He was plucked from the Cleveland sandlots, a son of Bohemian immigrants, and became part of the Indians’ million-dollar outfield (when that represented an outrageous sum – and not just in sports).
And although Joe Vosmik played for five major league teams, Cleveland remained his home for all his life.
Vosmik grew up in the city’s South Broadway neighborhood, just a few miles from the Indians’ home at League Park. And indeed, as a youth it seemed like he spent more time at the ballpark than he did in school, much to his parents’ chagrin.
But he started attracting notice as a sandlot player, enough so that he was signed to a contract by Indians General Manager Billy Evans. (A tale probably more apocryphal than true says that when Evans was pondering which local amateur baseball players to invite to Louisiana, Evans’ wife Hazel said, “Take the blond Viking,” giving Vosmik a nickname later used in print by Cleveland papers.)
Vosmik spent 1929 playing for the Tribe’s Class D team in Frederick, Md., and the next year, was invited to spring training. He was sent to the Indians’ B team in Terre Haute, Indiana, and was a September call-up for the Indians. The following year, he was in the team’s regular lineup, part of their “million-dollar outfield” with Earl Averill and Dick Porter.
Vosmik’s best season came in 1935, when he led the league in hits (216), doubles (47) and triples (20). He almost won the batting title as well, but on the last day of the season, Washington’s Buddy Myer went 4-for-5 to edge him out. Also that year, the Indians hosted the third annual All-Star Game, and Vosmik got a two-minute ovation from the crowd at Cleveland Stadium. He finished third in MVP voting, and signed a three-year deal with the Indians in the off-season.
His numbers slipped in 1936, and the team’s standings fell as well. The following January, he was dealt to the St. Louis Browns, where his numbers recovered slightly, with a .325 batting average, 93 runs batted in, and a league-leading 47 doubles.
After one year in St. Louis, he was dealt to the Red Sox, reuniting him with Billy Evans, who was forced out as Indians general manager in 1935 and ended up the scouting director for new owner Tom Yawkey. In fact, the Red Sox tried to get Vosmik after the 1936 season as well.
Vosmik played left field for Boston in 1938 and 1939 (their new outfielder, Ted Williams, started out in right field) before he was sold to the Dodgers. He spent less than two years with them, finally being released. He knocked around the minor leagues for a couple years before a brief 12-game stint with the Senators in 1944, and announced his retirement the following February. He had a .307 career batting average, including a .313 mark in his Indians career – still good for 10th all-time in team history (tied with Manny Ramirez and Hal Trosky).
Vosmik spent the next four years managing in the minor leagues, getting a few at-bats along the way. After his managing career ended, Vosmik served as a scout for three years for the Tribe, and returned to the Cleveland area, where he worked in sales. Early in 1962, he underwent surgery for lung cancer, and appeared on the mend, but he contracted pneumonia and died at the age of 51 on January 27, 1962 – a day after his former manager with the Indians, Steve O’Neill, died of a heart attack. Like Vosmik, O’Neill was living in the Cleveland area.
Photo: Cleveland Memory Project