Top Tigers Countdown #2: Al Kaline

Ezra Shaw

Mr. Tiger, Al Kaline, ranks second only to Ty Cobb in Tiger history, and tops overall in the past sixty years.

Al Kaline, popularly known as "Mr. Tiger," played all 22 seasons of his great baseball career with the Detroit Tigers. He is the last Tiger player to be elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame, receiving 348 of 380 votes, being elected on the first ballot, and the only hall of fame player to play for the Tigers since 1968.

Year PA HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
1953 30 1 2 1 .250 .300 .357 .303 74 0.0
1954 535 4 43 9 .276 .305 .347 .300 76 1.4
1955 681 27 102 6 .340 .421 .546 .423 156 7.3
1956 693 27 128 7 .314 .383 .530 .400 137 6.3
1957 636 23 90 11 .295 .343 .478 .358 119 4.7
1958 607 16 85 7 .313 .374 .490 .378 133 6.4
1959 595 27 94 10 .327 .410 .530 .408 151 6.2
1960 629 15 68 19 .278 .354 .426 .349 108 2.7
1961 665 19 82 14 .324 .393 .515 .399 137 7.7
1962 452 29 94 4 .304 .376 .593 .417 153 4.7
1963 616 27 101 6 .312 .375 .514 .387 143 4.7
1964 608 17 68 4 .293 .383 .469 .375 133 5.1
1965 474 18 72 6 .281 .388 .471 .377 140 2.9
1966 572 29 88 5 .288 .392 .534 .401 163 5.7
1967 550 25 78 8 .308 .411 .541 .418 174 7.0
1968 389 10 53 6 .287 .392 .428 .371 146 3.2
1969 518 21 69 1 .272 .346 .447 .356 119 2.4
1970 555 16 71 2 .278 .377 .450 .368 125 2.9
1971 501 15 54 4 .294 .416 .462 .395 147 3.6
1972 314 10 32 1 .313 .374 .475 .379 148 2.5
1973 347 10 45 4 .255 .320 .394 .320 95 0.6
1974 630 13 64 2 .262 .337 .389 .335 106 0.8
Career 11,597 399 1583 137 .297 .376 .480 .378 134 88.9

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1934 -- some 20 years before the St. Louis Browns moved to his native town to become the Orioles -- Kaline was signed by the Tigers as a "bonus baby" at 18 years of age for the sum of $35,000.

Kaline skipped the minor leagues and went straight to the majors. In 1955, he became the youngest player to win the American League batting title, with a .340 average, and the first 20 year old player to do so since Ty Cobb in 1907. "Number Six," as he was known to his teammates, recorded 200 hits, 27 home runs, and 102 RBI in the 1955 season for Detroit.

Kaline followed up the next season by hitting .314 with another 27 homers and 128 RBI. He led the league with 18 outfield assists, and threw out 23 runners in 1958 before they learned not to run when the ball was hit to right field. He finished second to the Yankees’ Yogi Berra in 1955 in voting for the American League’s most valuable player. He would again finish second in the MVP race in 1963, to New York’s Elston Howard.

Among his many accomplishments, Al Kaline:

  • Was an All Star selection 18 times
  • Won ten Gold Gloves, all in right field
  • Finished in the top ten MVP voting eight times
  • Was the first Tiger to have his number (6) retired
  • Played more games than any other Tiger player, 2,834
  • Hit more home runs than any other Tiger, with 399
  • Is second to Ty Cobb among Tigers in WAR, hits, total bases, RBI, and singles

The World Series eluded Kaline until 1968, when the Tigers won their first World championship in 43 years, as Kaline batted .379 with a pair of home runs and 19 total bases in 30 plate appearances against the St Louis Cardinals. His Tigers would return to the post season just one more time, falling to the Oakland A’s in 1972, 3 games to 2.

Kaline finished his career after the 1974 season with 3,007 hits, a batting average of .297, 399 homers, and 1,389 RBI. He also had a career .376 on base percentage, and slugged .480. He was a broadcaster on Tiger telecasts with George Kell from 1975 to 2002, and has been a special assistant to Tiger President Dave Dombrowski since 2003.

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