|Ossie Vitt Pacific Coast League card and burial vault|
2nd floor, Sec 155 Nitch 1 Tier 10
Oscar Joseph "Ossie" Vitt was a Major League Baseball third baseman in the American League for the Detroit Tigers (1912–1918) and Boston Red Sox (1919–1921). Vitt later became manager of the Cleveland Indians (1938–1940), where he sometimes clashed with his players.
Ossie Vitt was a product of the sandlots of San Francisco where he made considerable money as a bricklayer after the '06 earthquake. He broke into the Pacific Coast League as third baseman for the San Francisco Seals in 1911. He later advanced to the majors as a utility infielder for the Detroit Tigers. Through his major league career, Vitt played 833 games at 3rd base and 161 games at 2nd base. As the Tigers' regular third baseman from 1915 through 1917, he never batted higher than .254. But he was described as a smart, scrappy baseball man.
|Oakland Tribune feature on Ossie Vitt|
While not a good hitter for average, Vitt was a good contact hitter and one of the best bunters of the era—a valuable talent on a Detroit squad that included Ty Cobb, Sam Crawford, and Bobby Veach. His career total of 259 sacrifice hits (in a relatively short career) ranks 32nd best in major league history.
Vitt was also one of the toughest players to strike out in MLB history. For his career, he struck out an average of once every 26.6 at bats, 35th best in MLB history. In 1918, his at bat per strikeout ratio was 44.5, 2nd best in the AL.
|1917 Ossie Vitt baseball card and newspaper feature, which ran nationwide|
On July 30, 1917, Cobb‚ Veach‚ and Vitt followed each other in the lineup‚ with each going 5-for-5.
On January 17, 1919, Vitt was traded by the Tigers to the Boston Red Sox for Eddie Ainsmith, Chick Shorten, and Slim Love.
After playing in the majors for 10 years, Vitt was recommended to Oakland Oaks' owner Victor Devincinzi by the Yankees' management to manage the Oaks in 1935. His style was described as both abrasive and motivational, pushing the Oaks to a third-place finish.
Vitt moved on in the Yankees' organization the next year, managing their farm team in Newark. He was then hired by the Cleveland Indians in 1938 to replace Steve O'Neil as manager and instill new life into their team.
|Ossie Vitt with three different teams|
On June 11, 1940, matters came to a head when he went to the mound to remove Mel Harder. "When are you going to start earning your salary?" asked Vitt of Harder, who had won at least 15 games for eight consecutive seasons, including two 20-win seasons. The team revolted, and many players signed a petition to have Vitt removed. After the incident with Harder, a dozen Indians met with owner Alva Bradley to state their grievances against Vitt, whom they described as a "wild man." They made it clear they hoped he would be fired. In the closed-door meeting between Indians players and owner, Harder told Bradley: "We think we have a good chance to win the pennant, but we'll never win it with Vitt as manager. If we can get rid of him, we can win. We feel sure about that." Bradley sought to keep the controversy quiet, but the story quickly got out, and newspaper headlines all over the nation referred gleefully to the Indians as the "Cleveland Crybabies."
Despite the hullabaloo and ridicule, the Indians, with Vitt hanging on to his job, battled the Detroit Tigers for the pennant to the last day of the 1940 season. Through June, the Indians were 42–25. After June, with the "Crybabies" harangue clanging in the papers and from the stands, they went 47–40, not a collapse, but not good enough to stay ahead of the Tigers who won the pennant by a single game over the Tribe. Bob Feller, a 27-game winner that year, lost the decisive game 2–0.
Vitt was among those in the first class of inductees in 1943 in the Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame.
SOURCES: Reprinted from Wikipedia, photos from Salt Lake Tribune, Montana Standard, Oakland Tribune