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Monday, March 25, 2013

Mario Impemba: Al Kaline: Number 6

Mario Impemba: Al Kaline: Number 399

That mental toughness and focus is also necessary if a player has any thoughts of being a quality major league hitter.

“I used to drive to the games at Tiger Stadium with Bill Freehan and he would tell me that I wasn’t a good driving partner because I never said a word the entire ride,” Kaline said.  Truth was, I was thinking about that night’s pitcher and how he pitched me the last time I faced him.  We’d arrive at the stadium and I wouldn’t remember anything about the drive.  I’s a miracle I didn’t get us killed,”

Kaline had a reputation as being stoic at the ballpark and it was a reputation born from focus.

“I was always criticized because I never smiled on the field,” he said.  My wife always used to ask me why I would never wave to her in the stands.  That’s how focused I was.”

Kaline’s focus and mental toughness was also the result of a fear of embarrassing himself on the field.  So to was his decision to retire when he did, instead of prolonging his career and collecting a paycheck.

He finished his career with 399 home runs and instead of coming back for one more year to reach 400, Kaline called it quits.  “I could see that I had lost my skills and I didn’t want to hang around and embarrass myself,” he said.  “I never wanted to take a paycheck if I felt I didn’t earn it.”

It’s a refreshing attitude that isn’t always prevalent in today’s game.

Repoz Posted: March 25, 2013 at 05:35 AM | 34 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, tigers

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   1. BDC Posted: March 25, 2013 at 09:31 AM (#4395686)
Not an obituary, Gott sei Dank.
   2. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: March 25, 2013 at 09:43 AM (#4395694)
A consistently very good to great player with all-around skills, whose only misfortune was that the NL had a guy born in the same year with similar skill sets who was always just a little bit better and who kind of pushed Kaline into the shadow.

And yes, I'm also glad to see that it wasn't an obituary. We're losing way too many of these guys lately as it is.
   3. Moeball Posted: March 25, 2013 at 11:23 AM (#4395778)
People talked so much about Kaline bursting on the scene at age 20 that we forget he was already playing regularly at 19. But his age 20 season was trascendent - hitting for average (winning the batting title), hitting for power, driving in runs and playing great defense. At times it seemed like his career was somehow a disappointment in following that age 20 season, mainly due to injuries limiting his traditional counting stats (never reaching 30 HRs in a season, rarely reaching 100 RBIs), but if you look closely his rate stats are terrific, especially in the context of the time he played. He had some really good seasons in the pitching dominated '60s, which if translated back into the hitting-happy '30s would have produced some gaudy numbers. Kaline was a truly well-rounded player who helped his team exceptionally well both offensively and defensively.

If Mike Trout follows a similar career path - he may never have another season quite as eye-popping as his age-20 season - but if he even plays anywhere close to this level for the next 15 seasons or so - we will be lucky fans indeed to have witnessed it.
   4. Morty Causa Posted: March 25, 2013 at 11:41 AM (#4395795)
Yes, that's all true, but most players, even great players, get even better after a great age 20 season. Many back then thought he was going to be Ted Williams--or at least Stan Musial. It didn't happen. He was injury prone, but I don't know why he didn't get better or at least be more consistent over longer periods at that age 20 level.
   5. McCoy Posted: March 25, 2013 at 11:59 AM (#4395808)
Age 20 season:
Rk Player Rbat
1 Mel Ott 61
2 Alex Rodriguez 58
3 Mike Trout 54
4 Ted Williams 54
5 Al Kaline 53
6 Mickey Mantle 42
7 Frank Robinson 39
8 Ty Cobb 39
9 Jason Heyward 32
10 Vada Pinson 30 
   6. McCoy Posted: March 25, 2013 at 12:04 PM (#4395812)
Mel Ott never really got better than his age 20 season. It took quite possibly steroids for ARod to equal and then surpass his age 20 season.

Age 20 was Ted's rookie year. Mickey was coming off a horrible injury in the WS. Age 20 was Frank's rookie year. Ty got better. Heyward hasn't come close to duplicating his age 20 season. Pinson never improved upon his age 20 season.


Out of the list there is about 5 guys who didn't really get better, 3 guys playing in their rookie season, a guy coming off an injury and 1 guy who like Al played several years before his age 20 season and subsequently got better after his age 20 season.
   7. Misirlou has S.C.M.O.D.S Posted: March 25, 2013 at 12:24 PM (#4395833)
Mel Ott never really got better than his age 20 season. It took quite possibly steroids for ARod to equal and then surpass his age 20 season.


Ott may not have gotten any better, but he at least equaled his age 20 season several times. Pinson equaled it once and came close another. Kaline never again came close.
   8. McCoy Posted: March 25, 2013 at 12:33 PM (#4395838)
Ott stayed healthy and played in an era conducive to offense. Pinson never came close to his offensive totals or value of his age 20 season. Kaline was never healthy enough to play enough games in a season to amass the runs to equal his age 20 season.
   9. BDC Posted: March 25, 2013 at 12:35 PM (#4395841)
One dynamic in this discussion is that the players who had the very best age-20 seasons played at a level that very few others have ever reached in any single season, so the room for improvement was narrow to start with.

It's almost more interesting to identify players who became legitimately great, but weren't all that successful as rookies or in their first few seasons, especially at ages well past 20. Mike Schmidt was overmatched at 23. Roberto Clemente had a famously slow start. Barry Bonds hit .248 at age 24, and sure, he had other things going for him, but still: .248 with 19 home runs. Wade Boggs hit .306 at age 22 … in the minor leagues; who would have projected him to hit .361 in the majors at age 25? I sense that all of these guys faced steep learning curves: some may have been top prospects, but early on pro pitching gave them trouble, and they adjusted brilliantly over time.
   10. Walt Davis Posted: March 25, 2013 at 04:00 PM (#4396068)
Not an all-time great but, at 21, Ryan Howard had a 180 ISO in the NY-Penn league. At 22 he had a 180 ISO in A ball. At 24 he had a 280 ISO in the majors.
   11. Misirlou has S.C.M.O.D.S Posted: March 25, 2013 at 04:14 PM (#4396084)
Pinson never came close to his offensive totals or value of his age 20 season.


In post #5 you quoted Rbat, then made your comment in #6. I assumed your comment was WRT the stats you posted in #5. Pinson at age 20 had 30 Rbat. He also had 30 at age 24, and 26 at age 26. As for value, his career best WAR was at age 22.

Ott at age 20 had 61 Rbat. He had between 61 and 63 at ages 23, 27, and 29.

   12. McCoy Posted: March 25, 2013 at 04:19 PM (#4396090)
Pinson at age 20 had 41 runs in total on offense. No other season comes close.

Haven't disputed that Ott reached roughly the same levels as he did as a 20 year old.
   13. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: March 25, 2013 at 05:03 PM (#4396159)
minor item. i thought folks thought pinson was a few years older than he was listed making his aging curve a lot more reasonable
   14. Steve Treder Posted: March 25, 2013 at 05:30 PM (#4396199)
i thought folks thought pinson was a few years older than he was listed making his aging curve a lot more reasonable

That's been suspected for years for obvious reasons, but no research has ever verified it, and it's been researched intensely by the SABR Biography project. At this juncture it seems exceptionally unlikely that Pinson wasn't indeed born on 11 August 1938.

FWIW, Pinson's daughter (presumably legitimately) chimed in during Pinson's Hall of Merit discussion thread, and offered that as far as she and the rest of the family know -- and one would presume that they would know -- her dad was born in 1938.
   15. Steve Treder Posted: March 25, 2013 at 06:36 PM (#4396284)
BTW, Pinson's SABR bio includes this footnote:

Editor's note: 1938 was accepted as Pinson's birth date throughout his baseball career and appears in all the encyclopedias. Several recent publications asserted that he was born two years earlier. California's official record, at http://vitals.rootsweb.com/ca/death/search.cgi, gives his age as 57 at the time of his death in 1995. SABR member Kerry Keene says he spoke with Pinson in 1991, and Pinson gave his birth date as 1938. His tombstone, at www.findagrave.com, also says 1938.
   16. Morty Causa Posted: March 25, 2013 at 06:55 PM (#4396295)
Another one of those bogus short-form Hawaiian birth certificates.
   17. Jay Z Posted: March 25, 2013 at 07:09 PM (#4396302)
As far as hanging around earning a paycheck, I thought I read once that Kaline wasn't much aware of the 400 HR or its significance. But there was complete awareness of 3000 hits, and a concerted effort to reach the goal. That's why Kaline spent all of 1974 as DH, so he could stay healthy enough to play 147 games. Wouldn't have happened had he continued to play in the field.
   18. Tim D Posted: March 25, 2013 at 09:28 PM (#4396394)
I grew up watching Kaline. He was really only injury prone because he was such an all-out defensive player, running into walls and diving for balls. His great 1962 season was cut short by a broken collarbone diving for a ball in Yankee Stadium. He was a line drive hitter, not a home run hitter. Most of his homers were line shots just over the fence in left. A lost art these days is that Kaline put the ball in play. 1000 strikeouts, 3000 hits. 250 more walks than Ks. Note that his 8.0 WAR in his age 20 season was eclipsed with 8.2 in 1961, in 131 games. And he did 7.2 in 1967, when the AL had like three .300 hitters. Kaline was a training film in RF and was still an excellent fielder at the end. He led the Tigers to the division down the stretch in 1972. He DH'd in 1974, as noted above, to stay healthy, not because he couldn't still play the OF. As fine a player as he was, he is, much like Musial, a finer gentleman.
   19. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 25, 2013 at 09:43 PM (#4396408)
A consistently very good to great player with all-around skills, whose only misfortune was that the NL had a guy born in the same year with similar skill sets who was always just a little bit better and who kind of pushed Kaline into the shadow.

You're talking Clemente?

Where are you getting him as better than Kaline? They seem as close to a push as I can imagine.

Constraining Kaline to through age-37 for fairness:

Kaline 10,619 PA, 301/380/488, 137 OPS+, 131 SB, 32 CS, 86.5 WAR, 57.3 WAA
Clemente 10,211 PA, 317/359/475, 130 OPS+, 83 SB, 46 CS, 89.8 WAR, 56.7 WAA
   20. Morty Causa Posted: March 25, 2013 at 10:18 PM (#4396430)
18:

Hear, hear. He is one of my favorites.
   21. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: March 25, 2013 at 11:30 PM (#4396464)
best (or worst) NY Times crossword puzzle clue:

"Basic Tiger ballplayer"

alkaline
   22. Morty Causa Posted: March 25, 2013 at 11:35 PM (#4396468)
Too bad he wasn't a catcher, then he could have been the battery mate.
   23. Howie Menckel Posted: March 25, 2013 at 11:43 PM (#4396472)

and the Tigers could have added pitcher A. Cidic, a native of Croatia

   24. Sunday silence Posted: March 26, 2013 at 01:20 AM (#4396489)
Age 20 was Ted's rookie year. Mickey was coming off a horrible injury in the WS. Age 20 was Frank's rookie year. Ty got better. Heyward hasn't come close to duplicating his age 20 season. Pinson never improved upon his age 20 season. Out of the list there is about 5 guys who didn't really get better, 3 guys playing in their rookie season, a guy coming off an injury and 1 guy who like Al played several years before his age 20 season and subsequently got better after his age 20 season.



Maybe I am stupid for not getting it, and I apologize if I am, but what is the pt. in noting which of these were rookie seasons? I mean, you list which ones got better, and which ones didnt,and then apparently those who are rookies...? What? They dont count? They do get better naturally? They....?

What? What is the pt? WHy are you introducing another parameter, if the issue is which ones got beter and which ones didnt?

Honestly, this is driving me crazy. What is your overall pt. here w/ respect to the question "do excpetional players at 20 get better or not? is the answer: Most guys get better and Kaline is an outlier? or SOme guys get better, Kaline is not unusual. or We dont have enuf data pts because some are rookies????
   25. Sunday silence Posted: March 26, 2013 at 01:28 AM (#4396492)
Where are you getting him as better than Kaline? They seem as close to a push as I can imagine


For one thing, the guy said "a little bit better" and then you act all offended, when I think the conventional wisdome is that CLemente was a little bit better.

You then quote his offensive stats, as if defense has no meaning and offense is everything.

A lot of people consider Clemente a better fielder due to his exceptional arm. He also had very good range, but I did not see enuf of Kaline to know how good his range factor was. I was under the impression that Kalines fielding declined some as he got older but I dont really know.

Clemente struck out more than Kaline and he didnt steal as much but I know he was very alert on the basepaths, he had more triples than Kaline but again Forbes Field was quite a bit larger down the lines. Kaline scored more runs that Roberto which I just learned...

Also one should consider park effects and how this impacted Clemente's raw offensive numbers. Old Forbes Field was oftentimes 363' to LF. I am not sure how much this helps CLemente's case, I guess I will have to look it up.
   26. Rants Mulliniks Posted: March 26, 2013 at 07:59 AM (#4396530)
best (or worst) NY Times crossword puzzle clue:

"Basic Tiger ballplayer"

alkaline


Some even say he had a caustic wit.
   27. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: March 26, 2013 at 09:31 AM (#4396568)
A consistently very good to great player with all-around skills, whose only misfortune was that the NL had a guy born in the same year with similar skill sets who was always just a little bit better and who kind of pushed Kaline into the shadow.

You're talking Clemente?


I was actually referring to Hank Aaron, but I can see where I should have made my point more explicit. I wouldn't have compared Kaline to Clemente as closely as to Aaron, because of Clemente's non-existent power stats for his first 5 years. Sorry I didn't catch up to your reply until now, and apologies to anyone else who also might have thought I was referring to Clemente.
   28. BDC Posted: March 26, 2013 at 09:34 AM (#4396571)
Clemente was certainly more famous than Kaline. My perspective may have been a little skewed because I was a National League fan as a kid, and the leagues were far more separated then in terms of image and publicity depending on what city you lived in or team you followed. But I was from Chicago, not Pittsburgh, and Clemente still had very significant mystique. I remember my dad and other adult fans admiring Al Kaline, speaking of him with great respect; but Clemente was on a different plane for most fans. So it's fair to say that Kaline was overshadowed by a contemporary, though in the way that Mays overshadowed Aaron, let's say: they were all big stars, but some had an extra aura. There we go, mystique and aura.
   29. McCoy Posted: March 26, 2013 at 09:39 AM (#4396578)
Maybe I am stupid for not getting it, and I apologize if I am, but what is the pt. in noting which of these were rookie seasons? I mean, you list which ones got better, and which ones didnt,and then apparently those who are rookies...? What? They dont count? They do get better naturally? They....?

What? What is the pt? WHy are you introducing another parameter, if the issue is which ones got beter and which ones didnt?

Honestly, this is driving me crazy. What is your overall pt. here w/ respect to the question "do excpetional players at 20 get better or not? is the answer: Most guys get better and Kaline is an outlier? or SOme guys get better, Kaline is not unusual. or We dont have enuf data pts because some are rookies????


Context.

   30. Publius Publicola Posted: March 26, 2013 at 09:40 AM (#4396580)
A lot of people consider Clemente a better fielder due to his exceptional arm. He also had very good range, but I did not see enuf of Kaline to know how good his range factor was. I was under the impression that Kalines fielding declined some as he got older but I dont really know.


Everybody's defense declines as they get older.

Kaline also had a great arm, great instincts and excellent range. Clemente might have been the better fielder but not by very much. Clemente's numbers were helped by playing in a large rightfield while Kaline played in a small one.
   31. Moeball Posted: March 26, 2013 at 12:25 PM (#4396797)
My perspective may have been a little skewed because I was a National League fan as a kid, and the leagues were far more separated then in terms of image and publicity depending on what city you lived in or team you followed. But I was from Chicago, not Pittsburgh, and Clemente still had very significant mystique.


It's funny looking back on how I viewed things as a kid all those decades ago. So much was happening in the game that I was totally unaware of. For example, here were my favorite players in the mid to late '60s, the guys I always made sure I had baseball cards for:

C - AL, Bill Freehan, NL, Johnny Bench or Joe Torre before that I guess
1B- AL, Harmon Killebrew, NL, Willie McCovey
2B- AL, Bobby Knoop(hey, my dad was an Angels fan, I had to), NL, Bill Mazeroski
3B- AL, Brooks Robinson, NL, Ron Santo
SS- AL, Jim Fregosi, NL, Maury Wills
LF- AL, Yaz, NL, Billy Williams
CF- AL, Mickey, NL, Willie Mays
RF- AL, Kaline, NL, Aaron or Clemente
P - AL, Jim Kaat, NL, Juan Marichal

This was during the time when the NL was starting to win all the AS games and it wasn't until years later I noticed the pattern developing above - the AL list consists entirely of white guys and all the black and latin stars are in the NL...this was a long term change to the leagues that pretty much dates back to Jackie Robinson's impact on the game. I had no idea how pervasive it was until I looked at that list again.
   32. SandyRiver Posted: March 26, 2013 at 03:10 PM (#4396952)
Kaline also had a great arm, great instincts and excellent range. Clemente might have been the better fielder but not by very much. Clemente's numbers were helped by playing in a large rightfield while Kaline played in a small one.

My memory of Kaline and the times is that he was regarded as an excellent fielder, who often did things so effortlessly that one might not appreciate how great the plays were. I happened to be at YS the day he broke his collarbone, IIRC making a diving catch to end the game, and also remember the articles about having two of the brightest stars out with injuries - it was about the same time that Mantle tore his hamstring trying to beat out a grounder. Being mainly an AL fan, I can't recall any Kaline-vs-Clemente discussions, though every fan I knew held Aaron in higher esteem than either due to his superior hitting.
   33. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 26, 2013 at 03:19 PM (#4396958)

I was actually referring to Hank Aaron, but I can see where I should have made my point more explicit. I wouldn't have compared Kaline to Clemente as closely as to Aaron, because of Clemente's non-existent power stats for his first 5 years. Sorry I didn't catch up to your reply until now, and apologies to anyone else who also might have thought I was referring to Clemente.


Well, then it was a huge understatement. Aaron was way more than "a little better" than Kaline.

Not that WAR is the last word, but 137 to 87 ain't even close. 155 OPS+ vs 134.

For one thing, the guy said "a little bit better" and then you act all offended, when I think the conventional wisdome is that CLemente was a little bit better.

You then quote his offensive stats, as if defense has no meaning and offense is everything.


I wasn't offended, I just questioned the factual basis for what I thought was his claim.

I also cited WAR, which includes defense, and gives Clemente a 10 win advantage.

   34. Publius Publicola Posted: March 26, 2013 at 03:21 PM (#4396960)
10 gold gloves is fairly substantial that the player in question had a historically positive defensive reputation.

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