The legendary Al Rosen passed away over the weekend at the age 91. As the author of The Baseball Codes points out, the NYT obit
mentions the historic 1953 season when Rosen missed the Triple Crown by the slimmest of margins. Seriously, 0.0011 slim.
Going into the final game of the 1953 season, Rosen was battling Mickey Vernon, the Washington Senators’ first baseman, for the batting title. In Rosen’s last at-bat, against the Detroit Tigers at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, he hit a slow ground ball to third base and seemed to have beaten the throw on a close play.
“Everybody on the bench thought I was safe,” Rosen told Baseball Digest in 2002. But the umpire, Hank Soar, called Rosen out, and he agreed.
“I tried to leap to first base,” Rosen recalled. “But I did a quick step and missed the bag.”
Had Rosen been safe, he would have won the battling title and the triple crown. But Vernon edged him for the batting title, finishing with a .337 average.
Cue up Paul Harvey's voice here. Via The Baseball Codes:
Heading into the ﬁnal day of the season, Rosen already held a slight edge in the home-run race and had the RBI title locked up. His most precarious category was batting average, in which he was tied for the league lead with Senators ﬁrst baseman Mickey Vernon.
In Cleveland’s game against Detroit, the Tigers took a page from the Jack O’Connor playbook and positioned their inﬁeld very deep—an invitation for the well-liked Rosen to bunt. [As Baseball Codes notes, O'Connor had previously deployed this trick when managing the St. Louis Browns in 1910. Ty Cobb was winning the batting title, but O'Connor hated Cobb, so instructed his infield to play deep to allow Cleveland's own Nap Lajoie to manage seven bunt singles. He didn't quite catch Cobb, but was awarded the batting title years later after scorekeepers discovered Cobb was gifted two extraneous hits.]
Rosen, however, harboring an abiding sense of fair play, chose instead to swing away and went 3-for-5 with two doubles.
In the Senators’ game against the Philadelphia Athletics, Vernon collected two hits in his ﬁrst four at-bats. Shortly thereafter, Rosen’s game in Cleveland ended, giving Vernon a razor-thin lead heading into his ﬁnal plate appearance. Having been notiﬁed of Rosen’s line, every player on the Washington bench understood the situation: A hit would cement the crown for Vernon, and an out would hand it to Rosen. The Senators decided to go with option three: Don’t give Vernon the chance.
The slugger was scheduled to bat fourth in the ninth inning, and when Washington catcher Mickey Grasso doubled with one out, it seemed like a certainty that Vernon would again reach the plate. Grasso, however, managed to get picked off at second, a development observers attributed to the fact that he more or less wandered away from the base. Kite Thomas followed with a single, but when he tried to stretch it to a double without beneﬁt of running hard, he was easily thrown out for the third out of the inning.
Whatever instincts Vernon may have had toward justice became irrelevant; he never made it to the plate and Rosen missed his triple crown by .0011 points.