Roy Sievers - 1956 Topps baseball card

Former Slugger Roy Sievers Was
A Special Player To Senator Fans

By Todd Newville

Sometimes things happen for a good reason. Just ask former major leaguer Roy Sievers.

What seemed to be a disappointing trade early on turned out to be a great career move for Sievers. He won the American League Rookie of the Year award in 1949 with his hometown St. Louis Browns by hitting .306 with 16 home runs and 91 runs batted in. But, the dreaded “sophomore jinx” hit Sievers in ‘50 as he hit just .238.

In ‘51, he was sent down to San Antonio in the Texas League where he separated his shoulder in August while making a tumbling catch. In ‘52, he reported early in February for Spring Training - eager to get rolling again. However, he dislocated his right arm during infield practice while making a throw.

Following surgery, Sievers made a miraculous recovery and comeback with the Browns in ‘53 as he hit .270 in 92 games. But, as the Browns prepared to move to Baltimore to become the Orioles for the upcoming season, they decided to trade Sievers to the Washington Senators for outfielder Gil Coan in February 1954.

“For some reason, (manager) Jimmy Dykes and the Orioles had some kind of letter or something from somebody stating that I couldn’t throw no more,” Sievers said. “Dykes said they had better trade me and get somebody else that could play.

“Well, knock on wood… it turned out to be the best deal of my career because I went to Washington and ended up breaking their home run record four years straight. I was very happy about that. It was a blessing in disguise.”

Indeed, it truly was. Though he hit just .232 for Washington in 1954, Sievers belted a club-record 24 home runs along with a team-leading 102 RBI, which ranked fifth in the AL. He broke Zeke Bonura’s Senator record of 22 homers set in 1938. Sievers’ average was the lowest ever for a player with 100 or more ribbies in a season until Tony Armas hit .218 with 107 RBI in 1983. Despite the low average, his debut in a Senators uniform was considered a great success.

Sievers’ bat had to be in the Senators lineup - period. When Sievers came to Washington, manager Bucky Harris already had Mickey Vernon firmly entrenched at first base, which is where Sievers played most of the time with the Browns. Moving Sievers to left field enabled the Washington skipper to utilize Sievers’ power.

Roy Sievers won the 1949 American League Rookie of the Year award with his hometown St. Louis Browns after hitting .306 with 16 home runs and 91 runs batted in. But, a major shoulder injury hampered Sievers' progress with the Browns, who traded him to Washington in 1954.
“When I got over there,“ Sievers remembered, “I said, ‘Where am I gonna play, Bucky?’ Mickey was on first base and he led the American League in hitting (with .337 in ‘53.) I hadn’t played outfield in two or three years. (Harris) said, ‘You just get the ball and get rid of it as fast as you can to the shortstop, ‘cause I want your bat in the lineup.’ That made me happy.”

But, he continued to make opposing pitchers miserable. In ’55, Sievers swatted 25 homers while hitting .271 with another team-leading 106 ribbies, ranking him fourth in the Junior Circuit in that department. In 1956, Sievers made the American League all-star team for the first time by hitting .253 with 29 home runs and 95 RBI.

Roy Sievers had his best year ever in the big leagues in 1957 when he hit .301 while leading the American League in home runs (42) and RBI (114) for the Senators. He was third in balloting for the MVP award that season as Mickey Mantle won it for the second straight year while Ted Williams finished second.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Sievers (a four-time AL all-star) had his best year ever in ‘57 - hitting .301 while leading the American League with career highs in home runs (42) and RBI (114). He ranked third behind Ted Williams (.731) and Mickey Mantle (.665) with a .579 slugging percentage. Sievers also led the league in total bases (a club-record 331) and was fourth in runs scored (99).

Sievers was on fire that year, for sure. He became the first Senator to win the RBI title since Goose Goslin had 129 ribbies in 1924. He also became the very first player in Washington history to win the home run crown. From July 28 through Aug. 3, he belted a home run in six consecutive games - tying an American League record at the time held by Ken Williams and Lou Gehrig.

“My six straight games with a home run were quite an accomplishment,” Sievers said. “On the seventh day, Paul Foytack (of the Detroit Tigers), who I liked to hit all the time, was pitching. The wind was blowing out a little in Washington. I popped out the first three times and then the fourth time, I hit a ball I thought was going to go. It was caught against the left-centerfield fence. I thought I would break the record.”

Sievers finished third in the MVP balloting in ‘57 with four first-place votes and 205 points total - all for a Senators squad that finished dead last with a 55-99 record. Mantle (233) won MVP honors for the second straight year while Williams (209) finished second in the voting.

Sievers, after a career-threatening injury, had established himself as one of the league’s biggest stars in left field. In fact, it was a rather minor medical miracle that allowed Sievers to even get back on the diamond. Former Browns owner Bill Veeck sent his young, hurting slugger to John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore in ’52 to have the damage repaired by Dr. George Bennett.

“To this day, (Bennett) says it was the best operation he’s performed on a ball player,” Sievers said. “I ended up playing 15 more years with the shoulder. I was very fortunate.”

Veeck always had confidence in Sievers. Even with a wooden leg, he hit grounders to Sievers for hours on end during the winter of ‘51. When Sievers dislocated his arm the following spring, it was Veeck who encouraged him to have surgery. Veeck’s kindness and concern was certainly not lost on Sievers.

“During the winter months, he worked with me at St. Louis University - throwing with me and fielding ground balls and all that stuff,” Sievers said of Veeck. “He was probably one of the best owners I ever played for. He did a lot for the ballplayers and he did a lot for the fans.

“For example, if you got a winning hit against a top, first-division ball club, at the end of the game when you’re going through your locker, why, there’d be a check for $250 or $500 for you to buy a suit or a nice coat or whatever you wanted. He was just a super man.”

Roy Sievers (as he appeared on his 1953 Topps baseball card)

In 1958, Sievers had another big year for Washington. He hit .295 with 39 home runs and 108 RBI. His homer total was third in the AL behind Mantle (42) and Rocky Colavito (41) while his RBI total ranked third behind Jackie Jensen (122) and Colavito (113). Sievers also was fourth in total bases (299) and fifth in slugging at .544.

Roy Sievers played outfield and first base during his 17-year career in the major leagues. From 1954 to ‘58, Sievers hit a total of 159 home runs in the American League. The only player in the Junior Circuit with more homers than Sievers during that time was Mickey Mantle with 192
Washington owner Calvin Griffith was a stark contrast to Veeck. After ‘57, Sievers asked for a 100-percent raise to $34,000 but only got 80-percent. After ‘58, Griffith actually wanted to cut Sievers’ salary by 10-percent despite his numbers - reasoning that Sievers hadn’t led the American League in any offensive category.

“Players got along with the owners pretty well back then,” said Sievers, who hit 10 grand slams during his career. “Of course, we were our own agents and it was tough battling those guys. Two of the toughest guys in the world to deal with were (former Browns owner) Bill DeWitt and Calvin Griffith with Washington. They were two of the toughest owners to battle for money. Luckily, I didn’t do too bad with them. But, I should have done better.”

From 1954 to ‘58, Sievers drove in 525 runs. The only player in the American League with more RBI than Sievers during that period was Jensen with 555. Also, from ‘54 to ‘58, Sievers hit a total of 159 home runs. The only player in the Junior Circuit with more homers than Sievers during that time was Mantle with 192. Such exploits with the bat earned Sievers (now 79) respect among his peers.

“Ted Williams always said I had the best swing in baseball,” Sievers remembered. “To this day, I’ll never forget that. Coming from him, that was a great compliment. Casey Stengel would stand at the end of the dugout and tell all the Yankee guys, ‘Now, watch this kid hit! You might learn something. He can swing the bat.’ I’ll never forget that.”

While in Washington, Sievers became good friends with then-Vice President Richard M. Nixon, who was a big fan. The future President of the United States reportedly once said, “Roy Sievers is a boy who symbolizes great character, sportsmanship, and guts.”

“In September of ‘57, they had a special day for me in Washington,” said Sievers, who had three children (sons Rob and David and daughter Shawn) with his wife Joan of 54 years. “(Nixon) presented me with a new car and there were about 18,000 people there. I’ll never forget it. My wife, mother, my brother and his wife were there and it was just a super night. From then on, (Nixon and I) became friends.

“I talked to him a couple of times in the White House and had lunch with him several times. He was a great sportsman. He loved sports. Washington was just a great place to play. You got to meet all the dignitaries and everybody else.”

Like many stars of the day, Sievers had a nickname - “Squirrel.” He liked it, too. He got it in high school from a boy while playing basketball.

“When you’re in high school at that age, you’re a little goofy anyway,” Sievers chuckled. “I played basketball, baseball, and ran a little track. In basketball one day, a kid said, ‘You know what? You’re really squirrelly, you know that?!’ From that day on, that was my nickname. It just stuck to me.

“When I signed my Louisville Slugger bat contract, they asked me if I had a nickname and if I wanted to put it on my bats. I said, ‘Sure.’ On my first trip to New York, all the Yankees were on the top of the bench yelling, ‘Hey, Squirrel! How’s your nuts today?!’ That’s all I heard from then on.”

Although wins were few and far between (and championships non-existent) for Washington during Sievers’ tenure with the squad, the Senators did have harmony in the most literal sense of the word. On June 6, 1958, the “Singing Senators” were given a full 7 minutes each hour on the 3-hour “Today” morning show on NBC. Pitchers Tex Clevenger and Russ Kemmerer, outfielders Jim Lemon and Albie Pearson, broadcaster Bob Wolff, accordion player Howard Devron and Sievers stood in full uniform near the reflecting pool in Washington and sang for a national television audience.

During his six years with the Washington Senators, Roy Sievers had one of his biggest fans in the White House - former President Richard Nixon, who was Vice President of the United States during Sievers' tenure with the club.

Roy Sievers with Richard Nixon.
Despite losing to Kansas City 2-0 in 13 innings the previous night, the group was up bright and early for their TV debut. They harmonized flawlessly and received kudos from players all around the league following their performance. Pearson was the featured crooner while Lemon and Kemmerer also sang lead. Clevenger sang bass while Sievers and Wolff were tenors.

Wolff also provided his ukulele talents for the occasion. The veteran broadcaster (a former band leader and student vocalist at Duke University) was responsible for forming the group two years earlier. The talented septet proceeded to sing several popular numbers of the day, including “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Such camaraderie was what made Sievers happy about his stay in Washington.

“It was a great time,” Sievers said. “We enjoyed each other’s company. The players today don’t go out to eat together like we used to do. We used to go out and just talk baseball. Today, they just go their separate ways after the game.”

Lemon was a respected power hitter who had back-to-back seasons of 100 RBI for the Senators in 1959 and ’60. His 38 homers in 1960 were just two behind Mantle for the league lead. Lemon had an exceptional outfield arm and he was fast - leading the Junior Circuit with 11 triples in 1956.

Roy Sievers (right) with teammate Jim Lemon.
“Jim Lemon was a super ball player,” Sievers said. “He was my roommate with Washington. He was a good outfielder and a great hitter. We had a lot of fun together. I still keep in touch with Jim and quite a few others.”

Senator third baseman Eddie Yost led the league in bases on balls six times. He also led the AL five straight years in games played (1950-‘54) and scored 100 or more runs in his career five times - leading the league with 115 runs in 1959 at Detroit.

“I hung out with Eddie Yost and we roomed together for a while in an apartment we had in Washington,” Sievers said. “I had lots of respect for Eddie. He played the game with enthusiasm.”

Sievers established several team records in Washington. He is tied for the most home runs in one season with Harmon Killebrew, who hit 42 in ‘59. In 1957, Sievers had a club-record 26 home runs at home playing inside old Griffith Stadium. His 21 homers on the road in ‘58 also stand as a Senator club mark as do his 180 career homers. His four career grand slams for Washington are also a team record.

In 1959, Sievers slumped a bit as his average dipped to .242. He still exhibited power, though, with 21 homers and 49 ribbies. Several clubs inquired about Sievers’ availability - with Veeck and the Chicago White Sox the most curious. Before the ‘59 season, Veeck reportedly offered Griffith $250,000 and four or five players for Sievers.

After the ‘59 campaign, Veeck remained persistent and got Sievers a little cheaper for $150,000. The Senators also got catcher Earl Battey and first baseman Don Mincher in the deal. This time, Sievers was a little less surprised by the swap - and actually feeling pretty good about his chances to finally make the post-season. After all, the Chisox won the American League pennant in ‘59, losing the World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games. Washington never rose above sixth-place while Sievers was in uniform, finishing last four times during his six years with the club.

So, it was onto the “Windy City” for Sievers and a chance to win a coveted world championship ring. The Chisox needed his big bat in the lineup - one which was void of any serious power threat. The “Go-Go” White Sox in 1959 were a team built on speed and defense; they led the AL in stolen bases (113) but were last in home runs (97).

In Chicago, Sievers (who moved back to first base) helped solidify an infield that also featured Hall of Famers Nellie Fox at second base and Luis Aparicio at shortstop. Fox (a 12-time all-star) was a .288 career hitter and led the league in hits four times. He was the American League MVP in ’59. Aparicio (a 10-time all-star) led the league in fielding percentage eight consecutive years from 1959-‘66. He also led the AL in stolen bases nine straight seasons from 1956-‘64 and stole 506 bases in his career.

“Nellie Fox with the White Sox was a super friend,” Sievers said. “I enjoyed playing in Chicago. With Fox at second and Aparicio at short, it was a great atmosphere. It was fun. I was lucky to play with those types of guys.”

For some reason, manager Al Lopez was never too thrilled about Sievers being in a White Sox uniform. He evidently thought Chicago gave up too much to get Sievers. Until Ted Kluszewski slumped, Lopez tried to keep Sievers on the bench. Still, Sievers contributed 28 homers with 93 RBI in 1960 and 27 home runs with 92 ribbies in ’61 for Chicago - hitting .295 each season and making the all-star team the second year.

“I had two good years after I started playing for the White Sox and Al Lopez,” said Sievers, who had a 21-game hitting streak at one point in 1960, the longest in the majors that season. “I couldn’t believe it at the end of the second year when they decided to trade me. They wanted to go back to speed again like in ’59. I was sorry for that, but I went to the National League and played three years there.”

The Philadelphia Phillies sent pitcher John Buzhardt and third baseman Charlie Smith to the White Sox for Sievers. He hit 21 homers and collected 80 RBI for the Phillies in ’62, then hit another 19 homers with 82 ribbies for the Phils in ’63. On July 19 that year, Sievers hit his 300th career home run off Roger Craig of the New York Mets during a 2-1 victory.

Roy Sievers established several home run records with the Washington Senators. With the White Sox in 1961, he hit a pinch-hit grand slam against the Cleveland Indians. With the Phillies in 1963, he hit another pinch-hit grand slam against the Reds. He is one of three players to hit pinch-hit grand slams in both the AL and NL, along with Jimmie Foxx and Kurt Bevacqua.
He also made history on May 26, 1963, by hitting a pinch-hit grand slam homer off Bill Henry of the Cincinnati Reds. On June 21, 1961, Sievers hit a pinch-hit grand slam off Johnny Antonelli of the Cleveland Indians while a member of the White Sox. Sievers, Jimmie Foxx, and Kurt Bevacqua are the only players to slug pinch-hit grand slams in both leagues.

The Phillies were in a pennant race in ‘64. But, in July, Philadelphia sold Sievers to the expansion Washington Senators. He hit just .180 for the year. Philadelphia, coincidently, lost the pennant to the St. Louis Cardinals by one game after leading the NL by 6 ½ games with 12 to play.

“It would have been super to play in the World Series,” said Sievers, who never did play in one. “I thought for sure Philadelphia was going. But, I pulled a calf muscle. Then, (general manager) John Quinn decided to get rid of me because I was getting up in age. That‘s how things go in baseball.”

At 2:30 in the morning during a road trip to Pittsburgh, Phillies manager Gene Mauch woke Sievers to tell him that he had been sold to Washington. After hitting just .190 in 12 games in ’65, the Senators released him and that marked the end of a marvelous run for Sievers, who hit .267 with 318 homers and 1,147 RBI during his career. In retrospect, consistency was the name of his game.

Roy Sievers in '63 with the Phillies.
Seven times he was ranked in the American League’s top 10 for RBI and extra base hits. Six times Sievers was ranked in the top 10 for home runs and slugging percentage. On four occasions, he ranked in the top 10 for runs scored and intentional walks. He even ranked in the top 10 for batting average in three seasons.

Roy Sievers ended his 17-year major league career with a .267 batting average, 318 home runs, and 1,147 runs batted in. He had 27 multi-homer games in the big leagues along with 10 grand slams - and thousands of adoring fans.
Forty years after his last game in the majors, Sievers helped usher in a new era for baseball in the D.C. area. In 2005, the Montreal Expos became the Washington Nationals. On Opening Day, Sievers returned to Washington for the festivities. He thinks baseball will work this time around in the nation’s capital.

“I’m glad Washington got it back because they deserve it,” said Sievers, who had 27 multi-homer games in his career. “If they can get an owner that’s got some money and influence, they might have a pretty good ball club. But, they have to have an owner that’s willing to spend the money and they haven’t got that owner yet.

“They’re supposed to build a new ballpark. When I was up there for Opening Day, it was just a super atmosphere. They drew 30,000 to 35,000 people every night last year. It was a great thing for Washington and I just hope they stay there.”

Following his playing career, Sievers tried coaching. He was in the dugout for one year with Cincinnati in 1966 but was fired by manager Dave Bristol. He managed in the minor leagues for a couple of years after that - at Williamsport of the Eastern League in 1967 and at Memphis of the Texas League in ‘68.

“I developed four or five good players that went to the big leagues,” said Sievers, noting that former big league catcher Duffy Dyer was one of his pupils before going up to the Mets. “As a manager at that level, that’s your job. It’s a big thrill when they get to the majors and play. If they give you the players, you do your best to help them develop. But, I was only making $8,000 a year in the minors. I told my wife I had to quit because I couldn’t make any money.”

He may not have made much money managing in the minors. But, Sievers definitely made lots of fans happy with his bat during his 17-year career. His sweet swing and personality were but one thing to them: priceless.

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