Top 100 Cleveland Indians: #22 Hal Trosky

Hal Trosky - The Conlon Collection

Next on our list is the first Indian to hit 40 home runs, and arguably the best first baseman this franchise has ever had.

Harold Arthur Trosky Sr.

First Baseman, 1933-1941

Height: 6'2" Weight: 207 lbs

Throws: Right Bats: Left

How Acquired: Amateur Free Agent, 1931

Left Via: Sold, November 6, 1943, by the Chicago White Sox

Born in Norway, Iowa, Harold Trojovsky was one of four siblings. Like many farmboys from the Midwest in the 1920s, he grew up playing baseball. Three teams showed the most interest in him while he was still in high school, the Indians, the Cardinals and the Philadelphia Athletics. Trojovsky knew Bing Miller, an Athletic that lived in nearby Vinton (25 miles). He told him that the Cardinals had offered him a contract. Miller advised he wait until Connie Mack spoke to him and his family.

But after returning home from that meeting with Miller, who of all people would Trojovsky meet up with? It was Cy Slapnicka of course. The famous Indian scout (who also inked Bob Feller among others) had followed Trojovsky's career pretty well, but was in no hurry to sign him until he learned of the Cardinals interest. He was sitting at the family table in kitchen, chatting with his father. They talked for a bit, and with little hesitation, signed a contract with the Indians.

That ironically, would be the last time he (and his siblings) would use the longer family name. He shortened it to Trosky shortly thereafter. Mr. Mack's contract arrived a mere three days later, but Trosky sent it back unsigned with a note thanking him. At the age of 18 in 1931, he first started off with the Cedar Rapids (IA) Bunnies, a Class D team in the Mississippi Valley League. He started off as a pitcher, but Slapnicka would once again intervene fortuitously. He noted that Trosky hit right handed, but was hitting cross handed. He suggested he keep the hands the way they were, but hit from the left side instead.

That paid off pretty well as he finished the year with a .302 average and even hit three home runs with Cedar Rapids and the Dubuque Tigers. His pitching career ended pretty quickly as he walked 22 in just 55 innings and had a 4.75 ERA. He finished that season as an outfielder. He returned to the Mississippi Valley League in 1932, but this time with the Burlington (IA) Bees. In 59 games, he hit .307 with 4 home runs. Unfortunately, that squad folded, so the Indians bumped him up to the Quincy (IL) Indians in the Three-I League (Class B). The jump in leagues paid off even better than anticipated. He hit .331 in 68 games and slugged .604 with 15 home runs.

He even got a late season bump to the Toledo Mud Hen of the American Association in 1932, hitting a single in his only at bat in two games. In 1933, at just 20 years old, he hit fantastically for the Mud Hens while converting to be a first baseman. He hit .323 in 132 games, slugged .614 and walloped 33 home runs. After Ed Morgan's decline in 1933, Harley Boss became the regular first baseman for the Tribe. He was pretty poor to put it mildly, slashing 269/310/347 for a 70 OPS+. When the Mud Hens season finished, Trosky got the call, and midseason replacement manager Walter Johnson had no qualms throwing the rookie in the lineup.

Trosky started the final 11 games and hit a respectable 295/340/477 (110 OPS+) in just 47 plate appearances with a double, two triples and a home run. Johnson had found his guy and in 1934, Trosky started and played every inning of every game for the Tribe. And what a fantastic rookie season it was. He slashed 330/388/598 (150 OPS+) with 45 doubles, 9 triples, and a then team record 35 home runs, not to mention 142 RBI, one off the team record. Had there been a Rookie of the Year voting, he probably would have swept it. As it was, he finished seventh in MVP voting. (Amazingly enough, Triple Crown winner Lou Gehrig finished fifth!)

Unfortunately, Trosky would succumb to that sophomore slump. He dropped back down to 271/321/468 (100 OPS+) but still bashed 26 homers and drove in 113. He started off very slow, and had a few decent spurts, but it wasn't until September that he finally got something to click for him. His former manager in Toledo, former Indian catching great Steve O'Neill, took over at midseason. He encouraged Trosky to hit right handed to break it up some. He ended up 5-10 in a doubleheader, with three singles and a homer from the right side. From that day until the end of the season, he slashed 406/424/672 with 24 RBI in just 15 games.

During spring training of 1936, Trosky felt he had his groove back and stuck to his customary left handed batting only. That year rivaled his rookie campaign as he hit 343/382/644 (146 OPS+) with 45 doubles, 9 triples, and breaking his team record by smashing 43 homers. He led the league in RBI with 162 and in total bases with 405. That however only got him tenth place in the MVP voting. He missed his first games since his call up in June with a blood clot in his leg due to a batting practice injury. It only cost him three games however.

In 1937, he had another superb season, 298/367/547 (129 OPS+), another 32 homers and 128 RBI. But he failed to crack any MVP ballots. He continued to smoke AL pitching in 1938. He hit 334/407/542 (1387 OPS+), but his homers dropped to 19 and his RBI dipped to 110. This time he placed thirteenth in MVP voting.

In 1939, Trosky, at the tender age of just 26, was named team captain. And although he continued to put up strong numbers, he showed a bit of mortality. He took a nine game break at the end of May, another four game break at the end of July and sat out most of the last half of September with severe headaches. His line of 335/405/589 (154 OPS+) 25 home runs and 104 RBI was good enough to place thirtieth in MVP voting, but missing over 30 games really hurt his candidacy.

He rested over the winter, and the headaches did lessen quite a bit. None of the medical professionals he consulted that winter could accurately diagnose his issue. So as he felt better by springtime, he entered 1940 raring to go. But headaches inside his head would not be the only headache Trosky would have to endure in 1940.

Manager Ossie Vitt had taken over for O'Neill at the beginning of the 1938 season. Entering his third year at the helm, most of the players were exhausted with his clubhouse antics of constantly denigrating them. In early June, with the team neck and neck with the Red Sox and Tigers for AL supremacy, they got rained out in Boston. The players sat together and decided they wanted to get rid of Vitt. Captain Trosky calmed them down, but mentioned the same frustrations to the Cleveland Press beat writer Frank Gibbons.

On the train ride back from Boston, the team got a petition ready and nominated Mel Harder to go to owner Alva Bradley. Trosky was unable to participate as he left that same day to attend to his mother's passing back in Iowa. Harder ended up being followed by 10 of his teammates for that fateful meeting. Trosky even phoned Bradley himself from Iowa to show support. The meeting was supposed to be kept quiet, but Gordon Cobbledick of the Plain Dealer found out and released the story, creating the "Crybaby" incident. Trosky's involvement was never confirmed completely other than the phone call.

On the field, Trosky again hit very well, even amongst the turmoil. He hit 295/392/529 (138 OPS+) with 25 home runs, but just 93 RBI. In August he cracked his 200th career homer, becoming just the seventh player at the time to accomplish that. The headaches in his head stayed away for the most part until August and September. He managed to stay in the lineup for all but 10 of those games, but the Tribe finished just one game back of the Tigers. Most felt that if Vitt wasn't the manager, they would have won the pennant, including Trosky.

But the migraines continued to persist in 1941 as well. He played in almost every game through mid-June, but was hit hard enough he missed four games from June 21 to June 25. As the migraines continued to worsen as the season he progressed, he missed another 10 games in July and another eight in early August with him skipping a road trip. He rejoined the team in Chicago, but broke his thumb in a collision with White Sox pitcher Ted Lyons on August 17, ending his season. Sadly, his numbers were again very good, all things considered. He hit 294/383/455 (126 OPS+), but only had 11 homers and 51 RBI in just 89 games.

In the offseason, Trosky made the call to take 1942 season off, hoping a year away from the game would reduce the migraines significantly. He also wanted to serve in the military as the United States had entered World War II. His farm was very productive however, producing 90 bushels of corn per acre while he bided his time, waiting for the draft board.

In November 1943, he worked out for the White Sox, who decided to purchase his contract from the Indians. In March 1944, the military finally declared him unfit to serve, so he became the White Sox everyday first baseman. He had varying degrees of success, but was mostly hot and cold. He finished with a 241/327/374 (102 OPS+) line and led the White Sox with just 10 home runs. He decided to retire once again that offseason.

In 1945, while working at the Amana refrigeration plant, Trosky discovered that vitamin B-1 shots and a reduction of dairy products in his diet alleviated a lot of his headaches. He decided to take one last crack, and the White Sox gladly signed him on for the 1946 season. He only managed to get into 88 games and was a shell of his former self. He hit 254/330/334 (89 OPS+) with just two home runs, ironically both against the Indians, the last in Cleveland Stadium on May 30. Even though the Sox offered him a contract for 1947, he was through playing ball.

Trosky married his childhood love, Lorraine, shortly after his call-up back in 1933. Their first child Hal Jr. was bron in September 1936, and he would eventually get a cup of coffee with the White Sox in 1958 as a pitcher. They had two more sons, James and Lynn and a daughter, Mary Kay as well.

After declining the White Sox contract for 1947, he did accept their second offer, to scout talent in eastern Iowa. He manages the Amana Freezers semipro team to a spot in the Amateur World Series in 1947, but left after just one season. He retired from scouting in 1950 as well.

He reveled in raising his family, going to church, hunting, running the farm and also dabbled in agricultural real estate. He was active speaker for the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association into the 1970s. He had a heart attack in 1978, limiting him to walking with a cane, and then another one in 1979 that ended his life.

Trosky is regarded as one of the best players never to make an All-Star appearance. This is mainly because his contemporaries included Hall 0f Famers Lou Gehrig, Hank Greenberg and Jimmie Foxx. He was an inaugural member of the Indians Hall of Fame in 1951 and was voted to the Top 100 Greatest Indians in 2001. Without the migraines, he could have also ended up in the Hall of Fame as well. As it was, he only had one season under 125 OPS+ and many of his team records stood until the players of the 1990s juggernaut teams surpassed them.

Sources

SABR Biography by Bill Johnson

Indians Career Stats

Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB HBP SH Pos Awards
1933 20 CLE 11 47 44 6 13 1 2 1 8 0 0 2 12 .295 .340 .477 .818 110 21 1 0 3
1934 21 CLE 154 685 625 117 206 45 9 35 142 2 2 58 49 .330 .388 .598 .987 150 374 2 0 *3 MVP-7
1935 22 CLE 154 680 632 84 171 33 7 26 113 1 2 46 60 .271 .321 .468 .789 100 296 1 1 *3
1936 23 CLE 151 671 629 124 216 45 9 42 162 6 5 36 58 .343 .382 .644 1.026 146 405 3 3 *3/4 MVP-10
1937 24 CLE 153 669 601 104 179 36 9 32 128 3 1 65 60 .298 .367 .547 .915 129 329 1 3 *3
1938 25 CLE 150 626 554 106 185 40 9 19 110 5 1 67 40 .334 .407 .542 .948 137 300 1 4 *3 MVP-13
1939 26 CLE 122 512 448 89 150 31 4 25 104 2 3 52 28 .335 .405 .589 .994 154 264 1 10 *3 MVP-30
1940 27 CLE 140 608 522 85 154 39 4 25 93 1 2 79 45 .295 .392 .529 .920 138 276 4 3 *3
1941 28 CLE 89 356 310 43 91 17 0 11 51 1 2 44 21 .294 .383 .455 .838 126 141 1 0 3
CLE (9 yrs) 1124 4854 4365 758 1365 287 53 216 911 21 18 449 373 .313 .379 .551 .930 135 2406 15 24
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/12/2013.

Selected Awards/Leaders

  • AL MVP: 1934-7th, 1936-10th, 1938-13th, 1939-30th
  • AL WAR: 9th, 1934-5.5
  • AL WAR Position Players: 6th, 1934-5.5; 10th, 1939-5.2
  • AL oWAR: 6th, 1934-5.8; 8th, 1936-4.9
  • AL Average: 4th, 1939-.335; 6th, 1938-.334; 9th, 1934-.330; 9th, 1936-.343
  • AL Slugging: 2nd, 1936-.644; 4th, 1934-.598; 5th, 1939-.589; 6th, 1940-.529; 9th, 1937-.547; 9th, 1938-.542
  • AL OPS: 4th, 1934-.987; 5th, 1936-1.026; 5th, 1939-.994; 6th, 1940-.920
  • AL Runs Scored: 7th, 1934-117; 9th, 1936-124
  • AL Hits: 3rd, 1934-206; 3rd, 1936-216
  • AL TB: 1st, 1936-405; 2nd, 1934-374; 5th, 1937-329; 7th, 1938-300; 8th, 1935-296
  • AL 2B: 3rd, 1938-40; 4th, 1934-45; 5th, 1936-45; 7th, 1940-39
  • AL 3B: 8th, 1934-9; 9th, 1938-9
  • AL Home Runs: 2nd, 1936-42; 3rd, 1934-35; 5th, 1935-26; 6th, 1937-32; 6th, 1939-25; 8th, 1940-25
  • AL RBI: 1st, 1936-162; 2nd, 1934-142; 4th, 1935-113; 5th, 1937-128; 10th, 1939-104
  • AL Strikeouts: 8th, 1935-60
  • AL OPS+: 5th, 1934-150; 5th, 1936-146; 6th, 1939-154; 7th, 1940-138
  • AL RC: 3rd, 1934-144; 5th, 1936-152; 7th, 1938-122; 8th, 1940-106; 9th, 1937-121; 9th, 1939-106
  • AL Extra Base Hits: 1st, 1936-99; 3rd, 1934-89; 5th, 1935-66; 5th, 1937-77; 6th, 1938-68; 7th, 1940-68; 9th, 1939-60
  • AL Hit By Pitch: 5th, 1940-4
  • AL Putouts: 1st, 1934-1487; 1st, 1935-1567; 2nd, 1937-1403; 4th, 1936-1368; 4th, 1938-1232
  • AL Putouts as 1B: 1st, 1934-1487; 1st, 1935-1567; 2nd, 1937-1403; 4th, 1936-1367; 4th, 1938-1232
  • AL Assists as 1B: 1st, 1934-86; 2nd, 1935-88; 2nd, 1936-85; 2nd, 1939-97; 3rd, 1938-102; 4th, 1937-76
  • AL Errors as 1B: 1st, 1934-22; 1st, 1936-22; 4th, 1937-10; 5th, 1935-11; 5th, 1938-10
  • AL Double Plays Turned as 1B: 1st, 1934-145; 3rd, 1935-129; 3rd, 1937-131; 3rd, 1940-129; 5th, 1936-126
  • AL Range Factor/Game 1B: 2nd, 1935-10.82; 3rd, 1934-10.21; 5th, 1936-9.62; 5th, 1937-9.73
  • AL Fielding Percentage 1B: 2nd, 1937-.993; 2nd, 1938-.993; 2nd, 1940-.991; 3rd, 1935-.993; 3rd, 1939-.992

Cleveland Indians Career Leader

  • t-16th WAR Position Players (29.9)
  • t-12th oWAR (31.5)
  • t-12th Average (.313)
  • t-21st On Base Percentage (.379)
  • 4th Slugging (.551)
  • 7th OPS (.930)
  • 21st Games Played (1124)
  • 15th At Bats (4365)
  • 19th Plate Appearances (4854)
  • 11th Runs Scored (758)
  • 11th Hits (1365)
  • 6th Total Bases (2406)
  • 9th Doubles (287)
  • 18th Triples (53)
  • 5th Home Runs (216)
  • 4th Runs Batted In (911)
  • 21st Bases On Balls (449)
  • t-39th Strikeouts (373)
  • 20th Singles (809)
  • 16th OPS+ (135)
  • 7th Runs Created (905)
  • 4th Extra Base Hits (556)

Cleveland Indians Season Leader

  • t-50th oWAR (5.8, 1934)
  • t-37th Average (.343, 1936)
  • 7th Slugging (.644, 1936)
  • 19th Slugging (.598, 1934)
  • 24th Slugging (.589, 1939)
  • 44th Slugging (.547, 1937)
  • t-49th Slugging (.542, 1938)
  • 18th OPS (1.026, 1936)
  • 27th OPS (.994, 1939)
  • t-30th OPS (.987, 1934)
  • 20th At Bats (632, 1935)
  • 23rd At Bats (629, 1936)
  • t-27th At Bats (625, 1934)
  • t-13th Runs Scored (124, 1936)
  • 22nd Runs Scored (117, 1934)
  • t-47th Runs Scored (106, 1938)
  • t-8th Hits (216, 1936)
  • 19th Hits (206, 1934)
  • 1st Total Bases (405, 1936)
  • 5th Total Bases (374, 1934)
  • 20th Total Bases (329, 1937)
  • t-46th Total Bases (300, 1938)
  • t-22nd Doubles (45, 1934, 1936)
  • t-8th Home Runs (42, 1936)
  • t-19th Home Runs (35, 1934)
  • t-31st Home Runs (32, 1937)
  • 2nd Runs Batted In (162, 1936)
  • 7th Runs Batted In (142, 1934)
  • 12th Runs Batted In (128, 1937)
  • 38th Runs Batted In (113, 1935)
  • t-46th Runs Batted In (110, 1938)
  • t-47th OPS+ (154, 1939)
  • 7th Runs Created (152, 1936)
  • t-12th Runs Created (144, 1934)
  • t-46th Runs Created (122, 1938)
  • 2nd Extra Base Hits (96, 1936)
  • t-4th Extra Base Hits (89, 1934)
  • t-15th Extra Base Hits (77, 1937)
  • t-47th Extra Base Hits (68, 1938, 1940)

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