Tuesday, March 24, 2009

George Kell, 1922-2009. R.I.P.

Baseball Hall of Famer George Kell has passed away. He was 86 years old.

Kell played in the majors for 15 seasons with the Philadelphia Athletics, Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles.

He was the best third baseman of his era and represented the AL in the All Star Game on ten occasions.

Kell enjoyed his best success with the Tigers. In 1949, Kell denied Ted Williams a triple crown by winning his only AL batting title with a .343 average edging the Splendid Splinter by only two 100ths of a point.

The following season, Kell hit .340 with 8 home runs and 101 RBI. In Kell's day it was not unusual to drive in 100 runs while hitting fewer than 10 home runs. However, since Kell pulled it off only two other players have achieved the feat - Tom Herr with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1985 and Paul Molitor with the Minnesota Twins in 1996.

Kell finished his career with a .306 lifetime batting average and collected 2,054 hits. However, third basemen have been sorely neglected by the Hall of Fame and Kell was no exception until he was voted in by the Veterans Committee in 1983.

However, I remember him best as one half of the TV broadcast crew for the Detroit Tigers on WDIV along with fellow Hall of Famer Al Kaline. In 1986, Thunder Bay started getting U.S. broadcasts from Detroit and that's when I started rooting for the Tigers. For six seasons I watched Kell & Kaline call games with the likes of Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Kirk Gibson, Jack Morris, Darrell Evans, Willie Hernandez, Chet Lemon and who could forget the ever reliable Tom Brookens? Those were the days my friends.

Kell, a native of Arkansas, had this deep but friendly southern drawl and would begin broadcast with an elongated, "Good evening everyone." I loved his homerun calls. (It's a long drive.) Kell and Kaline would occasionally get the batting order mixed up or mangle last names but I enjoyed watching their broadcasts. They had a relaxed approach and along with a glass of lemonade they were perfect on a hot summer night.

The game I remember Kell best for was on the final day of the 1987 season when the Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays were battling it out for the AL East. I was probably the only person in Canada outside of Windsor, Ontario who was rooting for the Tigers to prevail. Frank Tanana and Jimmy Key were locked in a pitching duel. Larry Herndon hit a long homerun to straight away center in the second inning to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead. It was the only run of the game. In the top of the 9th with the tying run on second, Tanana induced Garth Iorg to hit a ground ball back to him and Kell said, "This could be it...and it is." The Tigers clinched the AL East only to lose to the Minnesota Twins in five games in the ALCS. They would not make the post-season again for nearly 20 years.

Outside of baseball, Kell owned an auto dealership back in Arkansas. He was a lifelong southern Democrat who was appointed to the Arkansas Highway Commission in 1973 by Governor Dale Bumpers for a ten year term. He would serve as the Commission's Chairman from 1977 to 1980.

Kell left the broadcast booth after the 1996 season. However, he ran into some hard luck. In October 2001, Kell's childhood home was destroyed by fire although he did rebuild. In December 2004, Kell was severely injured in a car crash but recovered about six months later. He got knocked down but got back up. That is until today.

He lived a good life and I was blessed to hear his enjoyment of everything good in that voice.

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