July 31, 2009 – The Washington Senators had some bad teams over the years including 5 seasons with 100 or more losses and only 18 winning seasons between 1901 and 1960. That does not mean however; that they didn’t have some great players over the years, one of those great players was Mickey Vernon.
Born James Barton Vernon on April 22, 1918 in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania, Vernon signed as a free agent with the Washington Senators in 1937. A left hander all the way, Mickey stood 6’2”, weighed 180 and played 1B. Mickey Vernon made his major league debut on July 8, 1939, the same year as Hall of Famers Hal Newhouser, Ted Williams, and Early Wynn. In addition to being a slick fielding first baseman, Vernon could also hit, winning batting titles in 1946 with a .353 batting average and again in 1953 hitting .337, winning the batting title by 1 percentage point over Cleveland’s Al Rosen and thus depriving Rosen of the Triple Crown. Mickey played for the Senators from 1939 through 1948 (taking 1944 and 1945 off to serve in the US Navy) before being traded to the Cleveland Indians where he played one full season and part of the second before he was traded back to the Washington Senators for whom he played through the 1955 season before again being traded, this time to the Boston Red Sox. After the 1957 season, Vernon was waived and picked up by the Cleveland Indians. After a 1 year stint in Cleveland, Vernon was traded to the Milwaukee Braves where he played out the 1959 season. In 1960, Vernon spent most of the season as a coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates before being activated in September and finishing his career by playing in 9 games for the World Champion Pirates, giving him the rare achievement of playing in four separate decades.
Vernon was not a real power hitter but he did hit 172 home runs in his 20 major league seasons. Three times, Vernon lead the league in doubles, once hitting 51 two baggers. In his 20 seasons, Mickey Vernon played 2,409 games, had 9,834 plate appearances, 2,495 hits, scored 1,196 times, stole 137 bases, and had 1,311 RBI’s with a career .286 batting average. Twenty years as a player in the majors, seven times an All-Star, but never lucky enough to play in a World Series game.
Vernon like many other players from that era served his time in the service of his country by serving in the Navy in 1944 and 1945 in Hawaii, where his commander was Max Patkin, a onetime pitcher who became a comedian known as the Crown Prince of Baseball. Off the field, Mr. Vernon was affable and easygoing but was known for his stubborn contract negotiations. Team owner Clark Griffith, who often cut a player’s salary after a subpar year, called Mr. Vernon “the most difficult man I ever dealt with on the salary question.” After his stellar 1953 season, Mr. Vernon told The Washington Post: “If a ball player can’t cash in on the kind of a year I had, it’s a hopeless profession. . . . Last season was one they can’t take away from me. If the Washington club couldn’t show any profit, it wasn’t my fault. I gave it a pretty good try.”
In 1961, after the Washington Senators moved to Minnesota and became the Twins, Vernon was named the first manager of Washington’s new expansion franchise. He had little luck with a team of castoff players and unproven minor-leaguers before being fired in 1963 with a 135-227 won-loss record as the Washington Senators manager. After his managing stint with the Senators, Vernon became a coach with the Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees. He also managed at the Triple-A and Double-A levels.
Many fans believe that seven times All-Star Mickey Vernon belongs in the Hall of Fame, but that honor eluded Vernon during his life time. Mickey Vernon, one of the all time Washington Senator greats passed away on September 24, 2008.