Al Rosen, considered of the greatest Jewish baseball players of all time, made his name as a power hitting third baseman for the Cleveland Indians and a baseball executive with the Yankees, Astros and Giants.
So when he passed away last Friday at age 91 his history and connection to South Florida failed to receive much mention. But there definitely was plenty of both.
A University of Miami Sports Hall of Famer and the American League’s unanimous MVP in 1953, Rosen came to Miami with his family from Spartansburg, South Carolina, when he was 18 months old.
He lived in the heart of the city (at 642 SW 10th Avenue in Miami) and attended school at Riverside Elementary, Ada Merritt Junior High and then Miami Senior High for a year before earning a boxing scholarship to the Florida Military Academy in St. Petersburg, longtime editor of The Miami News Howard Kleinberg noted.
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Rosen attended the University of Florida for a semester right out of high school but left to play minor-league baseball. He then played on the Hurricanes football team in 1943 and was one of the program’s standouts.
After putting his minor-league baseball career on hold to serve the Navy in World War II for a couple years (he was aboard an attack transport in the invasion of Okinawa), Rosen eventually made it back to UM after being discharged in 1946. He earned his degree in business administration from UM in 1948.
Larry Adams, who pitched for the Hurricanes in 1948 and ’49 and was the oldest alumni member to make it back for the UM alumni game last month, remembers the man known as “Flip” quite fondly.
“My relationship with him as a pitcher was that he asked me, a catcher and an outfielder to stay after practice so he could hit,” Adams, 88, recalled on Monday. “He was getting ready for spring training with the Indians so he wanted to be pitched low and outside, low and outside. He was a pull hitter pretty much. So the whole object was he wanted to hit straight away. We didn’t have those little [screen] fences like they do now in front of me, so I got plunked a few times.”
Rosen, enshrined in UM’s Sports Hall of Fame for baseball in 1971, never played a game for the Hurricanes baseball team. But he worked with them during the offseason months while also pursuing his degree. UM Sports Hall of Fame executive director John Routh said Rosen was picked for UM’s Hall of Fame because of the recognition he helped bring the program as a graduate.
Routh said UM invited Rosen back for banquets on campus over the years, “but since he was living out in California, we never heard back.”
Rosen won a World Series as a backup in 1948 with the Indians and eventually sprouted into a star. He was a four-time All-Star from 1952 to 1955 and the AL’s RBI and home run champion twice. Back and leg injuries eventually forced Rosen to retire at age 32.
He then became stockbroker for the next 22 years before moving into the Yankees front office. He earned the National League’s Executive of the Year award after leading the Giants from last place in 1985 to the pennant in 1989.
Rosen was said to be proud of his Jewish heritage and was known to challenge anyone to a fight who made anti-Semitic remarks.
“He was a hard worker,” Adams said. “We wore out before he wore out. I was so impressed at his work ethic, and the fact he was very humble. A terrifically nice guy, who was very modest, helpful and friendly.”