George Kell – RIP

The Core Belief

There are only 10 third baseman in the Baseball Hall of Fame and today, one of there are only four left among the living as George Kell has died at age 86. 

Kell wasn’t a household name even when he was playing, splitting his time between five teams with his time as a Detroit Tiger being his longest tenure at any stop.  However, his resume is nonetheless impressive: a lifetime .306 hitter, George Kell also was a 10 time All-Star as well as beating out Ted Williams for the 1949 AL Batting Title by .0002 points (.3429 to .3427), among other feats.  Kell’s fans included fellow Hall of Famers Al Kaline, Brooks Robinson (who he mentored is his last two seasons with Baltimore Orioles) and Ernie Harwell.  After baseball, he became an announcer for the Detroit Tigers in 1959 – a position he kept both on radio and television until his retirement in 1996.

To be clear, I never saw the man play the game.  His inclusion in Cooperstown warrants my clear appreciation as I was invited to try out for a New York Mets farm team as a third baseman and didn’t make the cut.  I just couldn’t hit the curveball.  George Kell, however, could both field and hit, or at least that’s what my grandfather and mother told me.  No, my memories of Kell are as an announcer on Detroit’s NBC affiliate WDIV, which was Channel 4 on the local dial.  Unlike the New York announcers like John Kay, Kell and his partner Al Kaline were no homers. They criticized the Tigers for lousy play, ownership or managerial decisions and just plain bad organizational moves when required.

My main memory of the man revolves around his pronunciation of Kansas City Royals centerfielder Willie Wilson’s name.  In Kell’s whistle prone Arkansas accent, it became “Whillie Whilson.”  When the Royals were in Detroit, Wilson was always an on air interview, delighting in Kell’s accent as well as his intelligent baseball questions.

George Kell passed away this morning in his hometown of Swifton, Arkansas at the age of 86.  His major loves were Swifton, his family and the Detroit Tigers.

Quick note to the great magnet: pick on another town for a bit.  Detroit needs a break.  Between the death of Kell, Bill Davidson (owner of the Pistons and noted philanthropist who died last week) and the impending disillusion of the Big Three, I wonder just how much more my hometown can take.



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