DETROIT -- Gordie Howe was a Ruthian figure. One day he even swung a baseball bat like Babe Ruth.
Al Kaline, the great Detroit Tigers outfielder and baseball Hall of Fame member, invited Howe and a couple of other Detroit Red Wings to batting practice. When Howe took off his shirt to put on a Tigers uniform, everyone got a glimpse of the athlete he was.
"Gordie didn't have any shoulders," Kaline said Tuesday at Joe Louis Arena during the public visitation for Howe, who died Friday at age 88. "His arms went right up to his neck. He had the biggest pair of arms, and all the Tiger players [said], 'Man, what a beast he is.'"
Then Howe started swinging.
"Struggled a bit, naturally so," Kaline said. "Probably never played much baseball or softball in his day. But finally he was able to hit a ball out of the ballpark, and I tell you what, the expression on his face looked like he had just won the Stanley Cup."
The Detroit icons were longtime friends. Kaline met Howe in 1956, when Kaline was a 21-year-old who had won the 1955 American League batting title and Howe, 27, had won the Art Ross Trophy four times, the Hart Trophy twice and the Stanley Cup four times.
A Baltimore native, Kaline went to his first hockey game with a mutual friend of Howe's, and they all went to eat at Carl's Chop House afterward.
Kaline and Howe played a lot of golf together over the years, and similarly to how Kaline invited Howe to the ballpark, Howe invited Kaline to the rink.
"I had never skated before in my life," Kaline said. "I borrowed a pair of skates. I was a one-legged pusher, holding onto the boards. Gordie came by, fooling around, gave me one of his famous elbows. I can always say Gordie gave me an elbow and knocked me right into the boards."
Kaline laughed at the memory.
"I'm not educated enough to tell you how much I felt pride that I was a friend of Gordie Howe," Kaline said. "What a great human being. …
"Everybody knows how great a hockey player he was, maybe the greatest hockey player of all time. But what got me was how great he was off the ice, around people, around kids. He never turned people down. He was always friendly to them, and that to me was why the people in Detroit and the people in hockey everywhere loved Gordie Howe."