Al Kaline played his entire 22-year Hall of Fame career in Detroit, spent nearly three decades as a Tigers broadcaster and came to define one of baseball’s oldest franchises.
Kaline, who died Monday at 85, was appropriately known in Detroit as “Mr. Tiger." But had the Phillies gotten their way in 1966, Mr. Tiger would have become Mr. Phillie.
The Phillies won 87 games in 1966 and knew they would need upgrades if they were to finally win the pennant that had slipped away in 1964. So they went to the Winter Meetings in November of 1966 with a wish list. And at the top was Kaline, by then a 12-time All-Star right fielder, nine-time Gold Glove winner, and one of baseball’s biggest stars.
More than 50 years have passed, but the Winter Meetings in 1966 still look familiar. The rumors spread through the hotel lobby and trades were hammered out at the bar. Instead of gathering in Las Vegas or San Diego, baseball’s brass split the week in 1966 between Columbus, Ohio, and Pittsburgh. A United Press International article described the Winter Meetings that November as “a fancy name for baseball’s annual banter, barter, and blow hard session.” Not much has changed.
And Kaline was the subject of the most banter was after newly hired Tigers manager Mayo Smith said the team did not have any “untouchable players." Every team at the meetings seemed to make a play for Kaline.
He was turning 32 that December and the Tigers had outfielders waiting in the minor leagues. There were so many trade rumors at the meetings that Kaline told the Detroit Free Press that he called the team’s general manager and asked, “What in the devil is going on?" The Dodgers offered shortstop Maury Wills, but the Tigers balked. Perhaps the Phillies could strike a deal.
“Phillies might get Kaline from Tigers for Rojas, Culp,” read the headline stripped across the top of The Inquirer’s sports page on Nov. 28, 1966. The Phillies planned to play Kaline in center field, as Johnny Callison was their right fielder.
“It’s only in the talking stage,” The Inquirer’s Allen Lewis wrote. “But there’s a possibility that Al Kaline may be patrolling center field in Connie Mack Stadium in a Phillies uniform next season.”
The Tigers needed a second baseman, so the Phillies were willing to offer Cookie Rojas or Tony Taylor along with right-hander Ray Culp. But the Tigers declined that deal early in the week. The meetings moved to Pittsburgh and Phillies manager Gene Mauch met with Smith, who had managed the Phils from 1955-58.
A new offer was drawn up to include Rojas, Culp, and center fielder Don Lock, whom the Phillies had just acquired from Washington.
“The Tigers talked it over,” Lewis wrote. “And decided against it.”
The Inquirer’s headline -- following the one that was so hopeful just five days earlier -- read: “Kaline, reliever elusive for Phillies.” The Phillies left Pittsburgh dejected. General manager John Quinn returned home and Mauch spent 10 days in Puerto Rico after what Lewis described as a “rather disappointing stay at the winter baseball meetings.”
The Phillies came close that week to landing a Hall of Famer. Instead, Kaline stayed with the Tigers. He signed his contract that December for the 1967 season and played eight more seasons in the Motor City, including the World Series championship season in 1968. He made three more All-Star teams and won another Gold Glove. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1980.
The Tigers said Kaline was “one of the greatest ever to wear the Olde English ‘D.’" But if they had taken the Phillies’ trade bait at those winter meetings, Kaline would also have worn a “P.”