Statistical milestones are as much a part of baseball as green grass and chalk lines.
Today, the game is measured by a myriad of stats that can make the average fan’s head spin. Yet some basic numbers have been entrenched in the game’s fabric for quite some time.
For instance, Babe Ruth is attached to 714, and Joe DiMaggio is synonymous with the number 56.
There are other milestones that we commonly use to measure greatness, such as 3000 hits and 500 homers for hitters and 300 wins for pitchers.
As fans, we seem to like round numbers. That’s why Tigers legend Al Kaline is often asked why he didn’t stick around long enough to hit 400 major league homers. He finished his career with 399. Yet despite what history tells us, he actually hit 400 taters. Make sense? No? It will.
Kaline hit his last home run on September 18, 1974 at Fenway Park in Boston off Reggie Cleveland. He would play in 12 more big league games before retiring at the end of the 1974 season at the age of 39.
He needed just one more home run to reach the 400. A nice, round number.
But, Kaline never placed much importance on numbers.
Several years ago at spring training in Lakeland, FL, I asked Number 6 why he didn’t return for another year to reach 400 homers.
“I could see that I had lost my skills and I didn’t want to hang around and embarrass myself,” he said. “I never wanted to take a paycheck if I felt I didn’t earn it. “
That’s what made Kaline special. It’s an attitude that is seldom seen in today’s game, or society for that matter.
It was a different time to be sure. In fact, even after winning the batting title at the age of 20, he worked in his hometown of Baltimore as a salesman in a sporting goods store in the off-season.
His reputation in the game meant more to him than hitting one more homer. So, he retired with 399.
Or did he? Well, the record books will show that Mr. Tiger ended his career one homer shy of 400, but with a little cooperation from Mother Nature, he would never have had to answer questions about why he didn’t stick around one more year.
On June 1, 1958, Kaline led off the bottom of the 2nd inning against Chicago’s Ray Moore. He slammed a Moore offering into the seats at Briggs Stadium for a solo home run.
Unfortunately, the homer was washed away when the game was rained out after 3 1/2 innings. In the cruel eyes of baseball, it never happened
The home run would have eventually given Kaline 400 for his career.
If it were not for a rainy night in Detroit in 1958, Kaline would would have ended his career with a nice, even, 400 homers.
If you ask Kaline today about that homer, I doubt he really cares. It never was about the numbers for him. Regardless, Kaline remains the Tigers all time leader in home runs.
That’s the backstory on Kaline’s 400th homer. Unfortunately, while it happened, it actually never did.