Detroit Tigers finally able to honor Al Kaline at Comerica Park, providing family ‘closure’

Detroit Free Press

It was elegant and classy.

Just like Al Kaline.

On the one-year anniversary of Kaline’s death, the Detroit Tigers honored one of the greatest athletes in Detroit history with a simple, touching ceremony on Tuesday afternoon at Comerica Park.

“After such a tough year, it really does bring more of a sense of closure,” Michael Kaline, Al’s son, said.

When Kaline died at his home in Bloomfield Hills on April 6, 2020, at the age of 85, baseball was in a pause because of COVID-19.

The pandemic prevented a public memorial service, which made Kaline’s passing feel like an empty goodbye.

When the Tigers resumed action, they held a ceremony at Comerica Park. A Kaline flag was raised and flew over the stadium for the rest of the season. But that ceremony also felt incomplete because no fans were allowed to attend.

So this ceremony on Tuesday was needed, not only for the family but the fans.

MORE FROM SEIDEL: Tigers honor Al Kaline in a simple, beautiful, classy way in Lakeland

“You know, they put the flag up and they wore the patch but there was still an empty space,” Michael Kaline said. “Coming here makes me feel closer to him. Even if I’m not standing by the statue, just walking in the ballpark, I feel like I’m with my dad.”

Both the Tigers and Minnesota Twins stood in front of their dugouts during the ceremony. Michael Kaline and Tigers general manager Al Avila put a wreath at the base of the Kaline statue beyond the center field fence, as Jim Price and Willie Horton, Kaline’s former teammates, stood to the side.

“Obviously, in this town, he’s meant so much to so many people,” Michael Kaline said. “I’m representing a man who is not only a hero, but who is a husband, who’s a father, who’s a grandfather, and great grandfather. And most importantly, I’m representing my mom out here. Behind every great man, there’s a great woman. And you know, my mom, is that glue, of our family.”

Up in the owner’s box, Tigers owner Christopher Ilitch, his wife Kelle, and his mother, Marian, presented Louise Kaline, Al’s wife, with the flag that flew over Comerica Park last season.

“This means everything to my mom,” Michael Kaline said. “This is my mom’s life. She and my dad were everything together.”

MORE FROM SEIDEL: Why Al Kaline’s death stings more than other legends we’ve lost

Kaline was elegant but humble, a man who raised his family in the Motor City.

“He didn’t like a lot of fanfare,” Michael Kaline said. “And our family has always lived in the community just like everyone else. And we love coming down to the ballpark, and we love the Tigers, just like everyone else does. And obviously, to have a father who has such a great meaning. You know, it’s just very special.”

If there is some solace in Kaline’s passing, it was the fact that he held his health for so long.

“One of the things that was the most difficult part was, you know, Dad was always such a pillar of, of health,” Michael Kaline said. “Even into his 70s, he’d be down at spring training in his uniform, and everyone would comment about the fact that it looks like he could still go out there and play nine innings.

But the last several months, his health had declined, and his physicality had declined. So really, I think in the best of everyone, especially the best for Al Kaline, the hero, it was a fitting end for him.”

MORE FROM SEIDEL: Al Kaline was truly ‘Mr. Tiger’: A man of humility, humor and elegance

During the ceremony, a video honored nine baseball legends who have died in the last year, including Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Whitey Ford, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro, Tommy Lasorda and Don Sutton.

It’s almost as if God wanted to bring together a team of legends.

And Mr. Tiger fits perfectly into that group.

“The thing that made him great wasn’t just the way he played,” actor Jeff Daniels said in a video tribute. “He was great after he was done playing. He had a class to him, he had humility, he had respect for the game. He knew that he was a great player in his time. But he knew that they were great players before him and there would be great players after him. He knew that the game of baseball was bigger than him. He was respected. He represented the best in the game. he was a good man and a good ballplayer.”

After the Tigers pulled out a 4-3 win over the Twins in the 10th inning, Tigers manager AJ Hinch was asked about Kaline.

“He was everything perfect about our organization,” Hinch said.

Indeed.

And finally, on a warm sunny day — on a day when the Tigers had an emotional win — the Motor City got a chance to say goodbye.

The right way, in every way.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel/.

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