I started following baseball as a youngster in Detroit in 1950. In the fourth grade in yeshiva at the time, I was close to the bottom of the class, but in baseball knowledge I was at the top.
I had a big advantage over my classmates in the baseball department. My father drove Hymie the newsstand guy home every Friday from his outdoor downtown stand. In return for his earlier arrival home for Shabbos, Hymie would give my father a copy of the Sporting News (at the time, the weekly Jewish Press-size publication was called “The Bible of Baseball.”)
I devoured the articles and memorized the players’ faces. One of the players getting a lot of ink in 1950 was Cleveland Indians third baseman Al Rosen, who would lead the American League in home runs. My father informed me that Rosen was Jewish and I targeted him as one of the players I would follow closely.
We’re coming up on Rosen’s first yahrzeit, so let’s take a look back at his career.
Raised in Miami, he began his professional baseball career in 1942. He opted for military service in the Navy and saw action in the South Pacific. Discharged in 1945, he played a couple of seasons in Cleveland’s minor league system. After posting a .327 batting average in the minors in 1948, the Indians brought him up and he had five big league at-bats and one more in the World Series against the Boston Braves.
A week after Rosen and team executive Hank Greenberg rode in the parade in downtown Cleveland celebrating the team’s World Series victory, Israel repelled most of the invading armies of Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. Egypt still remained a threat to the tiny nation of 650,000 Jews.
As the war for Israel’s survival wore on, new television programs went on the air in America: Milton Berle’s “Texaco Star Theatre,” Perry Como’s “Chesterfield Supper Club,” Arthur Godfrey’s ‘Talent Scouts” and Ed Sullivan’s “Toast of the Town.”
After some more minor league seasoning, Rosen made the big leagues to stay in 1950. The 27 year old hit a respectable .287, with his 37 homers leading the league. He slumped a bit in 1951 as his average dipped to .265 and his home runs declined to 24. But he had 102 runs batted in and he supplied more offense than any other third baseman in the league.
The following year, Rosen’s 105 runs batted in led the league and his .302 batting average and 28 home runs were among the league leaders.
In 1953 Rosen was aiming for the Triple Crown. His 45 home runs and 145 RBI led the league and he was virtually tied for batting average with the Washington Senators’ Mickey Vernon going into the last game of the season.
Rosen missed out on the batting title by only one percentage point as he grounded out in his last at-bat. Washington’s game ended with Vernon due up but a teammate was conveniently picked off first base with two out, saving Vernon from batting and possibly losing the title to Rosen.
While Rosen’s .336 batting average fell one point short of Vernon’s, Rosen was the unanimous choice for the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award.
Rosen had a memorable All-Star Game in 1954 before the home crowd in Cleveland as he blasted two home runs and drove in five for the American League in an 11-9 win over the National League. He finished the season with a .300 average, 24 homers and 102 RBI. However, a nagging injury hampered Rosen for most of the season, which only added to the pressure of mastering a new position as he’d been asked to play first base.