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Move over, Babe — make room for Rocky

When I was growing up, most boys interested in baseball wanted to grow up and play baseball like Mickey Mantle, Lou Brock or Roberto Clemente. I wanted to emulate Rocky Colavito, a former right fielder best known for his years with the Cleveland Indians. I owned one baseball bat during my boyhood: one that carried Rocky’s name on it. No, not his autograph; just his signature etched into the bat.

Rocky had 11 consecutive 20-home run seasons, exceeding 40 home runs a season three times and 100 runs batted in six times during that span. In 1965, Rocky played every game that season, becoming the first outfielder in American League history to post a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage. He hit four home runs in one game — June 10, 1959. Rocky was good enough to play for the New York Yankees, the team with which he ended his MLB career. That had to be a dream come true for someone born in the Bronx.

Rocky could hit and field. Alas, I wish I could say the same about myself. That’s why I am writing about playing baseball instead of playing baseball, or at this stage of my life managing a MLB team.

To this day, some folks still talk about “The Curse of Rocky Colavito,” written by Terry Pluto, who covered the Indians for Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer in the 1980s. The book attempts to explain why the Indians have not come within 11 games of first place since 1959. Pluto contends the trade that sent Colavito to the Detroit Tigers in 1960 put the Indians on a path to mediocrity that went on for more than three decades. Even after the Indians won their first pennant after 41 years in 1995 and again in 1997 (losing the World Series both of those years), Pluto, in two sequels to “The Curse of Rocky Colavito,” contends the curse continues.

Why did I choose Rocky Colavito as my baseball idol? Well, his name has a certain ring to it. Rocky is a great first name for a baseball player or a boxer — just ask Rocky Graziano or Rocky Balboa. Second, he threw and batted right-handed, just like me. Or did I throw and bat right-handed just like him? Third, he took care of his family. Once during a game, he went into the stands to take on a drunken fan that insulted Colavito’s wife and father. Colavito was ejected from the game.

Why write about Rocky Colavito? I want to end an injustice. Rocky Colavito deserves to be in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Induct this great player, who is alive, so he can enjoy his induction in person.

Rocky, I am rooting for you, as I did years ago.

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Mike Voss covers the city of Washington for the Washington Daily News. His other favorite baseball players, based on their names, include Boog Powell, Vinegar Bend Mizell, Oil Can Boyd, Chicken Wolf and Homer Bailey.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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