Aug 10, 2015

Former Bronx Born Italian / American Player: Rocky Colavito (1955-1968)

Rocco Domenico Colavito was born August 10, 1933 in the Bronx, New York.

He grew up idolizing Joe DiMaggio watching him from the Upper Deck of that stadium in the Bronx, and waiting by the players entrance for an autograph.
Colavito got noticed on the sandlots of Crotona Park, playing baseball with his older brothers.

His brothers wouldn’t allow him to go him to dinner until he threw the ball far enough to go over the fence. He practiced, strengthening his arm until he was able to fire the ball across the playground over the fence. His arm became legendary; once throwing a ball over 420 feet.

He attended Theodore Roosevelt High School on Fordham Rd. near the Little Italy Arhr Avenue section in the Bronx. He tried out with the A.L. New York team &they didn’t offer him much, but the Cleveland Indians did. Colavito signed with the Indians in 1954.

As the Tribe was getting swept by the New York Giants in the '54 World Series, Rocky was tearing up the minors. He hit 38 HRs with 116 RBIs at AAA Indianapolis. He hit 30 more HRs the next year & made a brief debut in five games that September. In 1956 he was tearing up the Pacific Coast League batting .368 with 12 HRs in just 35 games when he was brought up to the majors for good.

In his rookie year he hit 21 HRs with 65 RBIs batting .276. From 1958 on, he would hit 40 plus HRs three times, with seven 30 plus HRs seasons. Colavito would hit twenty plus HRs eleven straight times in a 14 year career. The Rock drove in over 100 runs six different times, leading the league in 1965 (108). He led the league in slugging percentage in 1958 (.620) coming in second in HRs (41) RBIs (113) & third in the MVP Voting. 

The next season in 1959 he became the first Indian to have two straight 40 HR seasons, coming within one HR of the club record. That year he finished fourth in the MVP voting, tying Harmon Killebrew for the AL HR title with 42 HRs while driving in 111 runs (second in the AL). Colavito led the league in extra base hits for the second year in a row (66) as well as total bases (301).

He batted .257, hit 24 doubles, scored 90 runs (tenth in the AL) & drew eight intentional walks (third most in the AL). That season he also made the first of nine All Star appearances. ( From 1959-1962 two All Star Games were played, Colavito played in three of those years.) On June 10, 1959 he smashed four consecutive HRs in a game against the Orioles at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium.

In April of 1960 Cleveland fans were broken hearted as their beloved Colavito was traded to Detroit, in a blockbuster deal. The Indians received 1959 batting champ Harvey Kuenn in exchange. Kuenn had also led the league in doubles in 1959 & was an eight time All Star in his own right. But the Indian fans were outraged that their most popular player had been dealt away.

Indians GM Frank Lane, commented "What's all the fuss about? All I did was trade hamburger for steak." Detroit Tigers GM Bill DeWitt jokingly responded that he liked hamburger. Kuenn got injured and was traded away by the end of the season.

Colavito moved over to leftfield in Detroit due to the fact Hall of Famer Al Kaline was in right. He went on to hit 35 HRs that year, (4th in the AL) coming in the top ten in the league in RBIs (87) slugging (.474%) and extra base hits (54).

The next year in 1961 had possibly his overall best season. He hit 45 HRs (5th in the league) driving in 140 runs (3rd in the league) batting .290 with 129 runs scored (2nd in the AL) 113 walks (3d in the AL), 77 extra base hits (2nd in the AL) 30 doubles (7th in the AL) playing in all 163 games. He also led all outfielders with 16 assists posting a .975 fielding percentage. He made the All Star team & finished 8th in the MVP voting on a fourth place Tiger team (85-76).

Although he was one of the league's best players, he was never as popular in Detroit as he had been in Cleveland. In 1962 he held out for more money than the popular Kaline received,& the fans criticized him even more.

Trivia: You can’t take the Bronx out of a kid, even if he is in Detroit. The Rock once jumped into the stands to attack a drunken heckler who was making fun of his wife & father.

At the end of 1963 he was traded to the Kansas City Athletics for one season, hitting 34 HRs with 102 RBIs. In the 1965 Gabe Paul was running the Indians and he did what he had to do to get the still popular Colavito back in Cleveland.

It was a harsh decision that meant trading away a young promising outfielder named Tommie Agee who would win the Rookie of the Year Award & a pitcher Tommy John who would go on pitch into the 1980's in a three team deal.

In 1965, he returned to Cleveland & although the team finished fifth, Rocky had a great year. He became the first outfielder in AL history to complete a season with a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage.

That year he played in all 162 games, and made nine outfield assists. At the plate he led the AL in RBIs (108) & walks (93) while coming the top five in HRs (26) hits (170 a career high) & runs (92). He made the All Star team again & came in fifth in the MVP voting.

In 1966 he hit 30 HRs for the last time, at age 33 he began to tail off & was no longer in his prime. He only was batting .241 in July 1967 & when he got traded to the White Sox. He finished the year there Then in 1968 played in Los Angeles with the Dodgers (40 games) & then came back in his hometown with the A.L. New York team.

There he made his MLB debut as a pitcher becoming the last position player to get credit for a win until 2000. On August 25th he pitched the 4th through the 6th innings in the Bronx against his old Tigers team mates. He allowed just one hit & no runs earning the win in the first game of a double header. That year the AL New York tam finished fifth & Rocky retired at the end of the season.

In 14 seasons, he batted .266 with 1730 hits hitting 374 HRs (70th all time), 283 doubles, 1159 RBIs (171st all time) 971 runs scored 951 walks (138th all time) & a .359 on base %. He has a .489 slugging % ( 143rd all time) with 3177 total bases (231st all time).

As an outfielder, he recorded 3323 putouts, 123 assists, 26 double plays, and committed 70 errors in 3516 total chances for a .980 fielding percentage.

Honors: He was once voted the Indians most memorable personality and is a member of the team's Hall Of Fame. He was honored in a ceromony at Jacobs Field with other legedary Inians players.

 A book titled the Curse of Rocky Colavito came out in the 1980’s explaining how the trade to get rid of him then reacquired him cursed the Tribe. Even after they won two pennants in the 1990’s they lost the World Series both times with one in the 9th inning.

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