Let me begin by asking you a question: If you are below the age of 60, please answer, Who is Al Rosen?
Your probable answer is either "who" or "that guy from Cheers", but Al Rosen's name means far more than just a random extra on the second greatest sitcom of all time.
This is Al Rosen of the Cleveland Indians. He technically won the World Series with them in 1948, but he didn't become an everyday player until 1950, and he was incredible. As a 26 year old rookie, he slashed .287/.405/.543 with an AL leading 37 home runs. He finished 5th in the American League in bWAR but just 17th in MVP Voting. He held the AL Rookie Home Run Record for 37 years until Mark McGwire shattered it in 1987.
Rosen was far from a superstar in his first three seasons, as in just 65 PA, he had but 9 hits and an OPS+ of 18, which is still better than Jeff Mathis in 2019. But once 1950 came, he went on a tear. In his first three full seasons in the bigs, Rosen slugged over .500 and had an OPS approaching .900. He walked way more than he struck out, and most importantly, he hit dingers, 89 of them. All of that leads to an OPS+ of 142. This set the stage for an epic 1953, but we'll put that on pause and come back to it. I'm actually going to fast forward almost 60 years.
You probably recognize this man if you were a baseball fan about 10 years ago. 1999 Number 1 overall pick Josh Hamilton's story is one of overcoming your demons. During the minor league grind with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Hamilton fell under the spell of alcoholism, and he was banned for baseball for it in 2003. He wasn't reinstated until 2005, which if you told the 1999 Devil Rays scouts, they would've been shocked. He was expected to be the best hitter in the league by then, not some dude in rehab.
As a guy that had kind of been out of baseball for a while, Hamilton made his Major League Debut in 2007 with the Cincinnati Reds, and he instantly started to rake. He played in just 90 games that year, but he had a 131 OPS+ with his .922 OPS. With the Reds needing to get pitching help, they traded Hamilton to Texas for Edinson Volquez that offseason, a move they'd come to regret.
Hamilton kept up his torrid pace in 2008 and he led the AL in RBI. Hamilton's story had already been a success, he worked his way out of addiction, and back to the Bigs, and now to become a star, that just makes it seem like it's straight out of a movie. But not all things are how they're meant to be, as to call Josh Hamilton's 2009 a disappointment would be like calling the Boston Marathon Bombing a small issue.
The '09 Rangers had World Series fever, but their star wasn't hitting well. His OPS dropped over 170 points and he only played in 89 games. Needless to say expectations weren't super high for him in 2010, but nobody would be surprised if he performed well. Once again, I'm going to put this on pause, but this time we only have to go to 2010.
Josh Donaldson started off his career as a minor league catcher in the Oakland Atheltics organization. The Cubs drafted him in '07's supplemental 1st round, and flipped him as soon as they legally could. In a 'massive' six player deal, Donaldson is the only name of note in the entire trade as he's sent to Oakland in 2008.
Donaldson made his MLB debut with the A's in 2010, but didn't impress, and didn't make it back until 2012, but this time, as a third baseman. He didn't have the greatest season in 12, but the A's didn't expect too much from him. And with what happened in 2013, nobody saw that coming.
Donaldson broke out like acne on a teen's face in 2013. He put up nearly .900 OPS and a 145 OPS+, higher than both Rosen and Hamilton's initial breakout year. Playing at the Oakland Coliseum, he hit 24 home runs and slashed .301/.384/.499
He added on to that in 2014 with 29 home runs and another relatively high OPS+, this time a 127. Entering his age 29 season with an A's team that had just made the playoffs, one would think that Donaldson had a long future in Oakland, but Billy Beane thought otherwise.
In a trade that sums up the last decade of Oakland baseball, Donaldson was sent to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for Franklin Barreto, Kendall Graveman, Brett Lawrie, and Sean Nolin. A decent prospect, a dud, another dud, and a no-name for a superstar. Let's put both Rosen and Hamilton on play here and see what happens in each of their fourth seasons in the bigs.
Al Rosen in 1953, Josh Donaldson in 2015, Josh Hamilton in 2010, all three men entering their age 29 seasons with something to prove.
Rosen's Indians have HOF pitchers Bob Feller and Bob Lemon, as well as Larry Doby in center field, but they just can't get past the Yankees.
Hamilton's Rangers have World Series aspirations backed up by their star studded lineup that included Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, and the ever underrated, Michael Young.
And Donaldson joining the Blue Jays was what that team thought they needed to do to put an already strong team over the top and in to the World Series.
And all three of these guys did everything they could to bring their teams to the fall classic. Hamilton won a batting title, hitting .359 with 32 dongs and 100 RBI's. He led the Rangers all the way to the World Series. Donaldson put together a crazy season, hitting 41 home runs and putting up an OPS+ of 150. And Rosen, well, let's break this down further.
This is one of the most underrated seasons in baseball history, it just hides there in plain sight. My favorite Al Rosen story comes from the final game of the 1953 season when Rosen was looking for the Triple Crown and only Senators' SS Mickey Vernon could stop him.
The Indians trailed 7-3 in the. bottom of the ninth and there were two outs. Rosen needed to get a hit to win the batting title, and thus, the Triple Crown. Facing Al Aber, Rosen weakly grounded the ball to Jerry Priddy at third and beat the throw to first, sort of. He was called out, but "everybody on the bench thought he was safe" he said in an interview with Baseball Digest in 2002. He says that the ump made the right call because he "tried to leap to first base, but [he] did a quick step and missed the bag." Al Rosen missed out on the Triple Crown by one step.
He collected 100% of the first place votes, and Yogi Berra, who finished second, had less than half Rosen's bWAR. He was a man amongst boytshiks. (Oh yeah, Rosen was the first great Jewish ballplayer) Nobody talks about Rosen anymore for reasons that we'll get to, but the numbers are undeniable, his 1953 is up there as one of the greatest seasons ever.
As for his team, they finished 8.5 games back of the Yankees, but if it hadn't been for Rosen, and they'd had a replacement level 3B instead, they'd have finished a full 18.5 games back of the Yankees.
Here are the bWAR numbers for the two Josh's, and you'll see that it's nothing to scoff at, unless you're comparing it to Al Rosen.
Unfortunately for Hamilton, the story didn't end so well for him, as his Rangers lost to the San Francisco Giants in the World Series, but they'd be back.
These are Josh Hamilton's stats from 2007-2012, and they're quite impressive.
His numbers from 2011 were not close to his 2010 numbers, but they were still very good. However, 2011 was not about the individual, it was about the team. The Rangers made it back to the World Series and were 1 out away in game six, before voodoo magic took over and David Freese became a baseball god the likes of which unseen since the days of Reggie Jackson, Frank Baker, and Enos Slaughter. Obviously the Cardinals won that series, but Hamilton did continue to put up elite numbers in his 2012 campaign.
In 2012, Hamilton had another really strong season. He had over 70 XBH and 128 RBI. He brought his OPS back above .900 and his OPS+ was a very high 141. He also put on perhaps the greatest display of hitting in baseball history in that season as well.
Entering his historic game on a tear, these were Hamilton's batting numbers going into that game:
26 G, 115 PA, 101 AB
His OPS+ must've hovered around 180 thanks to some quick and dirty math
10 HR 28 RBI
Remember, this was before the greatest display of hitting in modern major league history. While statisticians were still frothing over the numbers that he'd been putting up up to that point, Hamilton went out and did this.
Yes, Josh Hamilton went 5-5 with 4 HR and a double that was really close to going out. He increased his OPS by a full .150 on just that day! Yes, it was relatively early in the season, but Josh Hamilton, through May 8th, 2012, was on an 84 HR, 1.300 OPS pace. Obviously that didn't stand, but he was batting .400 as late as May 16th, and his statistics were still absolutely nuts through May.
After a sub-par June, where his tOPS+ (tOPS+ is a player's OPS+ during a stretch of play where 100 is their OPS for the whole season) was 65, he had an awful July. The same guy who was batting .400 on May 16th batted far under the Mendoza line for an entire month of baseball. He had just 6 XBH in 91 PA in July, remember that he had 5 XBH in 5 PA in one game back in May.
This was the beginning of the end for Josh Hamilton. He put up an awesome season in 2012 all in all, but the inconsistency was wild.
Hamilton signed with the Angels and had two okay seasons before returning to the Rangers in 2015. He never was the same player after his MVP campaign except for that two month stretch in 2012. Hamilton has still actually yet to announce his retirement, but he's been out of baseball entirely since 2016, when he played just 1 minor league game and 0 Major League games. Hamilton's career was super exciting, for a brief period of time, he was one of the best in the game, and he fell off just as quickly.
The original Hebrew Hammer had another productive season in 1954, but he was hampered by injury. He put up 4.4 bWAR, which is still quite good, but a far cry from double digits. A .300/.400/.500 season with 24 HR got him 15th in MVP voting, but the main goal in 1954 was a World Championship.
The Cleveland Indians finished 1954 with a staggering record of 111-43, which stood until 1998 as the most wins by an AL team. They were stacked, both hitting and pitching were great. They had Bobby Avila, Larry Doby, Rosen, Al Smith, and Vic Wertz in a scary lineup, as well as Early Wynn, Bob Lemon, Bob Feller, Hal Newhouser, and Mike Garcia making up a scary pitching staff.
They were considered heavy favorites to win the 1954 World Series, but going to the Polo Grounds in game 1, they lost in the ultimate irony.
In the 8th inning of a tie game with runners on 1st and 2nd, Vic Wertz hit a high fly ball to deep center field, and Willie Mays somehow made "The Catch." He was some 420 feet from home plate when he caught it, and legend has it that he was playing shallow. Oh yeah, he also immediately turned around to get the ball back to the infield to prevent Doby from scoring from 2nd. The game stayed tied at 2 going into the bottom of the tenth, when Dusty Rhodes walked it off for the Giants on a 260 foot "Chinese Home Run" down the right field line.
The Indians, shocked, got swept out of the series by the underdog Giants in a series that is now known mostly for being the coming out party of 1954's NL MVP, and one of the greatest players of all time, the aforementioned Willie Mays.
Rosen kept playing in '55 and '56, but his production dipped as injuries nagged him. He played over 120 games in both '55 and '56, but had less than 2 bWAR in each of those seasons. He battled back and leg injuries and retired from baseball after the '56 season at the age of 32, just 3 years after nearly winning the Triple Crown.
Rosen became a stockbroker for 22 years before being an executive with the Yankees, Astros, and Giants. He became the only man to win an MVP and an Executive of the Year Award. He passed away in 2015 at the age of 91 in Rancho Mirage, CA.
In 2016, Josh Donaldson was christened as the cover athlete of MLB The Show. There isn't necessarily an "MLB The Show Curse," but Yasiel Puig, Josh Donaldson, Aaron Judge, and Bryce Harper haven't been the best version of themselves since they got the cover.
He was still quite productive in 2016, and arguably even more productive than 2015. His bWAR was higher, his OPS+ was higher, and his 37 HR and 99 RBI put him 4th in AL MVP voting behind Mike Trout (3 time MVP), Mookie Betts (2018 MVP), and Jose Altuve (2017 MVP).
Donaldson fell victim to injuries in 2017, but his OPS was still above .900. Everybody could see the cliff for the Bringer of Rain, and he fell far off in 2018. In just 52 games, his OPS+ dropped nearly 30 points and he had his lowest average since 2012. In the middle of that season, the Blue Jays sent him to the Cleveland Indians, where he finished that season.
Donaldson signed a 1 year "prove-it" deal in Atlanta for 2019, and boy did he prove it. He stayed healthy all season and put together a 6 bWAR season with 37 home runs and a 127 OPS+. He shocked many, including me, who thought that he was done performing at a high level, and oh yeah, he also put up 15 DRS at third base.
He signed as a free agent this offseason with the Minnesota Twins bringing even more power to that lineup, and hopefully he can keep his production high to turn into more than Rosen and Hamilton were.
One thing that Rosen, Donaldson, and Hamilton interestingly have in common, is a close connection with higher powers, and I don't mean Mike Trout.
Before we get to looking at the most impressive stat of the day, I'd like to dwell on a concept that probably has no place in a sports article. Josh Donaldson was a loose cannon and not particularly well liked in high school, but over the course of his life, he shaped out a personality that both retains his style, but does it in a likable way. He attended Faith Academy, a catholic school in Alabama, and he is religious, but there isn't too much notable about his relationship with religion, at least compared to the other two guys.
Rosen has been called one of the first great Jewish players of the game that the Jewish people grew to love. It's no secret that we Jews are underrepresented on the athletic fields, but Jews have an integral role in baseball. Rosen was obviously a great general manager, and that tradition of Jewish GM's is carried on by some of the savviest young GM's in baseball today including Andrew Friedman and Chaim Bloom. Baseball is a major part in the story of Jewish assimilation in America and stars like Al Rosen inspired a generation of Jewish baseball fans. Obviously, the most notable story in Judaism and baseball is Sandy Koufax not pitching Game 1 of the 1965 World Series on Yom Kippur, which is a story told in both Jewish synagogues, and baseball documentaries.
Rosen and others paved the way for Jewish ballplayers, but Hamilton's story with religion is far darker. As previously mentioned, Hamilton was the number 1 overall pick in the 1999 MLB Draft, but he fell under the spell of alcoholism.
Hamilton said, in his book Beyond Belief that "Addiction is a humbling experience. Getting it under control is even more humbling. I got better for one reason: I surrendered. Instead of asking to be bailed out, instead of making deals with God by saying, 'If you get me out of this mess, I'll stop doing what I'm doing,' I asked for help. I wouldn't do that before. I'd been the Devil Rays' No. 1 pick in the 1999 draft, supposedly a five-tool prospect. I was a big, strong man, and I was supposed to be able to handle my problems myself. That didn't work out so well.”
Hamilton's longtime friend Roy Silver told USA Today that "[Hamilton] has never handled expectations well," so it must not have been surprising for him to see Josh spiral towards addiction.
Hamilton found his way back while banned from baseball, making a relationship with God. His "Christian Faith" is described on GodTube.com as:
"You may be asking yourself: what happened to Hamilton that made him turn his life around? According to Hamilton, the answer is God—he finally surrendered his life to Him. Although that might sound too easy to be true, Hamilton swears that it is the key to keeping him away from his addictions, and even placing him back in baseball, which at one point seemed absolutely impossible. He is unashamed of his Christian faith, citing it as the biggest factor in his life—and in his return to baseball. From 2007 onward, Hamilton has been one of the biggest outspoken Christians in the MLB. His story was widely circulated around ESPN and other sports news outlets. And, within that very story, Hamilton constantly gave credit where it was due—to Jesus Christ." GodTube.com
Hamilton's relationship with god helped him find his baseball love and talent, and when the Rangers won the AL pennant in 2010 and 2011, Hamilton's teammates, knowing about his alcoholism, replaced the champagne with Canada Dry Ginger Ale. Hamilton is proof that while god may not be real, religion and belief in god certainly is real, and helpful as well.
One of my favorite things on a player's Baseball-Reference page is a feature called "Similarity Scores." These Bill James devised statistics determine how similar two players are. This is the formula for similarity scores on hitters that Baseball-Reference posts.
To compare one player to another, start at 1000 points and then subtract points based on the statistical differences of each player.
One point for each difference of 20 games played.
One point for each difference of 75 at bats.
One point for each difference of 10 runs scored.
One point for each difference of 15 hits.
One point for each difference of 5 doubles.
One point for each difference of 4 triples.
One point for each difference of 2 home runs.
One point for each difference of 10 RBI.
One point for each difference of 25 walks.
One point for each difference of 150 strikeouts.
One point for each difference of 20 stolen bases.
One point for each difference of .001 in batting average.
One point for each difference of .002 in slugging percentage.
Then there is a positional adjustment. Each position has a value, and you subtract the difference between the two players' position. [Bill] James just uses primary position, but we computed an average position for players who had more than one primary position.
240 - Catcher
168 - Shortstop
132 - Second Base
84 - Third Base
48 - Outfield (James distinguishes, but Reference doesn't have that data incorporated at the moment)
12 - First Base
0 - DH
So, who would you say is the most similar player to Al Rosen? I initially thought that it was Josh Hamilton, and I wasn't far off. I think that this is the most incredible stat of the day, just how similar these three AL MVPs were.
This is Al Rosen's top 10 most similar hitters, and look at that, there is Hamilton at number 3. My initial hunch, that Hamilton and Rosen had remarkably similar hitting numbers, are proved true. It even shows that Hamilton would be the most similar hitter to Rosen had it not been for the positional adjustments.
That's where this was originally going to end, but then I looked up one spot from Hamilton and saw another AL MVP. Donaldson was a late addition to the comparison, and for his sake, he hopes that he can play long enough to break off of the Al Rosen comparison and maybe move towards a late surge that could get him near the Hall of Fame.
Either way, it's impossible to deny the symmetry between these guys' careers, and if you want to deny it, read the article again and take a look at the screenshot below.
Rosen's story is one of being a pioneer for Jews in baseball, Hamilton's is one of overcoming alcoholism and finding himself, and Donaldson's is about becoming the best person, and baseball player that he could be, but you can no longer tell the story of any of these three without mentioning the other two.