Mr. Tiger

At the corner of Michigan and Trumball Streets in Detroit stands a nice, new Police Athletic League baseball field.  Its cheerful astroturf spreads out over a rebuilding neighborhood, taking up a fraction of what it replaced, the old Tiger Stadium.

Once a summer in the 1960’s, my dad would load up a few of us kids and his own dad to travel from our home in Indiana to a Major League game in the overgrown city.   I remember the largeness of it, the old wooden seats and stairs, and the popcorn smell.  But most of all, I remember the names of the players.  Willie Horton, Bill Freehan.  Mickey Lolich.  Rocky Colavito  (loved to roll that one around on my tongue).  Norm Cash, Dick McCauliffe, and Don Wert.  But always, always, there was one we looked forward to cheering for the most: Al Kaline.

Al Kaline remembered for talent, graciousness | Baseball Hall of Fame

baseballhall.org

Happy Birthday Al Kaline!!! | 30-Year Old Cardboard

psacard.com

Albert William Kaline joined the Tiger organization straight out of his Baltimore high school in 1953, and never left.   Two years later he was the youngest player to win the American League batting title.  A right fielder, he played in the All-Star game 15 times, won 10 Golden Glove Awards and was elected into the Hall of Fame the first year he was eligible, 1980.  He played 22 seasons before retiring.

I guess what made Kaline, who passed away at age 85 last week, the hero to us was what a good guy he was.  “I’ve always served baseball to the best of my ability,” he said.  “Never have I deliberately done anything to discredit the game, the Tigers, or my family.”  He didn’t have to tell us that, though.  We knew.

Brooks Robinson said Kaline was the best all-around player he ever faced.  The Detroit Free Press echoed that “he was a living monument of how gracefully baseball could be played.”

His #6 jersey was the first to be retired by the ball club.  Wearing it he had racked up 3,007 hits and 399 home runs.  In all, he scored over 1600 runs and drove in about as many.  He was a consistent defensive player in the outfield.

It was a racially dishevilled Detroit in 1968 when they played in the World Series.  Al had broken his arm that summer, and didn’t think he deserved to be in the lineup — but how could fans be denied a part for their favorite Tiger?  And they beat St. Louis for the title. 

He stayed with Detroit as a television and a radio announcer, side-by-side with George Kell and Ernie Harwell.  Many warm Saturdays I would open the front screen door to the sight of my dad listening to them broadcast a game as he washed the car.

In 2018 there was a 50th Anniversary celebration at Comerica Park for the great 1968 team.  My uncle, cousin, brother and I sat in “Kaline’s Corner” to see and hear the old players again.  

It was just as exciting as it was in the 60s.  Heroes are heroes.  Al Kaline was a gift, another star to look up at.  While readers may revere different baseball players, I, along with Mitch Albom and Jim Price, will always remember Mr. Tiger.

Information from AP reports and the Detroit Free Press.

Fleet

The name Arthur T. Packard was called out over the diploma line at the University of Michigan in 1882. As the young man came up to accept it, he didn’t realize he was halfway between friendships with two others who would be remembered in American history.  One was Theodore Roosevelt; and the other, Moses Fleetwood Walker, the first black man to play major league baseball.

The Bad Lands Cow Boy

Packard put his college education to use by starting a newspaper in a small western town.  As proprietor of The Bad Lands Cow Boy in Medora, North Dakota, he had a couple of ranchers who made good copy.  The Marquis de Mores said he had claims to the throne of France, while Theodore Roosevelt gave such a stirring Independence Day speech Packard asked him if he didn’t aspire to be president of the United States.  De Mores and Roosevelt, each twenty-five years old, went their separate ways after a few years; and when his print shop burned down, Packard returned to the Midwest as a sports editor.  In the early 1900s he would write a memoir about the president’s cowboy days for Life Magazine.
Visiting Medora, today a tourist attraction, I learned that Packard had pitched for Michigan’s baseball team in 1882.  On the other side of home plate, catching without a glove, was Walker.  According to David W. Zang’s book Fleet Walker’s Divided Heart (University of Nebraska Press, 1995), Moses Fleetwood had already started playing professionally the summer before.

This was a fascinating sidetrack of my first Lilly grant.  I found out that Michigan wasn’t the first team Packard and Walker played for.  At the beginnings of intercollegiate play, they were among the “Baseball Nine” of Oberlin College in Ohio.  The Oberlin-Michigan game in the spring of 1881 included a Walker wallop over the roof of a nearby building, and Michigan recruited the both of them.  Questions in Ann Arbor about admitting Fleet to the school seem to have been smoothed over by a letter of recommendation from Packard, whose father was a Civil War general and congressman.

photo

The Toledo Blue Stockings of 1884: Fleet, seated left; Weldy, back row.

Fleet studied law at the university, but when baseball season rolled around, he was ready, batting .308 and helping the team to a 10-3 record.  That summer he joined the Toledo Blue Stockings of the Northwestern League.  (In 1881, he had been paid to catch a few games for the White Sewing Machine Company team in Cleveland).  His younger brother Weldy also played for Michigan and Toledo.  Fleet never graduated from college like Arthur Packard, but he did make as much as $2,000 a season from his sport.  Some of the cities in his league included Peoria, Quincy, and Springfield, Illinois; Bay City and Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Fort Wayne, Indiana.

In April 1885 he was in a game in Kentucky, and promptly arrested as a representative of the team for breaking a Sunday no-play rule. Released on bail, he sat in the courtroom ten days later and listened to the hearing.  The judge noted that the report was the game had been a good one.  “Yes, it was,” the county prosecutor replied.  “I was there!”  The case was decided in the team’s favor.

Fleet played for six years, ending his career with a team in Toronto called the Syracuse Stars.  Manager Cap Anson of the Chicago White Stockings obnoxiously forbid his players on several occasions to share the field with a black man.  By all accounts Fleet was a class act, a gentlemen, a charmer who would show kids how to hold their hands while catching to prevent broken fingers and thumbs.

After baseball, his trajectory went up: owning a theater, writing a well-regarded book called Our Home Colony, and getting a patent on an artillery shell.  Then it took a downward turn: accusations of mail fraud and the murder of another man by stabbing which resulted in one jail sentence and one acquittal.  He was married twice, but his children had none of their own, so there are no direct descendants today.  A grand-nephew and grand-niece attended a memorial service when a headstone was placed over his grave in Steubenville, Ohio, in 1990.  It was his induction into the John Heisman Club’s Hall of Fame at Oberlin College.

Moses Fleetwood Walker.jpg
If Arthur Packard had only written a memoir about his college chum for Life, too.