“FENWAY'S BEST PLAYERS”


 
1950-1952
#5   WALT DROPO

The Moose from Moosup – an easy nickname to pin on a 6-foot-5, 220-pound ballplayer who hailed from the village of Moosup, Connecticut. Right-handed-hitting Walt Dropo played for parts of 13 major-league seasons, with a solid .270 average (.326 on-base percentage, .432 slugging average), and 152 career home runs. 

Dropo easily won the 1950 Rookie of the Year award. He never had another year approaching 1950, but what a year it was. The Red Sox rookie led the league in runs batted in, tied with teammate Vern Stephens with 144, despite being in the minor leagues at the start of the season. Dropo also led the league in total bases with 326, on the strength of 34 home runs (second to Al Rosen’s 37), and placed second in both extra-base hits and slugging percentage. He also posted career marks in average (.322), runs scored (101), and hits (180.) 

Coming from a cold-weather climate, Dropo was maybe always a bit of a long shot to play major-league ball, but both he and his older brother, Milt, were superb multisport athletes at Plainfield High and the University of Connecticut.  Walt was pursued by Chicago Bears owner-coach George Halas, who wanted to sign him to a pro-football contract with the Bears, and as the “highest-scoring hoopman in Connecticut collegiate history,” he was drafted by Providence’s short-lived pro basketball team, the Steamrollers. Red Sox scouting director Neil Mahoney arranged a 1947 tryout at Fenway Park and owner Tom Yawkey pulled out his checkbook. “That ended all my negotiations,” Dropo said. “I had a check in my hand. …. A simple matter of money.”

Dropo played in Fenway Park almost six years before his major-league debut – and played on the same team as Ted Williams, with Babe Ruth as his manager.  On July 12, 1943, a group branded Ruth’s All-Stars played an exhibition game at Fenway against the Boston Braves to benefit the war effort. There weren’t enough available major leaguers to fill the All-Stars’ roster, so a call was made to Fort Devens. After his sophomore year at UConn, Dropo had joined the Army and trained at Devens. He and some others traveled into Boston. He was 0-for-2 in the game, but helped complete a double play at first. Dropo, Williams, Dom DiMaggio, Ruth, and company beat the Braves, 9-8. 

Serving in World War II, Corporal Dropo saw duty with the Army Corps of Engineers rebuilding bridges in Italy, France, and Germany, and – during the months after the war – building morale by playing ballgames in Europe.  Dropo was in Munich when the war ended; he served an additional eight months in Europe playing in morale-maintaining baseball games for Special Services and the USO.

Mustered out in January 1946, he returned to the University of Connecticut and resumed high-scoring efforts with the Huskies just a month later. He played more baseball in the spring and football in the fall, taking part in an East-West All-Star basketball game in March 1947 at Madison Square Garden in New York.  Immediately after graduation, he signed with the Red Sox, and appeared in 87 games for the Scranton (Pennsylvania) Miners, working under manager Eddie Popowski. He said he struck out his first four times and told Pop, “I’m overmatched” but Popowski replied, “Stay in there. You’re going to play.” Charlie Wagner, another Red Sox lifer, spent a great deal of time pitching batting practice to Dropo, who finished the year batting .297 with 12 homers and 59 RBIs.

Dropo began to move up in the Sox farm system. In 1948, he trained in the spring with the big-league club and was assigned to Triple-A Louisville; he hit poorly, though, and was sent down to Birmingham of the Southern Association, where he blossomed. His .359 average helped drive in 102 runs in 118 games, and his nine home runs in the playoffs helped secure the Southern Association flag for the Barons. Dropo made his major-league debut on April 19, 1949, at Shibe Park and got his first major-league hit, a single, off Athletics starter Lou Brissie. He started 10 more games at first base but was sent to Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League after a 4-3 April 30 loss to the New York Yankees. In Sacramento, he performed pretty well in 1949 under Del Baker (.287, 17 homers, 85 RBIs).

When the Red Sox’ Billy Goodman suffered a chipped ankle early in 1950, Dropo was summoned from Louisville – and seized the opportunity. On May 2 he tripled to drive in two runs, singled, and walked twice for a perfect day at the plate. The next day he hit a two-run homer, his first major-league home run, off Bob Feller. “As I was rounding the bases, I said to myself, ‘I am a major leaguer. If I can hit his fastball …’” He drove in another run the following inning.  The hits and runs and numbers began to mount quickly enough that Dropo was named to the All-Star Game in midseason. And he won the Rookie of the Year Award at season’s end.

Dropo struggled in 1951. Billy Goodman was hitting too well to be denied, and Dropo was batting just .251 with 25 RBIs in late June so he was optioned to San Diego. Recalled a month later, he finished the season batting .239 for Boston, with only 11 home runs and 57 RBIs. On June 3, 1952, Dropo was part of a nine-player trade that sent him, Johnny Pesky, and three other Red Sox to Detroit for George Kell, Dizzy Trout, Johnny Lipon, and Hoot Evers. Dropo had been hitting .265 with Boston and improved on that with the Tigers, finishing the year with 97 RBIs, 29 homers, and an overall .276 average.

After retirement, Dropo remained active attending Red Sox alumni events and local sports card shows, and enjoyed working as an “instructor” at Red Sox fantasy camps for many years, but as baseball became a much bigger enterprise, he chose to keep more to himself. Perhaps his last public appearance was at the tribute to Ted Williams held at Fenway Park shortly after Walt's childhood idol passed away in July 2002.