Al Kaline, baseball Hall of Famer known as 'Mr. Tiger,' dies at 85

"There have been a lot of great defensive players. The fellow who could do everything is Al Kaline,” Orioles Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson once said.
Image: Al Kaline
Al Kaline, a member of the 1968 World Series champion Detroit Tigers, pictured in Detroit in September 2018.Paul Sancya / AP file

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By Phil Helsel

Al Kaline, a Hall of Fame right fielder who recorded more than 3,000 hits and nearly 400 home runs over his more than two decades playing for the Detroit Tigers, has died at age 85, the team said Monday.

Known as "Mr. Tiger," Kaline was one of the most distinguished and decorated players in baseball history.

A cause of death was not released.

"Many of us who are fortunate enough to work in Baseball have our short lists of the players who mean the most to us," Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. "Al Kaline was one of those players for me and countless others, making this a very sad day for our sport."

Kaline, born Dec. 19, 1934, in Baltimore, joined the Tigers at 18 never having played in the minor leagues, and he spent his entire career with the team. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1980.

Even after his playing career, which included a World Series win in 1968 against the St. Louis Cardinals, Kaline remained with the organization and spent 67 years there in all, some of them as special assistant to the general manager.

Al Kaline of the Detroit Tigers in a portrait from the 1965 season.David Durochik / AP file

"I'm proud I was a Tiger for my entire career," Kaline said in 1986, according to the team. "And you know what they say, it looks good on the back of your bubble-gum card if there's only one team."

Kaline was an All-Star in 15 seasons and won 10 Gold Gloves.

He had a career batting average of .297 with 3,007 hits and 1,583 runs batted in. He had 399 home runs and was known for his consistency at the plate and his fielding ability.

"There have been a lot of great defensive players. The fellow who could do everything is Al Kaline," Baltimore Orioles Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson once said, according to The Associated Press. "He was just the epitome of what a great outfielder is all about — great speed, catches the ball and throws the ball well."

Kaline retired after the 1974 season. When he retired, former Tigers manager Billy Martin said Kaline could do everything, according to NBC affiliate WDIV of Detroit.

"Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays and Al Kaline — those are the three greatest players I've seen as far as doing everything — base running, outfield, throw, hit," Martin said.

Manfred called Kaline "a true gentleman and one of the National Pastime's most universally respected figures."

"I appreciated his friendship, humility and the example that he always set for others since he debuted as an 18-year-old rookie," the commissioner said.

After his playing career, Kaline sat behind a microphone as a Tigers broadcaster.

Al Avila, the Tigers' executive vice president of baseball operations and general manager, said in a statement that "this is an exceptionally sad day for all of us in the Detroit Tigers family."

"Al Kaline was a giant in this industry, a man of great humility, and has been a friend to me and many in this community for decades," Avila said.

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Two of Detroit's other teams, the NFL Lions and the NHL Red Wings, were also among those mourning Kaline. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer tweeted that she was saddened by his death and called him a legend. "Farewell, Mr. Tiger," she wrote.

Larry Herndon was a Tigers outfielder from 1982 to 1988, when Kaline would work with the big leaguers as a spring training instructor.

"He was a golden person, along with being a great ballplayer. Gentle, kind, giving," Herndon said, according to the AP. "Every good thing you ever heard about Al Kaline, it's all true."

The Associated Press contributed.