Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Elegy for a broadcaster.

George Kell passed away recently.

He grew up in a little town in northeastern Arkansas in the '30s, became a heck of a third baseman, and had a Hall of Fame career (largely with the Detroit Tigers, but with a couple of other teams as well). Here's Kell in the middle of his tenure with the Tigers, which lasted from '46 to '53:

Look at that guy. If he isn't a ballplayer, then I don't know what is. Amazing statistic: he hit .343 in 1949 to lead the American League, and struck out thirteen times. All season. He played in 134 games that year, which meant he struck out roughly once every ten games. That absolutely blows my mind.

It was all well and good to have a superb .306 average for your career, start six All-Star games, and play stellar defence at third base (he once got hit by a Joe DiMaggio smash down the line which broke his jaw; he picked up the ball, gunned out Joltin' Joe at first, then passed out on the field). But I will remember him most here:

After he retired as a player, he was the play-by-play voice of the Tigers on television from 1959 through 1996. He's on the right above; the other guy is Al Kaline, another Hall of Famer who played his entire career in Detroit (1954-1974), who did the colour commentary alongside Kell for the last two decades Kell was on TV.

George Kell was the calm, cool, knowledgeable southern-American voice I listened to when my obsession with baseball, and the Tigers, began. It was he who called all those plays in all those games on Saturday afternoons at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. Only later did I start listening to games on the radio, with the incomparable Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey doing the games on WJR; Kell and Kaline were the voices of Tiger baseball, as far as I was concerned, in my formative years.

L-R: Harwell, Kell, Kaline (at Tiger Stadium in 1999 —
all are members of the Baseball Hall of Fame)

It's sad when people you have considered important in your life are no longer around. But their passing is also an opportunity for reflection; you're afforded a good opportunity to look back and remember (hopefully fondly). I know for a fact that George Kell was a huge reason I ever started following the Tigers; his smooth yet clearly enthusiastic game-calls are something all the loud, shouty, showy play-by-play guys could really learn from.

Thanks for everything, George. I couldn't have asked for more.

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