Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Tribute to Al Rosen

For half a decade, Al Rosen was one of the best third basemen in all of baseball. From 1950-1954 for the Cleveland Indians, Rosen averaged 31 HRs and 114 RBIs per season. He hit .300 or above 3 times. He also had an OBP of .400 or above 3 times. For 5 consecutive seasons, Rosen drove in over 100 RBIs and hit 20 or more HRs with 20 or more doubles. Scored 100 or more runs 3 times. A 4-time all-star, Rosen finished in the top 20 of MVP voting 4 times during his abbreviated career.

In 1953 Rosen had one of greatest seasons of any third baseman ever. He hit .336 with a .422 OBP and a .613 SLG, had 43 HRs, 27 doubles, 5 triples, scored 115 runs, and drove in 145 runs. He won the AL MVP in convincing fashion; he was the first player in MLB history to get an MVP by a unanimous vote. The only other Jews who have won an MVP are Hank Greenberg (2), Sandy Koufax, and Lou Boudreau. Rosen missed winning the batting title and with it the Triple Crown by 1 percentage point. He led the AL in HRs, SLG, RBIs, OPS (1.035), runs scored, extra-base hits (75), and total bases (367). He finished 2nd in average and OBP and third in hits (201).

Coming into 1950, Rosen only had 58 ABs from the 3 preceding seasons. But he broke out in a big way in 1950, leading the AL in HRs with 37. He also had a .543 SLG (5th in AL), drove in 116 runs (7th in AL), scored 100 runs, and had 301 total bases (7th in AL). Now, if you're like me you're thinking: why the _____ didn't he win Rookie of the Year? Simple. Walt Dropo had a freakishly good season, one that he'd never come close to reproducing. He hit .322 with 34 HRs, 144 RBIs, and scored 101 runs. Dropo would never hit .300 again. Nor would he hit 30 HRs or drive in 100 runs or score 100 runs again. So "freakishly" is the operative word here.

Unfortunately, Rosen's meteoric rise to excellence was equaled by a meteoric demise. Lingering back and leg injures forced Rosen to retire at the age of 32 in 1956. Like Sandy Koufax after him, Rosen's career was cut short by chronic pain. Had he remained healthy, it's entirely possible he would be mentioned today in the same breath as guys like Eddie Matthews and Mike Schmidt. As it is, his .879 career OPS ranks in the top 100 of all time. His 9 career grand slams also rank in the top 100 of all time. He hit 4 grand slams alone in 1951. His AB/RBI ratio is in the top 50 of all time. His home run percentage is in the top 100 of all time. All told, Rosen hit .285 with a .384 OBP and a .495 SLG, had 192 HRs, 165 doubles, 20 triples, scored 603 runs, and drove in 717 runs in 7 full seasons. In the tradition of players like Sid Gordon and Buddy Myer, Rosen also walked more than he struck out in each of those 7 seasons. And here's a little known fact: in the 1954 All-Star game, Rosen homered twice - with a broken finger.

No comments: