What He Did: If you don’t know Al Rosen, it’s because his career was just a smidge away from absolute greatness.
Because of his military background, the War and some fluky poor performances in small samples from 1947-1949, Rosen didn’t get a full time gig until 1950. He was 26.
He had an immediate impact, leading the league with 37 HRs and setting a rookie record for HRs in the process. Rosen also walked a cool 100 times and had 159 hits. To put this in perspective, in just four of his seasons did Tony Gwynn reach base by walk and hit more than 159 times.
While there was a slight sophomore slump for Rosen in 1951, he finished fifth in RBIs (102), extra-base hits (55), and walks (85).
In 1953, Rosen hit 43 HRs, knocked in 145 and had a .336 average. He led the league in HRs, RBIs, SLG, OPS, OPS+, total bases and runs. Unfortunately, Mickey Vernon batted .337 that season, narrowly keeping Rosen from the Triple Crown. Rosen went 3-5 on the season’s final day, just missing out. That said, those RBIs are the 37th most by a righty in a season in baseball history, and he was rightly unanimously voted the MVP.
From 1950 – 1956 Rosen posted a .287/.386/.500 line and averaged 27 HRs a season. During that span, his 39.2 fWAR was the eighth best behind Stan Musial, Duke Snider, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Larry Doby, Jackie Robinson and Richie Ashburn. His mark was actually ahead of the immortal Ted Williams.
At his height, Rosen was a giant, just ask Casey Stengel: “That young feller. That feller’s a ball player. He’ll give you the works every time. Gets all the hits, gives you the hard tag in the field. That feller’s a real competitor, you bet your sweet curse life.”
Unfortunately, back problems and leg injuries forced Rosen to retire at 32 in 1956. Rosen finished with a .285/.384/.495 line with 192 HRs in 4,374 plate appearances. Of players with at least 4,000 plate appearances, Rosen’s HR:AB rate is in the top 100.
Oddly, Rosen is one of three players to retire with fewer than 200 HRs, but who hit 40 in a season (Jim Gentile and Davey Johnson are the others). He is also one of 32 players to have a 40 HR and 200 hit season. As a third baseman, the 43 dingers he hit during the magical 1953 season are tied with Matt Williams (more on him later) for the 10th most in a season.
Era he might have thrived in: Rosen is one of the great “what if” players, i.e., what if he played during a time when there wasn’t a World War, what if he stayed healthy, what if people fully understood how his minor league numbers would translate over a large sample in the majors. For those reasons, Rosen would have clearly thrived in the mid- to late-1990s. With modern medicine and analytics, Rosen’s career could have been years longer and Rosen might be in the Hall of Fame. For many reasons, I’m putting Rosen on the late ‘90s Cleveland Indians.
Why: Put Rosen on the 1996 Cleveland Indians and he hits .310/.412/.537. His 1953 season would produce 51 HRs, 184 RBIs and a .365/.453/.666 line from a third baseman.
While the numbers would be ridiculous, Rosen would have a real impact on those Indians teams. In 1996, the Indians could have traded Eddie Murray earlier to the Orioles, slid Julio Franco to DH and Jim Thome to first base and greatly enhanced the offense. In addition, Rosen’s presence in 1996 would have stopped the organization from giving a ton of talent for an aging Matt Williams. Instead of needing someone to man the hot corner, Rosen would have enabled the Indians to keep Jeff Kent, Julian Tavarez and Jose Vizcaino.
In ‘97 and thereafter, Kent could have taken over for Tony Fernandez and David Bell at second base. In ’99, the Indians could shift Kent to third, still sign Roberto Alomar and give Rosen much needed DH duties.
Just imagine the 1998 Indians batting line-up: Kenny Lofton-Manny Ramirez-Al Rosen-Jim Thome-Brian Giles-David Justice-Jeff Kent-Omar Vizquel-Sandy Alomar. Perhaps they win a few World Series, perhaps Rosen stays healthy. If so, Rosen is in the Hall of Fame.
Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature (generally) here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.
Others in this series: Al Kaline, Al Simmons, Albert Pujols, Babe Ruth, Bad News Rockies, Barry Bonds, Billy Beane, Billy Martin, Bob Caruthers, Bob Feller, Bob Watson, Bobby Veach, Carl Mays, Cesar Cedeno, Charles Victory Faust, Chris von der Ahe, Denny McLain, Dom DiMaggio, Don Drysdale, Doug Glanville, Eddie Lopat, Elmer Flick, Eric Davis, Frank Howard, Fritz Maisel, Gary Carter, Gavvy Cravath, Gene Tenace, George W. Bush (as commissioner), George Case, George Weiss, Harmon Killebrew, Harry Walker, Home Run Baker, Honus Wagner, Hugh Casey, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jack Morris, Jackie Robinson, Jim Abbott, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Posnanski, Johnny Antonelli, Johnny Frederick, Josh Gibson, Josh Hamilton, Ken Griffey Jr., Lefty Grove, Lefty O’Doul, Major League (1989 film),Mark Fidrych, Matty Alou, Michael Jordan, Monte Irvin, Nate Colbert, Ollie Carnegie, Paul Derringer, Pedro Guerrero, Pedro Martinez, Pee Wee Reese, Pete Rose, Prince Fielder, Ralph Kiner, Rick Ankiel, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Rogers Hornsby, Sam Crawford, Sam Thompson, Sandy Koufax, Satchel Paige, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Spud Chandler, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, The Meusel Brothers, Tony Phillips, Ty Cobb, Vada Pinson, Wally Bunker, Wes Ferrell, Will Clark, Willie Mays