By Frank Pingue
(Reuters) - Baseball Hall of Famer Al Kaline, one of the most beloved and distinguished players of his era who spent his entire 22-year Major League Baseball career with the Detroit Tigers, died on Monday, aged 85, the team said.
Known affectionately as "Mr. Tiger," Kaline was one of the most consistent players and retired not long after he became only the 12th player to reach MLB's elite 3,000-hit club.
Kaline, beloved by generations of fans, spent 26 seasons after his retirement providing color commentary for the team's TV broadcasts and the last 18 years in the front office as a special assistant and adviser to the club's senior management.
"It is with heavy hearts that the Detroit Tigers confirm Al Kaline has passed away at the age of 85," the Tigers said in a statement. "One of the most distinguished and decorated players in the history of baseball, 'Mr. Tiger' was one of the greatest to ever wear the Olde English 'D'."
The Tigers did not disclose the cause of death.
In 1968, Kaline made his only appearance in the World Series and made the most of the opportunity as he batted .379, hit two home runs and drove in eight runs to help Detroit knock off the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games.
During his career Kaline established himself as a superb defensive outfielder with a strong throwing arm and collected 10 Gold Glove awards along the way.
By the time Kaline's career came to an end in 1974, he was an 18-times All-Star who had collected 3,007 hits, 399 home runs and a .297 career batting average.
In 1973, Kaline received the Roberto Clemente Award, given annually to the MLB player best exemplifying baseball on and off the field.
"Many of us who are fortunate enough to work in baseball have our short lists of the players who mean the most to us. Al Kaline was one of those players for me and countless others, making this a very sad day for our sport," MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred said in a statement.
"A lifelong Tiger, Al was a true gentleman and one of the National Pastime's most universally respected figures. I appreciated his friendship, humility and the example that he always set for others since he debuted as an 18-year-old rookie."
Kaline's distinguished MLB career began with Detroit in 1953 when he was just 18 years old and he went straight to the majors without ever playing in the minor leagues.
Kaline was a runner-up for the American League Most Valuable Player award in 1955 and 1963. He was the youngest player ever to lead the American League in hitting at age 20 as he won the batting title in 1955 with a .340 batting average.
Kaline was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1980 - his first year of eligibility.
"I owe everything to baseball," Kaline once said, according to his page on the National Baseball Hall of Fame's website.
"Without it, I'd probably be a bum."
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Himani Sarkar)