January 30 – Happy Birthday Walt Dropo

As the 1950 baseball season unfolded, the Fenway faithful knew they were watching something special also unfold on the baseball diamond in front of them. That year, the Red Sox fielded one of the great offensive attacks in franchise history. As a team, Boston hit .302 that season, an average that was forty-two points higher than the second best hitting team in the American League. They were the only ball club in either league to score more than 1,000 runs. In fact, no other team in the Majors even reached the 900 mark in that category. The lowest batting average among Red Sox starting position players that season was the .294 figure posted by second baseman Bobby Doerr. Their utility infielder, Billy Goodman hit .354. In a lineup that boasted the great Ted Williams, Hall-of-Famer Doerr, plus all stars Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky and Vern Stephens, it was actually a rookie first baseman who turned in the best overall numbers in that glorious offensive season for Boston.

That rookie was Walt Dropo. His nickname was “Moose” and at 6’5″ tall and weighing 220 pounds, he looked like the strongman of a traveling circus. A New England native born in Connecticut, Dropo was a three-sport star at the University of Connecticut and was pursued by both the Red Sox and football’s Chicago Bears. He chose baseball and after a few seasons in the minors, the Red Sox gave him their starting first baseman’s job.  The 27-year-old rookie responded by hitting 34 home runs, producing a league-leading 144 RBIs, and compiling a .322 average to beat out the Yankees’ Whitey Ford for the 1950 Rookie of the Year Award. Unfortunately it was Ford’s Yankees who beat out Dropo’s Red Sox for the 1950 AL Pennant.

Dropo would never again come anywhere close to those numbers and the exact reason why has been disputed over the years. Many blamed his failures on a fractured wrist he suffered during the Sox’ 1951 spring training season. I have also read that AL pitchers had discovered and easily exploited a flaw in the slugger’s swing. Whatever the reason, it was clear that the Walt Dropo of 1950 was gone by 1951 and the Walt Dropo that replaced him was nothing more than an average big league hitter. He hit just .239 in his second season in Beantown with only 11 home runs. By June of the following year, the Boston’s front office was ready to give up on him for good and negotiated a nine-player deal that landed Dropo in Detroit. Walt would go on to play a total of thirteen seasons in the Majors, finally exiting after the 1961 season.

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