For a period of time there may have been no better player in baseball than Al Rosen. He was already 26 years old when he made his debut, having spent time in the Navy and delaying his entry into organized ball. He landed a full-time position with the Cleveland Indians in 1950 and promptly set a record for home runs by a rookie (37).
The outperformance continued in the ensuing years with Rosen seriously contending for the triple crown in 1953. He captured the homerun and RBI titles that season and missed the batting crown by a single point. Turning just one close play into a hit would have given him a fractional edge of Mickey Vernon’s .337 average. He would have been safe on his final ball in play that season had he not missed the base trying to beat a throw.
An amateur boxing champ, Rosen was always ready to fight anyone making fun of his Jewish ancestry. He took it seriously, refusing to play on religious holy days.
He clashed with the Cleveland front office after a series of minor injuries built up and the team wanted to cut his contract size. Rather than play for a lesser rate and certainly not wanting to help out the Indians’ GM, Rosen decided to retire early from baseball. He arrived at the sport’s top level later in life and left it just as quickly, making one wonder just how his stats would have looked had he played a “normal length” career given his pacing of 5.5 WAR/162 games.
After baseball he became a stockbroker in Cleveland for two decades. This work put him in touch with an upcoming George Steinbrenner who would go on to purchase the New York Yankees. Steinbrenner installed Rosen as the team’s CEO, a position from which Rosen would enjoy winning the 1978 World Series. He quit the following season when Yankee ownership fired Rosen’s good friend and former teammate Bob Lemon, replacing him with Billy Martin.