Paul Mirengoff at Powerline has a post in his series, "This Day in Baseball History," reminding us that it was fifty years ago yesterday, May 26, 1962, that the Detroit Tigers defeated the Yankees 2-1 at Yankee Stadium:
“With two out in the bottom of the ninth, Al Kaline preserved the win with a diving catch of an Elston Howard line drive. Without the catch, Hector Lopez might have scored from first base to tie the game. But the victory came at a big cost. Kaline broke his collar bone making the play, and went on to miss two months. At the time of the injury, Kaline was batting .336 with an OPS (on base percentage plus slugging percentage) of 1.048. He was leading the American League in RBIs with 38 (in 36 games) and was second in home runs with 13. After his return in late July, Kaline played at close to his normal high level, but not near the ‘career year’ level he had been enjoying.”
I was at Yankee Stadium with my father that Saturday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend. I was a Tigers' fan, mostly because I didn't like the cocky and powerful and predictably victorious Bronx Bombers, and because being anti-Yankee wasn't enough, I'd decided for some reason to root for the Tigers. The graceful Kaline was my favorite player, and either by chance or design, we had seats out toward right field, where I could observe him more closely. I still remember the thrill of his catch—and the shock of the injury, as he writhed on the field in pain, the ball in his mitt. (It turns out that afternoon was similarly memorable for Detroit sports writer Bill Dow, who has written about it eloquently.)
I was only nine years old in the summer of '62, but that day—or at least that play—remains one of my most vivid baseball memories. It may be second only to being at Fenway for the sixth game of the 1975 World Series, which of course featured Bernie Carbo's pinch-hit three run homer on an 0-2 count to tie the game in the eighth, Dewey Evans's catch in the right-field corner in the eleventh, and Carlton Fisk's game-winning homer in the 12th. But by then I was an adult, and the childhood memory of Kaline's triumph and pathos is somehow more powerful.