Top 100 Cleveland Indians: #16 Al Rosen

Next on our countdown is the best hitter ever to spend his entire Major-League career with the Indians.


Albert Leonard Rosen

Third Baseman, 1947-1956

Height: 5'10" Weight: 180 lbs

Throws: Right Bats: Right

How Acquired: Amateur free agent, 1942

Left via: Retirement, 1956

From Little Havana to Okinawa

Al Rosen (often called "Flip") was born in South Carolina, but shortly after his father abandoned the family year later, Al's mother moved him, his brother Jerry, and their grandmother to Miami, where she believed the warmer climate would be better for Al's severe asthma. The Rosens became the only Jewish family in the Little Havana neighborhood of the city, which led to Al getting in a lot of fights as a boy, which in turn led to him becoming a fine boxer. Despite his asthma, Rosen was encouraged to play sports. The asthma disappeared over time, and Al became an excellent athlete.

Rosen spent a year at the University of Florida, but signed a contract with the Indians that spring, and spent the summer playing for their Class D affiliate in Thomasville, North Carolina. Rosen enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the end of the season. In 1945 he was the navigator for an assault boat during the landing at Okinawa, the deadliest battle of the Pacific Theater. Rosen retired from the Navy in 1946, having reached the rank of lieutenant, and returned to his pursuit of a career in baseball.

Let's Go Tribe's Top 100 Indians

Let's Go Tribe's Top 100 Indians

Minor-League Star

Rosen went to Pittsfield, Massachusetts to spend the rest of the 1946 season with the Tribe's Class C affiliate there. He batted .323 with 55 extra-base hits in 375 at bats, and was named the Canadian-American League's Rookie of the Year. In 1947 Rosen was sent to play for the Indians' Double-A team in Oklahoma City, where he led the league in batting average (.323), slugging percentage (.619), hits (186), extra-base hits (83), and total bases (330). He was an easy choice as Texas League MVP. In September Rosen was called up to Cleveland for his first taste of the big leagues, appearing in 7 games.

Most teams would have made Rosen their starting third baseman for 1948, but the Indians had Ken Keltner, one of the best at the position in the league, so Rosen was blocked (Keltner was the right choice in 1948, he had the best season of his career that year and was one of the 10 best players in the AL). The Tribe came up with what now seems like a strange arrangement. They wanted Rosen in Triple-A, but rather than sending him to San Diego (where their own affilate in those days was at), they worked out a deal with the New York Yankees to have Rosen play for their affiliate in Kansas City. Rosen killed the ball again, with a .327/.422/.587 line, earning him American Association Rookie of the Year honors. He was called back to Cleveland in September again, and was on the roster for the World Series, though he only appeared once (making him one of just two living members of that team (Eddie Robinson is the other).

Rosen was sent to San Diego in 1949, and hit well again, this time with a .319/.410/.524 line. He had nothing left to prove in the minors. The following year Rosen beat Keltner out during spring training, and was given the third-base job.  Keltner had been deservedly popular among Cleveland fans, who were at first somewhat resistent to the new guy, but Rosen soon won them over.

Finally, the Big Leagues

On Opening Day of 1950, Rosen hit the first Major-League home run of his career, a two-run shot in the 8th inning that tied the game. He went on to lead the American League by hitting 37 home runs that season, setting an AL-rookie record that stood until 1987. He also led the Indians in runs batted in (116) and total bases (301). He received mention in the MVP voting, finishing 17th, though on merit he was one of the 5 to 10 best players in the league. No Tribe rookie since then has put up an offensive season as good as that one.

Rosen's production slipped in 1951, though he still hit 24 home runs and led the team in extra-base hits and total bases. He rebounded nicely in 1952. On April 29, Rosen hit 3 home runs in a 21-9 romp over the Athletics, becoming the 7th player in franchise history to have such a game. Three weeks into the season he'd already hit 8 home runs and had a 1.214 OPS. He played in his first All-Star Game that July and finished the year with 28 home runs and the league lead in RBI (105) and total bases (297). He finished 10th in that year's AL MVP voting.

Rosen also got married in 1952. He and his wife Teresa would eventually have 3 children, all born in Cleveland.

The Best Player in Baseball

Rosen had already proven himself a great player, but in 1953 he went to a whole other level. He began the season with an 11-game hitting streak, and by the time the All-Star break rolled around, he was batting .313, with 22 home runs, and 72 RBI. He hit a grand slam in the first game after the break, and just kept on rolling. By the final week of the season, Rosen had wrapped up the league lead in RBI, and was in tight races for both the batting title and home run lead, giving him a chance at the Triple Crown.

Two home runs on September 25th put him in the lead there, and Rosen collected 3 hits in his first 4 plate appearances on the final day of the season, putting him a small fraction of a point behind Mickey Vernon of the Senators in batting average. A hit in his final at bat would have pushed out him over the top, but he hit a grounder to third and the throw beat him to first base by half a step. Rosen appeared to many to have beaten the throw, but said, "It was a close call, but Hank Soar made the right call.'' Al finished with a .336 average, with 43 home runs, and 145 RBI. His 115 runs scored and .613 slugging percentage also led the league, and Rosen become the first unanimous AL MVP in 17 years. No Indian has won the MVP since Rosen, and his season is in the conversation for best in franchise history.

A Career Too Brief

The Indians asked Rosen to move to first base in 1954, which he did. On the last day of May, Rosen suffered a badly broken finger while attempting to field a grounder. He kept playing for a few days, but couldn't grip the bat, and eventually missed almost two weeks. From the time of the injury until late August, Rosen hit just .237, with only 8 home runs. He was an All-Star again though, and managed to hit two home runs in the game that summer, played at Cleveland's Municipal Stadium. The finger though, would never fully heal.

The day before spring training began in 1955, Rosen's back was injured in a car accident. His batting averaged dropped to .244 and he hit a career-low 21 home runs. He was named an All-Star for the fourth straight year, but this time it was clearly for his reputation, and not for his production. His play rebounded a bit in 1956, but not to a level he was satisfied with. He couldn't grip the bat the way he used to and often woke up in back pain. Not wanting to play if he couldn't be at his best, Rosen instead decided to retire at the end of 1956, despite being only 32 years old.

The military and Ken Keltner kept Rosen from being a regular until he was 26, and so the injuries that ending his career early meant he only really played 7 seasons, just 5 of them at full health. That 5-year peak was Hall of Fame worthy, but his career was too short to receive serious consideration.

Life in Retirement

Rosen worked in Cleveland as an investment banker for 17 years following his retirement, a business he'd learned during the offseason while he was a player. He also served as a batting instructor for the team every year at spring training. In 1971 Rosen was struck by tragedy, when his wife somehow fell to her death from a hotel window. Not long after, Rosen took a job in Las Vegas. In 1978 Rosen returned to baseball, when an old Cleveland connection named George Steinbrenner offered him a position in the Yankees front office. Rosen didn't stay in the Bronx Zoo for long, but later worked for the Astros from 1980 to 1985, and for the Giants from 1985 to 1992. In 1987 he was named MLB's Executive of the Year, making him the only man ever to win that award and an MVP.

Rosen is 89 years old, one of the ten oldest living Indians, but remains active and in good shape. He lives in California with his second wife, and golfs when he can (but complains that the broken finger still sometimes makes it difficult to grip his clubs). He has been inducted to the Indians Hall of Fame, the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, and the Texas League Hall of Fame. He still has a great fondness for Cleveland, and for the Tribe. "Cleveland was great for me. I loved every minute of it. During my baseball career I was received warmly and with only laudatory manners. It was just great, I was very happy there."

Career Statistics:
Year Age G PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
1947 23 7 9 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 3 .111 .111 .111 .222 -37
1948 24 5 5 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 .200 .200 .200 .400 8
1949 25 23 51 3 7 2 0 0 5 7 4 .159 .275 .205 .479 29
1950 26 155 668 100 159 23 4 37 116 100 72 .287 .405 .543 .948 145
1951 27 154 661 82 152 30 1 24 102 85 71 .265 .362 .447 .809 123
1952 28 148 649 101 171 32 5 28 105 75 54 .302 .387 .524 .911 160
1953 29 155 688 115 201 27 5 43 145 85 48 .336 .422 .613 1.034 180
1954 30 137 566 76 140 20 2 24 102 85 43 .300 .404 .506 .910 147
1955 31 139 596 61 120 13 1 21 81 92 44 .244 .362 .402 .765 103
1956 32 121 481 64 111 18 2 15 61 58 44 .267 .351 .428 .779 104
10 Yrs 1044 4374 603 1063 165 20 192 717 587 385 .285 .384 .495 .879 137

Sources:

  • Baseball-Reference
  • SABR
  • Cleveland Plain Dealer
  • Wikipedia

Selected AL Awards/Leaders:
  • All-Star: 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955
  • MVP: 1953-1st, 1952-10th, 1954-15th, 1950-17th
  • WAR: 1st, 1953-10.1; 4th, 1950-5.8; 5th, 1952-6.0
  • Position-Player WAR: 1st, 1953-10.1; 3rd, 1950-5.8; 3rd, 1952-6.0; 9th, 1954-4.6
  • oWAR: 1st, 1953-9.1; 3rd, 1952-6.2; 6th, 1950-5.0; 6th, 1954-5.1
  • Average: 2nd, 1953-.336; 7th, 1952-.302
  • OBP: 2nd, 1953-.422; 5th, 1954-.404; 6th, 1952-.387
  • Slugging: 1st, 1953-.613; 3rd, 1952-.524; 4th, 1954-.506; 5th, 1950-.543
  • OPS: 1st, 1953-1.034; 3rd, 1952-.911; 4th, 1954-.910; 5th, 1950-.948
  • Runs: 1st, 1953-115; 3rd, 1952-101
  • Hits: 3rd, 1953-201; 5th, 1952-171
  • Total Bases: 1st, 1952-297; 1st, 1953-367; 7th, 1950-301; 8th, 1951-256
  • Doubles: 5th, 1952-32; 9th, 1951-30
  • Home Runs: 1st, 1950-37; 1st, 1953-43; 5th, 1954-24; 6th, 1952-28; 7th, 1951-24
  • RBI: 1st, 1952-105; 1st, 1953-145; 5th, 1951-102; 5th, 1954-102; 7th, 1951-116
  • Walks: 5th, 1950-100; 5th, 1951-85; 5th, 1953-85; 5th, 1954-85; 6th, 1955-92; 7th, 1952-75
  • Stolen Bases: 8th, 1953-8; 10th, 1952-8
  • OPS+: 1st, 1953-180; 3rd, 1950-145; 3rd, 1952-160; 4th, 1954-147
  • Extra Base Hits: 1st, 1953-75; 3rd, 1952-65; 5th, 1951-55; 8th, 1960-64; 9th, 1954-46
  • Hit By Pitch: 1st, 1950-10
  • Win Probability Added: 1st, 1953-6.6; 5th, 1952-3.8; 6th, 1950-2.9; 6th, 1954-4.7
Cleveland Indians Career Ranks:
  • 13th Position-Player WAR (32.4)
  • t-12th oWAR (31.5)
  • t-46th Average (.285)
  • 16th On Base Percentage (.384)
  • t-13th Slugging (.495)
  • 13th OPS (.879)
  • 27th Games Played (1044)
  • 26th Plate Appearances (4374)
  • 21st Runs (603)
  • 25th Hits (1063)
  • 18th Total Bases (1844)
  • 39th Doubles (165)
  • 9th Home Runs (192)
  • 13th Runs Batted In (717)
  • 12th Walks (587)
  • t-11th OPS+ (137)
  • 19th Extra Base Hits (377)
  • t-41st Hit By Pitch (27)
  • 5th Win Probability Added (20.0)
Cleveland Indians Season Ranks:
  • 2nd WAR (10.1, 1953)
  • t-3rd oWAR (9.1, 1953)
  • t-35th oWAR (6.2, 1952)
  • t-47th Average (.336, 1953)
  • t-34th OBP (.422, 1953)
  • 12th Slugging (.613, 1953)
  • 48th Slugging (.543, 1950)
  • 16th OPS (1.034, 1953)
  • 26th Runs (115, 1953)
  • 25th Hits (201, 1953)
  • 6th Total Bases (367, 1953)
  • t-43rd Total Bases (301, 1950)
  • 7th Home Runs (43, 1953)
  • t-16th Home Runs (37, 1950)
  • t-4th Runs Batted In (145, 1953)
  • t-31st Runs Batted In (116, 1950)
  • t-16th Walks (100, 1950)
  • 42nd Walks (92, 1955)
  • t-12th OPS+ (180, 1953)
  • t-34th OPS+ (160, 1952)
  • t-22nd Extra Base Hits (75, 1953)
  • 1st Win Probability Added (6.6, 1953)
  • t-17th Win Probability Added (4.7, 1954)
  • t-37th Win Probability Added (3.8, 1952)

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