Year Inducted: 1983 (Veterans Committee)
The story of George Kell is not a sad one, in fact it is one of great joy. It isn’t one of a great career being derailed due to unfortunate injuries, nor is it cut short due to severe alcoholism, nor is it one cut short due to a tragic disease. Kell’s story is one of a good man and father making it big and becoming an iconic person in the game of baseball.
However, just because he was iconic person doesn’t mean he was a great player. He wasn’t a poor player by any means, in fact he was a good player. In his 15 year career, he slashed .306/.367/.414 for a wRC+ of 111, so he was a good hitter. While he didn’t hit for a lot of power (only 78 home runs), he did crank out 385 doubles along with 50 triples as part of his 2054 career hits. He was worth 20 fielding runs in his career so he was a good fielder. He was renowned for turning the double play, being part of 306 in his career (2nd all-time at his retirement) and only committed 166 errors in his career.
Kell was obviously one of the top third baseman of his time, and was a solid all-around player. The problem is that he didn’t do any one aspect of the game in a great way. He didn’t rack up a lot of hits (2000 isn’t bad, but there are many players with much more), didn’t hit for a lot of power (only 513 extra base hits), wasn’t a great fielder (solid, fielded what was hit to him, but not a lot of range), and wasn’t a great base runner (only 51 steals in his career). The unfortunate thing is that Kell was very quickly surpassed as a third baseman. Eddie Mathews played at the same time and changed third base to a power position. Kell retired as a member of the Baltimore Orioles in 1957, and handed the reigns over to another player from Arkansas who would rewrite what it meant to be a defensive third baseman. As a player, there is a lot to like, but nothing great that was worthy of induction.
However, Kell is another baseball lifer, much like Frank Chance and Ray Schalk. While those two were about their managing and coaching careers, respectably, Kell is about broadcasting. In his final year while with the Orioles, Kell was twice sidelined for being hit by a pitch, missing 10 days each time. During one of his recovery stints, he went to the broadcasting booth and talked with Ernie Harwell, who would also go on to also be a legendary broadcaster for the Tigers. This started Kell down the path to being the Tigers’ play-by-play announcer on TV for almost 40 years, where his laid back country demeanor endeared himself to Tigers fans and transformed him from just “a very good player” to being synonymous with Tigers’ baseball for several generations of fans.
Players that are broadcasters are a tough group to judge when it comes to the Hall of Fame. On the one hand, broadcasters have their own wing and award in Cooperstown (the Ford C. Frick Award) and were usually meant to be kept separate from those whose career affected the game on the field. But for the good players that turned around and became great broadcasters and dedicated their lives to bringing the game to people around the country, the ones for whom 40 or more years of their lives were dedicated to making this great game even greater, surely for them a plaque is deserved.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 7/12/16 this Hall of Fame centerfielder was part of an historic trade involving the Reds and Giants.