Posts Tagged ‘Plain Dealer’

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.

Cleveland’s Other Team

Thursday, December 15th, 2016

Cleveland, home of the Indians, reveled in the exploits of Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, and Lou Boudreau in the 1940s.  The Cleveland Buckeyes did not receive parallel acclaim—this, despite the team’s 1945 Negro League World Series championship.

“The public and media didn’t get behind us the way they should have the year we won the world championship,” said Ernie Wright, the Buckeyes’ owner, in an interview for Dwayne Cheeks’s article “The Cleveland Buckeyes Remembered: Played Second Fiddle to Tribe until Demise” in the January 18, 1982 edition of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  “All we got from the city of Cleveland was a banquet.  There was no parade or meeting with the mayor.  The players didn’t make any special appearances.  It was a far cry from what the Indians got when they won the World Series in 1948.”

Outfielder Sam Jethroe echoed this claim.  “The way the city responded, you wouldn’t have thought we won anything.  I was a part of bigger celebrations in the minors.  Winning minor league pennants in Montreal and Toronto were much bigger events,” said Jethroe in the same Plain Dealer article.

Celebrations were not absent, however.  Contrasting the memories of Jethroe and Wright, a contemporaneous news account in the Cleveland Call and Post described the event mentioned by Wright.  “The community paid its warmest tributes to the World Champion Cleveland Buckeyes at a banquet in their honor in the Hotel Majestic Rose Room last Sunday evening where team and management were thanked individually and collectively for the glory and distinction they have brought to this city,” wrote Bob Williams in the October 6, 1945 edition of the Call and Post.

Further, Williams noted, “Special credit was also given the Buckeyes in Cleveland City Council last Monday night when a resolution commemorating them was introduced and passed through the efforts of Councilmen DeMaoribus, Finkle, Gasaway, and Walker.”

With speed rather than strength, the 1945 Buckeyes swept the Homestead Grays to win the Negro League World Series.  In his 1977 autobiography 20 Years Too Soon: Prelude to Major-League Integrated Baseball, Buckeye catcher-manager Quincy Trouppe explained, “We weren’t known as a power outfit, although we had players beside myself who could park one on you quick, but what we were doing that caught everyone by surprise and got us by them was bringing back the old brand of ball playing made famous in Rube Foster’s heyday.  Back then, guys like Jelly Gardner and Jimmy Lyons could drive you crazy by choking up on the bat, hitting behind the runner, and running wild stealing on the base paths.  It was true the Homestead Grays could bomb you out of the park, but my team was very fast.  We could run the tongue out of anybody’s head.”

The Buckeyes compiled a 53-16 record in 1945, amounting to a .768 winning percentage.  Beating the Grays meant overcoming a lineup filled with future Hall of Famers Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, Judy Johnson, and Buck Leonard.  A Buckeye standout, switch-hitting outfielder Willie Grace batted .313 and hit the only home run in the 1945 Negro League World Series.  In an interview for Brent Kelley’s article “Willie Grace was Part of the Best Team in Cleveland History…in 1945!” for the November 10, 1995 edition of Sports Collectors Digest, Grace recalled, “We were tellin’ the world what a great ball club you had.  ‘Cause we beat you, but we was still tellin’ the world that’s the greatest thing that ever happened to me as a ballplayer was beatin’ a team like this.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 5, 2015.