Recalling Al Kaline: Baseball great from Westport - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Recalling Al Kaline: Baseball great from Westport

Al Kaline is in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. He played 22 years, (1953-1974), mostly in the outfield, for the Detroit Tigers of the American League. He set all kinds of records, including hitting 399 career home runs.

Born in 1934, in Westport, a working class South Baltimore neighborhood, his family had to struggle to make it in the world. Kaline’s mom scrubbed floors and his dad worked in a broom factory. Although other children in the family went to work at an early age, Kaline’s parents chose to allow Al to focus on his baseball aspirations. Bless them for that move.
When you’re driving south on Russell Street before you get to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway (BWP), you pass the two stadiums: one for the Orioles and another for the Ravens, both on your left side. The last neighborhood you see before you leave Baltimore City and hit the BWP is Kaline’s Westport.
Some of Kaline’s cousins labored at the now-defunct Carr-Lowery Glass company, then the largest employer in Westport. A few had participated in semi-pro baseball, others were known around town as pretty good athletes and softball players.
Carr-Lowery was located on the middle branch of the Patapsco River, not too far from where the new “Horseshoe Casino” is currently under construction and where big plans for waterfront development are still, despite some setbacks, in the works.
Latrobe Park in Locust Point

Latrobe Park in Locust Point

If you take a spin over the Hanover Street Bridge heading towards Cherry Hill and look hard to the right, you can see where the Carr-Lowery plant was once situated. It closed its doors for good in 2003. It was yet, in a broad sense, another victim of the deliberate de-industrialization of our once, great country. That’s a subject, I will leave for another commentary.

Al Kaline as a rookie.

Al Kaline as a rookie.

The first time I saw Kaline, he wasn’t playing baseball! He was playing basketball! It was a sandlot game and it was held at Southern High School. Then, it was located at Warren Avenue and Williams Street in South Baltimore, just opposite fabled Federal Hill Park. Southern High is also where Kaline attended school from 1949 to 1953 and where he first came to the attention of the major league baseball scouts. He didn’t go to college.

At the basketball game, I notice this player speeding down the court in front of me, about 6 ft. 1 in. tall, slender, stopping on a dime and getting off a near-perfect jump shot to score. He was pure poetry in action. You couldn’t help but pay attention to him. I asked my buddy from Locust Point who was sitting next to me: “Who is ‘that’ guy?” He answered: “That’s Al Kaline!,” as if there was much more to the story. And, indeed, there was.
From his baseball playing at Southern H.S. and in the sandlot leagues around town, Kaline was creating a lot of buzz. Was he for real? Would he get signed by a major league club? This was before there was a major league Baltimore Orioles team.
The scene shifts to Latrobe Park’s baseball field, off Fort Avenue in South Baltimore and just west of historic Fort McHenry. It’s the early ‘50s. Kaline is playing for United Iron and Metal, a sandlot baseball team – one of the best in Bmore at that time. The competition is the highly-regarded Amusement Machine Operators (AMO), a Locust Point-based team coached by George Klemmick.
Al Kaline in 1957.

Al Kaline in 1957.

Al Kaline in 2008. (Wikipedia Commons)

Al Kaline in 2008. (Wikipedia Commons)

Klemmick, now deceased, was a neighbor of mine and a Detective Lt. on the Baltimore City Police Department and one of my fave people. I was the bat boy for the AMO team.

The field faced south where it was bordered by the railroad tracks of the B&O Railroad. On the east was a row of trees and a grassy field that stood outside the parameters of the playing area.
The first time up to the plate, Kaline went down hard swinging and missing on three straight pitches! Hey, maybe he wasn’t that good after all, I thought to myself. The next time up, however, he changed my mind quickly. Kaline whacked a home run to right field that landed on the far reaches of the railroad tracks. Wow! It took my breath away. He wasn’t done yet.
Kaline, a right-handed hitter, slugged home runs to the deepest parts of center and left field on his final two times up at the plate. His team won easily. Bottom line: Al Kaline was the real thing, no ifs, ands or buts.
In 1953, Kaline, then 18-years old, got a $35,000 bonus (over $300,000 in today’s dollars) and signed with the Detroit Tigers. The rest as they say is history. In 1980, Kaline, one of Westport’s greatest sons, was elected into Baseball’s Hall of Fame. The last Baltimorean to be so honored before Kaline was “the Bambino” – George Herman “Babe” Ruth in 1939.
As for those three home runs balls, Kaline hit at Latrobe Park that memorable day, I think they’re still looking for them!
Editor’s Note: Bill Hughes is a native of Baltimore. He’s an attorney, author, professional actor and hobbyist photographer. In his salad days, he worked on the docks as a longshoreman and played on three championship soccer teams.


About the author

Bill Hughes

Bill Hughes is a native of Baltimore. He’s an attorney, author, professional actor and hobbyist photographer. His latest book is “Baltimore Iconoclast” and it can be found at: http://bookstore.iuniverse.com/Products/SKU-000076922/Baltimore-Iconoclast.aspx. Contact the author.
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