Hal Naragon, a member of the Cleveland Indians’ 1954 American League pennant winning club, passed away on Saturday, August 31. He was 90 years old.
Naragon spent the bulk of his ten-year Major League career in Cleveland, not all too far from his childhood home of Barberton. He was a member of the Tribe in 1951 and again from 1954 to 1959, serving as a backup catcher for the club until he was traded to the Washington Senators during the 1959 season.
Born in Zanesville, Naragon’s family moved to Barberton when he was in the seventh grade. The city became his home for the rest of his life. While still attending Barberton High School in 1946, he tried out for the Indians’ Bill Veeck, a year before graduating, and a handshake agreement between his father and the owner of the Indians secured his eventual place in the Cleveland farm system.
He began his professional career in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in 1947 before spending two seasons in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He was lauded for his defensive work, especially his throwing arm, behind the plate, but his bat struggled to keep up. It did not prevent him from moving up the organizational ladder, as he hit Oklahoma City in 1950 and San Diego in 1951 after spending time with the Indians in spring training. Later that season, he got the call to the show, singling as a pinch-hitter in his first Major League at bat on September 23 in a game in Detroit. He added another single in six plate appearances in his first MLB start on September 29 and ended his cup of coffee in the Bigs that season with a .250 average over his three games played.
The Korean War intervened and took a couple of years of Naragon’s career away from him in 1952 and 1953 while serving in the Marines, but he was back on the Indians roster and in the lineup again in 1954, just in time for a historic season for the Tribe. He was the backup catcher to Jim Hegan and worked in 46 games while handling the team’s top flight pitching staff that included Bob Feller, Mike Garcia, Art Houtteman, Bob Lemon, Hal Newhouser, and Early Wynn, four of whom found themselves forever enshrined in Cooperstown following their careers. That Indians club won a record 111 games and claimed the American League pennant before ultimately falling in four straight games to the New York Giants (in what proved to be Cleveland’s last World Series appearance for the next 41 years).
Naragon hit a career-best .323 the next season while working in 57 games for the Tribe. That season, he hit his first of six career home runs, taking Detroit’s Jim Bunning deep on August 10. He hit a career-high three homers in 1956, including two more against the Tigers, and he logged his third straight 50+ game season for the club in 1957.
As the Tribe front office switched gears from Hank Greenberg to Frank Lane, Naragon found himself out of the catching rotation. With a trio of Russ Nixon, Dick Brown, and Jay Porter, Naragon spent all but nine games back on the farm in San Diego. In those nine games (two in April, seven in September), he made nine pinch-hitting efforts, recording three hits in the process.
Naragon spent time back behind the plate for the Indians at the beginning of the 1959 season, but by that May, he was dealt to the Senators with pitcher Hal Woodeshick for catcher Ed Fitz Gerald. He did some heavy lifting for Washington, appearing in a career-high 71 games (and 85 in total for the season between his two clubs) while hitting .247. He remained with Washington in 1960, working in 33 games, and stayed with the club as it moved to Minnesota. He spent his final two big league seasons with the Twins in 1961 and 1962 before kicking off his post-playing days as the bullpen coach for the Twins and the Tigers, working in tandem with pitching coach Johnny Sain along the way. Two of his clubs, the 1965 Twins and the 1968 Tigers, went to the World Series, with the latter winning the championship.
Naragon retired from coaching following the 1969 season and went back home to Barberton, purchasing a sporting goods store in the town that he operated from 1974 until 1990 when he sold the shop and retired.
“The Indians family is deeply saddened by the passing of Hal Naragon. He will be remembered as a true gentleman, a great teammate and coach. Hal put the “magic” in Barberton,” said Cleveland Indians’ Senior Vice President of Public Affairs, Bob DiBiasio, on Saturday morning.
Naragon was one of three living members of the 1954 AL pennant winning club. Outfielder Wally Westlake (the team’s oldest current living player at 98) and pitcher Dick Tomanek (an 88-year-old Avon Lake native) are the lone representatives left from the roster. Don Mossi, a pitcher on the club, passed away in July at the age of 90.
Photo: 1959 Topps