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Las Vegas photographer once pinch hit for Al Kaline

Updated April 11, 2020 - 3:08 pm

Here’s a little known fact about Al Kaline, the Detroit Tigers’ Hall of Fame outfielder who died this week at age 85.

He was once pinch hit for by the team’s photographer.

It wasn’t during an official game, said Las Vegan Tom Donoghue, the Tigers’ official shutterbug during the 1970s when Kaline was concluding his fabulous career. It happened in Plant City, Florida, just a grapefruit toss from the Tigers’ spring training digs in Lakeland.

Kaline was supposed to judge a beauty pageant at the Florida Strawberry Festival. Something came up, and Donoghue was asked to take Kaline’s place. The photographer said he spent most of the night listening to Pat Boone, a devout Christian, profess his faith. The singer was another celebrity judge.

Donoghue had a nice relationship with Kaline. Sometimes he would shag fungoes with the outfielder. He said Kaline once gave him one of his fielder’s gloves and signed it for him.

“You never heard anything about money, or not signing autographs,” Donoghue said of Kaline and most players of his era. “You played the game because you loved it.”

Longtime Las Vegas resident Duke Sims was Kaline’s teammate during the 1972 season, when Detroit won the American League East. He, too, understands why so many old-time Tiger fans still consider him their favorite player.

While best known for his offense (.297 career batting average, 3,007 hits, 399 home runs), Kaline was so savvy on defense that he could make you look bad, Sims said. He recalled a game in which Kaline almost threw him out on a base hit to right field when Sims was playing for the Indians.

“I beat it out, but only because I thought he was going to first base,” Sims said with an appreciative chuckle about noticing Kaline creeping in, which forced him to bust it out of the box. “If I would have run (at normal speed), I would have been out. How embarrassing would that have been?”

When Kaline died Monday, Donoghue attached a bunch of photos of him to an email. One showed Kaline and fellow Tigers stalwart Willie Horton sitting against a wall during spring training. They were smiling as if they hadn’t a care in the world.

The photographer said of all the photos he had taken of Kaline, that was his favorite.

Around the horn

■ Donaghue, on meeting Casey Stengel at the All-Star Game in St. Louis and a story the Ol’ Perfessor told him about keeping tabs on his players after hours:

“In those days there was always an elevator operator, and Casey would give two baseballs to him. He’d have the players who went up to their room before (curfew) sign one of the balls, and he told the elevator operator he could keep that ball.

“Everybody who came in after midnight signed the other ball.

“The elevator operator gave that ball to Casey in the morning.”

■ Three things you may not know about Las Vegas Events president Pat Christenson: He was an NCAA wrestling champion at 167 pounds; he is a big Milwaukee Brewers fan; he is an even bigger fan of the iconic folk singer John Prine, who died Wednesday after contracting the coronavirus.

“Words can’t describe the regret I felt upon hearing of John Prine’s passing,” Christenson said in a text message. “I am a huge music fan. I grew up in the greatest era of music. I absorbed and experienced it all. But no artist touched my soul like John Prine.

“I will never forget the image of him dancing as he left the stage after his encore at his last show in Las Vegas. It was so gratifying to see in the last years of his life, the world finally discover and credit him for his work.”

■ Rebels fans who didn’t get enough of last week’s celebrations and retrospectives on the 30-year anniversary of UNLV’s NCAA basketball championship may want to pick up “Rebel With a Cause: The True Story of Jerry Tarkanian” written by the coach’s son (and former point guard) Danny. Kindle, paperback and hardback editions are available through Amazon.com starting at $9.99.


Lights FC soccer coach Eric Wynalda, on watching Bob Gibson pitch against Al Kaline in the 1968 World Series on an MLB classic replay this week, on why he’ll always be a Cardinals fan:

“My father, who passed away three years ago, once told me the reason I was born was the St. Louis Cardinals making it into the World Series in ’68.”

The Cardinals clinched the National League pennant on Sept. 17, 1968. Wynalda was born on June 9, 1969.

Draw your own conclusions.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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