Documentary on former baseball MVP Rosen premieres at Chautauqua

“The Al Rosen Story,” a documentary film about baseball player Al Rosen, made its debut last Wednesday in Alumni Hall. The film was produced and directed by Bill Levy, a longtime sportswriter. Levy was on hand after the screening to answer any questions about the film and the man he calls “the third best Jewish player to ever play the sport.”

Al Rosen is the only player in Major League Baseball history to win the league’s MVP award as well as the Executive of the Year Award, returning to the business side of the sport 20 years after retiring as a player. In 1953, as a Cleveland Indian, he was less than 12 inches away from winning the MLB Triple Crown when he slid early on his way to first base during the last game of the season. His manager (and many fans) thought that he was safe, but Rosen knew better and told the umpire so after the play.

The film tells the story of an asthmatic kid who grew into a major league powerhouse. When his mother moved Rosen from South Carolina to Miami to help alleviate his health problems, she probably didn’t envision her son growing into a man who cut the sleeves of his jerseys to show off his biceps — or who knocked out a cab driver in Alabama for using a racial slur toward a black player.

Rosen knew something about discrimination. According to the film, he faced plenty growing up Jewish in what is now the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami. He learned to box and fought when he had to, standing up for himself both on and off the field. The documentary highlights one incident between Rosen and Larry Doby, his Cleveland teammate and the first African-American to play in the American League. In the film, Rosen doesn’t go into great detail about what prompted the confrontation, but he does say that Doby took the next few games off because he was “disfigured.”

Rosen’s career as a player was cut short due to injuries and what he believes was bad medical attention for players of that era. He retired as a player in 1956 at the age of 32. He went on to become a stockbroker and then got back into the MLB as an executive. He was the CEO of the New York Yankees and the Houston Astros and president and general manager of the San Francisco Giants. He retired in 1989.

Rosen, who is 89, lives in California. He received a copy of the movie in the mail last week. He told Levy that he was going to watch it on Wednesday, raising the interesting possibility that the audience in Alumni Hall was watching the film at the same time as its subject.