Posts Tagged ‘Hawaii’

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.

Tom Selleck and Baseball

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

A prime time powerhouse on the roster of Reagan Era television programs, Magnum, p.i. invokes images of Aloha shirts, a red Ferrari, and a Detroit Tigers baseball cap worn by the title character, played by Tom Selleck “with a shaggy charm that manages to cut through most of the cops and robbers blarney,” according to James Brown in the December 11, 1980 edition of the Los Angeles Times.  Magnum, p.i. revolves around the personal and professional travails of Thomas Sullivan Magnum IV, a former Naval Intelligence officer working as a security expert for the Hawaiian estate of novelist Robin Masters, whose voice is heard in several episodes, but whose face is never seen; the estate is nicknamed Robin’s Nest.

Living in the estate’s guesthouse in exchange for his security services, Magnum also runs a private investigation business on the Hawaiian islands with occasional assistance from Vietnam War buddies—Marine Corps Door Gunner Orville “Rick” Wright and Marine Corps Pilot Theodore “T.C.” Calvin.  Now settled in Hawaii along with Magnum, T.C. runs the Island Hoppers helicopter tour business and Rick manages the bar and restaurant and the King Kamehameha Club.  Robin is on the club’s Board of Directors.

Magnum’s battles at home consist primarily of verbal sparring about estate perks—access to Mr. Masters’s possessions, for example—with Jonathan Quayle Higgins III, the estate’s majordomo, who is fond of patrolling the estate with his “lads,” two Doberman Pinschers named Zeus and Apollo.  Magnum addresses plot points with narration often beginning with the phrase “I know what you’re thinking,” his plans to write a book on how to be a first class private investigator, or references to his instinct, which he labels his “little voice.”  Donning a Tigers cap pays homage to Magnum’s favorite baseball team, also Selleck’s.

Baseball-themed storylines highlight two episodes of Magnum, p.i.  In the 1983 episode “Squeeze Play,” a high-stakes poker game between Robin Masters and adult magazine mogul Buzz Benoit at the latter’s Beverly Hills mansion leaves the legendary scribe at the mercy of the wisecracking publisher; the two media icons go back two decades—in his magazine’s first issue circa 1961, Buzz published Robin’s first story, titled Babes in Babylon.  At the episode’s beginning, Buzz has already won a signed Picasso, a case of 100-year-old champagne, Robin’s master tapes of Jack Teagarden’s original songs, plus one original Robin Masters story for the next issue of his magazine.

When the subject of co-ed softball arises, Buzz gives Robin a chance to recoup his losses—the publisher’s Blasters versus the novelist’s King Kamehameha Club Paddlers.  If the Blasters win, Buzz gets control of Robin’s Nest for one year.  If the Paddlers win, Robin’s debts are wiped out.  The Blasters win.  All seems hopeless for Magnum, Higgins, et al., until Magnum realizes that Buzz plays poker with marked decks.  The bet, therefore, was never valid.

“Squeeze Play” references a real Yankees-Tigers game when Magnum recalls going to Briggs Stadium with his Uncle Lyle in June 1956—the game indicated is the June 18th contest, which the Yankees won 7-4, thanks to Mickey Mantle’s three-run homer that went over the stadium’s 110-foot roof.

In the 1982 episode “Jororo Farewell,” the 12-year-old Prince of Jororo, a fictional country, stays at Robin’s Nest when his baseball team visits Hawaii to play T.C.’s team in a goodwill game.  Simply, the prince is a target for those who want to harm the royal family of Jororo; the team stays at a hotel in Waikiki while the prince remains under the watchful eye of his security detail and, naturally, Magnum.  After a practice game, Jororian dissidents ambush the prince’s car; Magnum helps thwart their efforts with honed shooting skill.  When kidnappers abduct the prince, Magnum deduces that the team’s coach is involved, tracks him to an airport, and discovers that the prince jumped out of the rear cargo door of the kidnappers’ plane before it took off.

Baseball also provides the backdrop to Selleck’s starring role in Mr. Baseball, a 1992 film depicting Selleck as Jack Elliot, an aging, disgruntled, and overconfident major leaguer now playing for the Chunichi Dragons in Japan.  Elliot, at first dismissive of playing in Japan, learns humility, respect, and teamwork.  After finding success overseas, Elliot returns home to a coaching position with the Detroit Tigers.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 19, 2015.