It's Derek Jeter's birthday! However, because I'm sure some of you think I love him a little too much, we're not going to discuss the Captain today. Instead, let's talk about one of the best players who played in the state in which Jeter grew up. Yes, Mr. November is from New Jersey and rooted for the Yankees, but he attended and was drafted out of Central High School in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Let's see: who's an awesome player who played for the Tigers? Oh, of course! It's Mr. Tiger, Al Kaline!
One of the premier contact hitters of the 1950s and 1960s, Kaline bridged the gap between Tigers eras that were ruled by Hank Greenberg in the 1930s and 1940s and the double play duo of Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker in the 1970s and 1980s. But Kaline wasn't just a bridge. He could really hit, too! Al Kaline is the youngest hitter in American League history to win a batting title, for starters. In 1955, at the age of 20, Kaline led the Junior Circuit with a .340 batting average. It would end up being the only season in which he led the league in average, but he batted over .280 in all but five of his remaining seasons in the MLB. That 1955 season for Kaline also saw him win his only hits title, totaling 200 for the season, but would average 137 hits a season for his entire career. Yes, that number is lower than average for a contact specialist, but because he played for 22 seasons, 1953-1974, he made it to 3,007 hits, good for 31st on the all-time list. But Kaline wasn't just a great hitter. He was also an exemplary outfielder. He won ten career Gold Gloves (in an eleven-year span) and was revered by the rest of the league for his prowess in right field. All in all, he made 18 All Star Games and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, 1980, with 88.3% of the vote.
But arguably his most shining achievement in a Tigers uniform came during 1968, when he put up a World Series performance for the ages. 1968 was the first year he hadn't made an All Star Game since that amazing year in 1955, so many people around the league thought he was nearing the end of his career. But boy,did Kaline rebound in the World Series. Sure, the '68 Series is known for amazing pitching from Tigers legend Mickey Lolich, but Kaline's hitting in the Fall Classic against the Cardinals was historic. In the seven-game set, Kaline collected 11 hits, which was good for a .379 batting clip, with two homers and eight RBIs. Detroit ended up winning the franchise's third World Series that year, as Al Kaline cemented himself as Mr. Tiger.
After retiring in 1974, Kaline worked in the Tigers broadcast booth until 2002, at which time he switched to the front office until his death in April of this year. Kaline epitomized consistency and all-around play, which is why he is known as one of the best to ever lace up cleats at a professional level. Thanks for reading this post and I hope you enjoyed it. Check back soon for more of "all the buzz on what wuzz."