Wednesday, March 25, 2009

At the sports desk: George Kell, RIP

George Kell died yesterday in his hometown of Swifton, Arkansas. He was 86.
He was a Hall of Fame baseball player, who played in the 1940s and '50s for the Philadelphia As, Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox, and Baltimore Orioles.
But the way I remember George Kell was in his role as a Tigers TV announcer, a role he filled for over 30 years. When I grew up, and for much of the time Kell worked for the Tigers, the team had no giant cable TV contract. So for us kids growing up in Michigan as rabid Tigers fans, the only time to catch the team on TV was on one of the 40 games the Tigers TV network beamed out to its member stations. And that meant catching the Southern drawl of Kell on Saturday afternoons and on warm summer evenings, as he broadcast the games.

It meant hearing pitches out of the strike zone being always called "up high" or "down low." It meant a guy who swung at the first pitch "didn't waste any time." When the Tigers were hitting the ball hard, they "hit some shots today." Willie Horton or Alan Trammell always "hit it like a bullet." And we'd get to hear Kell chuckle and tell stories about his playing days--about the time he played a game that went over 20 innings and went 0 for 10, about how he once thought a foul pop was well back in the stands, only to have a sudden gust of wind blow the ball back onto the field, while the crowd booed him.

And it was comfortable, and it was fun, and he and the Tigers were a part of our lives back then. Those are good memories. Thanks, Mr. Kell, and rest in peace.