Baseball Digest Birthdays: Walt Dropo

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The first Rookie of The Year Award ever bestowed upon a member of the Boston Red Sox happened to also be one of their best players in the post-World War II era and a college standout at the University of Connecticut. Walt Dropo passed away on December 17th, 2010, and would have turned 88 years old today.

Walt Dropo was born on January 30th, 1923, in Moosup Connecticut and soon the “Moose from Moosup” made a name for himself as he excelled in basketball, baseball, football and track at Plainville High School. Considered one of the greatest athletes to play for UConn, Dropo remains second all time for career scoring average per game, more than sixty years after he graduated. He was one of the very few players in history to be drafted by the Basketball Association of America and the National Football Association in addition to being drafted by Major League Baseball.

Before he could start his career as a professional athlete, Dropo was drafted by the United States Military to serve in World War II. His collegiate career was put on hold for three years to serve as a combat engineer in Italy, France, Germany and Africa. He returned to UConn in 1943 and continued building his impressive athletic accolades. Following his graduation, Dropo was courted by the Providence Steamrollers of the BAA and the Chicago Bears of the NFL before signing with the Boston Red Sox in 1947.

Dropo tore through the minor leagues, hitting better than .300 in two full seasons, prompting the Red Sox to promote the first baseman briefly in 1949. After a poor showing in just eleven games, he was sent back to the Sacramento Salons, the Triple A team for Boston. Slugging 17 home runs to go along with a .287 average, it was clear that Dropo belonged in the big leagues in 1950.

A month into the 1950 season Dropo was called up and inserted into the lineup on May 2nd. The next day, he cranked his first career home run off of future Hall of Famer Bob Feller. He added 33 more home runs en route to his greatest season in the big leagues. In addition to hitting .322 on the season, he also drove in 144 runs, averaging more than a run batted in per game; a feat that would not be duplicated for thirty years until George Brett’s 1980 season with the Kansas City Royals.

Dropo also had a slugging percentage of .583 and an OPS+ of 133 en route to his American League Rookie of The Year honors and his only trip to an All-Star Game. For the 1950 season, he ranked among the top 10 in most offense categories for the league. In short, Dropo had one of the most impressive rookie years in baseball history.

Unfortunately for the surging first baseman, he suffered a fractured wrist in 1951 and lost a great deal of his offensive power. By 1952, the Boston Red Sox decided to part ways with Dropo and traded him to the Detroit Tigers in June of that year in a nine player deal. Included in that deal was Johnny Pesky, a Red Sox fan favorite. Dropo rebounded well in his new surroundings, slugging 23 home runs in 115 games. His 29 home runs on the season nearly tripled his 1951 total of 11. Most impressive, however, was the fear he accomplished soon after joining the Tigers. Between July 13 and 15, Dropo collected 12 straight hits against the pitching of the New York Yankees and Washington Senators. He also holds the record for most hits in four consecutive games, 15 he collected during this same stretch.

Emil Rothe recaps Walt Dropo’s impressive feat of 12 consecutive hits in this September 1973 issue of Baseball Digest. Click here to check it out!

Dropo had a penchant for adapting well to new teams, with the Chicago White Sox being the first example. After being traded by the Tigers following a subpar 1954 season where he hit just 4 home runs, Dropo slugged 19 home runs during the 1955 season. He again improved his numbers with new teams following subpar seasons with the White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds. Over the course of the second half of his career with Chicago, Cincinnati and the Baltimore Orioles, he hit 62 home runs to go along with a .266 average. He was released midway through the 1961 season, at which point the 38 year old called it career.

Throughout his retirement, he received honors for his great athletic career. Among the accolades, he was named to the 11 player All-Time UConn Football team in 1969 and 1998, as well as the All-Time UConn Basketball team in 2001. In 2006 he was inducted into the first class of UConn’s Huskies of Honor. He was inducted into the Birmingham Barons’ Hall of Fame in 2007, the Double A team(at the time, the Boston Red Sox affiliate) which he slugged 14 homers and hit .359 during the 1948 season.

Also Born Today:

Mickey Harris, born in 1917, played nine seasons in the major leagues, and was a key member of the 1946 American League Champion Boston Red Sox. He missed four seasons in the majors due to serving in World War II, and returned to win 17 games and earn a trip to his only All-Star Game. He passed away on April 15th, 1971.

Celebrating A Birthday Today:

Davey Johnson, born on January 30th 1963, played 13 seasons in the big leagues primarily with the Baltimore Orioles. He was the starting second baseman on a Oriole dynasty that won two World Series titles in four trips to the Fall Classic between 1965 and 1972. He logged another 14 seasons as a manager of the New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds, Orioles, and Los Angeles Dodgers. Despite his greatest success as the manager of the 1986 World Champions, he routinely led his teams to first and second place finishes. His managerial record is 1148-888.

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