Hall of Famer Al Kaline dies at 85

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The Detroit Free Press reports that Hall of Famer Al Kaline — one of the greatest and most beloved players of his era, and a Detroit Tiger legend — has died at the age of 85. A family friend tells the Free Press that Kaline recently suffered a stroke, but no official cause of death has been reported.

Kaline was signed by the Tigers when he was 18 years-old. A bonus baby, he never played a day in the minor leagues, making his debut for Detroit on June 25, 1953. He’d scuffle that year and the next but he’d break out big in 1955, winning the AL batting title at age 20. That year he put up a line of .340/.421/.546 while hitting 27 homers and 102 RBI.

From that year on Kaline was a superstar and has never ceased to be mentioned among baseball’s greatest.

While 1955 may have been an early peak for Kaline, his reputation did not rest on that magical year alone. From 1956 through 1967, Kaline was one of the most solid and consistent players in all of baseball. His batting line over those 12 seasons was .304/.381/.506. He averaged 23 home runs and 87 RBI a season over that time, was an All-Star every season and collected ten gold gloves, One as a center fielder, the rest coming in his usual right field. He would miss some significant playing time due to injuries in 1962, 1964, 1965 and 1967– 1962 thanks to a broken collarbone, ’64 and ’65 due to complications from a childhood foot ailment and 1967 due to a broken hand — but when he played he was among the most reliable and productive players in all of baseball.

One thing that eluded Kaline in his prime, however, was team success. In the first 15 years of Kaline’s career, the Tigers finished in sixth place twice, in fifth place five times, in fourth place five times, once in third and twice in second. That would all change in 1968. A year which Kaline, ironically enough, played the smallest role in a Tigers’ season to that point in his career due to a broken arm suffered in late May. But though his regular season was cut short and Kaline’s usual place in right field was being ably filled by Jim Northrup, Tigers manager Mayo Smith wisely installed Kaline back in his usual right field for the World Series, moved Northrup to center and moved center fielder Mickey Stanley to shortstop. Kaline responded by hitting .379/.400/.655 in the Fall Classic, helping the Tigers win the World Series in seven games.

From 1969 through the end of his career Kaline continued to be productive — he hit .277/.362/.433 — but time remains undefeated and Kaline’s best days were in the past. The Tigers would make one more playoff appearance with Kaline — in 1972 — but they’d lose to the eventual World Champion Oakland Athletics. Kaline’s final year was 1974, which he spent as a DH. He collected his 3,000th hit in his eight-to-last game as a big leaguer. Kaline was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1980, his first year of eligibility.

After his playing career Kaline spent several years as the color commentator for Tigers games on WDIV-TV in Detroit and then took a job, which he held until his death, as a special advisor to the Tigers front office. He was more than a mere ambassador in that role. I had the privilege of interviewing him in 2015 and he was more than conversant about the finest details of the team, its roster, its clubhouse dynamic and where the club was competitively speaking. As I was in the Tigers clubhouse that day, I saw him speaking with Miguel Cabrera about hitting. One Hall of Famer advising a future Hall of Famer about how to break out of a minor slump in which the latter found himself.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Tiger.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.