Detroit — Tigers general manager Al Avila nailed it. He perfectly nut-shelled what Al Kaline’s diverse role in the organization was these last two decades.
“He was like the father or the grandfather of the organization,” Avila said Wednesday in a teleconference. “You know when your daughter brings somebody home, it’s the father or grandfather who kind of gives him the up and down.
“Al was that guy. When you brought a new player or new person into the organization, he was the guy you met and if he put his arm around you then you were home and welcomed into the family.”
Kaline, who died Monday at the age of 85, spent 67 years in the Tigers’ organization — from a 22-year Hall of Fame playing career, to broadcaster to special assistant to two general managers, Dave Dombrowski and Avila.
“He was involved in scouting — amateur and pro,” Avila said. “He was involved in player development, the draft. He was in every meeting. Every player or person that ever came to work here at some point, Al Kaline was the guy who gave you the OK and made you feel at home.
“That’s who he was for us.”
Avila did his best to clear up a couple of issues regarding Kaline’s death. He said that while the exact cause of death hasn’t been made public, it wasn’t related to the coronavirus.
“I talked at length with Louise (Kaline’s wife),” Avila said. “It was nothing other than health issues that an 85-year-old person over time has. If you’ve seen Al over the last couple of years, you could tell his health was deteriorating.”
Avila also said nobody in the organization, player or otherwise, has tested positive for the virus. He said Dr. Michael Workings and the club’s medical and training staffs are monitoring with email questionnaires the health of every employee.
Kaline cut his spring training stays short the last two years. The last time Avila saw him was in Lakeland last month. Kaline said he wasn’t feeling well and he was going home to get checked out.
“You’d see Al at the stadium or at spring training every year and you thought he’d never get old,” Avila said. “It happens pretty fast.”
Avila also said the club is working on plans for a public memorial for Kaline, though obviously with the state and country in lockdown because of the pandemic, there is no timetable.
“We have a team of people working on that,” he said. “He will be honored the way he should be, the way a man of his stature in the game and in this city should be.”
The family, Avila said, is also planning a private ceremony.
“I’ve been reading everything people have been saying about Al, about his humility — and it’s true,” Avila said. “Al Kaline was very humble and really shy, to the point where if you talked highly of him as a player or as an individual, he would shy away and become almost apologetic.
“He didn’t want to be the guy in the limelight. He was more like an everyday guy. He knew who he was, but that didn’t make any difference to him. It was more about showing good character, being a good person and being there for his friends. That’s what was important for Al.”
For the first time in nearly 19 years, Avila will no longer have Kaline’s counsel and friendship. He, like the rest of us — fan, friend and family member alike — is still trying to wrap his mind around that.
“It’s like this in baseball,” Avila said. “You spend so much time with one person over the years, you spend more time with that person than you do with your own family for a huge chunk of the year. So when his son Michael called me on Monday and told me Al had passed — that kind of news is never easy to take.”