West Michigan reacts to Tigers star Al Kaline’s legacy

Sports

New York Yankees manager Joe Torre (L) talks with Detroit Tigers coach Al Kaline before the start of their spring training game at Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, FL, 11 March. Kaline was a long-time star for the Tigers in the 1950’s and ’60’s. (TONY RANZE/AFP via Getty Images)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — For many Detroit Tigers fans, Monday was the loss of a hero, leader and legend to not just the franchise but baseball as a whole.

Al Kaline, otherwise known as “Mr. Tiger,” passed away Monday afternoon at the age of 85. The Hall of Famer played all 22 of his professional seasons in Detroit. He died at his home in Michigan.

While a close friend to Kaline John Morad was the first to confirm the news, the Detroit Tigers would later release a statement on his passing.

Kaline’s accomplishments started from the minute he was drafted after graduating from Baltimore Southern High School. He never played a day in the minor leagues and joined the Tigers at the age of 18.

Two years later, Kaline would become the youngest player to win the American League batting title at age of 20 in 1955 with a .340 average. The right fielder was a 15-time All Star, while adding 10 Golden Gloves.

In 1980, the Tigers’ beloved No. 6 was elected into the Hall of Fame on his first year of eligibility.

While the grieving stems from all areas of the Tigers organization, WOOD TV8 caught up with people close to the West Michigan Whitecaps organization to talk about Kaline and what his legacy leaves them with.

DAN HASTY — PLAY-BY-PLAY VOICE

For Dan Hasty, when the news broke, it was a shock and brought upon sadness from someone he remembered as “the patriarch of Tigers baseball.” Hasty compared Kaline to Tigers’ broadcaster great Ernie Harwell in the sense that most people have their “Tigers story” about both.

For the voice of the Whitecaps, it is no different.

“It was the day before I called my first-ever game for the Tigers radio network, I was at Lakeland (Florida) getting ready for the game,” Hasty said. “I had mentioned to Jim Price, the game for tomorrow has a 100 percent chance of thunderstorms. I said ‘do me a favor and if you know any of the baseball Gods, ask them for a clearing between 1 and 4 p.m. tomorrow.’ (Price) said he would see what he could do, I laughed and didn’t think anything of it.

“About 15 minutes later, Jim came over to where I was, tapped me on the shoulder and told me to come with him. He brought me into his radio booth and goes, “You said you wanted to meet one of the baseball Gods, here he is.”

It was Kaline, sitting in a chair with a smile as Hasty described it. He shook his hand and introduced himself and the two would have a conversation that would last around five minutes.

They talked about Tigers fans and the upcoming game that Hasty was about to call during spring training. They also talked about his grandkids for awhile.

Hasty was never able to see Kaline play, but he knows what Mr. Tiger means to the organization as a whole.

“When it comes to Al Kaline, he never played a game in the minor leagues, it’s unbelievable,” Hasty said with a gasp. “When it comes to the best in the game like Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout, they played in the minor leagues. That’s just what you do. Not for Al Kaline. He went straight from high school to the big leagues.

“To me, that’s more impressive than the Gold Gloves or 15 All Star games. Nobody can say they didn’t play a day in the minor leagues.”

EMILY WALDON — DETROIT TIGERS MILB, THE ATHLETIC WRITER

Emily Waldon doesn’t often get starstruck. At her job, covering all different levels of minor league baseball prospects, talking to athletes is normally a regular thing.

Every now and again, however, certain stars even make it so Waldon has to put on her best acting job to keep it cool during an interview.

Kaline was one of those people.

“I believe it was spring 2017 and I was down at Joker (Marchant) covering the team and I had got to know some of the park employees pretty well,” Waldon said. “One of my friends who was an employee at the park was trying to help get my name out there a little bit. She asked me, ‘Have you ever met Al?’ and I thought she met Al Avilia. I told her in media scrums but not personally and she said, ‘Hold on, he’s right around the corner.’”

It wasn’t the Tigers current general manager around the corner, it was Kaline.

The only time Waldon can recall feeling any nervousness to talk to a star in the Tigers organization was Alan Tramell in her first season covering the organization.

“I of course had my sun glasses on, thought keep a poker face and act cool,” Waldon said laughing. “In my profession, it just wasn’t professional to take pictures with athletes or coaches. (Kaline and I) talked for a bit and I said, ‘Mr. Kaline, at the risk of breaking my rule, I’m a huge fan and obviously my dad was a huge fan as a boy, can I get a picture with you?’

“He cracked a smile and said ‘I could never say no to a face as pretty as yours.’ We took the picture and talked for a few more minutes and he said ‘I think you will be really good for this game, you’re going to go places.’”

To Waldon, that meant so much coming from an icon of the game she loves to cover. With the person Kaline was known as on top of the legendary player he was, that moment was one Waldon knew she would cherish forever.

Waldon also talked about times she just observed him being a great person and leader. One specific time was during a batting practice in spring training. It was a split-squad day and she noticed former Tiger Nick Castellanos taking batting practice. Kaline walked over after his reps and put his hand on his shoulder.

“He was showing him a few things about hip movement and wrist action,” Waldon said. “I remembered Nick’s face and he was just so locked onto everything he was saying. I just think Al had a teachers heart and had a passion to help cultivate guys who came after him. I really thought that was a special small facet of Al Kaline.”

Waldon and Hasty both would go on to say that they hope to see the city of Detroit go all out on celebrating the life of Kaline once the outbreak of the coronavirus slows down and day-to-day life becomes more normal.

MORE LOCAL REACTIONS

Even during a national pandemic that is hitting the state of Michigan very hard, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer reached out to show her thoughts on the passing of Al Kaline.

Former Tiger ace and current Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander tweeted his feelings on memories with Kaline during his time in Detroit.

WOOD TV8’s Jack Doles posted a video to Twitter of Kaline’s reactions to the 2012 World Series-bound season.

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