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Peterson: Kaline was more than a star

One of the few things any Detroit Tigers fan will seldom argue about is the legacy of Al Kaline.

The former All-Star rightfielder was more than a star–he was an icon in the Motor City.

I had the chance to see him play many times and also the opportunity to interview him once for a story. But I have several memories of his excellent play.

The first came in 1958 when the Tigers hosted the Kansas City A’s in a doubleheader at old Briggs Field.

The A’s, like the Tigers, were a second division team that long ago season, but they swept the twinbill. Charlie “Paw Paw” Maxwell was the hitting star, belting a couple of long homers.

But Kaline’s flawless play in the field left an impression with me. In one instance, he took a sure double off the wall by Roger Maris (yes, he started off in KC) and threw him out at second base with a bullet throw.

The next memorable moment came in 1963 when Denny McLain won his first start in a Tigers uniform. You could see McLain easily had the fastball to become a big winner.

But Kaline stole the show that night by rapping out a double and single. In addition, he made a great running catch in deep right center to stifle a White Sox rally. McLain won the game by a 4-3 score and hit the only homer of his big league career.

Fast forward to 1968, the Year of the Pitcher, led by McLain’s record-setting 31 wins. But the Tigers were down by a 3-1 margin against the St. Louis in the World Series and trailing in Game 6.

Kaline, who hit .379 in his only World Series appearance, delivered a clutch two-run singe late in the game to key a Detroit win. The rest is history.

Now, it’s 1982 and Kaline is in Hancock as part of a Detroit & Northern promotion. I requested an interview for the Mining Gazette and got a half hour to talk to my childhood hero.

I find him to be a gracious and patient interview as he answered questions, he no doubt, has answered a few thousand times.

But I sneak in one more question (off the record) about the ability of the eccentric McLain.

“He could have been one of the greatest pitchers ever to play,” Kaline noted. “If he had given it his all every time out.”

That’s one thing you never had to worry about with Al Kaline, who gave it his best all of the time.

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