Baseball: Past and Present

Claim to fame: Colavito had a 14-year career from 1955 to 1968, and for about ten of those years, he was one of the best players in the American League. From 1956 through 1966, Colavito smacked 358 home runs, made six All Star teams, and finished among the top five in Most Valuable Player award voting three times. The right fielder went into rapid decline after 1966, bouncing between four teams his final two seasons, though as noted here recently, Colavito had a moment in the sun his last year in the majors, 1968, when he pitched and won a game for the Yankees.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Colavito appeared on the Cooperstown ballot for the Baseball Writers Association of America twice, receiving two votes in 1974 and one in 1975. He can be enshrined by the Veterans Committee.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? My knee jerk reaction from looking at Colavito’s career numbers is: No, he doesn’t merit a Hall of Fame plaque.

A lifetime batting average of .266, 374 career home runs and 1,730 hits don’t seem sufficient for Cooperstown, and several of the players Colavito charts most closely to offensively fall into the good-but-not-great category: Boog Powell, Norm Cash, Frank Howard. All were solid members of their teams in their day, but if every man like this were to be honored, the Hall of Fame would mushroom in size and become watered down to the point I’d be devoting columns here to whether or not Reggie Sanders deserved induction.

To me, Colavito falls into a class of players who might have been Hall of Famers had they kept up the pace from the first half of their careers, rather than falling almost completely off the map around 30. Ted Kluszewski is another player like this from Colavito’s era. Dwight Gooden and Nomar Garciaparra are more recent examples. In their primes, each may have seemed like a shoe-in for future enshrinement, but it’s a push to lobby for any of them now (though I included Gooden among the 10 best players not in the Hall of Fame.)

All this being said, it was a little surprising to me when I learned Colavito was not in Cooperstown. With his name and the great years he had, I’d have thought he received a plaque years ago (Kluszewski as well, come to think of it.) Colavito’s anemic vote totals with the BBWAA are more surprising still. Heck, the Cleveland Indians were supposedly afflicted for years with something called the Curse of Rocky Colavito following their ill-fated trade of him for Harvey Kuenn just before the start of the 1960 season. Legends usually inspire curses.

A place on the Internet devoted to Colavito’s candidacy, Rocky Colavito Fan Site notes, “Many avid baseball fans assume that Rocky is already in the Hall of Fame and are shocked when they learn that this is not the case.” The site carries a Hall of Fame petition in Colavito’s name, with a goal of making the slugger eligible this year with the Veterans Committee for enshrinement next summer. I would encourage anyone interested to check it out.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.



8 Comments so far

  1.    vinnie on August 17, 2010 12:22 pm      

    With his flat feet and long, slow stride, it was almost comical watching Rocky try to “run”. But the laughing stopped when he’d rifle a line drive throw from the right field corner to cut down a foolish runner trying to go to second or third, or when he’d loosen up by putting the bat behind his back and wiggling his neck and shoulders before stepping into the box and taking aim with his bat at the pitcher.
    That, and his great smile is how I’ll always remember The Rock.

  2.    Mike Gesker on August 20, 2010 10:51 am      

    Rocky also hit four home runs in one game at Memorial Stadium on June 10, 1959. Those were the days when the old ballpark on 33rd Street in Baltimore was not so cozy for sluggers.

    Mr. Colavito also pitched three scoreless innings for the Tribe in 1958.

    Rocky is a genuine gentleman. As they used to say with good reason, “Don’t Knock the Rock.” Here’s to you, Rocco!

  3.    Brendan on August 21, 2010 6:00 pm      

    Rocky Colavito’s 374 career home runs are impressive, but in combination with his other numbers, he is on balance still a Cooperstown outsider in my estimation. It’s interesting to wonder how much more HoF consideration he might have received had he reached the 400 HR milestone. While 400 HR is not a ticket to the Hall, in the late ‘60s it was a lofty number, and had it been part of Colavito’s resume, it’s a number that would have attracted attention from voters.

    Colavito is a member of the very interesting class of 1968, ballplayers who played their last game in the 1968 season (others are Wayne Causey, Elston Howard, Larry Jackson, Roger Maris, Stu Miller, and Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle and Eddie Mathews). Fewer players (81) ended their careers in 1968 than in any surrounding year (avg 107 from ’63 thru ’67; avg 126 from ’69 thru 73); so few players retired in ’68 in part because four new teams came into existence in ’69. In 1968, many talented players nearing the end had the option to extend their MLB careers, at least for a year or two. Only 35 years old at the time of his retirement, Colavito almost certainly could have hung on for another year or two. It is, however, an open question whether another year or two would have been sufficient for Rocky to hit the 26 HRs he needed to reach 400, as he had only 8 in ‘68.

    Even without a Cooperstown plaque, Rocky Colavito remains a very talented and compelling player who will not soon be forgotten by those who had the privilege of seeing him play.

  4.    Graham Womack on August 21, 2010 7:24 pm      

    Hi Brendan, thanks for commenting, and you bring up an interesting point. With 400 home runs, Colavito probably would’ve gotten more attention from voters. How much more attention would that have been? I don’t know. Even with 512 career home runs, Matthews needed five ballots to receive his plaque in Cooperstown.

  5.    alvy on December 3, 2010 11:38 pm      

    Rocky may fall a little short in getting in, but is should be remembered what an excellent right fielder he was having excellent range, a great arm and setting the record as the first outfielder to have an errorless season. He was definitely a step behind if not equal to two other AL great right fielders of his time, Roger Maris and sometime teammate Al Kaline. His excellence on the field has to be taken into consideration here and definitely separates him from fine, but more one dimensional players like Frank Howard (not Boog, because he was such an excellent first baseman.

    Hitting-wise having 11 consecutive 20 home run seasons, knocking in 100 runs 6 times, hitting 40 homers 3 times. When he retired he was third in the AL for lifetime homeruns by a right-handed batter. No small feats those. If he did not have the competition of the likes of Mantle, Killerbrew, Gentile, Maris, etc he may have had more home run, slugging and rbi titles. Either way those were some awesome players back then and Rocky was one of them.

  6.    j.s.holland on January 7, 2013 4:08 pm      

    As a kid growing up in rural N.C. Rocky was my favorite player… He had class…There are lots of players in the HOF that were not half the player Rocky was…When I found out players like Rocky Colavito and Roger Maris were not in the Hall, I realized the hall of fame was built on a foundation of sand and politics….”Don’t Knock the Rock”….Rocco D. Colavito..ROCKY!ROCKY!ROCKY!

  7.    ozzie on January 11, 2013 3:38 pm      

    Rocky was a local product of Crotona Park (south Bronx). His brother Dominic was a terrific catcher. Of all the Colavitos however, few ever mention the one we called “the octopus” (played shortstop). He was the best of them all.

    Junior Stinza (RHP) never made past A ball. John Miasack (sp) had a blazing fastball but never wanted to grind through the minors (his brother played for the Stags). Plenty of great players from Crotona Park (ever hear of Hank Greenberg?) Had the majors expanded back then many of my team mates would have made it to the “big show.” I also recall superb ball players who were killed in the Korean War. Joey Z. was the best second baseman I ever saw. We all suffered a loss there.

  8.    Paul Plater on October 1, 2013 7:16 pm      

    During the 1950s and early 1960s, Rocky was one of the most feared hitters in baseball
    and earned several fielding records as well as having a cannon for an arm. A hero in Cleveland and a respected player around the league, his stats still surpass many HOFers such as Bill Mazeroski…..the fact that he didn’t have a World Series Championship is not his fault….the Yankees dominated in those years……good luck Rocco in making it to Cooperstown.

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  • Written by Graham Womack