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.
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