Al Rosen passed away last Friday at the age of 91. The 4-time All-Star third basemen for the Indians in the first half of the 1950s, Rosen compiled an impressive 32 WAR in a career of only 7 seasons as a regular. After his playing days, Rosen served in an executive capacity for three franchises, guiding all of them to post-season appearances, including two pennant-winning seasons.
More on Rosen after the jump.
Rosen got a late start on his major league career, having to wait his turn playing for the star-laden Indians’ clubs of the late 1940s and early 1950s. When he finally got his chance at age 26, Rosen made the most of it, leading the AL with 37 home runs in 1950 to break the AL rookie home run record set by Rudy York in 1937 (only Mark McGwire has since matched or bettered Rosen’s mark among AL rookies). That season was also special as Rosen reached the century mark in walks, runs and RBI, a rookie feat matched only by Ted Williams. Despite those credentials, Rosen failed to garner a single vote in that season’s RoY balloting, won by Walt Dropo of the Red Sox (I’m guessing the rookie standards were different then, and Rosen’s 35 games and 65 PA over 3 prior seasons may have disqualified him).
Rosen posted similar seasons for the next four years, reaching at least 24 home runs and 102 RBI each time, and posting a 151 OPS+ for 1950-54, tops among the 4 players to reach 150 HR and 500 RBI over that period. Rosen’s 288 strikeouts over that span were also more than 100 fewer than any of those other 3 players (Ralph Kiner, Duke Snider, Gil Hodges). Included was Rosen’s almost triple-crown season in 1953 when he led in HR and RBI, but saw his .336 BA fall just shy of Mickey Vernon‘s .337 mark. In addition to those two triple crown categories, Rosen also led in Runs, SLG and OPS that season, a feat since accomplished in a 200 hit season only by Hank Aaron ten years later.
Injuries started to limit Rosen’s playing time in his age 30 season in 1954, and then started to hurt his performance the next two seasons as he compiled under 2.0 WAR in both 1955 and 1956 after reaching more than 30 WAR over the 5 preceding years. Seeing no improvement in his physical ailments, the 32 year-old Rosen retired after the 1956 season. For his career, Rosen recorded over one home run per 23 PAs and less than one strikeout per 11 PAs, marks yet to be achieved, in tandem, in a 3000 PA expansion era career. Among those homering as frequently as Rosen in a 3000 PA career, only Hank Aaron and Albert Pujols in the expansion era have a better SO to HR ratio than Rosen’s 2.01 mark.
After his playing days, Rosen pursued successful careers away from baseball, first as a stockbroker and later in casino management in Las Vegas. In 1978, George Steinbrenner lured Rosen away from the casino business to become the Yankees’ president and chief operating officer. Rosen endured a tumultuous year-and-a-half in that role, becoming embroiled in the ongoing feuding between Steinbrenner, Reggie Jackson and Yankee manager Billy Martin. Midway through that 1978 season, Martin was gone (he either resigned or Steinbrenner forced Rosen to fire him) and Rosen brought in former teammate Bob Lemon who guided the Bombers to a successful defense of their World Series crown. Next season, when the Yankees were scuffling near the .500 mark in June, Steinbrenner brought Martin back to replace Lemon. Steinbrenner’s continuing interference with Rosen’s running of day-to-day baseball operations impelled Rosen to resign a month later.
Rosen then returned briefly to the casino business in New Jersey before the Astros hired him in 1980 to replace Tal Smith as president and general manager. As in New York, Rosen walked into a hornet’s nest as his predecessor had been dismissed by majority owner John McMullen despite being named Major League Executive of the Year that season. That resulted in an uprising by Astro minority shareholders who lobbied to remove Rosen and reinstate Smith. Rosen persevered through the turmoil and served for 5 seasons in Houston. After leaving the Astros, Rosen was immediately hired by San Francisco where he quickly rebuilt a foundering franchise, being named Major League Executive of the Year in 1987 before seeing the Giants claim the 1989 NL pennant, the franchise’s first in over 25 years.