Hall of Famer Al Kaline, known as Mr. Tiger after playing 22 years in Detroit, died Monday at age 85. Kaline’s career included 18 All-Star selections, 10 Gold Gloves in the outfield, a batting title at age the tender age of 20, and 3,007 career hits.
When I think of Kaline, I will always remember the 1968 World Series and how his Tigers stole the series from my St. Louis Cardinals. The Redbirds had been up 3-1 in the series but lost the fifth game in Detroit and the sixth at home.
But I wasn’t worried. The Cardinals were playing game seven at home, with Bob Gibson on the mound. This was the same Gibson who pitched three complete game victories in the 1967 World Series, won by the Cardinals in seven over the Red Sox.
Gibson was even better in 1968. He posted a 1.12 ERA for the regular season and had recorded 17 strikeouts during Game 1. He also won game four in Detroit, and Cardinal fans knew he was going to deliver another world championship at Busch Stadium.
I was in the stands on that October day to witness one of the greatest pitching duels of all times between Gibson and Mickey Lolich. Gibson had retired 20 of the first 21 batters he had faced and looked unstoppable. Then the wheels fell off the wagon.
Two singles put the go-ahead runner in scoring position. Then Jim Northrup, a career .267 hitter with an OPS under .800, lifted a deep fly to center. I was sitting in the centerfield stands, and I could see the ball climbing as Flood raced in.
“No,” I cried out with 55,000 other helpless Cardinal fans as the ball dropped behind Flood. It’s really sad that Flood, a Gold glove winner for seven consecutive seasons, will always be remembered for that mistake. The Cardinals lost that game 3-1.
But I digress. Back to Kaline, the son of a broom maker, who grew up to become one of the greatest ever to swing a bat. If he had hit one more career homer he would have been one of only 10 players in history with 3,000 hits and 400 home runs.
It was Kaline’s Tigers who united a troubled city, torn apart in 1968 by race riots. It was Kaline who scored the winning run two week earlier when the Tigers won the American League pennant by rallying in the ninth and beating the Yankees, 2-1.
Kaline’s playing days were just the start of his Tigers legacy. After hanging up his spikes, Kaline stepped into the broadcast booth as a television analyst, becoming familiar to a new generation of Detroit fans. He was with the organization for 67 years.