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This day in baseball history

On May 26, 1962, the Detroit Tigers defeated the New York 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.

For their part, the Tigers slipped from 3 games behind the Yankees when Kaline went out to 10.5 games behind when he returned. For the seaon, they were 59-45 with Kaline and 26-31 without him.

Kaline went to make the Hall of Fame easily. But he never had the off-the-charts season — say, 40 home runs (he never hit 30; the 29 he managed in his shortened 1962 season was a career high) and an OPS above 1.000 — that might have caused people outside of Detroit to think of him as one of the handful of best right-fielders ever. Without the broken collar bone, 1962 would likely have been that year.

You can read Kaline’s SABR biography here.

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