Al Kaline racked up numerous awards and honors during his 22-year Hall of Fame career with the Detroit Tigers.
Like his 10 Gold Glove Awards and his 1955 American League batting title. His 1973 Robert Clemente Award. His 18 trips to the MLB All-Star Game and his 1968 World Series ring.
But those awards didn’t mean nearly as much to Kaline as the hard work it took to get there.
“All those awards were about one thing: the work ethic,” Mark Kaline, one of Al’s two sons, told officials at Heritage Auctions. “It was about commitment to hard work. I can remember Dad saying, ‘Whatever you do, be the best at it.’ In his case that meant: Be the first guy in to take batting practice or shag balls. Become an expert at your craft, whatever that may be. Those are the life lessons.
“The awards were emblematic of the hard work and dedication he had to being his best. He never professed to being the best. He was very flattered by a lot of the awards. But he would tell you many times he was a far better defensive player than offensive one, even though he had 3,007 hits and 399 home runs. He said that even when you're 0-4 at the plate you can contribute to the team by keeping a guy from going to second on a ball hit into ‘Kaline's Corner.’ It was that attention to detail he put into his craft.”
Kaline, affectionately known as “Mr. Tiger,” remained with the organization as a broadcaster and front-office special assistant after his career. He was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1980 and became the first Tiger to have his jersey (No. 6) retired that same year.
Heritage Auctions is celebrating Kaline’s career by offering the Al Kaline Collection in its November auction. Heritage has auctioned many collections from baseball Hall of Famers, including Stan Musial, Brooks Robinson and Willie McCovey. Its November Fall Sports Collectibles Catalog Auction features the collections of Kaline, Lou Brock, former NFL star Jack Youngblood and former NBA Chicago Bull Scott Williams.
The Kaline Collection features more than 400 lots, including such impressive items as: the World Series Championship Trophy presented to members of the 1968 team in 2018; his 1980 Babe Ruth Crown Award; his Gold Glove awards; his career home run and career-hit balls; and several American League, All-Star Game and World Series championship rings.
It also includes numerous game-used bats, jerseys and even his coveted golf clubs and bag. It also includes baseballs signed by his Tiger teammates and others signed by such Hall of Famers as Musial, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Hank Greenberg, Ted Williams, Bob Gibson and other fellow legends.
“Heritage Auctions has long been where baseball legends and their families have come to share their collections with the fans,” says Chris Ivy, founder and president of Heritage Sports. “It’s an honor to add Mr. Tiger to that estimable list with an auction that offers a veritable history of the game he loved so much that he remained a part of it for his entire life.”
The collection even includes a special photo of Ted Williams and Babe Ruth, signed by Williams to Kaline. The inscription says all one needs to know about Mr. Tiger: “To Al Kaline, who can be as good as anyone.”
When Kaline passed away last year at age 85, he was remembered as “a titan” and “a legend.” After his death, longtime Detroit Free Press beat writer John Lowe wrote that Kaline “embodied the beauty of the game and became a living monument of how gracefully it could be played.”
As Lowe pointed out, the humble Kaline was shocked when he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1980. He became only the 10th player elected to Cooperstown on the first ballot.
“He always felt blessed to make a living playing the game he loved,” Mark Kaline said. “He looked at his parents and how they worked so hard so he could play baseball. He played on three sandlot teams in the summer when he was a kid. He would change uniforms in the car on the way from game to game. And he never lost sight of that.”
Also in the auction are Kaline’s 1970 Detroit contract, which he initially rejected because he didn’t believe he deserved a raise, and his 1972 contract, when he became the first player in team history to make $100,000. His rejection of the first $100,000 offer became part of Kaline’s legend.
“It’s part of who he was,” Mark Kaline said. “… We didn’t live a lavish lifestyle, but baseball and the Tigers had provided him and his family with a comfortable life, and he was quite happy with how the Tigers were treating him. So, I’m guessing that out of respect for all that the team had done for him, he turned down the deal.”
Mark said that when his father passed away, there were too many awards, photos and keepsakes to count. He said it was his father’s idea to auction his collection.
“His idea was to share it with the fans,” said Mark, who added that part of the proceeds will be shared with some of his father’s favorite charities.
“He always believed that he was blessed to have a good life and a healthy family, so he gave a lot of his time to charities in and around Detroit, as well as the state of Michigan. He took me to a few of his many speaking engagements when I was a child, to give me the experience of seeing the other side of what he did. It was his way of reminding me what he always knew: You have to know how lucky you are.”