Al Kaline, Tigers outfielder, left his final game after the third inning and two at-bats. Statistics were not as big an issue back then as they are now. If they had been, he would probably have stayed in for a chance to be the first Detroit Tiger to hit his 400th home run, an honor secured last weekend in St. Louis when Miguel Cabrera hit No. 400 against the Cardinals.
He lost two home runs to games that were washed out before they had a chance to become official. One vanished June 1, 1958, when he homered in the second inning against the White Sox at then-Briggs Stadium, only to have the game halted in the fourth before it was called.
The same thing happened in 1963, in a game against the Senators at D.C. Stadium in Washington, D.C. His second-inning homer off Bennie Daniels didn’t survive rain and cancellation of that day’s boxscore.
And then, of course, there were the injuries that cost him a cumulative 21/2 seasons: broken collarbone, broken finger, fractured arm. Considering he played 22 years, injuries were inevitable. But not, perhaps, to the extent he lost nearly 10 percent of his career to the disabled list.
The home runs simply didn’t matter as much as that other statistical tribute to a great player’s career: 3,000 hits, which Kaline had nailed down eight days earlier, against Orioles left-hander Dave McNally. It came by way of a double down the right-field line. And of all the places he would get his 3,000th, it happened to be in Baltimore, at Memorial Stadium, with his dad, Nicholas, and mother, Naomi, in the stands.
Kaline had made it known well ahead of September that 1974 would be his last season as a player. He had seen a personal idol, Willie Mays, hang on too long and fall down in center field during his final season with the Mets. And neither Kaline nor his wife of 60 years, Louise, wanted a career as accomplished as his to end on a pitiful note.
He took off his uniform that day at Tiger Stadium, got ready for a 40th birthday and, with anxiety he had not anticipated, began to wonder about a life without baseball.
For the full article, see Lynn Henning, “399: Kaline’s last day short of history, long on regret”, Detroit News, May 27, 2015.
Update : Al Kaline died on April 6, 2020.