Al Kaline passed away Monday at the age of 85. He played 22 seasons for the Detroit Tigers. He began his Major League career in June 1953 as an 18 year old and finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1954. In 1955, Kaline won the American League Batting Title with a .340 BA, easily outpacing second place Vic Power’s .319 BA. Mr. Tiger remains the youngest player ever, 20, to win the American League Batting Title. He was one day younger than Ty Cobb when the Georgia Peach won the 1907 Batting Title. Kaline finished second behind Yogi Berra in the American League MVP voting. He finished in the top three of MVP voting four times but never won the award.
The numbers show Al Kaline’s greatness on the diamond. In 22 seasons, Mr. Tiger played 2,834 Games, 10,116 At Bats, scored 1,622 Runs, collected 3,007 Hits, 498 Doubles, 75 Triples, 399 Home Runs, 1,582 RBI, Stole 137 Bases, 1,277 Walks, 1,020 Strikeouts, 55 HBP, .297 BA, .376 OBP, .480 SLG, .855 OPS, 134 OPS+. Kaline’s career 92.8 WAR still ranks 42nd over 40 seasons after he retired. His statistics were not heavily padded by the DH, which was created in 1973. Kaline was the Tigers DH in 1974, his final season.
Al Kaline was an all time great ball player, but an even better person. Mr. Tiger was baseball in Detroit. (Louis Requena/ MLB via Getty Images)
Kaline patrolled the outfield at Tiger Stadium. He won 10 Gold Gloves in an 11 year span, 1955-1967, playing primarily in Right. He was an 18 time All Star in 15 seasons, playing in both Midsummer Classics from 1959-1961. Kaline remained an elite player for much of his career.
Greatness was not confined to the Regular Season. Kaline helped guide the Tigers to a World Series victory over Bob Gibson and the St. Louis Cardinals in 1968. He played in all 7 Games, in 29 At Bats he had 11 Hits, including 2 Doubles, 2 Home Runs, 8 RBI, scored 6 Runs, 1 HBP, .379 BA, .400 OBP, .655 SLG, and 1.055 OPS. Great players often rise to the occasion in the World Series.
Al Kaline retired after the 1974 season. His 3,000 hits solidified his greatness. In 1980, Kaline received two of baseball’s highest honors. The Tigers retired his #6, the first Tiger to have his number retired; players did not wear numbers during Ty Cobb’s career. Mr. Tiger was also inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Kaline entered Cooperstown on the 1st ballot with 88.3% of the vote.
The numbers and accolades are wonderful. However, the reaction from those who knew Al Kaline speaks about the man. Referring to him as Mr. Kaline, he had the love and respect of his peers, the city of Detroit, and all of baseball. There is no better tribute than an outpouring of love and affection for the man rather than his accomplishments.
Rest easy Mr. Kaline, you are already missed.
One of the many reasons I am not a big football fan is due to the lack of games. I understand why there are so few games each year, but the lack of action leaves plenty to be desired. The dead time between games results in hours and days of continuous talking about what happened in the last game and the matchups for the next game. There is only so much anyone can talk about a game before or after it is played until you begin to repeat the same thing over and over again. There is no justification that I can find to spend more than 30 minutes discussing the upcoming Week 6 football game between the Chicago Bears and the Jacksonville Jaguars unless it is to recreate the Saturday Night Live Bill Swerski Superfans skits. Sadly, dozens of hours will be spent discussing a game that will most likely be forgotten in the not so distant future. In baseball you might spend 30 minutes before and after each game discussing the match up and what happened, but even that can be a stretch.
Not much to do between games but talk about DA BEARS. (nbc.com)
Football kills time between games by talking in circles about the same thing week after week. The beauty of baseball is once the post-game armchair manager talk is wrapped up, the discussion may continue to the future by looking at the minor leagues or reframe the present with a look to the past. Sometimes a quirky event about the game warrants a focused look on the great players in baseball history for an interesting connection.
I was invited to attend a talk by Jeff Idelson, President of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, by my fiancée’s work colleague. The talk was at the Green Diamond Gallery, which is the largest privately held baseball collection in the world. The talk centered mainly on the Hall of Fame and its current efforts to preserve baseball history and educate the fans. After the talk, Jeff Idelson began answering questions from the audience. Several of the questions had to do with the election process and potential changes to the induction process. The standard Pete Rose questions were asked, as the Green Diamond Gallery is located in Cincinnati. Finally someone asked “Who do you [Jeff Idelson] think should be in the Hall of Fame that is not?” He did the appropriate tap dance around the question so as to not give a definite answer. Then he gave the best possible answer.
Is the Reds Hall of Fame the closest Pete Rose will ever get to Cooperstown? Probably (Kareem Elgazzar/ Cincinnati.com)
There are 312 individuals enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame; 28 executives, 22 managers, 10 umpires, 35 Negro League players, and 217 Major League players. There have been over 18,700 individual players in Major League history. This means only the top 1% of players are eventually enshrined. You can argue that every player that is in Cooperstown belongs there, plus many more who are not. However, there is little to be argued that the players enshrined do not deserve to be there.
There are plenty of players for whom the argument can be made that they should be enshrined in Cooperstown, but more is not always better. The NBA and NHL both have 30 teams and 16 of those 30 teams (53%) will make the playoffs. The Houston Rockets made the playoffs this year with a 41-41 record, why is a .500 team going to the playoffs? Yes there have been some dreadful divisions in Major League Baseball, the 2005 National League West was won by the San Diego Padres with an 82-80 record, but those are rare. The more slots you have in the playoffs, the worse the competition. It is better to leave a good team at home than to have a terrible team advance, although this is tough to say when the team you root for is that good team. The same is true for the Hall of Fame. Admitting more players means detracting from the significance of the honor. This only serves to muddle the difference between greatness and the very good.
The Green Diamond Gallery is an amazing collection of any and everything that is baseball. (www.greendiamondgallery.com)
Eliminating the players who are known or highly suspected of using steroids and those who are on the permanently ineligible list, there are several players for whom a convincing argument can be made that they belong in Cooperstown. These are player who are no longer on the ballot for election by the baseball writers. Don Mattingly, Tim Raines, Gil Hodges, Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Lee Smith, Jim Kaat, Dale Murphy, Roger Maris, Bret Saberhagen, Maury Wills, Thurman Munson, and the list goes on.
Would the Hall of Fame be better with these players enshrined, I would say so. Is the Hall of Fame seen as incomplete without these players, I do not think so. The Hall of Fame is reserved for the top 1% of players. Every generation has players who were spectacular on the field, yet begin to fade with time.
Multiple MVP Awards failed to get Dale Murphy enshrined in Cooperstown. (mlb.com)
Kevin Brown, Hideo Nomo, Mo Vaughn, and Brett Butler were all outstanding players in the early to mid 1990’s. Were they as emblematic of baseball excellence as Ken Griffey Jr, Tony Gwynn, Randy Johnson, or Greg Maddux? Those enshrined in Cooperstown should be the players who can be compared against players from every generation and hold their own. Joe DiMaggio was not the best or most powerful hitter, but his skills and statistics hold up against players from every generation.
Records and awards are designed to recognize greatness, not designed to settle debates. Ichiro now has more hits in professional baseball than Pete Rose. However, Rose got all of his hits in the Majors while Ichiro has split his time between the Majors and Japan. Who is the better hitter? It would be easy to insert Tony Gwynn, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, and Miguel Cabrera into the debate. Is Cy Young the greatest pitcher of all time because he has the most wins or Nolan Ryan because he has the most strikeouts? I doubt you will find many people so easily convinced. What about Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Christy Mathewson, Greg Maddux, Bob Feller, or Old Hoss Radbourn?
What could Bob Feller have done on the mound had his service in World War II not cost him nearly four full seasons early in his career. (http://vanmeteria.gov/)
Jeff Idelson repeatedly pointed to the democratic way that players are elected to the Hall of Fame. He understands that the process is not perfect, but ultimately gets it right. The recent changes to the voting process, revoking the voting rights of writers who have not actively covered baseball in the past 10 years and reducing the number of years on the ballot from 15 to 10, should help to reduce and then prevent a backlog of worthy players getting the look they deserve. This is not to say they will be elected, but that they will get a fair shot. The top 1% of players will rise to the top during voting as they did during their playing careers. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s mission is “Preserving History, Honoring Excellence, Connecting Generations.” Players and their accomplishments are never cast aside regardless of how short or long their careers. Thousands of players have taken the field and many have made a case for their inclusion with the legends of the game. However, those enshrined in Cooperstown leave no doubt about their worthiness in the history of the game. It is those who came so close to joining this exclusive club, yet have come up just short, that allows the debate to flourish over what makes a Hall of Fame player.
Every generation has a hand full of pitchers who are intimidating when they are on the mound. Names like Sandy Koufax, Randy Johnson, Nolan Ryan, Greg Maddux, Juan Marichal…the list goes on. These pitchers were intimidating because they were nearly impossible to hit. However, one pitcher on this list combined the two types of intimidation, unhittable stuff and a willingness to throw a brushback pitch whenever necessary, to perfection. That pitcher is Bob Gibson.
Today, in honor of Bob Gibson’s 80th Birthday, let’s take a look at his brilliance on the diamond.
Bob Gibson pitched 17 seasons in the Majors, all with the St. Louis Cardinals. He started 482 games, winning 251 and losing 174. He pitched 255 Complete Games. Gibson had 13 consecutive seasons with at least 10 Complete games, 7 of those 13 seasons he pitched at least 20 Complete Games. He pitched 56 career shutouts and won 20 or more games five times. Gibson pitched 3,884.1 innings with a career 2.91 ERA, 1.188 WHIP, striking out 3,117, and walking 1,336.
Bob Gibson’s intimidation was not limited to the pitcher’s mound. He was a serviceable Major League hitter, sometimes used to pinch-hit for the Cardinals. Gibson holds a career .206 BA, .243 OBP, .301 SLG, .545 OPS, with 274 Hits, 44 Doubles, 5 Triples, 24 HR, 144 RBI, 132 R, 13 SB, 63 BB, and 415 SO. His ability with the bat meant added depth for the Cardinals lineup.
Gibson pitched in three World Series (1964, 1967, and 1968). He helped to bring the Commissioner’s Trophy back to St. Louis twice (1964 and 1967). In nine career World Series games, Gibson holds a record of 7-2 with a 1.89 ERA, and 0.889 WHIP. He pitched eight Complete Games in the World Series. Game 2 of the 1964 World Series was the only non-Complete Game Gibson pitched; he went eight innings. Gibson made up for this short outing by pitching a 10 inning Complete Game in Game 5 of the 1964 World Series. In total, Gibson pitched 81 innings in the World Series (27 innings in each), allowed 55 hits, 19 R, 17 ER, 6 HR, 17 BB, with 92 SO. He won at least two games in each World Series in which he pitched, while never losing more than one game.
Gibson achieved nearly everything possible during his career. He was selected to nine All Star Teams. He helped the Cardinals win the World Series in 1964 and 1967, winning the Most Valuable Player Award both times. Gibson won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1968. He won the National League Cy Young Award twice, in 1968 (unanimous) and 1970. Gibson won nine consecutive Gold Gloves from 1965 to 1973. He also pitched a no-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates on August 14, 1971.
The St. Louis Cardinals have retired Gibson’s #45 and have inducted him into the Cardinals Hall of Fame. In 1981, Gibson was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
1968: The Year of the Pitcher
1968 was a terrible season to be a hitter in the Major Leagues, so much so that the pitcher’s mound was lowered from 15 inches to 10 inches before the start of the 1969 season. Seven pitchers finished the season with an ERA below 2.00 and nine pitchers had a WHIP below 1.000. Tom Seaver finished 10th in Major League Baseball with 205 SO. The top five pitchers had a minimum 260 SO.
Leading the charge for all of baseball during the Year of the Pitcher was Bob Gibson. He made 34 starts, with a 22-9 record. Gibson posted a 1.12 ERA, 0.853 WHIP, while pitching 304.2 innings, allowing 198 Hits, 49 R, 38 ER, 11 HR, 62 BB, and 268 SO. Opponents hit .184 off Gibson for the entire season. He pitched 28 Complete Games, including 13 Shutouts. Gibson was the unanimous National League Cy Young Award winner, and easily won National League Most Valuable Player award.
The dominance of Gibson in 1968 is shown in how his single season ERA and WHIP rank all-time. Gibson’s 1.12 ERA remains the fourth lowest single season ERA in baseball history. Gibson’s ERA during the 1968 season was 0.41 lower than Dwight Gooden’s 1.53 ERA in 1985, and 0.44 lower than Greg Maddux’s 1.56 ERA in 1994. Gibson, Gooden, and Maddux are the only three pitchers in the live ball era (since 1920) to break the top 50 for best single season ERA’s. At the time, Gibson’s 1968 WHIP was the second lowest since 1913. Gibson still has the 17th best single season WHIP ever.
Bob Gibson was a dominant and intimidating pitcher. Dominant pitchers like Sandy Koufax too often burn brightly for just a few years before they flare out. Baseball was lucky to have Bob Gibson burn as brightly as a Sandy Koufax and remain healthy enough to have a long, successful career. Bob Gibson was the perfect combination of intimidation on the mound. His accomplishments on the field have withstood the test of time. Few players have ever dominated baseball in any manner like Gibson. Comparing players across eras is difficult, as the game evolves over time. However, players as dominant as Gibson are elite regardless of the era in which they played. Legends are not contained by the era in which they play.
Happy 80th Birthday Bob Gibson.
This a three-part series on how I’ve come to recapture my love for America’s favorite pastime.
I consider myself a fan of sports in general. In their purest state, I don’t consider any sport significantly superior to another but I, like everyone else, have some preferences.
Team or individual sports, the particular skills that I may value over others, the influence of organizations and money, the structure of the rules and how they affect the competitiveness of the game…there are many things to consider. Especially, if you enjoy deeply thinking through things as I. If you’re reading this blog, you probably do too.
The bulk of my sports participation has been in individual sports – wrestling, boxing, taekwondo, track & field. However, there is something about the team game that I’ve always enjoyed that goes beyond kinesthetic mastery. Well-executed coordination steals the breath away from your body as your eyes strain to burn the image permanently into your memory.
6-5-4-3 triple play – jaw falls open – breath – YES! DID THAT JUST HAPPEN!?
Then more information crashes like waves upon the beaches of your mind…
That clinched the wild card! On the last game of the season! We’re going to the playoffs!
I’ve seen this in boxing and other individual sports and it exhilarates me as well. But the bond between the players in celebration almost becomes tangible. That emotional force has a special character doesn’t compare well seen in contrast to the gratefulness an athlete has for the people who supported him on his rise to the top. Having teammates emphasizes the collaborative efforts and complex series of connections that occurred.
Life is full of interconnections that we often overlook. Studying music was one of the activities that defined my teenage development. Those kinds of interests may shuffle you into others because of strange circumstances. It’s because of music that I began to love the game of football. Why? I joined the marching band.
So when you’re in the band at a football game, you have to pay attention to what’s going on. Fight song – when our team scores. Ride of the Valkyries – when the offense takes the field. The Imperial March – when the defense gets on. Hey Song – when the cheerleaders want to do aerials. Pay attention to the drum major so we know when to start and stop. Even with all of the directions to bear in mind, there can be a lot of tedium giving the band members time to chat, bond, and make memories. Then it’s off to college and do it all over again but on a bigger scale. Now you’re following scores throughout the week and hoping your team gets a bowl game that the school will pay for you to attend. But it’s only for football. There isn’t a marching band playing Take Me Out to the Ballgame during the 7th inning stretch. Maybe that’s why more of my piano/organ player friends are baseball fans and regular churchgoers.
At the high school graduation for a 4-star recruit going to a highly ranked Division IA college football program, there was an interesting announcement. Many of the students, who received special awards and scholarships, had their accomplishments announced. This recruit’s “scholarship” included a Jeep Grand Cherokee. You can let that marinate for a while.
Watching ESPN as religiously as many sports fanatics, I began to wonder if these news anchors (I’m using this term loosely) and analysts (once again, a far cry from what it should be) realized the terrible value judgments they were making when propping up or taking down athletes for their issues with the system, the general public, their teammates, etc. Once you’ve emotionally uncoupled yourself from the sports matrix, sports scandals and their subsequent melodramas don’t flirt with the absurd. They are the epitome of it.
The multi-billion dollar sports economy will never function free of corruption but there are pockets where it is strong and weak. Sometimes you just take what you can get. In doing so, you find you have more than you asked for.
What does this have to do with baseball and rekindling a love for the game?
Major League Baseball has had its share of scandals and continues to deal with social issues about fair play, affordable tickets, and player health/salary problems. What drew me back to baseball as a fan is an acceptance of responsibility that seems to be lacking in football and basketball. You see open discussion about the old negro league, performance enhancing drugs, off-field substance abuse problems, and so much more. Some may say that it’s because there’s a deeper history to draw from but I believe there’s more.
For me, the glamour of NFL and NBA marketing collapsed upon the deteriorating foundation of a warped game. We’re starting to see this being called into question. The human element has been stripped from the adjudication of the game or suspiciously inserted to fabricate preferred monetary outcomes. Lowering the mound because Bob Gibson’s (and a few other MLB slingers at the time) tremendous dominance is different than forcing defensive backs who are generally smaller than wide receivers to have less options for playing defense so that fans get to see more touchdowns scored. The number of YouTube videos showing NBA superstars breaking gameplay rules, like traveling and double dribbling, is comical. Watching women play with more grit and determination in World Cup games than men who swan dive because a hand flicked in their direction breaks my sports fan heart.
Don’t see the difference? It’s in the spirit of creating a competitive playing field rather than exploiting a loophole.
Baseball demands athletes of a variety of skill sets and combinations. A single specialist cannot determine the outcome of games and seasons such as we’ve seen with the other four major sports leagues. It’s a more honest game for a time when people need it. It’s a game that demands long-term thinking and patience rather than reactionary trades and changes. That’s not to say that they don’t exist but, in baseball, that’s seen as a signal of weakness rather than one for positive change.
It’s not perfect but it’s honest. That’s perfect for me.
*I want to clarify my remark on the comparison of how women and men play soccer. It’s not that I don’t believe women are dainty flowers or such nonsense. It’s that the women play harder but get less television exposure, less prize money from FIFA and their governments, and less gender-neutral marketing. This difference, in that I have to laboriously search for a sports bar that will play a women’s World Cup match on their main screen, is what I find appalling. Especially since they play the game with more of the heart and hustle that I respect above all.