Rosen hopes to be remembered for resilience
Former Indian is subject of documentary about his success as player, executive
CLEVELAND -- Tough and resilient. That's how Al Rosen would like to be remembered.
Before his unanimous Most Valuable Player Award in 1953 or Executive of the Year Award in '87, "Flip" Rosen was a youngster from Spartanburg, S.C., who withstood his parents' divorce and severe asthma. He won Golden Gloves as a high school boxer and manned an assault boat in the Battle of Okinawa during World War II.
In the Minor Leagues, a manager told him he'd never make a career out of baseball. And as a big leaguer, Rosen ran into anti-Semitism as well. In one game, he walked over to the opposing team's dugout to find out which player had been shouting at him. That player never revealed himself.
It was Rosen's resolve to play through pain and injuries that almost certainly shortened his career, and though it lasted just seven full seasons -- all in Cleveland -- Rosen accomplished so much that the Indians inducted him into the franchise's Hall of Fame. And now, 60 years after his marvelous '53 season, Rosen is the subject of a documentary entitled "Beating the Odds - Making Elmer Yoter Eat His Words: The Al Rosen Story."
The film, supported by the Indians and written and produced by Bill Levy, went on sale in Indians Team Shops on Friday. Its title acknowledges the manager who misjudged Rosen and told the former third baseman, "Son, go home and get a lunch pail, because you're never going to be a ballplayer." But Rosen was just that in 1,044 Major League contests, posting a .285 batting average, 717 RBIs and 192 home runs, while appearing in four All-Star Games.
In '50, Rosen set a rookie record with 37 home runs, which led the American League. Three years later, he paced the AL with 43 homers and 145 RBIs and came within .001 batting average points of the Triple Crown.
"The feeling, of course, at the end of it, there was remorse," said Rosen, who would have been the batting champ with a hit in his last at-bat. "At the beginning, going into the final day, I was elated and excited about the fact that I might have a chance to do that, win the Triple Crown. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way.
"As I look back on it, I had a great year, and I really have no regrets at all."
In the 1954 All-Star Game, held at Cleveland Stadium, Rosen earned MVP honors by going 3-for-4 with two home runs and five RBIs. Rosen also reached the 100-RBI mark in five straight seasons, from '50-54.
Rosen participated in two World Series with the Indians, who beat the Boston Braves in '48 and lost to the New York Giants in '54. Though the latter Fall Classic is discussed more in the documentary, Rosen is quick to point out that the '48 Series had a better ending, although he played a minor role in the victory.
"I was just an add-on for the '48 game. I had nothing to do with their winning," said Rosen, who went 0-for-1 in Game 5. "My only claim to fame in that game is that [former manager Lou] Boudreau used three pinch-hitters, and I was the only one who didn't strike out. I say, 'That was my great accomplishment in that Series.'"
Rosen remembers how special that championship was for Cleveland, a city that's continued to carry great meaning for him through the years. It's where he watched his sons come into the world and where he himself became an adult. It's a place where he might very well have preferred to live all of his life. For Rosen, to see the ever-supportive fans get the opportunity to celebrate a championship was rewarding.
"I remember getting off the train early in the morning and [seeing] the lines of people all up and down Euclid Avenue," Rosen said. "It was just amazing. I rode in a convertible with the top down, sitting on the back. All those people along [the street], I'd never seen anything like that. I was a small-town boy, grew up in a small-town way. I didn't realize there were that many people in the world, and they were all out there. It was cold, but they were cheering their heroes. I was so thrilled to be a part of it. It's always been a part of my fondest memories."
After playing his last game in '56, Rosen spent time as a stockbroker before returning to baseball about two decades later. He served as president or general manager for three Major League clubs: the Yankees ('78-79), Astros ('80-85) and Giants ('85-92). It was in San Francisco where Rosen became the first and only person to ever win Executive of the Year honors after being named MVP. Under Rosen, the Giants, who finished in last place in 1985, made it to the National League Championship Series in '87 and the World Series in '89.
Rosen served as an inspiration to many people, one of whom is Indians president Mark Shapiro, "because [Rosen] achieved elite levels of success as a player and then as a front-office executive."
"And, of course," Shapiro said in the documentary, "I was raised in a Jewish household, so for this guy to have achieved those things, and also with his Jewish heritage, [it was] something that was unique and probably special to me as well."
Today, the 89-year-old Rosen still keeps up with baseball, pondering how he might try to fix this team or that. Living in Rancho Mirage, Calif., Rosen plays bridge nearly every afternoon with his wife, Rita. Arthritis in his hands makes golfing difficult, although he's confident that he has plenty of rounds ahead of him. And he continues to work out three times per week.
"We do what old folks do," Rosen said. "We go out to dinner. I'm not quite into the early-bird special yet, but I'm close."
So many years later, Rosen never forgot about Yoter. If their paths had ever crossed again, Rosen wouldn't have greeted him with anger. More than anything, he is grateful.
"I'd walk up and say, 'Thank you. Thank you for putting a little steel in my back,'" Rosen said. "If somebody tells you you can't do something, the best thing you can do is go out and prove him wrong."