Jenkins remembers 'true professional' Kaline

April 7th, 2020

CHICAGO -- was in the final season of his two-plus-decade career with the Tigers. The introduction of the designated hitter in the American League the previous summer had allowed Detroit to keep his bat in the lineup.

In that summer of 1974, was three years removed from claiming the National League Cy Young Award with the Cubs, and he was in his first season as a member of the Rangers' rotation. With the trade from Chicago, the career paths of the two Hall of Famers could cross.

Kaline passed away on Monday at age 85.

"He was one of the best," Jenkins said from his home in Texas on Tuesday afternoon.

The details of their 11 plate appearances against each other are fuzzy for Jenkins, who managed to strike out Kaline twice. Told that Kaline launched two home runs off the legendary right-hander -- Nos. 389 and 390 of the Detroit slugger's career -- Jenkins let out a little chuckle, recalling now a bit of information.

"One in Texas, one in Detroit," Jenkins said.

Forty-six years later, Jenkins was correct.

On June 12, 1974, Kaline belted a solo shot off Jenkins to give the Tigers a 2-0 lead in an eventual 7-0 victory. That was less memorable to Jenkins than what was happening on the mound for Detroit. That day at Tiger Stadium, southpaw Mickey Lolich spun a shutout opposite Jenkins, quieting Texas' lineup.

"Oh, Mickey Lolich beat me a couple times," said Jenkins, allowing himself to laugh about it all these years later. "Shut out the ballclub. Texas at the time, they didn't hit left-handers very good."

Two more lefties -- Woodie Fryman and John Hiller -- combined to beat Jenkins five days later in a 6-4 victory for the Tigers. That spoiled a 10-inning performance by Jenkins, who struck out 10 and walked one in the effort. In the top of the 10th inning, there was Kaline, launching a go-ahead, two-run homer off the righty to lift Detroit to the win.

Jenkins was 31 years old at the time and in the middle of a 25-win, 41-start campaign in which he posted a 2.82 ERA over 328 1/3 innings. Kaline was 39, but he was still hitting in the meat of the Tigers' lineup.

"When you think about other guys that you faced and they're Hall of Famers," Jenkins said, "automatically, you're going to say you might've got them out once or twice. And then, they get smart. I mean, you've got to get smart, too, as a pitcher. But they learn something from you. You make a bad pitch, you've got to suffer."

All these decades later, it is not those games that stick out to Jenkins when discussing Kaline. They played against each other three times in 1974, but the pitcher remembers more how Kaline acted around his teammates and opponents than the results in the batter's box.

"The thing was," Jenkins said, "even on the bench, you could see he talked to the players and he had a sense of the way he carried himself as a professional athlete. He was a true professional."

Jenkins spoke of the commanding presence that Kaline had as a player and even into his post-playing days. The Cubs great reminisced about the golf outings that they went on; they even won a couple tournaments together. That helped forge a friendship in the years after their respective careers.

Jenkins remembers Kaline as a larger-than-life figure, mentioning him alongside legends like Harmon Killebrew and Warren Spahn.

"They were just super gentlemen, super athletes," Jenkins said. "And they didn't need to be told how good they were. They knew it, which is really something. They were the guys that -- when you play and you see these guys -- you can just see how good they are, you know? Right from the get-go."