STORRS, Conn. — Walt Dropo, who played 13 seasons in the majors and won the 1950 American League Rookie of the Year award with the Boston Red Sox, has died. He was 87.
Dropo died Friday of natural causes, the University of Connecticut said Saturday in a statement. Dropo, who lived in Peabody, Mass., was a three-sport star at UConn in the 1940s and one of the greatest athletes in school history.
In 1950, Dropo beat out New York Yankees pitcher Whitey Ford to win AL Rookie of the Year honors after batting .322 with 34 home runs and a league-best 144 RBIs in 136 games. He also made his only All-Star team that year.
“Walt Dropo was one of the greatest players the Red Sox had in the post-World War II era,” said Dick Bresciani, the team’s vice president of publications and archives. “He was an outstanding gentleman and did a lot of good things for our organization in the community when his playing days were over. The Red Sox send their condolences to his family.”
A broken wrist slowed Dropo in 1951 and he was never able to match his outstanding rookie numbers. The first baseman batted .270 with 152 homers and 704 RBIs during his career. He was traded by Boston to the Detroit Tigers in 1952 and also played for the Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds and Baltimore Orioles.
Shortly after being traded to Detroit in 1952, Dropo tied a major league record that still stands when he got hits in 12 consecutive trips to the plate. During that streak he also tied another big league mark that’s still in place when he totaled 15 hits in a four-game span.
Born on Jan. 30, 1923, Dropo was raised in a small Connecticut village and was affectionately nicknamed “The Moose from Moosup.” He played football, basketball and baseball at UConn in a career that was interrupted by three years of military service during World War II.
He graduated in 1947 as UConn’s career scoring leader in basketball, but turned down offers to play professional football and basketball to sign with the Red Sox.
He soon became Boston’s first AL Rookie of the Year, playing on a star-studded team that also included Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky, Dom DiMaggio and Mel Parnell.
“Walt Dropo was the forerunner of all the great student-athletes we have had here at UConn,” said Dee Rowe, the school’s special adviser for athletics. “Wherever he went, he had UConn on his jersey. People around the country knew of UConn because of Walt Dropo.”
More than 60 years after his college basketball career ended, Dropo still ranks second in career scoring average at UConn at 20.7 points per game.
“He was a giant of a man and very proud of his family and heritage. When he walked into a room, he had this great presence. You knew he was there and he just captured everyone,” Rowe said.
Dropo had two brothers, Milton and George, who also were star athletes at Connecticut. After graduating, the Dropo brothers were major benefactors to their alma mater and were called “The First Family of UConn Athletics,” the school said.
Dropo is survived by two daughters, Carla and Tina. His son Jeff died in 2008.
Funeral arrangements were pending.