Tuesday, March 24, 2009

George Kell, RIP

Bless You Boys:

George Kell: 1922-2009

We have terribly sad news in Tiger Town today, as Hall of Famer George Kell passed away at the age of 86. According to reports, he died in his sleep early this morning at his home in Swifton, Arkansas.

Kell was a 10-time All-Star, six of those honors coming during his years with the Detroit Tigers (1946-1952). He also played with the Philadelphia Athletics, Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, and Baltimore Orioles in a 15-year major league career.

Perhaps his most sterling achievement as a ballplayer was beating out Ted Williams for the American League batting title in 1949, edging him out by mere percentage points. Kell was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983 by the veterans committee.

Kell was a third baseman almost exclusively throughout his career. And he pretty much remains the gold standard for that position in Tigers history. Just the other day, The Daily Fungo posted an item about the team's all-time third basemen, and the list is basically Kell and everyone else. (No offense to Aurelio Rodriguez.) The Spot Starters had him ranked #24 on its list of Top 100 Tigers.

I imagine most everyone reading this, however, remembers Kell more as a broadcaster for the Tigers from 1959 to 1996. And from 1975 to 1996, he was the team's television play-by-play man with Al Kaline. With all due respect to Ernie Harwell, for those who grew up watching the Tigers on TV, Kell was the voice of baseball, the voice of summer.

As a kid developing into a baseball fan, I remember being fascinated when my father told me that Kell once played for the Tigers. The whole idea seemed so amazing to me. I think it was my first realization that there was a history to the game, so much bigger and richer than what I was watching on TV.

The Bluhm Memorial Detroit Tigers Hall of Fame: George Kell

Born in a little town in Arkansas called Swifton, George Kell came to Detroit in 1946 by way of a trade by Philadelphia Athletics’ owner Connie Mack, a trade that changed the face of Tiger baseball for almost a half-century. Arguably the greatest third baseman in team history, Kell combined determination and a clean-cut lifestyle to make him an outstanding defensive player as well as a terrific hitter for seven years with the Tigers. When his playing career was over, he worked just as hard at his craft as a radio announcer, a second career with the organization that began in 1959 for Kell. Serving as Van Patrick’s partner during a handful of contests that season, Kell went on to work with Ernie Harwell from 1960 until 1963. He returned to the booth in 1965 as a TV commentator and held that role until 1996, becoming just as well known for his broadcasting as he ever did for his on-the-field exploits. Kell was well known for his slight southern drawl; his "Hello everybody – I’m George Kell" became a familiar sound to millions of Tigers fans for many years. But his first gift was at third base. He batted over .300 in every full season with Detroit. In 1949, he batted a league-best .343, beating out Ted Williams on the last day of the season for the American League batting title. He led the AL in hits twice and was the league leader in doubles in 1950 and 1951. Never a great power hitter, Kell nonetheless drove in 101 runs in 1950 and scored at least 90 three times in Detroit. A four-time All-Star as a Tiger, he also completed one of the greatest defensive plays in Tiger history during the 1948 season. During the play, Kell had his jaw broken by a Joe DiMaggio line drive. Instinctively, he picked up the ball, crawled to third, and got the force out before fainting. It was just this type of determination that made Kell great and earned him a spot in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983.

Talkin' Motor City Baseball

Amazon.com: Hello Everybody, I'm George Kell


All rights reserved.
Disclaimer And Comment Policy