Al Kaline, a Hall of Famer who played all 22 years of his career in Detroit, earning the nickname "Mr. Tiger," died Monday, a team official confirmed to ESPN. Kaline was 85.
Kaline, an All-Star in 15 seasons and a 10-time Gold Glove winner in right field, retired shortly after recording his 3,000th hit in 1974 and joined the Tigers' broadcasting team. He continued to work for the Tigers after his retirement from the booth in 2002.
He became the first Tiger to have his number retired, with the "No. 6" by which he was known in the clubhouse going up on the walls in 1980. He was also elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame that year, his first on the ballot.
"Baseball lost a titan today," Tigers chairman and CEO Christopher Ilitch said in a statement. "Anyone who knew Al Kaline would describe his gentle soul and passion for baseball as an unbelievably powerful combination, making him one of the most respected players in Major League Baseball history."
The cause of death was not immediately known, but the Detroit News reported that Kaline had recently suffered a stroke.
Born and raised in Baltimore, Kaline joined the Tigers right out of high school, making his major league debut in 1953. By 1955, he had become the youngest player ever to win the American League batting title and finished second to Yogi Berra in voting for the AL MVP.
Like many players of his era, Kaline worked in the offseason after getting into the majors. He was a salesman in a Baltimore sporting goods store -- even after he won the batting title in 1955.
"I was a terrible salesman," Kaline said. "Most of the time, I was down in the basement practicing my swing."
Justin Verlander, who won the American League Cy Young Award with the Tigers in 2011, lauded Kaline on social media Monday, saying "I hope you knew how much I enjoyed our conversations about baseball," in a post on Twitter.
Such a kind and generous man who meant so much to so many. I hope you knew how much I enjoyed our conversations about baseball, life, or just giving each other a hard time. I am honored to have been able to call you my friend for all these years. R.I.P. Mr Tiger, Al Kaline.— Justin Verlander (@JustinVerlander) April 6, 2020
Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro concurred. "This one hits hard," he told ESPN. "Al, Harmon Killebrew, Brooks Robinson, Robin Yount, I loved seeing them in Cooperstown because they were old-school, just real gentlemen."
Kaline made his lone appearance in a World Series in 1968, on the Tigers team led by pitchers Denny McLain and Mickey Lolich. Kaline had been sidelined for part of the season with a broken arm, and when he returned he was used mostly as a pinch hitter or first baseman because the outfield trio of Willie Horton, Mickey Stanley and Jim Northrup was playing well.
When the Tigers clinched the pennant, Kaline went to manager Mayo Smith and told him that he didn't deserve to start in the World Series. Smith ignored him and played Kaline, who batted .379, hit two home runs and drove in eight as the Tigers beat the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games.
"The impact of his life is wide-reaching," Ilitch wrote, "and he will be greatly missed by millions in Detroit, the state of Michigan and across the baseball community."
Major League Baseball presented Kaline in 1973 with the Roberto Clemente Award honoring the player who best exemplifies sportsmanship, community involvement and contribution to his team.
Hall of Famers Alan Trammell and Jack Morris, teammates on Detroit's 1984 championship team, praised Kaline's influence.
"Today we lost one of our treasures. Al Kaline was an icon, not only to the Tigers organization, but to all of baseball. Mr. Tiger was not just a great player, but was also a classy person who I held in high esteem," Trammell said in a statement released by the Hall.
Said Morris: "If you were a Tiger, you followed his lead. Whether he was a player or broadcaster, he was around the field, around the clubhouse, and available to have a conversation if you needed some advice. That's what the Tigers players cherished."
The Tigers' spring training complex in Lakeland, Florida, is on Al Kaline Drive.
Kaline finished his career with 3,007 hits, 399 home runs and a .297 career batting average.
On his 80th birthday, he said: "To this day, I can't believe the life I've had. I wanted to be a baseball player -- and do the one thing I was good at.
"Even now, I love it so much."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.