Came across this story in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and thought some of you might be interested in it since it wasn't printed in the regular edition or in sports. Ordinarily I would just post a link to something this long, but since the Democrat-Gazette is one of the few papers in the country to charge to access its Internet site, I'm reposting the whole thing so more people can read it...
front¢er: George Kell
Baseball Hall of Famer travels long path from Swifton to Cooperstown
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Kell and the Travelers
George Kell will make a trip to central Arkansas on Saturday, June 28. Kell, along with fellow Hall of Famer Al “Mr. Tiger” Kaline, will be at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock for an Arkansas Travelers game that will start at 7:10 p.m.
“Well, they called me up and asked if I could come down,” Kell said. “Then they asked me if I could get anyone else to come. I told Warren [Stephens] that I could, but they might have to go get them. Well Warren does everything right, just like his daddy, and he said he would send a plane to wherever it needed to go.” That’s when Kell made a call to Kaline and he then agreed.
Kell’s involvement with the Stephens family extends back to his playing days and trips to Augusta National, the golf club that hosts the Masters and where Jack Stephens, Warren’s dad, served as president.
“We’d go to Augusta, just to play,” Kell said. “But Jack said I needed to bring along Mr. Metzer with me. He did a lot of business with him and wanted to spend time with him, so that’s what we did. We’d fly to Augusta and play golf. I wasn’t much of a golfer then, still not, but that’s what we’d do.”
LITTLE ROCK — For George Kell, Swifton has always been home and will always be home.
“I never wanted to anywhere other than right here,” Kell said at his home. Then for extra emphasis he said, “Right here. If you were born here, raised here ... I’ve never known anything but Swifton, this is the only place I want to be.” Yet Kell has seen more of the country than perhaps anyone from Swifton ever has.
It was in 1938 when Kell said at a high school ceremony that his intention was to play Major League Baseball.
Kell, still sharp at 85, recalls the audience’s laughter.
But that’s exactly what Kell did in 1943 when he broke into the big leagues with the then Philadelphia Athletics after playing B league ball in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. He stayed in Philly until he was traded to the Detroit Tigers.
“In those days, you didn’t have a choice,” Kell said.
“You played wherever they told you to play and for how much they wanted to pay you or you went home. You had no choice then; it is a lot different now.” Kell stayed on as a player until 1957 when he retired from the Baltimore Orioles. Along the way he made stops in Boston for the Red Sox and Chicago for the White Sox.
While Kell may have been done with baseball, baseball wasn’t done with him.
“When I got through playing in 1957 CBS called me,” he said. “They asked me if I would come to New York and do the game of the week. I intended to come homeand be with my family, which I had never been with.” CBS told him, though, that the games would only be on Saturday, so he said yes.
“I went up there every Friday night and did the game of the week,” Kell said. “Wherever they were playing on Saturday. That was good, I was home all the time.” Then John Metzer entered the picture. Metzer had bought the Tigers in 1956 and was something of a visionary when it came to baseball broadcasts. It was Metzer who had made his fortune off owning a string of radio stations, and it was Metzer who eventually led baseball to its first national TV contract.
“At the end of that season, Detroit called me and said ‘George, George, we’ve been listening to you, we didn’t know you wanted to broadcast,’” Kell said. “‘If you want to broadcast, you belong in Detroit,’ and I told them I didn’t want to leave home. I was finally home with my children, my wife, and they said come up here and talk with us. I told my wife I wasn’t going to do it.” But Kell still made the trip to Detroit, just to listen and with a plan to say no.
“They gave me a big sales pitch, and they handed me a contract,” Kell said. “I said, ‘Mr. Metzer, I’m making a lot more than this working at CBS on Saturdays,’ and he said, ‘Fill out what you want, and he signed me to five years. Five years.” So Kell went back to Swifton, contract in hand, and broadcast all the radio and television games for the Tigers and Metzer.
“I lived up there and my family would come up in thesummers,” Kell said. “At the end of the five years, I told him goodbye. I said I was going home to be with my family and I did. I went back to Swifton and sometime that year Mr. Metzer called me and said, ‘George come back up here. We got a deal you can’t turn down.’”
So Kell went back to listen, again with a plan to say no.
“Mr. Metzer said, ‘I’ll tell you what we are going to do,’” Kell said. “‘Television only. Just do our television game. Just 50 a year and you can live in your beloved Swifton and you can fly back and forth from California or Boston or New York, wherever the games are on the weekends, and we’ll pay all your expenses.’ I did that for 32 years and I lived right here. Sometimes I’d leave at 4:30 in the morning. Go to Memphis, unless I was going to the west coast and then it would be Little Rock. It was nothing to get in my car, drive over there and come back Sunday night.
“I’d stay in the Ritz-Carlton in Detroit, all expenses paid, and you can’t get a better deal than that.”
The Tigers also gave Kell something else. He was able to pick his broadcast partner, andthat final season in Baltimore proved to be pivotal in more ways than one.
“Ernie [Harwell] broadcast there and I knew Ernie,” Kell said. “I called him and asked him if he would like to come to Detroit, and he said ‘I’d love it.’ And I told him, ‘Well they want you, and they told me to get who I wanted.’”
Harwell is now a legendary Hall of Fame broadcaster who, after that one phone call, spent 42 years calling Detroit’s games.
Harwell was already something of a baseball legend at the time. Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard ’round the world” was his call in the 1951pennant-clinching game for the New York baseball Giants.
“He stayed all through my time there, 37 years with me,” Kell said. “Then more after that, and he was older than me. Seems like he just retired ... he’s a wonderful man. He’s 90 years old, and he still does a show, still goes to spring training.”
But like all good things, they eventually end.
“For 32 years I lived in Swifton,” Kell said. “Did their telecasts, and then my contract still had a year to go in 1996. I just told them I’ve done all I can do. I’m tired of running and traveling, and I was told that I had another year on my contract and that I owed them another year, but I said please, I’m tired, and they said, ‘I’m not going to argue with you, go on home,’ andI’ve been home ever since.”
Kell still thinks things might have been different.
“I’d be broadcasting today if I lived in Detroit and didn’t have to travel,” he said. “I think I still could. I’m 85 years old, but I think I still could. I know I could still do home games. I loved to broadcast.”
Kell still keeps up. Even in Swifton, you can still get all of Detroit’s games.
“I have DirecTV and a widescreen,” Kell said. “I watch the Tigers every night, and I watch all the other games I can.”
While Kell picked up a legion of fans, fans who still clamor for his autograph at card shows, he also picked up some fans among Arkansas notables.
“When we dedicated the Hall of Fame museum in North LittleRock,” Kell said of the 2007 ceremony, “I was on the program, and one of the speakers, he got there late and came clear across the aisle, and we had about six of us seated up there, and he came up and whispered into my ear, ‘Our Tigers got beat in the ninth inning and blew a one-run lead.’ Well, I didn’t know what to say to him, our Tigers, and after it was over, I went back and asked him what he meant [by] ‘our Tigers,’ and he said he lived in Detroit for six years and that he was a Detroit fan.”
The mystery man and lifelong Tigers fan was Gov. Mike Beebe, who after being born in Amagon livedin Detroit for a time.
“I didn’t know that,” Kell said.
“He’s a great guy. I just love him.
I’ve known him since years ago, back when I served on the Highway Commission.”
It was Kell’s only foray into politics, when he was appointed to the commission by then-Gov. Dale Bumpers in 1973 and served the full 10-year term.
Along the way, Kell bought a car dealership in Newport, one that still bears his name,and farmland. He also became a published author with Hello Everybody, I’m George Kell, an autobiography he wrote with Dan Ewald. The title comes from how Kell started each broadcast he did for the Tigers.
Kell was elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1983 by the Veterans Committee.
Three Rivers, Pages 119, 121 on 02/17/2008