'I'll miss him dearly': Chris Ilitch remembers Al Kaline in letter to Tigers fans

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — Christopher Ilitch was just 3 years old when Al Kaline and the Tigers won the 1968 World Series.

But through his 54 years — and through his Tigers fandom, then ownership — Ilitch became a fan, and later a friend, of legendary No. 6.

Kaline died Monday at the age of 85, after being in poor health in recent months.

Tigers owner Chris Ilitch

This week, Ilitch, now chairman and CEO of the Tigers, penned a letter to Tigers fans about Kaline, who spent 67 years with the Tigers, first as a Hall of Fame player, then broadcaster, and then as a front-office executive.

Here is Ilitch's letter:

Dear Tigers Fans,

I hope this note finds you, your family and loved ones healthy and safe. I wanted to take this time and space to share a few personal thoughts on an icon; a gentleman who made an indelible impact on our community, our team and the game we all love — “Mr. Tiger,” Al Kaline.

We lost a true legend this week.

One of the greatest to ever wear the Olde English ‘D,’ Al was a rare gift to the game of baseball, and to all of us. For 22 years, he graced our fields. He could do it all on the diamond. And did. He had speed, power, and a mythical outfield arm. A perennial All-Star, World Series Champion and Hall of Famer, he was a truly brilliant ballplayer — destined for greatness from day one in the Major Leagues in 1953.

Al was a Tiger through and through — forging a 67-year bond with this organization, the city of Detroit, and our passionate fans the world over. Beloved broadcaster. Trusted team adviser. No. 6 was a champion in every sense of the word.

To know Al was to love him. On the field, he was a once-in-a-generation talent. Off the field, he was a true gentleman. Al had that unique ability to connect with people; to immediately put you at ease. He was affable. He was approachable. And he always made time for fans.

Like the city he was so proud to play for and represent, Al was humble and big-hearted. He rooted for the city with the same fervor that the city rooted for him. How fortunate we were to call him one of our own — a Detroit Tiger.

I’ve been moved by the countless memories and tributes many of you have shared these past few days. It’s brought back countless memories of my own. I’ll miss seeing him at the ballpark. I’ll miss walking the fields with him at Spring Training. And the stories; boy could he tell a story, as only someone who spent 22 years as a big leaguer can. I’d just sit back, smile, and listen — relishing every moment of it.

The meticulous approach he took to his craft. The personal anecdotes spanning decades. The inside story on the historic moments. Classy and congenial, Al just plain made you feel good about things. He was more than just a trusted adviser; he was a friend. And I’ll miss him dearly.

These are difficult days for all of us. But I hope the many memories of this amazing man bring a little joy when we need it most. An uplifting escape. Let’s remember Al’s kindness, his humility, and his love for this community. No doubt, he would want us to continue to stand strong, resilient and #TogetherDetroit.


The Tigers plan to pay tribute to Kaline with a public memorial, once Major League Baseball restarts after the coronavirus shutdown, general manager Al Avila said this week.


Twitter: @tonypaul1984