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Rocky Colavito

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Rocco Domenico Colavito

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[edit] Biographical Information

"You can't tell how much spirit a team has until it starts losing." - Rocky Colavito

One of the most powerful and popular players of his time, Rocky Colavito was a devastating slugger possessed of one of the best outfield arms in all of major league baseball.

At the peak of his talent he was involved in one of the biggest trades in baseball history, the 25-year-old reigning American League home run champ being dealt after the 1959 season by the Cleveland Indians for the reigning batting champion, 29-year-old Detroit Tiger Harvey Kuenn. The deal, inaptly described by Cleveland General Manager Frank Lane as swapping "a hamburger for a steak", shocked the baseball world. Indians fans were understandably furious, broadly expressing their displeasure with an irate "Don't Knock The Rock" campaign.

Paired with Tiger greats Al Kaline and Norm Cash, Colavito immediately helped lead Detroit to a 100-win season in 1960. Tall, lanky and bull-strong, he intimidated pitchers by stretching his bat across his back and menacingly pointing it at the the mound. Though a big swinger who placed in the AL Top 10 in home runs nine years out of ten in his prime, he never struck out 100 times in any season.

Colavito arrived in the bigs with the Indians in 1955. The Tribe placed second in 1955 and 1956, both productive years for the star-to-be. His best year with Cleveland was 1958, when he hit .303 and led the AL with a .620 slugging percentage. He finished 3rd in the MVP voting, his best finish ever, and 4th the next year behind a league-leading 42 home runs.

After a subpar 1960 season - still strong enough to place 4th in the AL with 35 homers and 10th with 87 RBIs - he rebounded with a searing 1961, swatting 45 round-trippers, driving in a whopping 140 runs, and slugging .580. He followed this with another strong 37 HR, 112 RBI performance in 1962, earning him his third All-Star honor in four years.

Dipping to 22/91/.271 in 1963, he was dealt to the Kansas City Athletics. Once again, he bounced back with a sterling 34 homer, 102 RBI performance, highlighted by another All-Star nod in 1964.

His time in Kansas City, however, was short-lived. Cleveland fans rejoiced in 1965 when Colavito returned as part of a giant three-team trade worked during the off-seson between the Athletics, Chicago White Sox, and Indians. They had reason to celebrate, as he parked 26 homers and paced the AL with 106 RBIs, once again being named an All-Star and placing 5th in the MVP race.

Though he managed to hit 30 homers in 1966 - good for 6th in the AL and a final All-Star nod - Colavito's production had begun to slip. When he failed to deliver at the plate in 1967, the Indians shipped him in mid-season to the White Sox. Still spiraling down, he split 1968 between the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees as a part-time player before retiring at season's end at just 34.

Although primarily noted for his offensive prowess, Colavito was feared for his rocket arm in the outfield. He was also good with the glove, compiling a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage in 1965 with the Indians.

With more left in his arm than his bat he took to the mound late in 1968 for the Yankees, earning a win in 2.2 innings of relief against one-time teammates on the Detroit Tigers. It proved a happy bookend to his only other pitching appearance, 3.0 innings of relief for Cleveland a decade earlier, and cemented a perfect 0.00 career ERA. He was the last position player to earn a win on the mound until Brent Mayne did it for the Colorado Rockies in 2000.

Handsome, muscular, and a fan favorite, Colavito was one of the great power hitters of his day. His 374 home runs - many tallied during baseball's second dead ball era in the 1960s - place him just ahead of Gil Hodges and Ralph Kiner and just behind Norm Cash and Carlton Fisk.

Still, his shortish career and dramatic decline while yet in his early 30s left him well short of the Hall of Fame. While his 153 points on Bill James' "Gray Ink" test best the 144 produced by the average Hall of Famer, he doesn't show as strongly on other tests such as the Hall of Fame Monitor. Players with comparable similarity scores include Frank Howard, Roy Sievers, Boog Powell, Cash and Hodges - all contemporaries who also fall well short of Cooperstown.

After his playing career ended, Colavito was a television broadcaster for the Indians for several seasons. He was also an Indians and Kansas City Royals coach.

[edit] Notable Achievements

  • 6-time AL All-Star (1959, 1961, 1962 & 1964-1966)
  • AL Slugging Percentage Leader (1958)
  • 2-time AL Total Bases Leader (1959 & 1962)
  • AL Home Runs Leader (1959)
  • AL RBI Leader (1965)
  • AL Bases on Balls Leader (1965)
  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 11 (1956-1966)
  • 30-Home Run Seasons: 7 (1958-1962, 1964 & 1966)
  • 40-Home Run Seasons: 3 (1958, 1959 & 1961)
  • 100 RBI Seasons: 6 (1959, 1959, 1961, 1962, 1964 & 1965)
  • 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 1 (1961)

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