Catching Up With Kell
An interview by Jim Sanders
As trumpeted by his Hall of Fame plaque, George Kell was "a solid hitter and a sure-handed fielder with a strong, accurate arm, was the American League's premier third baseman in the 1940s and 1950s. He batted over .300 nine times and led the American League with a .343 average in 1949 while playing for the Detroit Tigers. He topped American League third basemen in fielding percentage seven times, in assists four times and in putouts and double plays twice."
Our Arkansas correspondent, Jim Sanders, caught up with Kell recently and recorded his comments on several topics.
I feel like I always knew how to hit...I didn't always have the confidence. When I arrived in the Majors—that's pretty scary—but Mr. Mack told me early on that I would hit and just stay with it. When I moved up to the plate, I was thinking ZONE—standing on top of the plate, imagine a box, and decide that you will not swing outside that box—that's your zone! Now, if they hit the outside corner three times, then you're whipped...but you stay in that zone! A pitcher is gonna make a mistake, and that's when you better jump all over it!
On Ted Williams...
Always said, "When that pitcher throws your pitch, the one you've been looking for, you don't take, you don't miss it, you don't foul it off...you hit it, and you hit it hard!" A lot of guys go up there and they get their pitch and they miss it or foul it off or they freeze Ted would say, "That's not hitting, that's missing. When you get your pitch, it's your turn!"
In '48 I was making $35,000. I led the league in hitting in '49, and I got a raise to $45,000. The very next year I did not lead the league, and they wanted to cut my salary to $40,000. I argued. I don't know why I did—I was afraid to argue—back in those days you didn't do things such as that! Mr. Bill Evans was the general manager of the Tigers then.
I said, "Mr. Evans, I should be the highest-paid infielder in the American League, I hit .300 every year since I have been here, and made the All-Star team every year."
He said, "Okay, I won't argue with that. Who do you think is making more than $45,000?"
"Rizzuto. He is making $50,000, and I think I should make more than him—he doesn't hit .300 every year."
Evans agreed, telling me that "if Rizzuto was making $50,000, he would pay me $50,500."
A couple of days later, Mr. Evans called me in. "I called the Yankees," he said. "They tell me they are paying Rizzuto $45,000!"
What could I say? "Mr. Evans, we had a deal. If they are paying him $45,000, then that is fine with me."
The next time I saw Phil, I asked, "I thought you told me you were making $50,000?"
"Ah," he said, "I was just putting you on."
I sure made him know he made me look like a BOZO! But that is what you had to do in those days to get a pay increase...and in didn't hurt to have the numbers!
On All-Star games...
The year of that negotiation, Mr. Evans told me, "You better go out and have a good year, you know, to earn the money were paying you!" I hit .340, drove in 100 runs, had 56 doubles—more doubles than anyone (since then) until this past year, more doubles than anyone since 1937—and I led all the voting for the All-Star game, in either league. The headlines read "KELL LEADS ALL MAJORS IN VOTING, JACKIE ROBINSON IS 2ND." The way it is in the All-Star balloting, I got like a million and half votes, and the next closest third baseman got like 300,000. But when you've hit .300 for several years, the fans don't forget and it just a given! They voted by name. I deserved to be in the All-Star game in '46, but I hadn't hit .300 in the Majors yet. Then I made the All-Star game my last two years and didn't deserve it. There were third basemen that were coming up that deserved it more than I.
More on salaries...
1950 was a good year for me (.340, 101 RBI, 56 doubles, All-Star) ...and they wanted to cut my salary because I had not led the league. Go figure!
Name: George Clyde Kell
Born: August 23, 1922, Swifton, Arkansas
Height: 5' 9"
Weight: 175 lbs
Position: Third base
Major League debut: September 28, 1943
Teams: PHI-A 43-46; DET 46-52; BOS-A 52-54; CHI-A 54-56; BAL 56-57
AVG G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI FA .307 1696 6392 853 1962 376 50 69 826 .970
Did you know...?
George's brother, Skeeter, played second base for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1952?
Kell and Brooks Robinson are both from Arkansas, both played third base for the Baltimore Orioles, and were both voted into the Hall of Fame in 1983?
Kell served on the Arkansas State Highway Commission after his retirement from playing and broadcasting?
For further reading, try the book Hello Everybody, I'm George Kell (Sports Publishing, Champaign, IL, 1998)