The Cleveland Indians All-Time Team continues around the infield. In this piece a third baseman is chosen and a triple crown race comes down to the wire.
The third base selection on my Cleveland Indians All-Time Team was a very tough choice. There were two front-runners in this one and it took some time for me to come to a final conclusion.
Either man would have been great for the job, but in the end I made my choice based on the strength of his peak, as well as his character.
Albert Leonard Rosen was born in 1924 into a Jewish-American family in the small town of Spartanburg, South Carolina. In an effort to combat their young child’s severe asthma, the Rosen family moved to the southwest sector of Miami known as Little Havana.
Growing up on the tough latin streets as a Jewish boy, Al found himself in constant conflict. Toughness and fighting became the norm for him, and he soon found a passion for boxing. His athleticism and grit took him far and he succeeded not only in the ring, but on the diamond.
He was a standout in high school, as well as the University of Florida where he played ball for two years before signing his first pro contract with the Thomasville Tommies, a Cleveland affiliated minor league club in North Carolina.
In his first pro stint he batted .307 in 86 games. World War II broke out the following season and Rosen signed up with the Navy. When he returned in 1946, the now 22-year-old was still under contract with the Indians. He played one season with the Pittsfield Electrics where he hit .323 in 107 games.
He spent the next three seasons blocked by Ken Keltner, the best defensive third baseman ever for the club and my second choice for this All-Time Team. He won the starting role at third in 1950 and promptly led the AL in home runs with 37. He would retain the starting position at the hot corner for next seven years before back and knee injuries forced him to retire.
Rosen’s best season came in 1953. By that time Rosen had already led the league in home runs, RBI, and total bases and was coming off his first All-Star campaign. He was ready to flex his baseball muscles in a big way.
The triple crown is a coveted title to baseball hitters and fans. Though not an official award, it is a badge of honor given to a hitter that leads his league in home runs, RBI and batting average in the same season.
Only 13 players since 1900 have managed to accomplish the feat, and by 1953 it had only been achieved by five American League batsmen.
Heading into the final game of the season, Rosen was on the verge of the greatest season ever by a third baseman at that time. Only once to that point had a third baseman every achieved a 9+ fWAR season, and that was Frank Baker’s 9.1 in 1912.
Rosen stepped up to the plate on September 27th, 1953 with 9.0 fWAR and the AL lead in home runs (43) and RBI (145). It would take four hits on the season’s final day for Rosen to surpass Mickey Vernon (who held a .336 average to Rosen’s .333) for the AL batting title.
He tallied a hit in his first at bat, sending Detroit second baseman Fred Hatfield up the middle on a swift ground ball, and legged out an infield single. In his next time up, Rosen bounced one into the seats for a ground rule double.
Suddenly the triple crown seemed possible with only two hits remaining and six innings left to play.
Rosen stumbled in the fifth, grounding into a fielder’s choice and his first out of the day. He came up again in the seventh needing a hit to keep hope alive.
The Hebrew Hammer played it safe on this one and laid down a bunt. He legged out the dribbler and scored his third hit of the afternoon. He needed to come to the plate one more time for his chance at glory.
He would get that chance with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Facing Detroit pitcher Al Aber, Rosen dug in and awaited fate.
The Detroit infield was playing back, giving the swift Rosen a golden opportunity, but the proud man didn’t want to win the title on a bunt. He took his cuts and fouled off several pitches before finally getting one he could hit.
He bounced one to third and began his charge towards first. Ray Boone, the Tigers third baseman, fielded the throw on the run and fired a missile across the diamond to try to catch the racing Rosen.
His throw arrived at the same time as Rosen’s and the stadium gasped as they awaited the call from first base umpire Hank Soar. OUT!
The stadium erupted and the several Indians surged out of the dugout in protest, but Rosen waved them off. In his final lunge, his foot missed the bag.
Though he failed in his triple crown attempt, he did win the AL MVP award for the 1953 season.
Rosen logged arguably the greatest season ever by a third baseman. He finished with 9.1 fWAR (still the seventh-highest of all time at the position) and a 178 wRC+ (second-best ever for a third baseman).
Rosen played a total of 10 seasons in an Indians uniform, his entire career. He is one of only six players to log at least 10 years in the Majors and play their entire career with the Indians/Naps/Spiders.
Offensively he is the best the Tribe has ever had at the hot corner. His 200.4 Off is over 100 points higher than the next best Indians third baseman. Defensively he was just about league average for his career with 0.8 Def.
Rosen was truly a Tribe legend, and one of the greatest players to put on a Cleveland uniform. His 1953 season will go down as one of the best ever by a third baseman as well as an Indian. Who knows what might have been had injuries not ended his career prematurely, but he is certainly deserving of a spot on my Cleveland Indians All-Time Team.
Check out the next article in the series as I name my All-Time shortstop.