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Hal Trosky

Hal Trosky

Position(s):
1B, 2B
Born:
November 11, 1912
Bats:
Left
Throws:
Right
Height:
6' 2"
Weight:
207 lbs
Major League Debut:
9-11-1933 with CLE

Once identified by Babe Ruth as the man most likely to mount a serious challenge to his then single-season home run record, Hal Trosky began his career in magnificent fashion, hitting a total of 135 home runs in his first four full seasons, while driving in well over 100 runs each year.  The powerful first baseman led the American League with 162 RBIs in 1936, establishing a Cleveland Indians record in the process that stood for 63 years.  Trosky also annually finished among the league leaders in batting average, slugging percentage, doubles, and total bases his first few seasons.  Nevertheless, his tremendous accomplishments failed to gain him the notoriety he otherwise would have received had he not spent his peak years competing against three of the greatest first basemen in baseball history – Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, and Hank Greenberg. However, poor health is the thing that ultimately diminished Trosky’s legacy far more than any of those Hall of Fame players.

Early Life

Born to second-generation German immigrants on November 11, 1912, Harold Arthur Trojovsky grew up on a 420-acre farm just outside his place of birth in Norway, Iowa.  After excelling in baseball in high school, Trojovsky received a minor league contract offer from the St. Louis Cardinals.  However, while still taking the St. Louis offer under consideration, he received another proposal from the Cleveland Indians that appealed to him more.  He signed his first contract “Harold Trojovsky,” but subsequently elected to use “Trosky” as his last name.

Early Career and Rise to Stardom       

Despite being signed primarily as a pitcher, the righty-throwing Trosky shifted to first base shortly after he joined the Cedar Rapids Bunnies at the tender age of 18 in 1931.  Advancing quickly through the Cleveland farm system, Trosky appeared in an Indians uniform for the first time less than three years later, in September 1933.  Playing in 11 games, the left-handed hitting first baseman batted .295, knocked in eight runs, and hit his first major league home run. 

Trosky claimed the Cleveland starting first base job the following year, when he performed brilliantly as a rookie.  Playing every inning of all 154 games, the 6’2”, 207 -  pound slugger finished among the league leaders with 35 home runs, 142 runs batted in, 117 runs scored, a .330 batting average, nine triples, 45 doubles, 206 hits, a .598 slugging percentage, and 374 total bases.  Only Lou Gehrig, who won the Triple Crown, drove in more runs and compiled more total bases.  Trosky’s exceptional campaign earned him a seventh-place finish in the league MVP voting. 

Trosky’s numbers fell off somewhat in 1935, but he still managed to hit 26 homers, knock in 113 runs and bat .271, while once again appearing in every Indians game.  The Cleveland first baseman reached the apex of his career the following year, when he established career highs with 42 home runs, a league-leading 162 runs batted in and 405 total bases, 124 runs scored, a .343 batting average, 216 hits, 45 doubles, and a .644 slugging percentage.  Trosky put together a 28-game hitting streak at one point and broke his own team record for home runs in a single season when he hit number 36 against the Senators.  The slugging first baseman combined with centerfielder Earl Averill (28 home runs, 126 RBIs, .378 AVG, 136 Runs, 232 hits) to give the Indians a tandem that rivaled the duo the pennant-winning Yankees featured in New York, in Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio.  Yet, with both Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx having outstanding seasons, Trosky failed to earn a spot on the American League All-Star Team.  He also finished a distant tenth to Gehrig in the A.L. MVP balloting.      

Trosky continued his outstanding hitting in 1937, finishing among the A.L. leaders with 32 home runs and 128 runs batted in, while also batting .298 and scoring 104 runs.  Although his home-run output fell to 19 the following year, Trosky raised his batting average to .334, knocked in 110 runs, scored 106 others, and accumulated 40 doubles.

Troubles in Cleveland

Named Indians captain prior to the start of the 1939 campaign, Trosky soon found himself serving as a buffer between his teammates and Cleveland’s acerbic manager Oscar Vitt.  The Indian players hated Vitt, who alienated himself from his subordinates by openly berating them.  Things eventually became so contentious between the two sides that a group of 10 Cleveland players petitioned team owner Alva Bradley to relieve Vitt of his duties.  As one of the dissidents, Trosky received irreparable damage to his reputation when news of the protest leaked out to the press, which subsequently referred to the episode as the “Crybaby” incident.  Still, Trosky must have felt somewhat vindicated more than a decade later in 1951 when the Cleveland News published a memo from Bradley concerning the incident that read: “We should have won the pennant (in 1940)…our real trouble started when a group of 10 players came to my office and made four distinct charges against Vitt and asked for his dismissal.  The four charges made against Vitt, on investigations I have made, were 100% correct.”

Dealing with an overbearing manager was not the only problem Trosky encountered after his first few years in Cleveland.  Afflicted with severe headaches for the first time in 1939, the slugging first baseman spent much of the year playing in discomfort.  Although only 26 years of age, Trosky found it increasingly difficult to bring with him to the park each day the intensity and energy he needed to perform at his usual level.  He finally removed himself from the lineup for a period of time at mid-season, allowing back-up Oscar Grimes to see some action at first base.  The malady prevented Trosky from appearing in at least 150 games for Cleveland for the first time since he joined the team in late 1933.  Appearing in a total of only 122 games, Trosky nonetheless finished the year with 25 home runs, 104 runs batted in, 89 runs scored, and a .335 batting average. 

Although visits to various doctors during the off-season failed to reveal the source of his discomfort, Trosky’s headaches gradually faded over the winter.  As the frequency of the attacks decreased, Trosky immersed himself into his farming and family life, subsequently returning to the Indians in 1940 eager to play baseball.

Despite having his 1940 campaign marred by the series of events referred to by members of the media as the “Crybaby” incident, Trosky posted solid numbers for most of the year, finishing the season with 25 home runs, 93 runs batted in, and a .295 batting average.  His performance suffered over the final two months of the season, though, after headaches began to take their toll on him once again in August.  Playing through pain the remainder of the year, Trosky missed only 14 games, in a vain attempt to bring the American League pennant to Cleveland for the first time in two decades.  The Indians finished second, just one game behind the Detroit Tigers.

Final years as player

The frequency and severity of Trosky’s migraines increased in 1941, leaving him almost powerless at the plate against a blurry white apparition he said sometimes looked “like a bunch of white feathers.”  Finally forced to remove himself from the lineup on

August 11, Trosky sat out almost two weeks before rejoining the Indians for their last stop in Chicago.  His career with the Indians ended abruptly shortly thereafter when he fractured his thumb in a collision at first base with White Sox pitcher Ted Lyons.  Trosky missed the final 39 games of the season, finishing the year with only 11 home runs, 51 runs batted in, and a .294 batting average, in barely over 300 official at-bats. 

Trosky told Gayle Hayes of the Des Moines Register some five months later that he did not intend to play baseball in 1942.  The first baseman suggested that it was “for the best interest of the Cleveland club and for myself that I stay out of baseball…I have visited various doctors in the larger cities in the United States and they have not helped me.  If, after resting this year, I find that I am better, perhaps I’ll try to be reinstated.  If I don’t get better, then my major league career is over.”

Trosky spent 1942 on his farm in Iowa farming, devouring news of the war, and waiting for a call from the draft board.  After the board failed to contact him, Trosky worked out for the White Sox, who subsequently purchased his contract from the Indians in November of 1943.  The army officially declared Trosky “4-F,” unsuitable for military service, four months later due to his history of headaches.  Trosky attempted a comeback with Chicago in 1944 but failed to regain his earlier form, hitting only 10 home runs, driving in just 70 runs, and batting only .241, in 135 games and 560 total plate appearances.  After retiring again at the end of the year, the 32-year-old Trosky discovered that the severity of his migraines could be minimized somewhat by vitamin

B-1 shots, and by a significant reduction in his daily intake of dairy products.  The treatments, along with some emotional distance from his time with the Indians, helped lessen the migraines considerably, and the end of the war presented Trosky with one more opportunity.

The White Sox offered Trosky a contract to play in 1946, but he hit just two home runs, knocked in only 31 runs, and batted just .254 in 88 games with the team, prompting him to leave the game for good at the end of the year.  Trosky retired with 228 home runs, 1,012 runs batted in, and a .302 career batting average.  In his eight full seasons in the majors, he surpassed 30 homers three times, knocked in more than 100 runs six times, scored more than 100 runs four times, batted over .330 four times, and collected more than 200 hits twice.

Post-playing career  

Following his retirement, Trosky became a scout for the White Sox, traveling the tiny towns of eastern Iowa from 1947 to 1950 hoping to discover untapped talent.  He left the White Sox in 1950 to settle down to farming, before taking up agricultural real estate sales around Cedar Rapids in 1962.  Trosky suffered a heart attack in early 1978 that left him unable to move around without the support of a cane by the following year.  He collapsed on June 18, 1979 from a heart attack so massive that doctors said he died before he even reached the floor.  He was officially pronounced dead on arrival at Mercy Hospital in Cedar Rapids, and is buried in St Michael’s cemetery on a hillside overlooking his hometown of Norway, Iowa.

By Bob_Cohen
 
Tagged:
All-Star, Alva Bradley, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Earl Averill, Hal Trosky
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Tagged:
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