After runner-up finishes in the previous two rounds of voting, Al Kaline swamped the field as the voters’ resounding choice to become the next inductee into the Circle of Greats. A mainstay in the Tiger outfield for more than two decades, Kaline was an outstanding player in all facets of the game, retiring in 1974 as the all-time AL career leader for right-fielders in WAR, Offensive WAR, Defensive WAR and WAR Baserunning Runs.
More on Al Kaline after the jump.
Kaline becomes the 47th player inducted into the Circle of Greats. He led the voting from start to finish with the final result never in doubt. Among players introduced to the ballot in this round, only Maury Wills received any votes. That allowed all of the players in their last round of eligibility to attract sufficient support to survive to the next round of COG balloting.
The full spreadsheet showing this round’s vote tally is here: COG 1932 Vote Tally. The vote summary for recent Circle of Greats voting rounds is here: COG Vote Summary 2 . An archive with fuller details of the earlier, 1968 through 1939, rounds is here: COG 1968-1939 Vote Summary . In both of the Vote Summary workbooks, raw vote totals for each past round appear on Sheet 1 and the percentage totals for each past round appear on Sheet 2.
Baseball fans were treated during Kaline’s career to some of the best right-fielders in the game’s history. That his 92.6 career WAR (28th all-time) ranked only third among contemporary right-fielders is not to slight him in the least. Not when Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente are the two players ahead of you. Those three plus Mel Ott occupy the top four spots on the all-time right-fielder WAR list. From there, it’s a sizable drop down to the next group of Sam Crawford, Reggie Jackson, Paul Waner, Larry Walker and Harry Heilmann, all tightly clustered in the 72 to 75 WAR range.
In the age of the bonus baby, Kaline was a prodigy who made good on his early promise. Debuting as an 18 year-old in 1953, Kaline was a regular at 19 and batting champion at age 20, the latter feat matched only by Ty Cobb and Alex Rodriguez. Those three plus Vada Pinson and Buddy Lewis (see sidebar) are the only players to reach 200 hits so young, with only Kaline and Cobb also leading their league in safeties. Among 20 year-olds, Kaline’s 162 OPS+ that season trails only Cobb, Mel Ott and Mike Trout, and his 8.3 WAR trails only Trout and A-Rod.
For the 18 seasons from age 20 to 37, Kaline was above 100 OPS+ in 300+ PA every season. How many others have done that? It’s a short list of Cobb and contemporaries Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson. But, Kaline was well clear of 100 OPS+ most of those seasons, dipping below the 115 mark only once, and below 125 only twice more. How many have 17 seasons of 115 OPS+ and 15 seasons of 125 OPS+ at those ages? For the 115 level, the same three others again (Cobb and Robinson did it 18 times) plus Ott and Tris Speaker. At 125, Kaline’s 15 seasons are exceeded only by the same five plus Manny, Mickey and Stan.
For WAR over those same 18 seasons, Kaline was above 2.5 every year, a feat matched only by Cobb. His 10 seasons of 5+ WAR aged 20-32 are exceeded by only 10 others since 1901, seven HOFers plus Pujols, Bonds and A-Rod.
Kaline was the 12th member of the 3000 hit club and the first American Leaguer in more than 40 years to reach that plateau. His 399 career home runs dwarfed the best totals of earlier AL 3000-hit club members, amounting to more than 3 times the 117 total posted by Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker.
Kaline played his entire 22-year career with the Tigers, retiring as the all-time AL leader in games played for one franchise. In the final month of his career, Kaline was chasing milestones of 3000 hits, 400 home runs and 500 doubles. He made only the first but came oh so close to the others, hitting homer 399 off Reggie Cleveland on Sep 18th, and collecting his 3000th hit with his 498th double off Dave McNally on Sep 24th. At Kaline’s retirement, there were 5 players active who had played their entire careers in the AL and had reached the 300 HR plateau, a confluence that was a first for the junior circuit and which would not be repeated for another 13 years.
Kaline’s Tigers were a second division club for the first part of his career but put it all together with a 101 win season in 1961, the most wins for a Tiger squad in 27 years. Trailing the Yankees by just a game-and-a-half at the end of the August, Detroit stumbled with an 8-game losing skid to start September while the Bombers reeled off 13 straight wins. Just like that, the pennant race was over.
Detroit next was in the hunt in 1967, one of four teams involved in a frantic chase to the wire. Never more than two-and-a-half games out from August 20th, the Tigers closed to within a half-game on the second last day of the season. Ahead of Detroit and tied for the lead were the Red Sox and Twins, who had one game remaining against each other while the Tigers had a closing twin-bill against the Angels. Thus, Detroit needed a sweep for a tie; they won the first but fell behind the Halos early in the finale and were never able to close the gap, pushing the Red Sox atop the heap after they edged the Twins at Fenway to claim their first pennant in 21 years.
Third time was the charm for Detroit as they led almost wire-to-wire to claim the 1968 AL crown with 103 wins, then the most ever for the Tigers. Facing the defending world champion Cardinals in the fall classic, the Tigers fell behind 3 games to 1 as 31-game winner Denny McLain was twice bested by Bob Gibson in two masterful 5-hit complete games. Down 3-2 in game 5, Kaline came through with a 7th inning, bases loaded, two-RBI single to provide the margin of victory. In game 6, Kaline collected 3 hits and 3 RBI as Detroit pounded the Cards 13-1. No heroics for Kaline in game 7 but his teammates finally got to Gibson with a 3-spot in the 7th inning to claim their first world championship in 23 years.
Kaline had one final time to shine in the post-season when the Tigers claimed the 1972 AL East crown by dint of playing and winning one more game than the second place Red Sox. As games lost to a short players’ strike at the start of the season were not made up, that result stood. In the best-of-five ALCS against the Athletics, the Tigers lost the first two games and, as in 1968, Kaline led them back with two hits and a run to win game 3, and then provided a key single in the 10th inning of game 4 as Detroit rallied from two runs down to win 4-3. Alas, no heroics in the finale as the “Blues Brothers” (Blue Moon Odom and Vida Blue) held the Bengals at bay, protecting a slender 2-1 lead over the final 5 scoreless frames.
Trivia time: Al Kaline is the only player to strike out against Satchel Paige and David Clyde. Which is interesting because Clyde was born two years after Satchel retired. To be exact, their age difference is 48 years, 289 days.
My hunch is that is a record for age difference of two pitchers against which the same batter has struck out. But, I’d love to have you prove me wrong. To make it easier, just look for two pitchers that a single player has batted against. I’ve found a couple of others with an age difference exceeding 45 years. How many can you find?
For the record, I’m excluding Paige’s 1965 cameo appearance at age 59 but, if you count that, Carl Yastrzemski batted against Paige and Storm Davis (and didn’t strike out against either), two pitchers with an age difference of 55 years, 172 days. Incidentally, in checking out some of the possibilities, I discovered that Steve Carlton played in games against Warren Spahn and Jamie Moyer, for a career span of 70 years (1942-2012). Don’t think I’ve seen 70 cracked before.