MLB's "Most Interesting Man in the World"
As part of this weekly (hopefully) segment, I'd like to put a spotlight on an athlete who led an interesting life or career, yet is largely unknown by the average sports fan today.
I loved that "Most Interesting Man in the World" Dos Equis campaign. They could not have cast a better actor to play that role, and the backstories were well-written and hilarious; it was just a great series of ads.
MLB has also had some interesting men take the field in its lifespan of over 150 years; I'm talking about the guys who have conquered other fields of endeavor when they weren't busy leading their ball clubs to victory. There will never be a man that accomplishes as much as Dos Equis's "Most Interesting Man in the World," but many professional baseball players have led truly fascinating lives.
Albert Leonard Rosen might have led the most fascinating life of them all.
If I had to choose Major League Baseball's "Most Interesting Man in the World," I'd go with Al Rosen, the star Cleveland Indians third baseman from the '40s and '50s. Let me walk you through the kind of incredible life this dude lived.
Al Rosen, MVP
Rosen got a late start in the big leagues, playing his first full season at the age of 26. We'll discuss why that is in a bit, but first we need to touch upon the ungodly five-year run he went on from 1950-1954.
Over that five-year stretch, Rosen made three All-Star games, won an MVP, slashed .298/.396/.528, put up a 151 OPS+, and accounted for 29.8 bWAR and 31.3 fWAR. He was the best third baseman in baseball over that period, and may have accounted for the best individual season for a third baseman ever in 1953.
Al Rosen's absurd, unanimous-MVP season of 1953 looked something like this...
.336/.422/.613, 115 R, 43 HR, 145 RBI, 85:48 BB:K, 180 OPS+, 10.1 bWAR
He led the league in R, HR, RBI, SLG, OPS, OPS+, and WAR. He missed the Triple Crown by less than one percentage point, losing the batting title to Mickey Vernon, who hit .337. To put things in perspective as to how valuable he was in '53, his 10.1 bWAR was 37% higher than the second most-valuable player (Virgil Trucks), who came in at 6.4 bWAR. It is truly one of the best individual seasons of all time, regardless of position.
Rosen was still a useful Major League player for the next few years, but his nagging back and legs were not meant to last. He retired at the end of the 1956 season, at the age of 32. Rosen only played seven full MLB seasons, so his counting stats are just not enough to warrant Hall of Fame induction. Had he managed to stay healthy or begin his baseball career a little earlier, I might be discussing someone with a plaque in Cooperstown. Injuries cut his career short, unfortunately, and he didn't become a full-time big leaguer 'til his mid-20s.
His late arrival was partly because the Indians were dedicated to their franchise third baseman in Ken Keltner. The other reason was that he was too busy being a World War II badass.
Al Rosen, Navy Lieutenant
It was not for a lack of skill that Rosen was a late bloomer in the Major Leagues. After dropping out of the University of Florida to play Minor League ball, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1942. Rosen hit .307 for Cleveland's Class-D affiliate that season, for what it's worth, but the next four years of his life would be spent serving his country in the Pacific Ocean during WWII.
Baseball's "Most Interesting Man in the World" was not a spectator during the second World War. He saw plenty of action, namely in the Battle of Okinawa while navigating an assault boat onto the Japanese island. Rosen reached the rank of Lieutenant, leaving the Navy after four years of service in 1946 in order to resume mashing baseballs for the Cleveland Indians organization, which he would do for the next decade.
Al Rosen, Stockbroker
After Rosen played his final game for Cleveland in 1956, he took the route that many ex-big leaguers take after their playing careers are over (not really); he became a successful stockbroker. Rosen seamlessly transitioned from a baseball diamond to a high-rise, holding his new position for 22 years.
But, like Dos Equis's version of "The Most Interesting Man in the World," Rosen was not content with simply being an MVP-third baseman-turned-stockbroker. That's child's play. Time to go be awesome at something else.
Al Rosen, MLB Executive
Rosen accepted a position as the President and CEO of the New York Yankees in 1978, a position he held for two years. They averaged 94.5 wins in that span and won the World Series in his first season with the team. He then took over the Houston Astros for the next six years, from 1980-1985. This stint produced two playoff appearances, the first in the franchise's history.
Rosen was hired as the President/GM of the San Francisco Giants in 1986. The Giants were a last-place team that lost 100 and 96 games in '84 and '85, respectively. This was Al Rosen, though; he was better than everyone at pretty much everything.
The Giants soon turned things around under Rosen's watch. They won 83 games in 1986 and 90 in '87, the latter of which resulted in a playoff berth and a tough seven-game loss in the NLCS. They won the National League pennant two years later, for the first time since 1962, losing to the Oakland A's in the World Series (the one with the earthquake).
Al Rosen was named the National League Executive of the Year in 1989. To this day, he is the only man with an MVP and Executive of the Year award in his trophy case; because, of course he is.
He's...the Most Interesting Man in the World.
Al Rosen, Proud Jew
Rosen was Jewish, and was damn proud of it. He was often mocked or belittled because of his Jewish heritage as a child growing up in Miami, Florida, both as a person and as an athlete. This toughened him up in more ways than one, preparing him for the verbal abuse he would face as a Major Leaguer.
He did not play on the High Holy Days, similar to Sandy Koufax, and was not afraid to confront fans and opposing players who yelled slurs at him. These confrontations usually started out verbally, but Rosen didn't just want to silence anti-Semites, he wanted to whoop their asses, something he was fully capable of doing.
Al Rosen was an amateur boxer who received a boxing scholarship in high school to attend the Florida Military Academy. So when he challenged those who insulted his religion to a fight, he wasn't bluffing. As he put it...
"There's a time that you let it be known that enough is enough. You flatten them."
A life well-lived
Al Rosen passed away at the age of 91 in 2015. The man nicknamed "The Hebrew Hammer," a legendary moniker for Jewish sluggers, was just your regular old Navy Lieutenant-MVP third baseman-stockbroker-MLB Executive-amateur boxer, who would not tolerate anti-Semitism in any form. Oh, and he was born on February 29th, as if his life wasn't noteworthy enough.
I have no idea what type of beer Mr. Rosen preferred, but I do know that his list of accomplishments during his 91 years on this Earth would make anyone jealous, even this guy...