By Andy Piascik
Few Major League Baseball players have had rookie seasons as good as Walt Dropo’s. Playing in 1950 for the Boston Red Sox (his favorite team growing up) Dropo posted a .322 batting average, slugged 34 homers, drove in a major-league-best 144 runs, and led the American League (AL) with 326 total bases. His home run total was second best in the American League and he was selected to play in the All-Star Game. He finished sixth in the voting for the AL Most Valuable Player award and was elected AL Rookie of the Year by a wide margin.
Dropo was born on a farm in Moosup, Connecticut, on January 30, 1923. In part because of the name of his hometown and in part because of his large size (Dropo grew to 6’5” and 220 pounds) he earned the nickname “Moose.” Dropo excelled in football, basketball, and baseball at Plainfield High School and was awarded an athletic scholarship to the University of Connecticut.
The “Moose” Stars at UConn
Dropo’s stay in Storrs was interrupted in 1943 when he entered the army during the Second World War. He served as an engineer in Europe and returned to UConn after being discharged. He was a good enough end in football to be drafted by the Chicago Bears in 1947 and a good enough center in basketball to be drafted the same year by the Providence team in a league that was one of the forerunners of the National Basketball Association. His brothers Milt and George were also standout athletes at UConn.
Dropo liked baseball most and signed with the Red Sox. After his sensational year in 1950, he suffered a broken wrist in 1951. He never regained the form of his big rookie season, though he had a stretch over three-quarters of a season in 1952 where he did quite well with 23 home runs and 70 runs batted in. He also matched the American League all-time record by getting hits in 12 consecutive at-bats over three games. Dropo was traded several times, played for five teams and appeared in his final game in 1961. He finished his career with 152 home runs and 704 runs batted in to go with a .270 average.
Befriending Future Hall-of-Famer Larry Doby
According to an article by sports historian Bill Nowlin, Dropo was very sympathetic to Black players in the years just after Jackie Robinson broke the modern era color line. He socialized with Hall of Famer Larry Doby, for example, while both played for the Chicago White Sox. According to Nowlin, Dropo also had an altercation during a game in 1957 with Enos Slaughter, who was notorious for directing racial slurs at opposing Black players, apparently an outgrowth of things Slaughter said to Doby.
Dropo worked in real estate, finance, insurance and in his brother Milt’s fireworks business after his playing career. He settled in Massachusetts but maintained ties with his home state including as an enthusiastic supporter of UConn academics and athletics. He was inducted into UConn’s Huskies of Honor in 2007.
Though it can be difficult in any endeavor when the beginning is the best, and perhaps especially for an athlete who seems to have great things ahead, it doesn’t seem to have bothered Dropo that his rookie season stands head and shoulders over the rest of his career. Nor does he seem to have dwelled much on how his baseball career might have been different if not for the broken wrist. Instead, he lived a long, full life after baseball. He was married for many years, raised three children with his wife Elizabeth and remained on good terms with her after they divorced. His career with the Red Sox and his close following of the team and Ted Williams as a youth came full circle when Dropo made his last public appearance at Fenway Park in 2002 at a ceremony honoring Williams shortly after Williams’ death. Dropo died on December 17, 2010, at the age of 87 and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Plainfield.
Bridgeport native Andy Piascik is an award-winning author who has written for numerous publications and websites over the last four decades and is the author of several books. He can be reached at email@example.com.