Any baseball player with a name like "Rocky" has to be a big-time power hitter, right? Thankfully, this was the case for six-time All-Star Rocky Colavito. While he only spent four of his 14 big league seasons in Detroit, Colavito put up some of the biggest power numbers in Tigers history. His .230 ISO ranks sixth in team history, while his 139 home runs are the second-most among Tigers with fewer than 3000 career plate appearances with the team. A fan favorite, it's no surprise that his stay on our poll only lasted a day, landing him the #44 spot on our countdown.
*Played for the Cleveland Indians from 1955 to 1959 and 1965 to July 1967.
**Played for the Kansas City Athletics from 1963 to 1965.
***Played for the Chicago White Sox from July 1967 to September 1967.
****Played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees in 1968.
Rocco Domenico Colavito was born on August 10th, 1933 in the Bronx borough of New York, New York. He dropped out of high school during his sophomore year to play semi-professional baseball and signed with the Cleveland Indians as a 17 year old. He spent five full seasons in the minor leagues due to his young age, hitting .271 with 150 home runs in 2570 at-bats. In 1955, he hit .268/.366/.495 with the Indianapolis Indians before getting called up to Cleveland.
Colavito made his big league debut on September 10th, 1955. He went hitless in his first three games before going 4-for-4 with two doubles against the Tigers in a 7-0 Indians win. Colavito was given a full-time job in right field in 1956 after the retirement of future Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner, who passed away at the age of 91 yesterday. Colavito filled Kiner's role admirably after an early demotion, hitting .276/.372/.531 with 21 home runs and 65 RBI. He finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting, a distant second to Luis Aparicio. The Indians went 88-66 that season, but finished a distant second to the New York Yankees, who won their seventh World Series in the previous ten years.
Over the next three seasons, Colavito grew into one of the premier sluggers in the American League, hitting 108 home runs in just under 1800 plate appearances. He led the AL with a .620 slugging percentage in 1958, then led the league with 42 home runs in 1959. He finished in the top five of the AL MVP voting both seasons, the closest he would ever come to taking home the award. He also made a relief appearance, pitching three innings against the Tigers on August 13th, 1958.
Following the 1959 season, Indians GM Frank "Trader" Lane lived up to his nickname, shipping Colavito to the Tigers in exchange for All-Star shortstop-turned-outfielder Harvey Kuenn two days before the teams played one another on Opening Day. It remains the only time the AL's reigning batting champion and home run champion were traded for one another. The traded infuriated Indians fans, who had grown to love Colavito's towering home runs and approachable demeanor off the field. Reviews were mixed on the Detroit side, but were swayed when Colavito outperformed Kuenn over the next few seasons.
Colavito's numbers dipped in his first season in Detroit, resulting in a then-career-low .791 OPS and 108 OPS+. He still slugged 35 home runs and drove in 87 RBI, both of which led the team.The Tigers only won 71 games that year, but engineered a massive turnaround in 1961, winning 101 games. The 30-win improvement was largely thanks to Colavito and Norm Cash -- whom the Tigers had acquired from the Indians just five days before Colavito came to Detroit -- who combined for 86 home runs and 272 RBI that year. Both players made the All-Star team and finished in the top 10 of MVP voting. It was also the only time the Tigers have had two players worth 8.0 WAR or more in one season.
Colavito continued to launch bombs in 1962, hitting 37 home runs while driving in 112 RBI. It was his fifth consecutive season with 35 home runs or more. He struggled in 1963, hitting just .271/.358/.437 with 22 home runs and 91 RBI. It was his second season in four years with a sub-.800 OPS and fewer than 100 RBI, leading the Tigers to trade him to the Kansas City Athletics. He regained his form in his lone season with the A's, hitting .274/.366/.507 with 34 home runs and 102 RBI.
In attempt to reverse the "Curse of Rocky Colavito," the Indians traded for Colavito prior to the 1964 season. While Colavito would provide another 6.3 WAR for the Indians over the next three years, they were forced to part with a young pitcher named Tommy John. Known primarily for the elbow procedure that resurrected his career, John won 286 games over the next quarter century. Meanwhile, the Indians would finish no higher than fifth from 1965 to 1967. Colavito was traded to the Chicago White Sox halfway through the 1967 season. He played for the White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, and New York Yankees over the next season and a half, but would only hit 11 more home runs with an OPS under .700.
After his career, Colavito served as a coach within the Indians and Kansas City Royals organizations. He never managed in the big leagues, but was ejected from the George Brett pine tar game after arguing with umpires following the infamous call. One of the few players who was wildly popular with both the Tigers' and Indians' fanbases, Colavito was inducted into the Cleveland Indians' Hall of Fame in 2006.