Homer Happy: Rocky Colavito
From 1958-1962, no one in major league baseball hit as many home runs as Rocky Colavito. And no one in the American League drove more runs home during that five-year stretch.
Rocky Colavito averaged 40 home runs and 113 RBIs from 1958-1962.
In that five-year period, when Colavito was at the peak of his playing career, this outfielder (with a cannon throwing arm) batted for a combined .273 average with 40 home runs and 113 RBIs per season. He won the American League home run title in 1959 with 42, only to find himself traded before the first pitch of the 1960 season.
A New York native, Colavito was signed out of high school in 1951 by the Cleveland Indians and spent five years working his way through the Indians’ farm system. In his two seasons of AAA baseball at Indianapolis in the American Association, Colavito began to display the power he would bring to the major leagues, hitting a combined 68 home runs with 220 runs batted in. And he was still only 21 years old.
Colavito’s rookie season with the Indians came in 1956, when he batted .276 with 21 home runs and 65 RBIs. He finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting to Luis Aparicio.
Colavito improved steadily as a major league hitter. He punched out 25 home runs with 84 RBIs in 1957, and in 1958 he batted .303 with 41 home runs and 113 RBIs. He also led the American League with a .620 slugging percentage.
The 1959 season was one of firsts and lasts for Colavito. It was his first major league season to collect more than 150 hits and to reach 90 runs scored. It was his first season to finish first among the league’s home runs hitters, with 42 home runs (and he drove in 111 runs).
After one season in Kansas City, Colavito was dealt back to the Indians and led the American League with 108 RBIs in 1965 while hitting 26 home runs.
But 1959 was also Colavito’s last season in Cleveland. Just before Opening Day of the 1960 season, the Indians traded their star slugger to the Detroit Tigers for outfielder Harvey Kuenn, the 1959 American League batting champion. The trade proved to be hard on both players. Kuenn was blamed by the fans for the loss of the popular Colavito and was dispatched to the National League after only one season in Cleveland.
Colavito had good years in Detroit, but would never be the star of a team that already belonged emotionally to outfielder Al Kaline. Colavito hit 35 home runs with 87 RBIs for the Tigers in 1960, a “down” year by his previous standards and a disappointment for Tiger fans and the local press. But even when he was outstanding in Detroit, Colavito was overshadowed and under-appreciated. He had a monster year for the Tigers in 1961, batting .290 while scoring 129 runs and hitting 45 home runs with 140 RBIs. None of those numbers led the league, and Colavito’s accomplishments were overlooked by the season of Tigers first baseman Norm Cash, who led the league with a .363 batting average and hit 41 home runs with 132 RBIs.
Colavito never again matched his 1961 numbers, and never won over the Detroit fans. He hit 37 home runs with 112 RBIs in 1962, and then saw his power numbers slip to 22 home runs and 91 RBIs in 1963. Now 30 years old, he was traded to the Kansas City Athletics in the off-season and responded in 1964 with 34 home runs and 102 RBIs.
After one season in Kansas City, Colavito was dealt back to the Indians and led the American League with 108 RBIs in 1965 while hitting 26 home runs. He hit 30 home runs in 1966, his last full season in Cleveland. Colavito spent the next two season playing for four different teams, and hitting a combined 18 home runs. He retired after the 1968 season.
Colavito spent 14 seasons in the major leagues, batting .266 with 374 home runs and 1,159 RBIs. He was an All-Star six times.
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