Baseball Digest Birthdays: Al Kaline

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

There are just fourteen members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame that never played minor league ball or at any professional level before reaching the big leagues. One such player is known in the Detroit area as “Mr. Tiger”, and he is celebrating his 76th birthday today.

Drafted in 1953’s Amateur Draft, Al Kaline was a “Bonus Baby” who debuted with the Detroit Tigers a week after signing. Two weeks after his debut, in just the third at bat of his career he stroked the first of an eventual 3,007 career hits, off White Sox pitcher Luis Aloma. He spent much of his first season as a late inning defensive replacement, but managed to make the best of his opportunities. In the second to last at bat of his season he cranked his first career home run, off Cleveland Indians pitcher Dave Hoskins on September 26th, 1953. The home run was the first of 399 in his career.

By 1954, Al Kaline had become the every day right fielder for the Tigers, a position he wouldn’t relinquish fully until he became the team’s designated hitter in 1974. Though he finished third in the American League Rookie of The Year voting in his first full year, his power numbers were severely lacking. He hit a respectable .276 in 1954.

1955 proved to be the season which Al Kaline arrived on the national scene, when he slugged 27 home runs and led the American League with a .340 batting average. He earned his first trip to the All-Star Game, and finished second in the league voting for Most Valuable Player behind Yogi Berra. It was the first of eighteen eventual trips to the All-Star Game for the power hitting righty.

In the January 1956 issue of Baseball Digest Hal Middlesworth wrote about Al Kaline’s 1955 season during which he won the AL batting title. Click here to check it out!

Over the next twelve seasons between 1955 and 1967, Kaline maintained a .307 batting average, an OPS+ of 142, legged out over 350 doubles, slugged nearly 300 home runs, and he finished in the top 10 voting for MVP nine times(twice as runner up!). He roamed the outfield with great skill, with 10 Gold Glove Awards to his collection.

Kaline’s offensive dominance was not limited to the regular season. In 12 postseason games, he notched 16 hits and 3 home runs. He played a key role as a member of the 1968 World Champion Detroit Tigers as they came back from a 3-1 game deficit against the St. Louis Cardinals. In his only World Series, Kaline hit .379 and hit a critical 2 run, bases loaded single in Game 5 that proved to shift the momentum for the TIgers.

Later in Kaline’s career, he occasionally moved over to first base before his final season was spent as the designated hitter. It was during his final year that he cemented the status of legend when he stroked his 3,000th hit on September 24th, 1974. Despite his age(39 in 1974), he managed to hit .262 with 13 home runs for the sixth place Tigers.

Kaline retired following the 1974 season, and currently ranks 26th All-Time in hits and 48th All-Time in home runs. He ranks among the top 5 in many of the Detroit Tigers franchise records, including having played the most games and slugged the most home runs in franchise history. His name is synonymous with Ty Cobb as one of the greatest to ever play in Detroit. In 1980, he became just the tenth player in history to be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

Also Celebrating A Birthday:

Tony Taylor, born in December 19th 1935, spent 19 seasons in the big leagues, mostly with the Philadelphia Phillies. He was inducted into the Phillies Hall of Fame in 2002.

Mike Fetters, born in 1964, logged 16 seasons with eight teams in the big leagues, earning 100 career saves along the way.

Rafael Soriano, born in 1979, has played with the Seattle Mariners, Atlanta Braves and the Tampa Bay Rays since starting his career in 2002. The American League leader in saves for the 2010 season is currently a free agent.

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