Today the RealClear family of sites welcomes a new member, one focused on a topic receiving scant attention in our schools and society at large: American Civics. I kick things off with an introductory essay.
Meanwhile, in the absence of actual athletic events to cover, sports sections of newspapers and television and radio sports channels have been devoting more than usual attention to the obituaries of iconic athletes. And with stadiums and arenas locked down, they are giving the proper due to the sports heroes of my generation's youth. Al Kaline, the Detroit Tigers' great right fielder, died this week, as did the incandescent Bobby Mitchell, the dazzling running back and receiver who played for the Cleveland Browns and Washington Redskins.
Last night we learned that soulful songwriter and singer John Prine was back in Paradise. Prine, who battled cancer for years, was diagnosed with COVID-19 a couple of weeks ago. He succumbed Tuesday night.
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The last time I caught a glimpse of Al Kaline was, coincidentally, on this date three years ago. He was throwing out the first pitch at a Tigers-Red Sox game in -- where else? -- Detroit. Kaline was 82 years old and looked great.
Although he will forever be identified with Detroit (his nickname is "Mr. Tiger"), a team he played with for all 22 years of his career, Kaline grew up in Baltimore. It was there that he starred in basketball and baseball at Southern High and was such a phenom that in 1953 he went directly from what were then called "sandlot" fields to the big leagues.
At 18, he was a $15,000 "bonus baby," which meant under the rules of the time that Detroit had to keep him on the major league roster for two years before sending him to the minors. That never happened. At 20, he led the American League in hits, winning the battling title and launching his Hall of Fame career in earnest. He played until 1974, although the apex of his career was the 1968 World Series, his only appearance in the Fall Classic, which the Tigers won. Kaline rose to the occasion, hitting .379 with two doubles and two homers against a fearsome St. Louis Cardinals pitching staff.
When he died this week, Kaline was remembered as the second-best American League player of his generation (to Mickey Mantle) and one of the top three Tigers of all time (with Ty Cobb and Hank Greenberg). Interestingly, though, the Kaline testimonials dwelt more on what a great person he was: modest, supportive, classy.
A Detroit sportswriter recalled how gracious he was riding with him on a plane the day Kaline was inducted at Cooperstown. Tom Selleck remembered how Kaline, who had long since migrated to the announcing booth, made him feel at home in spring training while Selleck filmed a movie. My friend Ron Fournier, speaking for a generation of Detroit kids, described Kaline this week as "Hall of Fame nice."
"I practically grew up in Tiger Stadium," Ron told me. "My father liked to sit in the upper deck between first base and right field, where we had the best view of the most graceful man on the field throwing darts from the Kaline Corner."
"Let me tell you about grace," Ron added. "He never said no to an autograph and was never too busy to say hi -- not when I was a kid calling him ‘Mr. Kaline' and not years later when I returned back home to Detroit from a career in D.C. and attended this event. I stood with Chad Livengood as he conducted this interview. If my memory serves, I introduced the two of them. I was more than 50 years old at the time, starry eyed and tongue tied. I called him ‘Mr. Kaline.' I always will."
Bobby Mitchell's legacy has the opposite dynamic: Because he integrated the Redskin roster in 1962 after being traded from Cleveland, his exploits on the football field are not as highly regarded as they should be. In today's Washington Post, Tom Boswell shows definitively that Mitchell was one of the greatest of all time. He then spent the rest of his career in the Skins' front office -- 40 years with the franchise. He should be called "Mr. Redskin."
Finally, there's John Prine. I've run out of time and space this morning, and will do an entire essay on Prine on another occasion. For this morning, I'll leave you with two gems. First, this New York Times' perfect headline: "John Prine, Who Chronicled the Human Condition in Song, Dies at 73." And here's one of those songs, Prine's enduring classic, "Paradise."
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.