longer to develop a good scout than a good ballplayer."
The kid at second
base was skinny and not very big but he had the good arm every scout looks for,
and he could run. What he lacked in power, he made up for in poise at the
plate. He stood up cleanly and smoothly and stroked the ball, and he ran the
bases as if he owned them.
veteran scout for the Detroit Tigers, smiled blissfully as he recalled that
first revelatory look. "He was one of the golden boys," he said.
"He was only 15 then, and I had heard about him the spring before, in '49.
I had gone down to Baltimore to sign a boy named Johnson, Charley Johnson.
Charley never made it, but I won't forget him. I was about to leave his house
when he told me about this youngster in the neighborhood I ought to see. Said
his name was Kaline. I didn't do anything about it until the next year, when I
went back to look at Johnson's brother. The moment I saw Kaline, I forgot all
about the brother.
game I spoke to the kid and introduced myself. The poise came through in
conversation too. He was shy, always had been, but there was no doubt about
what he wanted to do. He wanted to play baseball, period. I made a point right
away of meeting his family. His father, Nick, worked in a broom factory, and he
had several baseball-mad uncles who followed him around from game to game. I
got to be friends with all of them."
The memory was worth savoring, and he savored it. "I saw him twice that
year and came back in the spring, when he was a junior at Southern High. He had
begun to put on some weight and was hitting the ball harder and longer. He was
playing in the field then, and his arm was stronger than ever. By the middle of
the season he was already the most touted and scouted boy in Baltimore. He was
playing ball constantly, on the high school team, with the Westport Post No. 33
of the American Legion and in the recreational leagues. Some days he'd play
three games, with the 14-16 age group, the 16-18 and the unlimited. His uncles
would drive him around from game to game, and he'd change uniforms in the car.
I'd be there too, as often as I could, and I felt that every time Al saw me I'd
make him believe in Detroit as much as I believed in him. Pretty soon I started
driving him around from park to park myself. I began to figure what he'd be
worth. The family wasn't too well off and it was obvious they'd want bonus
rules forbid the signing of a boy when he is still in high school, but nothing
prohibits a scout from getting acquainted with a prospect. In the case of a
budding star like Albert Kaline, the acquaintance burgeons quickly into wooing.
By the time he had won the Lou Gehrig Trophy at the annual Hearst All-Star Game
in New York in 1951 and starred at the playoffs of the All-American Amateur
Baseball Association in Johnstown, Pa., Kaline had more suitors than he could
shake a bat at. Nearly all of the major league teams had become very
interested, but the Phillies and Cardinals were especially high on him, and
Katalinas knew what he was up against.
ONE MINUTE PAST
"In June 1953
I told Johnny McHale, our farm director, that I was going to put all my eggs in
one basket and concentrate on Kaline," Katalinas continued. "McHale,
who had already sold Spike Briggs, the president, and Muddy Ruel, our general
manager, gave me the go-ahead. I went on up to Baltimore and holed up in a
hotel in the lower part of town several days in advance of Al's graduation, on
the 17th. I dropped in on Al and his parents a couple of times and then asked
for an appointment at one minute past midnight—the first minute of the morning
of the 18th, when I could legally tender him a contract. 'Ed,' said Nick
Kaline, 'that won't be necessary. Al's got a date with his girl. Around 10 in
the morning will be okay.' I didn't sleep much, and got to the house 10 sharp.
We talked in general first, and then specifically. I mentioned taxes, and
somewhere along the line I dropped the figure of $30,000. I sensed that Al had
about that much in mind. McHale was waiting at the phone in Detroit if I had to
go higher. Al went back into the kitchen where his mother was cooking lunch,
and I waited with my fingers crossed. When he reappeared, he was smiling that
nice kid's smile of his. 'Okay, Ed,' he said, 'we'll accept your offer.'
insisted on staying in Baltimore two more days to fulfill an amateur playing
date he had promised to keep. The phone at his home rang steadily all that
weekend with other offers. Katalinas went happily home to Shenandoah, Pa. and
returned to Baltimore on Monday to deliver Al personally to the Tigers in
Philadelphia. It had been an expensive few days for Detroit. They had also
signed Bob Miller, a big southpaw pitcher, for $55,000.
corresponds regularly with Kaline's parents and uncles. "I liked him
because he was so sincere," Kaline says. "He was never a pest even
though he was around so much. I knew he was telling the truth about the Tigers
needing outfielders too, and I figured I'd be playing regular a lot sooner in
Detroit than anywhere else."