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January 30, 2015 / 10 Shevat, 5775
 
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Reflections On A Pair Of Detroit Favorites


Detroit is in mourning.

 

The most popular sports figure around these parts will no longer be wearing a Detroit Tigers uniform.

 

Curtis Granderson, as you know, will be patrolling center field for the New York Yankees next year and probably for several years.

 

There were days of ranting and venting against Tigers’ management on Detroit’s sportstalk radio programs, but most didn’t realize the Granderson deal is a good one for both the Yanks and Tigers.

 

As you recall, in the three-team trade the Tigers gave up Granderson and pitcher Edward Jackson. The Yankees gave up center field prospect Austin Jackson (“A-Jax”) and pitchers Phil Coke and Ian Kennedy. The Arizona Diamondbacks surrendered pitchers Max Scherzer and Dan Schlereth.

 

The Yanks only get Granderson while Edward Jackson and Ian Kennedy go to the Diamondbacks and Detroit ends up with A-Jax, Coke, Scherzer and Schlereth.

 

The swap pays immediate dividends for the Yankees and will prove to be a great deal for the Tigers in the long run. The Diamondbacks may be the only losers.

 

A college grad whose parents are both teachers, Granderson is a great ambassador for baseball and a model citizen with an engaging personality. He’s glib, graceful, helpful and a favorite of groundskeepers and teammates. The New York stage will catapult him to superstardom.

 

Many of the off-the-wall doubles Granderson hit in Detroit’s Comerica Park will be home runs in cozier Yankee Stadium. Also, Yankee Stadium gives Granderson less area to patrol than the vast outfield at Comerica. With better hitters surrounding him in the Yankees’ lineup, Granderson should easily post a .280 batting average with 35 home runs.

 

*     *     *

 

As popular as Granderson has been among followers of the Tigers, George Kell enjoyed several decades of being loved during his long association with the Tigers.

 

   Kell died last year at 85 and I think of him often. An All-Star third baseman and American League batting champion (he hit over .300 nine times) when I started following baseball 60 years ago in 1950, Kell joined Ernie Harwell in the Tigers’ broadcasting booth in 1960 and the pair was the best play-by-play team I’ve ever heard.

 

Kell’s voice was a combination of Mel Allen, Red Barber and Vin Scully. A friendly man with an Arkansas twang, Kell was also a great storyteller. A bad back and knee made traveling difficult and Kell left regular broadcasting duties after the 1996 season. But he would occasionally visit the broadcast booth and fans were treated to his calls at Tiger Stadium’s final game ever in 1999.

 

Kell was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1983. I sent him a letter of congratulations and he responded with a longer letter. We corresponded at times through the years and I still have his letters.

 

In person, I enjoyed his stories; the modest Kell would always tell of the accomplishments of others, never his own. He broke into the majors a couple of years before Jackie Robinson and promised himself he would do what he could to help alleviate the plight of blacks. After gaining fame, Kell ran for the school board in his native Arkansas and was instrumental in integrating the schools.

 

I often prodded Kell to tell me about Hank Greenberg.

 

“Connie Mack traded me from the Philadelphia Athletics to the Tigers in 1946,” Kell said to my tape recorder. “That was Hank’s last year with the Tigers and the fans and writers loved him.

 

“I was in awe of him. I was a teenager in Arkansas and he was a big star and slugger in the late 1930s. Because of the war I never played against him until he returned late in the 1945 season and didn’t have much of a chance to get to know him.

 

“But when I came to the Tigers the following year, Hank greeted me warmly and took me out to dinner, something he did with all the new arrivals. He was a great charismatic guy and one of the smartest ballplayers of all time.

 

“Hank was the best I’ve ever seen at stealing signs when he was on second base. He would study the catcher’s moves and figure which pitches were coming and telegraph them with his own signs to us.”

 

Greenberg was the first inductee into the newly formed Michigan Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1986. He was, however, too ill to attend (cancer would claim him only a few weeks later).

 

Pinch-hitting for Greenberg at the kosher-catered affair attended by more than 300 people was Greenberg’s teammate and friend George Kell.

 

 

Irwin Cohen, the author of seven books, headed a national baseball publication for five years before earning a World Series ring working as a department head in a major league front office. Cohen, whose column appears the second week of each month, is president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul and may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.

About the Author: The author of 10 books, Irwin Cohen headed a national baseball publication for five years and interviewed the legendary Hank Greenberg. He went on to work for a major league team and became the first Orthodox Jew to earn a World Series ring. He can be reached in his Detroit area dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.


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