Open a pack of 1975 Topps Baseball cards and you might find an Al Kaline card from the 1974 Highlights subset, but his career had finally come to a close months before when the popular native of Baltimore retired after 22 years—all of them playing in Detroit.
On August 17, 1980, between games of a doubleheader, Kaline became the first Tiger ever to have his uniform number retired. In honor of that familiar number, here are six great cards that should be on every Kaline collector’s want list. Click the links to see each on eBay.
1954 Topps rookie card #201: Kaline never spent a day in the minor leagues and was just 19 years old when this card came out of those big packs. Topps rolled the dice on a few young players and scored big with Kaline and two other guys named Aaron and Banks. Like all major rookie cards, this one has experienced a lot of growth lately but you can still find a very respectable example without spending the monthly mortgage payment.
1959 Topps ‘Youngest Batting Champ’: Kaline won the American League batting title in 1955 with a .340 average. He was only 20 years old at the time. In its 1959 ‘Baseball Thrills’ subset, Topps commemorated that remarkable achievement. This one sums up an important part of Kaline’s legacy: the incredible impact he had at a very early age.
1960 Post Cereal: There were only ten athletes in the multi-sport 1960 Post Cereal box back set and of the five baseball players, one was the still youthful Kaline. Exclusive to backs of Grape Nuts, not many survived and those that did were often cut poorly or taped to the wall. As we’ve written before, this set is just plain cool. The star quality, the ‘woodgrain’ borders, the size, the method of distribution and the scarcity are what make collecting fun. The Kaline may cost you $200 or so in decent shape, but it’ll look great in your collection.
1967 Bengal Belters: Go to a Tigers game in the 1960s and early 70s and you could pretty much count on seeing Norm Cash and Al Kaline. They played together for 15 seasons and in 1967, Topps put both on a card. Cash was fun loving; Kaline a more tortured soul who never thought he should make an out. Topps apparently couldn’t find a better photo, but give them credit for recognizing Detroit’s dynamic duo.
1968 Topps #240: This card isn’t rare and not expensive but it represents one of the most important seasons in the history of Detroit baseball and Kaline’s career. He missed two months with a broken arm as the Tigers continued to dominate the American League, but in the World Series, he hit .379 with two homers and eight RBI. 1968 Topps Tigers are very popular, but they’re still fairly plentiful and a good-looking Kaline shouldn’t run more than $25.
1974 Topps #215: This would be Kaline’s last card as an active player and shows him something we didn’t see much in the other 21 years of Kaline cardboard: he’s playing the field. ‘Action’ cards had become a staple for Topps in the 1970s and in his final seasons, Kaline took his ten Gold Gloves and moved to first base. It was also the year of his career crowning achievement: 3,000 hits. Click the link and you’ll see these going for next to nothing but Tiger fans know they’re the perfect way to remember a guy who played every season with their team.