Vernon being considered for Hall
Slick-fielding first baseman up for Veterans Committee vote
There were 27,160 fans at Washington, D.C.'s Griffith Stadium on Opening Day in 1954, and President Dwight Eisenhower was among them.Eisenhower was there to throw out the ceremonial first pitch for the Senators, a presidential duty that he fulfilled in seven of eight years in office. On this day, he was still in the seats when the game between the Yankees and the Senators was tied at 3 after nine innings. Eisenhower stayed put and was rewarded when Senators first baseman Mickey Vernon came to bat in the bottom of the 10th inning and hit a game-winning two-run home run off Yankees pitcher Allie Reynolds.
Eisenhower was so excited that he was ready to run onto the field to congratulate Vernon. The Secret Service decided that was a bad idea and kept Eisenhower in his seat. Instead, Vernon was brought over to be congratulated by the president.Vernon was Eisenhower's favorite player, but the President was hardly alone. For the better part of 14 years, Vernon was the most popular player on a team that made famous the phrase about Washington, D.C.: "First in war, first in peace and last in the American League." The Senators certainly weren't very good during Vernon's time with them, but that didn't keep him from putting together a highly respectable 20-year career that is getting him consideration from the Veterans Committee for possible induction into the Hall of Fame. Vernon's career began in 1939 with the Senators and ended in 1960 as a coach and part-time player for the Pirates. He missed two years because of World War II, but the seven-time All-Star ended up with a career batting average of .286 as well as 2,495 hits and two batting titles. He could also run, as he finished his career with 137 stolen bases and 120 triples, both quite respectable totals for a first baseman. He was in the top ten in the American League in triples in nine different seasons, and he was in the top ten in stolen bases in seven seasons. His career was winding down when Gold Glove Awards were finally instituted in 1957, but there is little doubt that he would have won several if the honor had been available in his prime. He led the American League in fielding on four different occasions and set a Major League first baseman's record with 155 assists in 1949 that stood until 1982. A Minor League executive remarked that, "Mickey was so smooth around the bag that he could have played first base wearing a tuxedo!" Vernon, basically a mid-century version of Keith Hernandez, Mark Grace and Bill Buckner, will be considered for the Class of 2009 at the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee. Any player receiving at least 75 percent of the vote from the Veterans Committee, which consists of 64 living Hall of Famers, will be enshrined at the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2009. Results from the Veterans Committee vote will be broadcast live on MLB.com on Dec. 8 from baseball's Winter Meetings in Las Vegas. The other members of the pre-1943 Veterans Committee final ballot are Wes Ferrell, Joe Gordon, Sherry Magee, Carl Mays, Reynolds, Vern Stephens, Bill Dahlen, Bucky Walters and Deacon White. Vernon was one of a number of Senators players signed by famous scout Joe Cambria out of Marcus Hook, Pa., and Villanova University. He made his Major League debut on July 30, 1939, and his first full season was in 1941, when he batted .299 with nine home runs and 93 RBIs. He had three solid seasons as the Senators first baseman before serving the United States Navy during World War II. When the war ended, he returned to the Senators and flourished, winning his first batting title with a .353 batting average in 1946. But he slumped to .265 in 1947 and .242 in 1948, and that would be one of the puzzling aspects of his career: Vernon hit over .300 in four different seasons but he also hit under .270 in five different seasons.
Vernon was a quiet man who was not one to complain, but it's possible that he suffered from back problems at various times in his career.The Senators traded him and future Hall of Fame pitcher Early Wynn to the Indians after the 1948 season. The Indians won 89 games while Vernon hit .291 with 18 home runs and 83 RBIs in 1949. But when he started off hitting .189 in his first 28 games of the 1949 season, he was traded back to the Senators. He had his best season ever with the Senators in 1953, when he hit .337 with 101 runs scored, 15 home runs and 115 RBIs. In that season, he won his second batting title -- edging out Al Rosen on the last day of the season to keep the Indians third baseman from winning the Triple Crown -- and led the league in doubles for the second of three times in his career. He had two more strong seasons with the Senators before being traded to the Red Sox in 1956 to join the same lineup as Ted Williams. He was with the Red Sox for two years and the Indians for one before playing for the Milwaukee Braves in 1959. He became a coach for the Pirates in 1960 and was activated as a player in September, but he had just eight at-bats in nine games. The Pirates ended up winning the World Series that year, so Vernon did finally earn a ring. But he retired having played in 2,409 games without ever having appeared in the postseason, the third highest of any Major League player. It would be the biggest regret of his career. After the 1960 season, he was selected as the first manager of the expansion Washington Senators. But he lasted just over two years before he was dismissed and would spend the rest of his baseball career as a coach and scout. He passed away on Sept. 25.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.