When I worked at The Jackson Citizen Patriot, I wrote a column called 2 ½ minutes. That’s how long it normally took to read it. The column was a question-and-answer format with a topical sports personality.
Just days before the final game at Tiger Stadium in September of 1999, Al Kaline agreed to be the subject of the column that would run the week of the final game. Really, there was nobody better than No. 6 to signify the closing of Tiger Stadium.
Here is the column, as it was written in 1999:
When the final out has been made at Tiger Stadium on Monday, Al Kaline should have first choice of what he wants to take home. He is the greatest living Tigers player, and he played in more games for the Tigers than any other player.
Ty Cobb may be the greatest Tigers player of all-time, but not many are still around who can remember seeing Cobb play. There will be many in attendance on Monday who witnessed Kaline’s brilliant career.
Question: How long did it take for the aura of Tiger Stadium to wear off when you first made it to the major leagues?
Kaline: First of all, I didn’t know how long I was going to be a part of the Tigers. As the years progressed and I started having good years and knew I was going to be here for a while, I started thinking, ‘Wow, Ty Cobb played in the same outfield I played in. Hank Greenberg hit a home run in the same spot that I did. Babe Ruth played here.’
Question: How much pressure was put on you for becoming the youngest player to win a batting title?
Kaline: The first year after that was a tough thing to live with because there were a lot of expectations and being compared to Cobb and people like that. It was a little bit difficult.
Question: How concerned were you in September of 1968 about your chances of playing in the World Series?
Kaline: I had missed six weeks of the season and (manager) Mayo Smith was in quite a difficult spot because the writers were starting to write, ‘Is Kaline going to play?’ I was getting to the age where maybe I would never get the chance again, and it turned out to be true. I had a conversation with Mayo, and I told him I thought it was only right that he played the guys that got him there. Then he made the comment to me that I should work out at third base and take some ground balls before I got back in the lineup. He was going to play me at third base in the World Series, but then Willie Horton got hurt and missed the last three or four weeks of the season. I went back out to right field, and I really had a great month, and that was when the decision was made to put (Mickey) Stanley at shortstop and keep me in the outfield.
Question: You drove in the winning run in Game 5 of the 1968 World Series. Was that your biggest moment in Tiger Stadium?
Kaline: It’s certainly one of them, although it wasn’t one of the hardest hit balls I ever hit here, but more people saw that than any other hit I had. I would say it was the most important hit I ever had here, getting a chance to get a big hit in the fifth game of the World Series.
Question: How did you feel in 1984 as a TV announcer when the Tigers won the World Series?
Kaline: I loved it. I loved working that season. When they got off to their great start of 35-5, it was a joy to be around those guys. When you win, it really creates a team atmosphere. It’s all for the team, and nobody cares about individuals. When you lose, everybody tends to think about individual things.
Question: If you had your choice of anything to take from Tiger Stadium, what would it be?
Kaline: I’ve been thinking a lot about it, but I haven’t made a decision. I would like to take home plate or my locker, and from what I understand, there are a lot of guys who want home plate, so I’d better get here the night before and dig it out.
Question: What about the No. 6 that is on the third deck that represents your retired uniform number?
Kaline: Oh wow. I hadn’t even thought about that. It’s so big, though, I don’t know where I would put it in my house.”