Remembering Al Rosen (1924-2015)

Al-RosenAl 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 KinerDuke SniderGil 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.

My thanks to Baseball-Reference.com and Sabr.org for statistical and biographical data on Rosen. RIP Al!

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John Autin
Editor
8 years ago

Nicely done, Doug.

Al Rosen had the shortest career (games or PAs) of any modern player who totaled 30+ WAR.

Coincidentally, his games, PAs and WAR rate are extremely similar to those of another Jewish star, Kevin Youkilis, whose career was also truncated by back problems (listing Rosen first):

— WAR, 32.6 – 32.7
— Games, 1,044 – 1,061
— PAs, 4,374 – 4,436
— WAR per 650 PAs, 4.84 – 4.79
— WAR per 162 Games, 5.06 – 5.00

no statistician but
no statistician but
8 years ago
Reply to  Doug

I’m going to quibble with this one. To me it’s a great example of how WAR comparisons can lead one astray. Rosen: OPS+ 137; Youkilis 123. Home/road BA Rosen .284/.287; Youkilis .302/.260. The latter’s home park was mostly Fenway where 141 of his 254 doubles were hit and his OPS+ was .911, a century mark above his away reading. Rosen played at home in cavernous Cleveland Stadium which did him no favors in the extra base hit department, and his Home/road splits, while not identical, are close. Both had about five top years, and Rosen’s outdistance those of Youkilis considerably.… Read more »

PaulE
PaulE
8 years ago

nsb,
Agreed. And, a pretty good example of where WAR makes no sense. If Rosen would have played for Yuke’s Red Sox, Yukilis would be on 1b. Or, at worst, Rosen bats 3rd or cleanup

John Autin
Editor
8 years ago

nsb, I don’t get your quibble. — Home/road splits are already encompassed by OPS+. — If you’re pointing to the difference in their road stats specifically, I’ll counter that road stats alone are no measure of a hitter. Taking advantage of one’s home park is a valuable skill. If everyone gets some advantage from Fenway, but Youk got a bigger advantage than most, then that edge helped win ballgames. It counts. — Anyway, if Rosen was a better hitter (as shown by OPS+ and Rbat), but Youk was a better fielder (as shown by dWAR and Rfield) — and a… Read more »

Voomo Zanzibar
Voomo Zanzibar
8 years ago

nsb, Dunno about your take on Cleveland Stadium. Rosen had 7 full seasons. The first 4 with the cavernous dimensions. (320/435/470) The last 3 with normal dimensions. (320/380/410) His XBH totals were consistently higher with the bigger ballpark. Peak vs not-peak? Sure. But he also hit 25 over the fence at home in 1953. _____ But, homers aside, a cavernous ballpark may lead to more doubles and triples. Or more singles if the outfielders play prevent defense. When I buy a team I’m pushing the fences back to Polo Grounds distance and acquiring the fastest outfielders in the game. Also… Read more »

Paul E
Paul E
8 years ago
Reply to  Doug

Doug,
Perhaps the root of your surprise at the relatively similar WAR values can be plainly found in the saga of their respective “Ink”:
23 – 0 black ink advantage Rosen
97 – 21 Gray ink advantage Rosen

I believe their respective peak season(s) provide similar evidence and, if Youkilis was capable of a seaon like Rosen’s 1953, he sure didn’t come close.

David P
David P
8 years ago
Reply to  Paul E

Lots easier to get black/grey ink in an 8 team league than a 14 team league.

As for Rosen having a 10 WAR season and Youk not, I’m not sure what having one season better than anything else you’ve done really proves.

Paul E
Paul E
8 years ago
Reply to  David P

David P,
Perhaps a 10 WAR season proves what kind of talent Rosen was at his healthiest/best and, apparently, what “Youk” never was – nor approached. I don’t believe anyone, including even the most provincial of Boston Red Sox fans, ever believed Youkilis was the talent of Al Rosen.
FWIW, if you go to the “simulator” on baseball reference player page/batting stats tab, the 716-run environment that is their standard coincidentally is exactly typical of Rosen’s career. Rosen creates 112 runs for every 162 games. By the same standard, Youkilis creates 15% less at 97.

David P
David P
8 years ago
Reply to  David P

Highly doubtful that 10 WAR was Rosen’s talent level given that no 3rd baseman has ever achieved that level before or since. Most likely it was simply a fluke season. As for the 112 vs 97 runs, John’s already dealt with that in his third point above. Value consists of more rhan just offense.

Paul E
Paul E
8 years ago
Reply to  David P

David P #12.
We’re not talking Ken Caminiti on steroids here. If it’s a fluke, then there is something wrong with WAR. If competing at the highest level of professional sports for 154 games constitutes a fluke, then how does he maintain it for 6 months? If he hit .440/.525/.750 for two months, yeah, that’s a fluke. A complete season doesn’t constitute a fluke. And, just because it appears to be the greatest season ever, doesn’t mean a healthy Brett in 1980 or Mike Schmidt in a strike-shortened 1981 couldn’t have exceeded it….and then it wouldn’t be afluke, I guess?

Lawrence Azrin
Lawrence Azrin
8 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

@1,

Did Youk officially retire? No games in MLB last year, but he did play in Japan.

David P
David P
8 years ago
Reply to  Lawrence Azrin

Lawrence – Youk announced his retirement in October of last year.

http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2014/10/30/kevin-youkilis-opts-for-retirement-at-age-35/