Top Tigers Countdown #17: George Kell

Leon Halip

George Kell was a member of the Tigers' organization for nearly 50 years -- most of them as a broadcaster -- but his five-plus seasons as a player were among the best ever for a Tigers third baseman.

George Kell doesn't have an elite nickname like George "High Pockets" Kelly -- Kelly's name also pops up when you search for "George Kell" on Baseball Reference -- but he did have a whale of a career. He only spent about half of it in Detroit, but he racked up 23.4 fWAR in a Tigers uniform, third-most among third basemen in club history. Kell would go on to serve as a Tigers broadcaster for almost 40 years, including a few alongside the legendary Ernie Harwell. Kell's popularity among fans is a big reason why he won the vote to become the #17 player on our countdown.

Year PA HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
1943* 5 0 1 0 .200 .200 .600 .354 115 0.0
1944* 556 0 44 5 .268 .300 .309 .290 71 0.0
1945* 602 4 56 2 .272 .306 .356 .315 88 2.1
1946* 577 4 52 3 .322 .372 .432 .377 121 4.2
1947 662 5 93 9 .320 .387 .412 .375 120 4.2
1948 414 2 44 2 .304 .369 .402 .363 104 1.2
1949 612 3 59 7 .343 .424 .467 .417 135 4.9
1950 724 8 101 3 .340 .403 .484 .404 124 5.2
1951 674 2 59 10 .319 .386 .400 .368 112 3.7
1952** 483 7 57 0 .311 .379 .423 .373 118 2.9
1953** 520 12 73 5 .307 .383 .483 .391 124 3.5
1954*** 370 5 58 1 .276 .334 .362 .321 87 0.0
1955*** 504 8 81 2 .312 .389 .429 .371 122 3.1
1956**** 480 9 48 0 .271 .324 .395 .320 93 1.4
1957**** 345 9 44 2 .297 .352 .413 .342 116 1.9
Career 7528 78 870 51 .306 .367 .414 .362 111 38.2

*Played for the Philadelphia Athletics from 1943 to May 1946.
**Played for the Boston Red Sox from June 1952 to May 1954.
***Played for the Chicago White Sox from May 1954 to May 1956.
****Played for the Baltimore Orioles from May 1956 to 1957.

George Clyde Kell was born on August 23rd, 1922 in Swifton, Arkansas. He played baseball at Arkansas State University before signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers before the 1940 season. After the Dodgers released him a year later, Kell was purchased by the Philadelphia Athletics in September 1943. He appeared in one game in the 1943 season, going 1-for-5 with an RBI triple.

Kell hit .268/.300/.309 in 556 plate appearances as a rookie in 1944. Despite grounding into a league-high 28 double plays, he finished 22nd in the MVP voting, one of eight top-25 finishes in his career. It was also one of just three seasons in his career in which his OPS dipped below .700.

After another season and a half in Philadelphia, Kell was traded to the Tigers in May of 1946 for outfielder Barney McCosky. McCoskey hit .328 with a .795 OPS and finished 11th in the MVP voting in 1947, but he was overshadowed by Kell's .320 average, .798 OPS, 4.2 WAR, and fifth place finish in the MVP vote. This was the first of five full seasons in Detroit for Kell. He made the All-Star team in each of those five seasons and finished 18th or better in the MVP vote each year, including three top-10 finishes.

Overall, Kell made 10 All-Star teams in his 14 year (and one game) career. He hit for a .300 average nine times, winning a batting title with the Tigers in 1949. Kell led the American League in hits and doubles in back-to-back seasons with the Tigers, but never won an MVP. He was an above average defender as well, earning +2.5 wins with his glove over his entire career.

In June 1952, the Tigers traded Kell to the Boston Red Sox as part of a nine-player deal. He was later traded to the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles, but continued to put up great numbers into his mid-30s. Kell retired after playing 99 games with the Orioles in 1957, then immediately went to work as an announcer for them. He joined the Tigers' radio broadcast in 1959 and worked with Ernie Harwell for four seasons. After a brief sabbatical in 1964, Kell returned to do TV broadcasts for the Tigers for over 30 years, the majority of them with fellow Tigers legend Al Kaline.

Mr. Kell passed away on March 24, 2009 at the age of 86. Following his death, his hometown of Swifton, Arkansas named the town's post office after him. Thanks to his years as a TV broadcaster, Kell's popularity never waned among Tigers fans after his retirement. The late Elmore Leonard -- bestselling author and inspiration for the TV show Justified -- cited Kell as his favorite player and wore a #21 jersey (one of three numbers Kell wore as a Tiger) when he threw out the first pitch at a game in 1999.

Kell was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veteran's Committee in 1983.

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