Al Federoff served in the U.S. military during World War II, then went on to Duquesne University and played baseball briefly in the majors. Baseball Almanac likes to take a look "beyond the stats" and we hope you enjoy the following biographical information written by Baseball Almanac contributor Nicholas Diunte:
"He was the best manager I ever had," said current Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland in the Detroit News. Al Federoff was Leyland's manager during his 1964 rookie campaign in Lakeland, Fla. It was also Federoff who rescued Leyland a few years later when the Tigers weren't sure what to do with him while filling out their minor league rosters. "Leyland was my good luck charm. I took him everywhere I could," said Federoff during a 2008 interview I conducted with him from his home in Taylor, Mich.
While Federoff has received notoriety for mentoring Leyland, many are unaware that he was a sure-handed, light-hitting second baseman for the Tigers in the early 1950's. He died in Glibert, Ariz. last week at the age of 87.
Federoff was one of the fastest players in major league baseball in the 1950's, clocking a 3.8 second time from home to first batting right handed, placing him sixth in major league baseball according to the September 3rd, 1952 issue of The Sporting News.
He entered professional baseball in 1946 with the Jamestown Falcons of the Class-D PONY League after serving in the Air Force in World War II. After a few years of climbing the rungs of the minor league ladder, he was a late season call-up with the Detroit Tigers in 1951.
Inspired by his taste of the big league action, Federoff hit a solid .288 at AAA Buffalo in 1952 and was recalled in July when second baseman Jerry Priddy went down with a leg injury. It was during this time that he would bear witness to two of Virgil Trucks' greatest pitching performances ever.
The first one happened August 6, 1952 against the ageless Satchel Paige and the St. Louis Browns. Trucks and Paige battled to a scoreless tie in the 9th inning when Trucks was lifted for a pinch-hitter. The 46-year old Paige pitched the entire 12 innings for the victory. Federoff took the collar twice against Paige in his five trips to the plate. Federoff insisted age wasn't a factor in Paige's performance. "You can't take nothing away from him [Paige]; if you're good, you're good," said Federoff of the Hall of Fame hurler.
Federoff had a more involved role in Trucks' August 25th masterpiece at Yankee Stadium. Hank Bauer, the Yankees strong left-fielder, stepped to the plate with two outs in the 9th. Bauer squared up one of Trucks' fastballs right in the direction of Federoff. "I get my name mentioned in the paper every now and then when Trucks pitched that no-hitter against the Yankees. I made the last put-out on a hard smash by Hank Bauer for the final out," told Federoff. He jokingly proclaimed, "I saved the no-hitter!"
He finished the season with a .242 average and did what he was expected to do, play good defense at second base. His fielding attracted the attention of another Hall of Famer, Tigers GM Charlie Gehringer. "He came to me personally and told me, 'You did damn good, your fielding was terrific,'" recalled Federoff. While his fielding impressed Gehringer, his overall play did not do enough to sway manager Fred Hutchinson to give him an extension for the 1953 season.
"I was disappointed when they sold me to San Diego in 1953," said Federoff, who thought he could add some youth to an aging ballclub. "Johnny Pesky was a good ballplayer, but he was already in his mid 30's, [Billy] Hitchcock was in his mid 30's and Priddy couldn't run after that broken leg. Hutchinson kept him, and he couldn't even run! I hadn't even hit my prime!"
Federoff was caught in a numbers game that was typical of his era, prior to expansion and free agency. "Another thing people don't consider is that each league only had eight teams. Now they have an additional 320 40-man roster spots in each league. In our day, they sent you down to AAA and you would get lost down there because they had so many good players. Who was going to replace Jackie Robinson or Pee Wee Reese? If you were a SS or 2B [behind them], you were out of luck!" exclaimed Federoff.
Detroit wanted to send him to Buffalo, but he didn't want to go back up north again after playing there the season prior. "They tried to send me to Buffalo, but I wouldn't go. I stuck around for a few days and they sold me to San Diego," he said.
Federoff enjoyed four solid years with the Padres, helping to lead them to the 1954 PCL championship, walking 108 times against only 34 strikeouts. During that championship season, he enjoyed the company of yet another mystical baseball figure, Luke Easter. "Luke Easter was the first baseman on our ballclub that year. He was my buddy; I liked him very much. He protected me at second base. Any time he stepped up to the plate, the other teams were hoping he didn't hit the long one," said Federoff of Easter who blasted 13 homers in less than 200 at-bats.
Even though he was no longer in the major leagues, Federoff, like many other veterans enjoyed the comforts of playing on the West Coast. "In the PCL at that time, the playing conditions were better. We had a lot of good older players coming from the big leagues because the conditions were wonderful. A lot of great ballplayers finished their careers there and they were paid better than the big leagues. We played a week at home and a week at each city. We flew by airplane, and the weather was wonderful, especially in San Diego," Federoff said.
The same thing that presented the opportunity for him to enter the big leagues is also the same thing that ended his career, injuries. "During my last year in San Diego, I was over the hill. San Diego traded me to Seattle. I played a year there. Then they sent me to Louisville, I played a half year there. I was sold to Atlanta and that was the end of my career. At the end I was overcoming a broken leg; I lost a lot of my speed. They had me there to fill in and just to work with the kids," said Federoff. He could see the younger players taking priority over his playing time. "They were interested in playing kids that had a chance to get up to the big leagues. You seem to know when you've had enough."
After he hung up his cleats as a player, he entered the Tigers minor league system as a manager in 1960. He managed 10 seasons, ending his career in 1970 ironically in the PCL, where he played the bulk of his minor league career.
In addition to his service with the Tigers organization, Federoff spent three years playing winter ball in Cuba, making the All-Star team during the winter of 1954-55 while helping the legendary Almendares club get to the Caribbean Series. Federoff's teammate in Cuba, pitcher Cholly Naranjo, saw him merge flawlessly into the job. "Al was our second baseman in '54-'55; we won the pennant with him. He did a hell of a job at second in our infield with Willy Miranda and Rocky Nelson. He was a small guy, but he moved fast and smart. He was crafty around the field, yet steady and knew what to do."
Despite never returning to the majors after the 1953 season as a player or a coach, Federoff was satisfied with his baseball career. "I enjoyed it. I had some good days and bad ones like everybody else."
Copyright © 2011, Baseball Almanac, Updated for Baseball Almanac and reprinted with the express written permission of Nicholas Diunte.
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