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Playing right field for the Detroit Tigers, Number 6 Al Kaline,
This review is from: Al Kaline: The Biography of a Tigers Icon (Hardcover)
At age 18 he went directly from playing baseball in a Baltimore high school to the Detroit Tigers of Major League Baseball's American League -- and succeeded. Al Kaline played for the Tigers for 22 years (1953-1975) and never spent a day in the preparatory minor leagues. And he performed so well he was elected by a group of sportswriters to baseball's cherished Hall of Fame the first year he became eligible (1980) and by 88% of the voters.
Unfortunately for Kaline his career is not as well-known as several other of his baseball contemporaries for at least two reasons. He played his entire career away from the media spotlight on the east coast. Secondly, his team was not terribly successful on the playing field. One of Al's biggest goals was to play in the world series, something his team managed to achieve only once in those 22 years. Although Kaline played well in that one world series appearance (1968) and helped the Tigers defeat the St. Louis Cardinals of the National League, his fame was obviously dimmed by playing on a perennial average team. But the irony here might be that Kaline chose to sign with the Tigers (he had several other offers) because their outfield talent was so thin he calculated he would be able to play sooner in Detroit.
The author of this book, Jim Hawkins, has been a beat reporter covering the Detroit Tigers for a long time. His book in my opinion is a typical sports biography in that it concentrates almost exclusively on Kaline's on the field activities. All the highs (e.g. 3,000 hits, 399 home runs, 10 gold gloves, 18 all-star game appearances) and the lows (incredible number of injuries which cut almost three years off his career) of his playing days are included, essentially in a year-by-year manner. What readers do not get is almost anything about Kaline's off the field life. There is also not much about events or issues which affected his lengthy career, such as player unions, field managers, coaches, race relations among players, off day and off season activities, and the like.
But don't misunderstand. I did not expect this book would be another BALL FOUR*, but I do think it would be more interesting and appealing if the other parts of his life were explored in a little more detail. His wife and two sons, for example, are barely mentioned. Perhaps Mr. Kaline didn't want this area of his life included and put up a roadblock? Or perhaps Mr. Hawkins wasn't interested in pursuing those other avenues. I don't know. In addition, the sources the author consulted and the interviews he conducted appear rather limited.
So what you won't get here is a full biography along the lines of, say, Richard Ben Cramer on DiMaggio, or Nicholas Dawidoff on Moe Berg, or David Maraniss on Roberto Clemente. But in his defense the author might counter that Al Kaline didn't marry Marilyn Monroe; nor was he a spy for some US organization. And he was not a path breaking minority in any way I am aware. Still, for those wishing to read a well-written summary of Al's notable baseball life, this is the place to go.
In conclusion a personal note. As a kid growing up playing Knothole baseball and closely following all 16 major league teams, I idolized Al Kaline. That is probably because he was the complete ball player. He did it all superbly and with grace; and as such he makes many of today's major leaguers appear unworthy by comparison. To quote the opening sentence of AL KALINE THE BIOGRAPHY OF A TIGERS ICON, "They don't make baseball players like Al Kaline anymore."
Tim Koerner June 2010
*BALL FOUR (1970) was New York Yankee baseball player Jim Bouton's hilarious book about, well you'd better read it if you have not done so.