Al Rosen, one of the greatest players in Cleveland Indians history, passed away Friday night at the age of 91.
Rosen (#16 in LGT's countdown of the greatest players in franchise history) was born in South Carolina but grew up in the Little Havana section of Miami. Al suffered from severe asthma as a boy, but was encouraged by his mother to be active. A series of fistfights (stemming in part form him being one of very few Jewish boys in the neighborhood) helped him develop into a fine boxer, and of course he became a great ballplayer as well.
Rosen served in the U.S. Navy during World War II; he was the navigator aboard a ship at Okinawa. He eventually reached the rank of lieutenant before retiring from military service and returning to his efforts to become a professional ballplayer.
Rosen became an excellent minor league players in the Tribe system, but was blocked by Ken Keltner. It wasn't until 1950, at the age of 26, that Rosen became a regular. He led the American League with 37 home runs that season, and was listed on a few MVP ballots. In 1952 he made the first of four All-Star teams and went on to lead the league with 105 RBI.
In 1953 Rosen turned in the best season of his career, leading the league in HR (43), RBI (145), runs (115), and OPS (1.034). At the end of the season he was named American League MVP. Rosen remains the last member of the Indians to win that award.
Just before spring training began in 1955, Rosen suffered a back injury when he was involved in a car accident. It never entirely healed, and Rosen chose to retire at the end of the 1956 season, when he was still only 32 years old.
Rosen stayed in the Cleveland area after retiring, working as an investment banker and also a spring training instructor for the team. He later worked for a number of different MLB front offices. In 1987, while working for the Giants, Rosen was named MLB Executive of the Year, making him the only man ever to win that award and an MVP.
Rosen's five-year prime was the stuff of Hall of Fame enshrinement, but the late start and early end to his career kept his career totals relatively modest, and he never received serious Hall of Fame support. He is a member of the Indians Hall of Fame though, along with the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
If I were putting together an all-time starting lineup for the Tribe, Rosen would be the third baseman.
It is fair to say he lived a long life, and a full one as well. We should all be so lucky.
Rest in peace, Mr. Rosen.