on April 3, 2010
Where were you one week after your high school graduation? Future Detroit Tiger Hall Of Famer Al Kaline was playing the first of what would eventually be 2,834 Major League games of which *ALL* were with the Detroit Tigers. No Tiger has ever played more games before or since. (And that includes the legendary Ty Cobb who holds the record for the highest lifetime batting average in Major League history.) His career statistics will continue to speak loudly for this ever humble low-key icon. 3,007 hits... 399 home runs... 1,583 runs batted in... 1,622 runs scored... 10 gold gloves as the best fielding right fielder in the American League... 15 All Star games... and in 1955 he became the youngest batting champion in league history when he hit 340 three months before his twenty-first birthday.
There are many plusses and minuses in this book... the positives are presented by the rich detail of Al's childhood (Believe it or not even though Kaline first entered the big leagues over fifty-years ago... this is his first biography.) growing up in Baltimore to very humble parents. His Father worked in a broom factory and his Mother had multiple menial jobs. Despite the need for additional income in the family... they would not allow Al to work. His Dad told him there will be plenty of time throughout the rest of his life to work... he should go ahead and follow his dream... and his passion... playing baseball. That's all Al cared about and that's all he did. Kaline admits to being a lousy student because he believed he'd one day play big league baseball. His teachers believed it also and let him skate by. During the summer Al would play on four to five teams at a time. His Father and his Uncle's would arrange to pick him up from one game and bring him to the next. There were times on a hot sweltering summer day that Al would play in three games in one day. His childhood heroes were Ted Williams and Stan Musial and there are some interesting tidbits regarding Kaline and Williams years later when Al plays in the big leagues.
Highlighted along with his Hall Of Fame statistics is Kaline's innate shyness which at times was taken to be aloofness by the sportswriter's. The constant management changes in Detroit... would result in Kaline playing for fourteen different managers in twenty-two years. His feelings towards each manager are interspersed in the telling of his story. I feel bad having to point out what I feel are the shortcomings in this book since Al Kaline was one of my childhood heroes... and I actually wore an Al Kaline glove in Little League... but the negatives have absolutely nothing to do with Kaline himself. He still remains *FIVE-STAR-AS-A-PLAYER-AND-AS-A-PERSON*... the author has what eventually becomes an annoying habit of constantly repeating the same information over and over again in different parts of the book. Additionally the author may be in the midst of one season's story and then starts talking about another season... and then goes back again to the earlier season... not only within the same chapter... but back and forth in subsequent chapters. It becomes very confusing and at times dulling when you hear the same story again. Here's a couple of examples:
On page 4 and 5 the author quotes manager Charlie Dressen when asked to name the greatest player he had ever managed says: "JACKIE ROBINSON WAS THE MOST EXCITING RUNNER I EVER HAD," DRESSEN DECLARED. "HE COULDN'T BE EQUALED ON THE BASES. HE COULD ROB A TEAM BLIND. PEE WEE REESE WAS THE GUTSIEST LITTLE INFIELDER I EVER HAD. I'D HAVE TO PUT ROY CAMPANELLA IN A CLASS WITH MICKEY COCHRANE, GABBY HARNETT, AND BILL DICKEY. AND HANK AARON IS THE BEST HITTER I EVER HAD. BUT IN MY HEART, I'M CONVINCED KALINE IS THE BEST PLAYER WHO PLAYED FOR ME. FOR ALL-AROUND ABILITY-I MEAN HITTING, FIELDING, RUNNING, AND THROWING-I'LL GO WITH AL." Very fine praise indeed... but the exact same speech in full is on pages 103-104. On page 92-93 the story about the game on May 26, 1962 when Al broke his collarbone on a catch of a ball hit by Elston Howard is told in detail... and the same story is told again on page 120-121. There are numerous other examples of this duplication. Then... really hard to understand is why in Chapter 14 you're told who won the 1968 World Series... the averages in the series of Kaline and Cash... how many RBI's they had... about Lolich's three victories and his winning the World Series MVP... etc. and then chapter 15 tells you about each game of... "you guessed it"... the 1968 World Series.
The only thing I can guess is that this lack of good editing relates to the following: For months this book was presented as being released on April 15, 2010. Then out of nowhere I got an email that it was being shipped on March 29, 2010. I have experienced this "phenomena" before. A book seems to be rushed out ahead of schedule to beat some "new" deadline (Perhaps the baseball season starting this weekend?) and true professional editing is dropped by the wayside.
on August 14, 2010
I know, it seems like a contradiction. I rate this as a must have and a must read, but then give it a fair rating. Let me explain.
If you are a fan of Kaline the player, this is a must have and a must read. As much as I appreciated him as a player, I have come to appreciate him more after reading this book. The author takes the reader through Kaline's career, even starting in high school, and one cannot help but see him as one of those rare complete ballplayers. Much of the book is read through quotes of people who knew Kaline through the years, and this really authenticates what people have been saying for years and what his first ballot selection to the Hall of Fame proves - that he's one of the all time greats.
The cover is slick and the printing very readable. There are some excellent pictures in the book - most of which I had never seen. And something else this book covers that is very unusual is that of his salary progression (and negotiations). Quite intriguing to see how it was done before free agency.
Having said all this, I have to include some criticism that is well deserved. The style of writing is amateurish and in some cases reads like a book for elementary school children. The organization is very poor and the editing is terrible. In fact, I wonder if it even had an editor. Another reviewer made a point about identical paragraphs being included in different parts of the book - and this is painfully true. It suggests that the author just kind of threw this book together without any polishing. That makes it a bit of a tedious read at times. Also, this book does not include a statistical table of Kaline's career and it should. This ommission is a terrible failing.
But the greatest shortcoming of this book is it's lack of detail with regards to Kaline's personal life. I'm not looking for salacious tidbits but I'd like to know more about him as a man, other than the fact that he loves to golf. I'd like to know what life was like as a ballplayer in the 50s and 60s. I'd like to know if he had any hobbies or interests other than sports. I'd like to know a bit about his wife and children. In short, I want to know what he thought about 'things'. In a biography, I do not think that is asking too much.
This book falls short and that's a shame. I suspect that Kaline was/is a great guy but you'd never know it by reading this book. Still, it's a buy.
I will add that there is a book out called 'Six'. It is published through Olympia Entertainment. It is more of a pictorial history of Kaline and offers a bit more into his life, though not much. It's really a magnificent book and though it sells for something like $30 unsigned, most of the signed copies I see for sale (like through the Detroit Tigers site) are $75 plus shipping. You really have to be a fan to pay that amount.
And a final comment which is a bit off subject but which I feel compelled to note. Kaline married his high school sweetheart at the age of 19. He's been married to her ever since. And though I'd like to believe that it was a faithful and happy marriage (and the books I have read allude to this), it certainly could not hurt that Al was married to a woman who was truly extraordinarily beautiful. I don't think I have ever known or seen a woman who has retained such an exquisite beauty, even into her 70s. I guess it's all in the genes.
on May 27, 2016
Kaline deserves a more complete, more thorough examination of his career. The book lacks in a couple of areas. Most notably is in the depth of its dive into Kaline's life. Other than exploring his childhood growing up in poverty in Baltimore and a brief sketch of his sandlot days, the rest of the book reads like a Kaline-centric history of the Tigers from 1953 to 1974. Author Jim Hawkins briefly covers Al's post-player life and focuses on his time in the broadcast booth, but doesn't reveal much other than to say Kaline wasn't outwardly comfortable when he started that gig - no funny anecodotes or details to that time of his life.
I think part of the problem is that Hawkins is a long time newspaper writer and this book - especially early on - reads like an extended newspaper feature that you would see in the Sunday paper. Paragraphs that are one sentence. Chapters that repeat info from the previous chapter (I think I read six times that Kaline's dad worked in a broom factory, for example).
There's also some editing that could've been done. The most egregious of the newspaper like chapter's is the first one and we are given this one sentence paragraph about Willie Horton on page four "Leave it to Horton who, like Kaline, has grown more eloquent with age, to put the career of the Greatest Living Tiger into perspective." That reads like a sentence that was added in to make sure the columns were filled. Completely empty and hollow. We also get statements of the obvious, like when discussing how many games Kaline missed over the course of his career, Hawkins writes the missed time was "more often than not because of one injury or another."
The book also suffers from some fact checking issues, which is a pet peeve of mine. There are a handful of errors. The most egregious of which is a complete mis-telling of Kaline's first couple of weeks in the Majors. The book claims that Kaline's MLB debut occurred during the bottom of the sixth when he went into rightfield to replace Jim Delsing. The book goes onto say that Kaline looked toward Don Lund in centerfield for instructions on how to position himself for each hitter. The book goes into some detail about how Kaline had never played in right before but wasn't about to gripe. Reality is Kaline went into center to replace Delsing. Lund wasn't even in the game yet - he would enter as a pinch hitter in the 9th and never play in the field.
After wrapping up his first game, Hawkins states "A couple of days later, Kaline was again sent into a game as a defensive replacement." The book then has a quote from Kaline about how in the ninth inning he felt he misplayed a ball that fell in front of him, which allowed a pair of runs to score. Because of that, the Tigers blew a one run lead. According to Kaline, the pitcher was Ted Gray. This story isn't true. Not even close. Kaline and Gray didn't appear in a game together until July 23 and Gray was the winner in that game with no runs being scored in the 9th. In fact, in all of 1953, there was never an incident in which Gray pitched and the Tigers blew a 9th inning lead with Kaline on the field.
Mistakes like this in the information age should be easily caught and corrected in the information age. Hopefully Kaline's next biographer will be more thorough.
on March 28, 2010
Jim Hawkins is certainly qualified to write about the career of Al Kaline since he covered the Tigers' icon during Kaline's playing days in the 1970s. Kaline was committed to becoming a baseball player since he was a young boy in Baltimore by playing whenever he could find a ball game. While his friends would go off to the beach he would dedicate himself to spending hot afternoons on the ball diamond. We all have individuals who have influenced us during our formative years. In addition to his parents those who first showed a kindness to him were Tigers' pitcher Ted Gray and infielder Johnny Pesky. Gray simply offered Kaline to sit with him when the scared rookie first boarded the team bus to go to Shibe Park in Philadelphia. Both Gray and veteran infielder Pesky offered advice to the rookie Kaline regarding behavior on and off the field.
Hawkins skillfully covers Kaline's career throughout the frustrating years of the 1950s under managers Fred Hutchinson, Bucky Harris, Jack Tighe, Bill Norman, and Jimmy Dykes. The 1960s began with the blockbuster Easter Sunday trade of batting champion Harvey Kuenn in exchange for co-home run leader Rocky Colavito with the later trade of manager Dykes to the Indians for manager Joe Gordon. Kaline's favorite manager was Bob Scheffing because he was the one who told Kaline exactly what he wanted him to do. Kaline does concede, however, that Scheffing wasn't really that good of a manager. Charlie Dressen was Kaline's least favorite manager, but does say that he was an excellent teacher and possessed a wealth of baseball knowledge.
Kaline had several nagging injuries throughout his career such as a broken finger from throwing a bat in frustration in the dugout, problems with his deformed left foot that required surgery, and a separated shoulder after making a diving catch to end a game in Yankee Stadium. I can still hear Dizzy Dean announcing that play on the Game of the Week when he shouted, "HE CAUGHT IT! I MEAN HE CAUGHT IT!" The Tigers had pitched relief pitcher Hank Aguirre as a starter in the game. High Henry went the distance and the next day's headline read: TIGERS FIND A STARTER, BUT LOSE A STAR. Kaline swallowed his tongue while playing right field in Milwaukee during the 1970s, and the strong hands of Willie Horton were able to open up his clenched jaws to prevent what could have been a very dangerous incident. I remember attending that game.
Hawkins covers the frustrating end of the 1967 season when the Tigers lost the pennant on the last day of the season. This was the year of the riots in Detroit from which the city has still not recovered. General manager Jim Campbell, tired of the antics of Denny McLain, tried to trade him to Baltimore in exchange for Orioles' shortstop Luis Aparicio. Had this trade gone through, and assuming the Tigers would have won the pennant without McLain, Aparacio would have played shortstop in the 1968 World Series with the outfield made up of The Kids From Syracuse Willie Horton, Mickey Stanley, and Jim Northrup. This would have meant Al Kaline would not have been in the starting lineup. It was Norm Cash who suggested to manager Mayo Smith to play Stanley at shortstop, moving Northrup to center, and putting Kaline in right field. Years later Stanley said he wasn't able to enjoy the Series because of this switch. The fact that Mayo Smith had two sets of rules, one for the team and another for Denny McLain caused dissension on the team which ultimately led to Smith's dismissal and firebrand Billy Martin named as his replacement.
Al Kaline worries what baseball will be like ten to twenty years from now with the escalating salaries pricing out the working man. You mean they haven't already? Kaline's one regret is telling his last manager Ralph Houk not to play him during a game in his last year when he would have had to face fireballer Nolan Ryan. Kaline felt his slowed down reflexes would cause him to go 0-for-4. Instead, Kaline said, someone else had to go 0-for-4.
I do have one complaint about the book. This was a book I felt sure I would be able to purchase extra copies of to give to young kids to read. However, near the end of the book are a few profanities, none attributed to Kaline, that will prevent me from doing this. Other than that, this is a book you will enjoy reading while you relive both the glorious and not so glorious years of the Detroit Tigers and their prime player.
on April 1, 2011
I grew up in the 1960s and followed the Detroit Tigers and the second half of Al Kaline's career. I attended, with my dad, the game against the New York Yankees in 1968 during which, with Detroit comfortably ahead, Denny McLain served up a blooper for Mantle to hit out of the yard. I recall watching one of the World Series games that year at my grade school. Kaline was my boyhood idol and I wanted to play major league baseball, too.
For me, this biography was a romp through the past. There was little presented, other than Kaline's youth prior to becoming a Tiger and how he became a Tiger, that I didn't already know. But that didn't prevent me from enjoying the read from cover to cover.
If you're looking for an exposé in which Kaline shovels dirt on former teammates or confesses to an off-the-field life of hard drinking and womanizing, you won't find it. As great a ballplayer as Kaline was--and he was the greatest I ever saw play--he's an even better human being: humble, a gentleman, still married to his childhood sweetheart, and still in the Tigers organization, a great ambassador for the game, even if he wasn't as colorful or quotable as Yogi Berra.
In Al Kaline: The Biography of a Tigers Icon, Kaline is perhaps hardest on himself--the injuries that plagued his career, that his career numbers could've been better had he played harder during the lean years when the Tigers were struggling to finish at .500. He never blames the organization for not surrounding him with better talent; he merely states his heart wasn't in it when the team was out of the hunt by the All Star break. That's not to say he dogged it; but he yearned for the thrill of being in a pennant race in September, when the games meant something. Kaline played in the days before divisions and playoffs, when the team with the best record in the American League played the team with the best record in the National League for all the marbles--a time when baseball was pure.
Kaline played in the era before big contracts (he once turned down $100K for playing a kid's game, which angered many of his teammates). He doesn't begrudge the millions today's players make; but he's outspoken against those player who take it for granted, who he thinks demean the game.
Some might say Kaline doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame--he was the tenth player ever to be inducted in his first appearance on the ballot. After all, he played for a small market team during a time when Mantle and Mays were receiving all the accolades as outfielders.
Kaline might not have been born with great athleticism, but he was born to play the game of baseball. He may have hit only .297 lifetime and hit only 399 homeruns; but he won the batting title in only his second year as a major leaguer at an age younger than Ty Cobb. He won 10 Gold Gloves and was voted into the All Star game 18 times over a 22-year career. He also won the Roberto Clemente award, the Hutch award and the Lou Gehrig Memorial award. He had a cannon for an arm and got a better break on balls hit his way than anyone I've ever seen play the game. He roamed right field like a demon--not the fleetest of foot, yet he seemed to glide on rails to get to balls other outfielders, faster, would charge after, elbows flailing and caps flying off, only to misplay or play on one hop.
His workmanlike ethic made him a fan favorite, and he never brought shame to himself, his family, or the game of baseball, the way Cobb and Mantle and many others have.
In short, I can't heap enough superlatives on this gentleman of the game, a gentleman who, in my own youth, I wanted to emulate on the field.
My only criticism of the book is of an editorial nature: there seemed to be several needless repetitions of events and several annoying typos.
A fine read and recommended--you don't have to be "always a Tiger" to enjoy it.
on May 21, 2010
If my dad were still alive, I'd surely give him this book for Father's Day. He was a lifelong, long-suffering fan of the Detroit Tigers, and I know he would've enjoyed it.
In an era when every ex-Mouseketeer singer and every buxom celebutard manages to come out with a "memoir," it's quite a jolt to read about a guy like Al Kaline. He was a humble, hard-working player whose biggest "scandals" involved nothing more lurid than breaking a pinky finger after tossing a bat carelessly in the dugout after a frustrating time at the plate. (He was really embarrassed by such things, too!) But to baseball fans, especially Tiger fans, he certainly is an icon, as the book's title says. Yes, he embraced the idea of being a role model, but it wasn't so he could maintain lucrative sponsorships and a zillionaire lifestyle. It was because of his determination to stay true to his own high standards, as a person and as a player, and to the game that was the passionate focal point of his life.
The book makes it clear that Kaline never aimed to be a showboat -- was mostly quite shy and reticent -- but also makes a clear case for the extraordinary achievements of his Hall of Fame career. I have to say that I teared up at times, and also laughed out loud, revisiting the highs, lows, calamities and characters of the Tiger teams. The author doesn't try to be Roger Angell or George Will; it's a bio that pretty much reads like a standard newspaper account. I'm kind of surprised at this, as I was reading the Detroit Free Press when Jim Hawkins was covering the Tigers and I remember him as a beautiful, wonderful baseball writer.
I did notice the redundancies mentioned by another reviewer, and some other irritating things. So many attributions had Kaline and others "admitting" things, for instance, when are really just "saying" them, in my opinion. ("Years later, Kaline would admit, 'It was everything I dreamed it would be.'" "'Baseball is the only job I've ever had,' he admitted in an interview." The book needed better editing, and I sure wish there were more pictures. Not a single family photo, and where are images of other old faves like Cash and Colavito?
Overall, though, it's a good read, a heartwarming story, and a nice nostalgia trip for anyone who loves baseball.
on May 16, 2010
When you review the lives of many of the baseball players who achieved greatness - Ruth, Williams, DiMaggio, Musial, Mays, and of course, Al Kaline - clearly, they were born to play the game. No other profession would be a feasible endeavor for the subject of this fine biography; Kaline was meant to be a ballplayer; and for the fans of the Detroit Tigers, they were lucky he hooked on with their team. He was arguably, the greatest Tiger of them all; an icon who started his career as a kid and ended it as "the man" in Detroit.
The biography which Jim Hawkins has produced is a worthy effort, although somewhat rambling and a bit repetitious. Still, the essence of this work is quite satisfactory; in the end, the reader will come away knowing that Kaline was never interested in pursuing any endeavors other than playing the game he performed with such effortless superiority; and for fans of the game, we're glad he came along to provide us with a lot of great memories.
That's not a bad deal. Kaline may not have been the most articulate or colorful guy to play major league baseball, but his performance on the field was exemplary; and that's good enough for me, and I'm sure good enough for millions of Tiger fans who followed the career of this Hall of Fame icon.
The reader does get an outstanding detail of his long career. How he became to idol to so many young baseball fans. His dedication to the game was above reproach and still is to this day. You get recounts of specific games and a feel for the team during each of Kaline's playing days. The reader gets an idea of what drives Kaline to be a better player. Kaline talks not only about his baseball achievements but the baseball decisions that he regrets, the mistakes that he made. Having grown up watching Saturday morning baseball living on the West coast I feel fortunate that I got to watch Kaline play a few times on tv. It seems that Saturday morning baseball was mostly East coast game. This book gave me a much more rounded idea of who Kaline was as a player and the effect he had on his team mates, Managers and Detroit fans.
Yes you read about the type of person he is but the reader doesn't get much of a sense of Al Kaline the family man, There aren't any interviews with his wife or children. The interviews are purely conducted associated with baseball. I was hoping to find out a little more about who Kaline is as a person outside of baseball.
Jim Hawkins is a good beat writer in Detroit and that translates well here if you think of each chapter as one newspaper article, unfortunately articles when put together aren't always fluid and that's the case here.
This is the worst editing job I have read in quite a while. The same situations are detailed over and over again in this book to the point where it became annoying.
What the reader gets here is a biography of Al Kaline the baseball player not the man outside of baseball. This book has editorial issues but because Kaline is so modest he hasn't had another biography written about him so we have this book. For this reason it makes this book a worthwhile read.
on February 11, 2016
A very readable biography of one of Detroit's all-time greats. The book weaves in and out between Kaline's years growing up in Baltimore, his first years in the big leagues, his amazing run to the batting title, the frustrating years of the Tigers just coming up short, the World Series triumph, his final years with the club, and his induction into Cooperstown. By and large it is well worth the read, though as others have pointed out, it is in need of some editing (lots of unnecessary repetition) and no tabular summary of his career stats.
on September 4, 2013
BEING A LONG TIME TIGER FAN (60 YEARS AND COUNTING), this book "rang so true for me". I actually remember much of what was written, but also learned so much more about Al as a person, his early life and his health issues (I did not realize that his foot was such a problem for him). Just a great, great "read".