Hitting champ Kell swung from the bat to the booth

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

June 22, 1995|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Sun Staff Writer

The first time Brooks Robinson went to New York on an Orioles road trip, he had dinner with George Kell. When the check came, Kell grabbed it.

"Kid, I'll take care of it," Kell said.

That was in 1957. Twenty-six years later, in 1983, Robinson and Kell entered the Hall of Fame together.

Kell was one of Robinson's predecessors at third base for the Orioles. The last of his 15 major-league seasons was 1957, a career that ended not because he didn't produce -- he batted .297 that year -- but because he was beaned twice during the last month and, equally important, didn't want to be away from his family.

"I had farmland in Swifton that I bought when I was playing ball," said Kell, who was born, raised in and still lives in Swifton, Ark. "There were a lot of ways I could make a living and still stay at home."

Orioles manager Paul Richards tried to persuade Kell to return in 1958. He sent him a contract and asked him to meet at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tenn.

Kell agreed, but maintained he wouldn't play. Realizing the futility of further discussion, Richards arranged for Kell to join Dizzy Dean and Buddy Blattner on CBS' Game of the Week telecasts.

Today, at 72, Kell is in his 36th season as the Detroit Tigers' TV broadcaster. He remained only a year with CBS, then worked Tigers radio and TV for five years before settling into a TV-only schedule.

"It was very important not to be away so much when the kids were growing up," Kell said. "After playing all those years, it wasn't fair to be gone on another career. The Tigers said I could come and go as I pleased as long as I didn't miss a game. I haven't, even though I always travel on the day of the game."

Kell bought an automobile agency in 1962 that his son George Jr. now runs. He was on the Arkansas Highway Commission for 10 years and is on the boards of banks in Little Rock and Newport. He leases his 960 acres of farmland.

"I've got to cut back," Kell said, who remarried last summer three years after his first wife died.

Kell won the American League batting title as a Tiger in 1949 with a .343 average and had a .306 average in a career that included stays with the Philadelphia Athletics, Tigers, Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox, as well as the Orioles. His stay in Baltimore was short, coming from Chicago early in the 1956 season.

Kell's peak salary was $45,000. He received a raise to $37,500 after leading the league in hitting in 1949, and had an even better season in 1950 and was boosted to $45,000.

"That was the year Ted Williams fractured his elbow in the All-Star Game, and Billy Goodman took over and hit .354 to win the title," Kell said. "I hit .340 and the next closest to me was [Dom] DiMaggio at .328."

In his final seven seasons, Kell batted over .300 four times. His salary remained at $45,000.

Next week: a hitter who was known as "The Rope."

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