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September 10: The Hebrew Hammer

September 10, 2012

Al Rosen, third baseman and slugger with the Cleveland Indians for the entirety of his ten-year career, played in his first major league game on this date in 1947. Rosen had already acquired the nickname, “Hebrew Hammer,” while playing in the Canadian-American League. His best season came in 1953, when Rosen led the American League in home runs (43), runs batted in (145), and slugging percentage (.613), among other categories. He also batted .336 that year and lost the batting title race by less than one percentage point on the very last day of the season (Mickey Vernon of the Washington Senators led with .337), which cost Rosen the very rare accomplishment of the Triple Crown (leading the league in all three categories of batting average, home runs, and runs batted in). Rosen was nevertheless named American League Most Valuable Player by an unprecedented unanimous vote. His lifetime batting average was .285, with 192 home runs; he was four times on the All-Star team and won a World Series in 1948. Rosen was very “out” as a Jew: he confronted anti-Semitic players and fans who taunted him, declined to play on the high holidays, and even joked about lengthening his name to “Rosenthal” or “Rosenstein” to mark himself unambiguously as a Jew. “When I was up in the majors,” he said, “I always knew how I wanted it to be about me. . . . Here comes one Jewish kid that every Jew in the world can be proud of.”
“The greatest thrill in the world is to end the game with a home run and watch everybody else walk off the field while you’re running the bases on air.” —Al Rosen