Of Kaline, baseball cards and missing mojo

He graced right field like Fred Astaire

Oct. 28, 2012, pre-game:
Tonight, for Game Four, I am holding the Kaline Ball.
Saturday night I held the Ernie Harwell/Alan Trammell ball for Game Three. Didn’t work. Despite keeping it right in front of me the whole way, and with a roomfull of friends all decked out in Tiger regalia, my team went down 2-0 to the suddenly stupendous San Francisco Giants. Just as suddenly, the World Series shrank down to one game, a loss in which would relegate this one to Tigers infamy.
A sweep? Inconceivable! Not my Tigers. Clearly, stronger stuff is needed to bring the mojo back to Detroit and the hits back to Tiger bats.
It’s time for the Kaline Ball.
The Hall of Famer signed the ball in a reunion day for the 1968 World Champion Tigers that was held some years back at Tiger Stadium. My Dad and I lined up for the autographs of Al and other Tigers from that team, including John Hiller, Jon Warden and Daryl Patterson.
When I told Patterson his team had created great memories for me that summer, he cracked, “You probably remember more of it than I do.” The ’68 Tigers were well-known for partying.
Patterson’s signature shares the slightly scruffed Little League ball with several other scrawly autographs. But Al Kaline’s name clearly owns the ball, elegantly occupying its own space between the seams, just as he occupied right field like no other player of his time, fielding flies and firing bullets with the grace of Fred Astaire.
The ’68 Tigers were my team, the guys I’d grown up with, scored games for, imagined myself as in backyard games of whiffle ball. I collected their cards for 5 cents a pack. Willie Horton, Norm Cash, Mickey Stanley, Mickey Lolich, Denny McLain: I can still recite their season stats with greater accuracy than I can recall what I ate yesterday.
Those Tigers occupy the same place in my heart as the Tigers of 1935 did for my Dad. The players of that incredible team loom in my mind like legendary ghosts: Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg, Mickey Cochrane, Schoolboy Rowe, Tommy Bridges. Dad saw them win Detroit’s first World Series, and talked of them often as we watched the ’68 team beat the Cardinals.
Here we are 77 years later, in a world unimaginable to a 14-year-old boy winging the Detroit Free Press onto porches from his bike. I don’t really understand the changes any better than Dad did. But I am grateful that the old English D on the Tiger uniforms remains, occupying its own space on the pristine white jersey.
Do I believe holding the Kaline Ball will make a difference tonight? It’s not a question of belief. It’s just what baseball fans do. When Armando Galarraga was on his way to his shoulda-been perfect game in June 2010, I did not move from my position in the recliner for the final two innings. Didn’t even take my chin off my hand. How could I take the chance?
So here we go: the National Anthem is being sung with soulful wails. The players hold their hats over their hearts. The game is about to begin, in ridiculously cold weather in Comerica Park.
No team has ever come back to win a World Series from a 3-0 deficit. But certainly no World Series game has ever been watched by this fan holding a ball signed by Al Kaline.
Anything can happen. It’s baseball, after all.
Postscript, Monday, Oct. 29 (the bleak morning after): Kaline Ball not enough. But I held it anyway, finding comfort in its perfect, familiar solidity. It felt like history, a great game, memories of my Dad. That was enough, until next year.

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4 Responses to Of Kaline, baseball cards and missing mojo

  1. Ken Hershenson says:

    Thanks for that delightful story, Charley!

    I wore my pristine white jersey with the olde English D and my matching hat turned inside out. Made no difference. I remember sitting in my math class in 1968, with my good friend Russ sitting behind me, chiding me because his Cardinals were up 3 games to 1. He asked me, no…taunted me…to go double or nothing on our $5 bet in which I picked the Tigers. I knew in my “head” that it was a stupid thing to do but in a moment of defiance I said “Sure!”…because I also knew in my “heart” that they could do it. They did then, but I guess karma reared its ugly head in regards to this most recent comeback possibility. Perhaps what was needed was not a Kaline ball, but rather, a Kaline bat in the lineup!

    Yes next year! Victor Martinez will be back. DD will bring in new bats and relief pitching. Can’t wait!!! I picked a great year to return home!!!

    • soulmailing says:

      Way to stand your ground, young Kenny! That comeback from 3-1 is one of the most under-written tales of Series lore. Esp. after Gibson fanned 17 they looked down for the count, but thanks to Lolich, Kaline, Northrup and Willie Horton’s throw to the plate they got back up and knocked ’em out. We were lucky to have been there!

  2. Sister Sue Tracy OP says:

    And while you were holding the ball, Charley, yours truly was wearing the Detroit Tiger logo pierced earrings I once purchased down at Lakeland after driving down Kaline Drive and parking the car. I do so for every Tiger playoff game. Sure hope I can wear them again next year to and through a different outcome. Life life life… one breath, blink, swallow and heart beat at a time. I’m a Motown gal wherever I am and grateful to be one… Sue Tracy alias Sister Sue

    • soulmailing says:

      Man, I knew you were a Tigers gal Sue, but the Tiger-logo earrings put you at a whole nother level, as we Midwesterners like to say. I am duly impressed! And glad to see you have been to the land of dreams and visions. I’m talking about Lakeland, not Lourdes. Well done Sister Sue!

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