Earl Averill

Position: Outfielder
Teams: Cleveland Indians, 1929-1939; Detroit Tigers 1939-1940; Boston Braves 1941

Raised on a small ranch in Snohomish, Washington, Howard Earl Averill (1902-1983) -- known all his life by his middle name -- was nicknamed the “Earl of Snohomish” by sportswriters soon after he began his professional career. Among fellow players, though, he was more commonly called “Rock.”

A severe arm injury in high school made Averill give up dreams of a baseball career. He worked and played semipro ball. Spotted by a bird dog of the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League, Earl was convinced to give pro baseball a whirl in 1926 at the rather advanced age of 24.

Earl Averill had to alter his hitting stance due to a leg ailment, which resulted in a slipping average.
Earl Averill had to alter his hitting
stance due to a leg ailment, which
resulted in a slipping average.

Averill became an immediate sensation but seemed destined never to rise above the high minors, partly because of his age but more because San Francisco was under no obligation to sell him to a major-league team. In 1928, an offer came from Billy Evans, business manager of the Cleveland Indians. Evans had journeyed to San Francisco to scout two other Seals outfielders, but he paid $50,000 for Averill.

At that time, $50,000 was a huge sum for an unproven minor-leaguer, but the gamble reaped a quick dividend when Averill became the first player in American League history to homer in his first major-league at bat. He went on to hit .331 for the Indians and compile 199 hits and 97 RBI. In addition, his 18 home runs established a Cleveland record to that point.

For more than a decade, Averill continued his onslaught on American League pitchers. Selected to play in the first All-Star Game in 1933, he singled as a pinch hitter against Carl Hubbell of the Giants. Four years later, in an All-Star Game at Washington, Averill lined a shot back at Dizzy Dean, fracturing Dean’s big toe. When Dean tried to return to duty too early, he injured his arm and was never again the same pitcher.

Ironically, Averill himself was seriously ailing at the time of the 1937 All-Star Game. Just a week earlier his legs had mysteriously become momentarily paralyzed when he attempted to leave the Cleveland clubhouse for a pre-game workout. Rushed to a hospital and X-rayed, Averill was found to have a congenital malformation of the lower spine.

In order to continue playing, he had to alter his hitting style and become more of a spray hitter. With his power diminished and his average slipping, Rock was little more than an average player for the remaining four years of his career. In 1939, Averill was traded to Detroit, for which he played in his only World Series the following year.

Averill saw his son Earl follow him into the major leagues. The elder Earl was chosen to the Hall of Fame in 1975.


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