Posts Tagged ‘Chief Wahoo’

Al Rosen, Mickey Vernon, and the 1953 American League Batting Championship

Friday, March 3rd, 2017

During the summer that William Holden escaped Stalag 17, Audrey Hepburn gallivanted around Rome, and Burt Lancaster kissed Deborah Kerr on a Hawaiian beach, two sluggers edged toward a batting championship decided by one thousandth of a point—Al Rosen and Mickey Vernon.

Clevelanders celebrated Rosen’s 1953 trek, culminating in leading the American League in:

  • Runs Scored (115)
  • Home Runs (43)
  • Slugging Percentage (.613)
  • On Base plus Slugging Percentage (1.034)
  • Total Bases (367)
  • RBI (145—led the major leagues)

A hard-charging third baseman sacrificing prime years by serving in the Navy during World War II, Rosen was as prominent to Cleveland as Lake Erie, Public Auditorium, and the Park Building.

In Good Enough to Dream, his 1985 chronicle of owning the Utica Blue Sox of the New York-Penn League, sports writer Roger Kahn described an encounter with Rosen—at the time, Rosen was a baseball executive with the Houston Astros.  Rosen visited Kahn to see a game between the Blue Sox and the Astros’ minor league team based in Auburn, New York.

“‘You know, except for tonight’s score, I can enjoy this more than major league ball,’ Rosen told Kahn.  ‘The way the kids are so young and fresh.  The way you get so close to the game and to the fans.’  Rosen made his way toward the Auburn bus, offering me a wave, a man who lived each day fully and well and who would have to say ‘if only’ fewer times than almost anyone I knew.”

Mickey Vernon played most of his 20-year career in a Washington Senators uniform.  With a keen eye for baseball talent combined with blindness to prejudice, Vernon saw an emerging icon that could have made history with the Senators.  Matt Schudel’s 2008 obituary of Vernon in the Washington Post explained, “Mr. Vernon met an impressive young player, Larry Doby, whom he recommended to the Senators.  But because Doby was black, he went unsigned until Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s racial barrier in 1947.  When Mr. Vernon was traded to the Cleveland Indians in 1949, Doby was one of his teammates.”  Vernon played all of 1949 and part of 1950 in a Cleveland uniform.

Rosen came within a Chief Wahoo feather of winning the Triple Crown in 1953—he had a .333 batting average to Vernon’s .336 going into the last game of the season.  In a 2013 article, Tim Warsinskey of the Cleveland Plain Dealer recounted that Rosen had a prolific day at the plate, boosting his average to .336 by knocking two singles and a double against Detroit Tigers hurler Al Aber.  “Aber started the game for Detroit and was trying to finish it against Rosen, leading 7-3,” wrote Warsinskey.  “Rosen knew Aber well, because Cleveland had traded him to Detroit in June.  The infield was playing deep, almost inviting Rosen to bunt.  Rosen was a fairly good runner, but didn’t want to win the batting title on a bunt.”

A ground ball to Indians third baseman Ray Boone ended a Triple Crown possibility; while Rosen finished the season at .336, Vernon had a good game against the Philadelphia A’s.  Going 2-for-4, Vernon crossed the finish line of the 1953 season with:

  • .337 batting average
  • 205 hits
  • 115 RBI
  • 43 doubles (led American League)

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 29, 2016.

Bob Feller’s Three No-Hitters

Saturday, November 19th, 2016

If Zeus were a pitcher, he’d be jealous of Bob Feller.  After getting noticed by Cleveland Indians scout and fellow Iowan Cy Slapnicka, Feller left the family farm to mow down American League opponents instead of grass.  Beginning his career as a teenager in 1936, Feller earned the nickname “The Heater From Van Meter” because of his blazing fastball and his hometown of Van Meter, Iowa.

Feller might not have played with the Indians had his father not taken action, though.  Written by Richard Goldstein, Feller’s 2010 obituary in the New York Times states, “The owner of the independent Des Moines minor league team, which had coveted him, contended that Feller had been acquired by the Indians in violation of baseball rules that governed the signing of amateurs.  The baseball commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, could have made Feller a free agent who would have commanded huge contract offers in a bidding frenzy.  But Feller wanted to stay with the Indians, and his father threatened to sue if Landis did not allow that.”

Feller spent his entire career in a Cleveland Indians uniform, pitching three no-hitters in his career.  The first one happened on April 16, 1940 in the Opening Day game at Comiskey Park against the Chicago White Sox.  Feller’s career took a side turn toward the Pacific Theater in World War II.  After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Feller enlisted in the United States Navy.  Because of a sense of duty, honor, and patriotism, Feller put his career on hold during his early 20s, arguably the time of peak physical condition for an athlete.

Returning to the Indians in the latter part of the 1945 season, Feller prompted cheers from the Cleveland faithful.  In the 1946 season, it was as if he never left the pitching mound—Feller struck out 348 batters and pitched a no-hitter against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium; Feller’s third no-hitter came in 1951 against the Detroit Tigers.

Also known as “Rapid Robert,” Feller was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, the same year of Jackie Robinson’s entry.  Selected on 150 of 160 ballots, Feller used his induction speech to talk about the history of baseball’s origins.  “I was just thinking a moment ago that occasionally, when you’re in some outlying community outside here, there’s been a little controversy whether the first baseball game was ever played in Cooperstown, or elsewhere,” said Feller.  “I’m not concerned where the first one was played as long as it was played, and it certainly made a great deal of difference in the lives of most all Americans.”

In addition to his three no-hitters, Feller racked up other statistics that place him at the top of the pitching pyramid, including thrown 12 one-hitters, winning 20 games six times, and leading the American League in victories six times.  Feller’s career ended in 1956.

Finding a parallel to Feller in Indians history is akin to finding a needle in a haystack, an apt metaphor considering Feller’s farming roots.  He set the standard for excellence under Chief Wahoo’s aegis, hence the Bob Feller statue outside Progressive Field.  No hurler for the Indians ever matched Feller’s speed, accuracy, and endurance—except, perhaps, Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn.

 A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on April 1, 2014.