Former Indians Outfielder Sam Mele Passes Away at 95
Bob Toth | On 07, May 2017
Sam Mele, former big league outfielder, first baseman, scout, and manager who spent nearly a half century involved in professional baseball, passed away at his home in Quincy, Massachusetts, on Monday, May 1. He was 95 years old.
Born on January 21, 1922, in Astoria, New York, Mele attended New York University prior to his playing days. Those days were delayed as, like so many others to come of age during wartime, he joined the efforts during World War II as a member of the Marine Corps and served from July of 1943 into 1946. But before leaving, he signed an agreement with the Boston Red Sox, spurning smaller offers from the Washington Senators and Chicago Cubs.
He began his professional baseball playing career upon his return in 1946 at the age of 24 as a member of the Boston farm system. A strong showing there led to him getting significant playing time with the Red Sox the following season and he rewarded the club with a .302 average, a dozen homers, and 73 RBI while teaming up in the outfield with legends Ted Williams and Dom DiMaggio.
That season would prove to be one of the best seasons for Mele offensively. He was limited to just 66 games in 1948 for the Sox while hitting .233, losing time in a platoon situation under new manager Joe McCarthy and with a late season foot injury. The following season, after appearing in 18 games for Boston, he was traded in June with pitcher Mickey Harris to the Senators for pitcher Walt Masterson, finishing off a .235 season in the nation’s capital.
He had some of his best seasons with Washington. He set new personal bests in 1950 with 21 doubles and 86 RBI and matched his rookie season production with 12 homers while hitting .274. In 1951, he played in a career-high 143 games and led the American League with 36 doubles and drove in what would be a career-best 94 runs. But after just nine games to start the 1952 season, the 30-year-old’s time in Washington ended as he was traded to the Chicago White Sox for Jim Busby and Mel Hoderlein.
He hit 14 homers for the White Sox in 123 games that season and added another dozen the following season with 82 RBI and a .274 average (for the third time in his career) in 1953, but he was on the move again in the offseason as he was shipped with Neil Berry in February of 1954 to Baltimore for Johnny Groth and Johnny Lipon.
His stay was short with the Orioles as by the end of July, he was selected off of waivers by the Red Sox, bringing him back to where his career had started. A year later, he was purchased by the Cincinnati Redlegs, spending three months with the club before his release. In late March of 1956, he inked a deal with Cleveland, appearing in 57 games at first base, left field, and right field while hitting .254 with seven doubles, four homers, and 20 RBI in what would prove to be the final big league action of his ten-year career at the age of 34.
He continued on briefly in the minors, but got into coaching in 1959 with a return to the Washington organization. The club moved to Minnesota beginning with the 1961 season and his career path took a new turn when he took over for manager Cookie Lavagetto late in that campaign.
The Twins performed well under his leadership. In his first full season at the helm at the age of 40, Mele led the Twins to a second place finish with a 91-71 record. They fell to third with a similar 91-70 record the following season and dropped off to 79-83 in 1964, but the Twins claimed the American League pennant in 1965 as Minnesota won a franchise record 102 games against 60 losses. The club went its first World Series since losing in five games as the Senators in 1933 and it was just the franchise’s fourth championship series, including a win in 1924 in seven games and a loss in seven the following season.
The 102 wins remain the most in the history of the Senators/Twins.
Mele managed the AL All-Stars in 1966 as his Twins went 89-73 and finished in second place. But after a 25-25 start in 1967, he was fired, handing the managerial reins over to Cal Ermer. Mele never returned to the dugout in the same capacity again, ending his Twins tenure with a 524-436-3 record in 963 games for a .544 winning percentage.
He found work with Boston after his dismissal from Minnesota. He worked as a minor league instructor, a coach in instructional leagues, a cross-checker for previously scouted players, and a special assignments scout. After nearly 50 years in professional baseball, he retired from the game in 1994.
He remains the third-winningest manager in Twins history (excluding Senators history), surpassed by Tom Kelly and later, his successor, Ron Gardenhire. His overall winning percentage is second to Billy Martin’s 97-65 record in his one season with the club in 1969 and is fourth overall in the combined history of the Senators and Twins. He will be best remembered as the man at the helm of the first AL pennant winning club in Twins history and the only skipper to lead the team to 100 wins in their long history.
Photo: 1956 Cleveland Indians picture pack