The passing of an 86-year-old former baseball player—even a Hall of Famer—may not elicit much more than a shrug from most, unless that old man played a pivotal role in your early sports life.
George Kell was always overshadowed. He beat Ted Williams for a batting title, but could never match his power or his legend. He played sevens seasons in Detroit, but his first was also the last for the legendary Hank Greenberg. He made several All-Star teams and played a mean third base, but he would never win an MVP against the likes of Williams and Berra and Rizzuto. (And they didn't even have Golden Gloves back then.) He was a famous Tiger, but never quite as lauded as Cobb or Geringher or even Al Kaline, who would later be his partner in the announcing booth. He served as the Tigers TV play-by-play man for most of the '80s and '90s, but could never hold a candle to his legendary radio counterpart.
Yes, there were more than a few Tiger fans who preferred to turn down the sound on their TV to listen to Ernie Harwell's more familiar descriptions, but for me, coming of age as a baseball fan when I did, George Kell was a constant presence. I have no funny George stories, there are no classic rants or blunders available on YouTube, no drunken press box antics or legendary locker room stories to tell, and he didn't have any wacky catch phrases or famous calls. Listening to him narrate a game was like watching it with your grandpa (or my grandpa, anyway.) It may not have been that exciting, but it was just a easy way to pass an afternoon.
Yes, George Kell was utterly unremarkable as an announcer—and only slightly more memorable as a player—but he showed up to work every day (he commuted to Motown from Arkansas, by the way) and he did his solid job and that was kind of the way I preferred it. And now, today, he's gone and I feel really old. Not so old that I ever even saw him swing a bat, but if something happens to Alan Trammell anytime soon I'm going to need some serious counseling.
Hall of Fame Tiger George Kell, 86, dies [Detroit Free Press]
Flashback: Our last big George Kell story, from 2006 [Detroit Free Press]
George Kell Statistics [Baseball-Reference]