New biography takes a look at Tigers great Al Kaline
He has always been a rather reluctant hero. But not many could be more revered in the Detroit Tigers organization than Al Kaline.
Known simply as “Mr. Tiger,” Kaline has been a part of the Detroit sports scene since 1953.
Now he is the subject of a new book, “Al Kaline: The Biography of a Tigers Icon,” by Jim Hawkins, a reporter who has covered the Tigers since 1970, first for the Detroit Free Press and later for The Oakland Press. Published by Triumph Books, it is Hawkins’ seventh book and fifth about the Tigers.
“Al Kaline:?The Biography of a Tigers Icon” features a forward by the late Ernie Harwell. It’s rather fitting that one beloved Tigers’ icon write a few words about another.
Hawkins’ book covers everything from Kaline’s days on the sandlots to his current position as a special assistant to Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski. It’s a chronological look at Kaline’s career and will bring back some pleasant memories of the 1968 World Series championship as well as the many years of disappointment.
Skinny bonus baby
Readers will enjoy the story of a skinny, shy kid thrust straight into the spotlight just a couple of days after his graduation from high school. Signed by the Tigers as a “bonus baby,” Kaline was given a ride by the Tiger scout who recruited him to Philadelphia, where they joined the team on a road trip. The pair managed to catch the Tigers’ bus as it’s pulling away from the team hotel, and the scene is straight out of the film, “Forrest Gump,” where this shy young kid is walking down the aisle of the bus, hoping somebody will offer him a seat.
Once Kaline gets to the ballpark, he finds his “locker” to be a nail on a wall in the bathroom, and the humiliation of having to wear the bat boy’s uniform because he only weighed 130 pounds. And because he was so shy and uneducated in the ways of the world, Kaline was quickly dubbed by the reporters covering the team as aloof and stuck up, simply because he didn’t understand why they were so interested in everything he did and didn’t know what to say. It was a problem that would plague him throughout his career.
Al Kaline’s introduction into the spotlight certainly seems quaint today, when kids who display any type of talent are quickly seized upon by the media and end up with an unsavory sense of entitlement.
Kaline was blessed with wonderful talent, but he was never dubbed a “superstar” as were his contemporaries, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio. One reason for that was numerous injuries. Tigers fans are well aware of Kaline’s statistics, 299 home runs, 3007 hits, etc., but most are probably not aware that he compiled them while suffering from the pain of a severely deformed left foot. He also missed many games over the years due to several broken bones.
Memories of ’68
Hawkins’ retelling of the Tigers’ march to the World Series championship in 1968 recalls how the underdog American League champions prevailed over the mighty St. Louis Cardinals.