for Al Kaline.
Most baseball fans know Al Kaline as one of the greatest fielding right fielders of all-time. However, in 1974, Kaline played every inning of his 144 starts as the designated hitter. Not playing in the field helped Kaline stay healthy, which was a problem for much of his career, and helped him reach some historic milestones. The 1974 season was a terrible one for the Tigers. They finished in last place in the AL East with a 72-90 record, 19 games behind the first place Baltimore Orioles. The only team in the American League with a worse record were the California Angels (68-94). As a team, the Tigers only hit .247. The aging Kaline was one of the few bright spots on this team, hitting third for 107 of his starts and fourth for 38. The real problem, however, was the Tigers pitching. They had an AL worst 4.16 ERA in 1974. So, Kaline’s final season and his pursuit of a couple of career milestones was all the Detroit fans had going for them.
In September of 1974, Kaline became the 12th player is history to collect his 3,000th hit, when he doubled off of Dave McNally in his home town of Baltimore. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to hit a 14th home run in 1974. If he had, he would have had 400 for his career and he would have become the first American League player with 3,000 hits and 400 home runs. A few years later, that honor was achieved by Carl Yastrzemski. If Kaline hadn’t missed nearly two and a half seasons of his career due to injuries, he career numbers would have been even more impressive, just add ten percent to his career totals. Nonetheless, he managed to play 22 seasons and become a first ballot Hall of Famer.
I’ve been a Detroit Tigers fan for most of my life. It’s hard to remember a time when Al Kaline wasn’t part of my baseball landscape. Even at 83 years old, Kaline is still going strong. He works in the Tigers organization and attends spring training each season, helping young players and veterans. He’s still Mr. Tiger and will be even after he’s gone.
Thanks to Dan Oliverio for the picture of the 1974 Al Kaline card.