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George Kell

George Kell

Position(s):
3B, 1B, OF, LF, RF, 2B
Born:
August 23, 1922
Bats:
Right
Throws:
Right
Height:
5' 9"
Weight:
175 lbs
Major League Debut:
9-28-1943 with PHA
Hall of Fame:
1983

Intro

George Kell won one of the closest batting titles in history in 1949, edging Ted Williams by less than a hundredth of a point. The Arkansas-native enjoyed a long career with several American League teams, flashing a great glove at third base and consistently hitting over .300. After his playing career he spent more than 30 years as a broadcaster, primarily with the Detroit Tigers.

Minor Leages

In 1943 with Lancaster (PA) of the Class B Interstate League, Kell batted .396, the highest mark in organized baseball that year. He also paced organized ball in hits (220), runs scored (120), and triples (23).

Best Season

Hampered with injuries in September, Kell got hot at the right time, returning to the Tigers' everyday lineup with a flurry of base hits in the final week of the season to win the batting title. He edged Ted Williams, .3429 to .3428, and denied Williams the triple crown.

Factoid 1

George Kell was named to the All-Star team with four different teams. In 1947, when fans were given the opportunity to select the starting teams for the first time, Kell was voted the third baseman for the American League. In 1950, Kell received more All-Star votes than any other player in either league.

Factoid 2

George Kell played all 14 innings of the 1950 All-Star Game, driving in two of the AL's three runs.

Transition

Kell was traded from the A's to the Tigers for outfielder Barney McCosky in May of 1946 Dizzy Trout, Hoot Evers, Walt Dropo, and Johnny Pesky were involved in the trade that sent Kell to the Red Sox in June of 1952.

Strengths

Defensive range at third base, and his throwing arm. He was also a great contact hitter.

Weaknesses

George Kell was in dire need of a publicist. He wasn't flashy. He wasn't boisterous or loud. He didn't make headlines. He didn't make waves, and he wasn't a rah-rah leader-type. He came to the park prepared, worked hard, gave it his all, ran out every groundball, and battled day-in and day-out. What did he get for it? He's considered by many to be a second-rate Hall of Famer, if not unworthy of that honor.In fact, he was the finest defensive third baseman in his league (if not all of baseball) in the late 1940s and into the 1950s, and he won a batting title. He was Derek Jeter at third base, but he never got into the post-season.

The 1949 American League Batting Race

In 1949 Ted Williams was poised to become the first man to win three Triple Crowns. He had won the Triple Crown, for leading the league in batting, homers, and RBI, in 1942 and 1947. The latter year was his first season back to baseball after World War II. In 1949 Williams seemed set to duplicate that amazing feat and in the process join Ty Cobb as the only men to win five batting titles. On September 18 Williams clubbed two homers and batted in six runs, taking the AL lead in the three categories. He had a comfortable ten-point lead in the batting race. There were ten games left in his season. There seemed to be few challenges to Williams claim of his third Triple Crown. Detroit's George Kell languished ten points behind on September 23, when he returned to the Tiger lineup after jamming his thumb ten days prior. Kell stroked two hits in three at-bats and raised his average a single point to .342, still far from the Red Sox leader. That same weekend, Williams blasted two home runs against the Yankees in Fenway Park. The Red Sox and Yanks were in a tight battle for the pennant. After winning their third straight game against New York, the Red Sox were in first place. While Detroit had four off-days leading up to the final weekend of the season, the Red Sox played a pair in Washington and two more in New York. Williams went 2-for-12 in those four games, including a slew of walks. As always, Williams refused to chase questionable pitches. His selection would ultimately cost him. On Friday, Williams went hitless against Bob Feller and the Indians, dropping his average to .346. In Detroit, Kell went 1-for-2 on Saturday as Williams was collared against the Yanks. Going into the final day, Kell trailed .344 to .341. The Yanks and Red Sox were deadlocked for the AL lead. Kell came to the park on that final day with a chance to win the batting title - something he never would have thought possible just a week before. Williams walked in his first at-bat against the Yanks. He then popped out twice before batting for the final time in the ninth inning. With the Yanks leading 5-0 and three outs from the pennant, Williams walked. The Red Sox rallied to score three runs before Birdie Tebbetts fouled out to end the season and give New York the AL flag. Williams had went 0-for-2 with two walks. His walks had helped his team stay in the game, but had not helped his triple crown chances. In Detroit, Kell singled in his first at-bat against Bob Lemon. In his second chance he doubled off Lemon. In the sixth Kell was walked by Bob Feller (why Feller was relieving we do not know!), and in the seventh he flied out. In the ninth Kell was scheduled to bat fourth. Neither he or his teammates knew if he was ahead or behind in the batting race. But his manager did. Red Rolfe had assigned a Detroit Free Press sportswriter to stay on the phone with reporters in New York and report down to the Tiger dugout on the status of Williams. With Kell in the on-deck circle in the ninth, Rolfe received word that Williams and Kell were tied for the batting title but that Kell would win by less than two thousands of a point. But if Kell batted and made an out - he would lose. Rolfe prepared to use a pinch-hitter, but Eddie Lake bounced into a game-ending and season-ending double play and rendered the move moot. Kell had won with a mark of .3429 to Williams' .34275. Kell had not backed into the batting race at all. In his final three games he went 3-for-8. In four games he played with a sore thumb he was 5-for-11. It wasn't until the off season that he learned Rolfe was not going to let him bat in the ninth. Williams was denied his third Triple Crown. He would win three more batting titles but he would never again lead his league in homers or RBI.

Notes

Earned $3,000 in 1944; $5,000 in 1945; $27,500 in 1949; $45,000 in 1950 (highest of any AL infielder)... Kell was elected by the fans to start in the All-Star Game seven times (1947-1951, 1956-1957). He was the runner-up four times (1952-1955).

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Tagged:
All Star, Baseball History, Brooklyn Dodgers, Detroit Tigers, George Kell, Hall of Fame, Philadelphia Athletics, Ted Williams, broadcaster

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