Harry Chozen

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Harry Kenneth Chozen

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Biographical Information[edit]

Harry Chozen was a catcher 17 years in the minors but only played in one game in the majors on September 21, 1937.

Chozen was born to Jewish immigrants from the Ukraine in Minnesota. His family was the only Jewish one in town. At the age of eight the family moved to Southern California.

Chozen signed with the St. Louis Browns and assigned to the San Antonio Missions in 1933 but was soon released. After many failed tryouts, Harry went to a baseball camp in Hot Springs, AR to learn from Dizzy Dean, Burleigh Grimes and George Sisler. Unable to pay dues, he offered his endorsement if he succeeded as a player.

He got his professional start with the Lake Charles Skippers of the Louisiana-based Evangeline League. In the class D league, the 18-year old hit .321. He was moved up to the class A Fort Worth Cats of the Texas League, for whom he batted .226. In the following two years, he was on the Cotton States League's El Dorado Lions. Although the league was class C, due to the restructuring of the classification system in the offseason, Chozen was still five levels below the Majors. In his first year in Arkansas he batted .261, in his second he hit .339. He was second in the 1937 Cotton States League in average (leading as per one source), drove in 102 (third in the league) and hit a career-high 14 homers.

In late September 1937, Chozen was called up to Cincinnati as part of a carousel of backup backstops behind All-Star Ernie Lombardi. This was a necessity after Chuck Dressen and his staff were fired and 63-year old Bobby Wallace was named manager and his coaches included the team's second-string catcher Spud Davis. On September 21, in his last week as a 21-year-old, Chozen was the starting catcher for the Cincinnati Reds in the second game of a doubleheader versus the Philadelphia Phillies in a battle of last place clubs. Catching Joe Cascarella and Bill Hallahan, he got a single off Wayne LaMaster in four at-bats in the number six spot. He was sent back down to the minors after the game and never played in the majors again.

In 1938, Chozen was assigned to the Albany Senators of the class A Eastern League. He refused to report, saying he belonged in spring training with the Reds. He filed a complaint with commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, arguing that he should be a free agent due to his signing before age 21. Warren Giles, the president of the Reds, sent him a telegram inviting him to spring training. Giles offered him a contract and verbally promised a call-up at season's end.

Chozen played in 107 games for Albany in that year, and batted for a .273/~.291/.364 line in 352 at-bats and drove in 48 runs and hit 5 home runs. He had 13 doubles, two triples, scored 31 times and had both 11 walks and strikeouts. He was also the league's top fielding catcher with a .990 fielding percentage with 11 double plays and only 2 passed balls in 97 games. Chozen called Giles to complain when he was not called up but he was threatened with being sent down to a lower club if he complained. His request to join Cincinanati was turned down and he would later wonder if he had been blacklisted for the letter to Landis. He married Ruth Nelson that winter and would have two sons, Richard and David. Chozen was back with the Albany, NY franchise in 1939 where he hit .274, and in the next year he hit .266 for the team.

Released from his contract after the 1940 season, he was picked up by the Philadelphia Athletics and played for the Williamsport Grays in the A Eastern League and hit .231. Dropped down to the class C Virginia League's Newport News Builders, 5 levels removed from the majors in 1942, he got his first taste of managing and regained his stroke hitting .312. A teammate there was his brother Bobby Chozen. In 1943, Chozen was out of the game, but he came back for the 1944 season Knoxville Smokies of the Southern Association (SA). He remained with the club when it moved to Mobile, AL and hit .266/~.292/.307. Once again with the Mobile Bears in 1945, he hit for his best average of his career during a war-depleted league - .353. In the season, he had a 49-game hitting streak, a SA record. On July 6, he was intentionally walked, then was injured and left the game, but the league president ruled his hitting streak (May 27 to July 25) counted as he had no official at-bats. Also during that season, the veteran was approached by Birmingham Barons pitcher John Hetki, who wanted advice. Chozen told Hetki that he needed a changeup to complement his fine fastball. The next day, Chozen took two strikes from Hetki on fastballs he couldn't see, then ripped the anticipated change-up into left field for a double, proving it's not always a good idea to seek advice from the other team.

Chozen would follow up that season with a .259/~.303/.291 average for the SA's Memphis Chickasaws in 1946 and was again one of the league's top fielding catchers (.991).

After the 1946 season, Chozen embarked on a second career as a player-manager. He got his start with the class C Cotton States League's Greenville, Mississippi, hitting .267. Chozen would move south to the Miami Beach Flamingos of the Florida International League in 1948 and hit .288. Back in the Cotton States League for the 1949 and 1950 seasons, now with the Pine Bluff team he batted .287 in his first season and .289/~.345/.434 for the team in the second season, guiding them to a first place 84-54 record. They lost in the playoffs, though. His .994 fielding again led the league's regular catchers. In 1951, he returned to Lake Charles (Gulf Coast League) and hit .300. Chozen returned to Greenville for his final season in 1952 and hit .271/~.338/.329 and the team finished 47-79.

Chozen retired from baseball in 1952 and eventually settled in Lake Charles, LA and became a insurance business, becoming the district manager for Guaranty Savings Life Insurance Company. He also was the president of the board at Temple Sinai in Lake Charles, where he served in the choir. The Harry Chozen Baseball Scholarship is awarded to a member of the McNeese State University (located in Lake Charles) baseball team.

Sources include 1947, 1951 and 1953 Baseball Guides, The Big Book of Jewish Baseball by Peter Horvitz and Joachim Horvitz

Year-by-Year Managerial Record[edit]

Year Team League Record Finish Organization Playoffs
1942 Newport News Builders Virginia League 62-67 4th Philadelphia A's
1947 Greenville Bucks Cotton States League 84-46 2nd none Lost League Finals
1948 Miami Beach Flamingos Florida International League -- none -- replaced by Sindo Valle August 22
1949 Pine Bluff Cardinals Cotton States League 72-66 4th St. Louis Browns Lost League Finals
1950 Pine Bluff Judges Cotton States League 84-54 1st St. Louis Browns Lost in 1st round
1951 Lake Charles Lakers Gulf Coast League 66-86 8th none
1952 Greenville Bucks Cotton States League 47-79 7th none

Further Reading[edit]

  • Richard Tellis: Once Around The Bases, Triumph Books, Chicago, 1998, pp. 29-36.

Related Sites[edit]