Al Kaline, who spent his entire 22-season Hall of Fame career with the Tigers and was known affectionately as “Mr. Tiger,” died Monday at his home in Michigan. He was 85. No cause of death was given, though he reportedly had recently suffered a stroke.
His friend John Morad confirmed Mr. Kaline’s death.
Mr. Kaline was the youngest player to win the American League batting title in 1955 at age 20 — besting Ty Cobb by a day — with a .340 average. The rightfielder was a 15-time All-Star, won 10 Gold Gloves and was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1980 in his first year of eligibility.
As an 18-year-old rookie fresh off the train from Baltimore, he had trouble getting past security guards at Briggs Stadium, which became Tiger Stadium.
“I finally convinced them I was the guy who just signed a bonus contract for the enormous sum of $15,000. That was a lot back then,” Mr. Kaline recalled in a 1999 documentary about Tiger Stadium, which he called “the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in my life.”
His first deal was for $35,000, which he used to pay off his parents’ mortgage.
Mr. Kaline never hit 30 home runs in a season and topped 100 RBIs only three times, but his overall consistency at the plate and his exceptional fielding and throwing put him among the top AL outfielders.
“I wasn’t meant to be a superstar. I’m no Willie Mays, or Mickey Mantle,” he once said.
Like many players at the time, Mr. Kaline worked in the offseason after getting into the majors. He was a salesman in a Baltimore sporting goods store.
“I was a terrible salesman,” he said. “Most of the time, I was down in the basement practicing my swing.”
The Baltimore native who was the son of a broom-maker father and whiskey-distiller mother had 3,007 hits and 399 home runs. His No. 6 was the first number retired by the Tigers.
“There have been a lot of great defensive players. The fella who could do everything is Al Kaline,” Orioles Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson once said. “He was just the epitome of what a great outfielder is all about — great speed, catches the ball and throws the ball well.”
“There’s a reason why he was Mr. Tiger,” said Dave Dombrowski, Detroit’s team president from 2001-2015. “First-class person, he was humble, he always played hard. He’s the type of guy that everybody could latch onto.”
Astros star Justin Verlander, who pitched for the Tigers from 2005-2017, tweeted his appreciation Monday.
“Such a kind and generous man who meant so much to so many,” Verlander said. “I hope you knew how much I enjoyed our conversations about baseball, life, or just giving each other a hard time. I am honored to have been able to call you my friend for all these years.”
In his only World Series, Mr. Kaline hit .379 with two home runs and eight RBIs as the Tigers overcame a 3-1 deficit to beat St. Louis for the 1968 championship.
“If there is one accomplishment for which I am particularly proud it is that I’ve always served baseball to the best of my ability,” Mr. Kaline said during his Hall of Fame induction speech. “Never have I deliberately done anything to discredit the game, the Tigers or my family.
“By far, being inducted into the Hall of Fame is the proudest moment of my life. You can be sure that I will make every effort to live up to the obligation associated with this honor."