The story of Al Kaline’s American League batting championship in 1955 at age 18

After his first 532 at-bats in the major leagues, 20-year-old Al Kaline had a career .274 batting average with five home runs and 45 RBIs.

Those are pre-1955 numbers. That season changed everything for Kaline, and he wasted no time doing it. He had two hits in each of his first five games leading up to an April 17 game against the Kansas City Athletics at Briggs Stadium in Detroit. It would be Kaline’s first big moment in the major leagues/

Still only 20, Kaline hit third and played right field for the Tigers against Athletics second-year right-hander Johnny Gray. It was scoreless going into the bottom of the third, but Kaline, who had walked in the first inning, ended that with a two-out, two run home run off a curveball, giving him a six-game hitting streak. The Tigers battered Gary in the fourth, driving him from the mound with Charlie Bishop taking over. Kaline capped a four-run inning with a run-scoring single, and that gave him six consecutive multi-hit games.

Kaline was far from through for the day.

The next time Kaline came to the plate, it was the bottom of the sixth inning, and Bob Spicer was on the mound for Kansas City. Kaline led off by blasting a fast ball over the wall in left-center field for his second home run of the game. The Tigers batted around to bring Kaline to the plate again with a runner on third and one out and Detroit leading 14-0. Now facing Bob Trice, Kaline smacked a slider into the lower left field stands for a two-run homer to score Harvey Kuenn, giving him three home runs in the game and two in the same inning. And he hit them off three different pitches from three different pitchers.

With a chance at four home runs in one game, Kaline came to the plate in the bottom of the eighth, but Trice retired him on an infield popup, leaving Kaline’s line at 4-for-5 with three home runs, six RBIs and three runs scored.

The last American League player to hit two home runs in the same inning was New York Yankees great center fielder Joe DiMaggio on June 2, 1936, and Kaline was the first to do it for the Tigers. The three-homer game was the first by a Detroit player since Pat Mullin in 1949.

It not only was a springboard to a batting title, it was a springboard to a Hall-of-Fame career.

The headline on Page 1 of the Detroit Free Press read, “Shy Guy With Big Bat.” Free Press sportswriter Hal Middlesworth, who would later become public relations director for the Tigers, wrote, “No one could have picked Kaline as the newest addition to baseball’s honor roll of slugging.”

Kaline didn’t try to explain it.

“My stance and swing are the same,” he said in the Free Press, “and I’m using the same bat.”

One difference was a weight gain. When the 1954 season ended, Kaline weighed 155 pounds, and he was at 175 for the start of the 1955 season.

While Kaline could not continue his six-game streak of multi-hit games to open the season, he continued to hit consistently through the first month of the season. He stretched his season-opening hitting streak to 14 games and was batting .453 with an OPS of 1.373 at that point. He quickly added an 11-game hitting streak before going 0-for-4 on May 13. Then, he hit in another six in a row to make it 25 out of 26 and 31 out of 33 to start the season.

As if that wasn’t good enough, Kaline then embarked on his longest hitting streak of the season. He had a 15-game hitting streak from May 24 through June 7. He was 25-for-59 for a .424 average with three doubles, one triple, two home runs and 10 RBIs. His batting average was .378.

Kaline really was not threatened much as the season progressed, and Vic Power finished second to Kaline at .319 and George Kell, the former Tigers player who later would team up with Kaline on the television broadcasts, was third at .312.

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