My hero as I was growing up was Al Kaline, the Hall of Fame right-fielder for the Detroit Tigers. He passed away yesterday at 85. I want to present a tribute to him today.

I stood in line for one hour at a baseball card show in Arlington, Texas around thirty years ago to get Al Kaline’s autograph on the picture I have here. The autograph is somewhat faded now but you can see a bit of it. While I was in the long line waiting to get my turn, I was mulling over what to say to my boyhood hero. When I got up there and handed him my picture to sign, I said, “I don’t care what they say about Mickey Mantle; from 1955 to 1966 you were the best!” He seemed surprised. Then Kaline said, “Oh no. Mickey was pretty good.” Kaline was known for his humility and he demonstrated it in that moment quite naturally.

From the time I was around 6 months old until around 3 or so, I lived in Detroit. I was born in 1953, the year that Kaline came up to play for the Tigers as an 18-year old. My Dad adopted Kaline as his favorite player and passed him on down to his two boys.

We grew up in Alabama. My twin brother Jimmy and I may have been the only two boys in the state listening to WJR Detroit at night in the summer time. We were trying to get the Tigers’ game on the radio. On a cloudy day, it would come in fairly strong. One night as I was dozing off to sleep, my brother Jimmy (we shared a bedroom) was listening to the game on a transistor radio with an earpiece. He suddenly got excited and blurted out to me: “Kaline just hit a two-run homerun to win the game!” We would always run out to get the local newspaper when it came in the afternoon so we could see the boxscore so we knew how Kaline did the day or night before (we didn’t have round the clock news like we do now).

One of the highlights of my teenage years was when our family drove to Detroit in the summer of 1970 for Al Kaline Day at Tiger Stadium. It was a Sunday game but we also went to the Saturday night game as well. Late in the game, Kaline hit a homerun into the upper deck in left field to tie the game against the Minnesota Twins. Even my Dad got up out of his seat! It was a special moment for a teenage boy’s soul.

My twin brother and I always shared our love for Kaline. At Al Kaline Day they had someone sing a song: “Thanks for the Memories.” Today I say to his family, my prayers are with you. And I say “Thanks for the Memories.” Al Kaline will be missed.

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