Arts and Leisure

Walt Dropo: UConn Legend, Red Sox Star

Walt Dropo and Johnny Pesky in the Boston Red Sox locker room. Photo courtesy Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones collection.

Walt Dropo and Johnny Pesky in the Boston Red Sox locker room. Photo courtesy Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones collection.

Walt Dropo graduated from the University of Connecticut as the greatest three-sport athlete in the college’s history. Between his sophomore and junior year, he played on July 12, 1943, at Fenway Park with Ted Williams and Dom DiMaggio. Babe Ruth managed the team.

It was an exhibition game to benefit the war effort. A pickup team called Ruth’s All-Stars was to play the Boston Braves. There weren’t enough major leaguers to fill the All-Stars’ roster, so a call was made to Fort Devens, where Dropo was in training.

He went 0-for-2 that day, but he completed a double play at first.

The Moose from Moosup

Walt Dropo was born Jan. 30, 1923, to Savo and Mary Dropo, Serbian immigrants from Bosnia-Herzegovina. Savo carded cotton in a textile mill and worked the family’s small farm in Moosup, Conn, a village of Plainfield. Walt grew to 6’5” and would inevitably be dubbed ‘The Moose from Moosup.’

Savo and Mary Dropo had two daughters and three sons, all good athletes. Mary wanted the boys to participate in sports, even doing their chores for them so they could play.

All three boys won athletic scholarships to the University of Connecticut, about 30 miles away in Storrs.

After his sophomore year, Walt served in the military for three years as a combat engineer in Africa, Italy, France and Germany. When he returned to UConn, he starred in football, baseball and basketball. He graduated in 1947 as the highest scoring hoopman in Connecticut college history. He still ranks No. 2 all-time at UConn in career scoring average at 20.7 per game.

All three of the Dropo brothers were lifelong major benefactors to their alma mater. They set up the first fully endowed athletic scholarship at Connecticut. To this day they are known as ‘The First Family of UConn Athletics.’

Yawkey’s Checkbook

After Walt graduated he was drafted by the Providence Steamrollers, the short-lived professional basketball team.

Walt Dropo, 1953

Walt Dropo, 1953

George Halas tried to sign him to a contract with the Chicago Bears. But he had a tryout at Fenway Park, and Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey pulled out his checkbook. That ended all my negotiations,” Dropo said. “I had a check in my hand. …. A simple matter of money.”

He played for a few years in the minors, not sure he was Major League material.  Early in 1950, Billy Goodman was injured and Walt Dropo was called up to play first base for the Boston Red Sox.

It was on May 3, 1950 that he knew he was a major leaguer. The day before, he had a great day at the plate against the Cleveland Indians: He tripled to drive in two runs, singled, and walked twice for a perfect day at the plate.

The next day he hit a two-run homer off the great Bob Feller. “As I was rounding the bases, I said to myself, ‘I am a major leaguer. If I can hit his fastball …’” He drove in another run the following inning.

Great Walls

He went on to have one of the greatest rookie seasons in major league history. He led the American League in runs batted in (144) and total bases (326) while batting .322 and hitting 34 home runs. He was second in the AL in home runs, slugging percentage (.583), and extra base hits (70).

He would never again have a season like that. In 1951, he fractured his wrist. He was traded to the Detroit Tigers in 1952, where he tied a record for consecutive hits: 12. He would play for the Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati and Baltimore before retiring in 1961.

As an ethnic Serb, he sympathized with other minorities throughout his career. When he played for the Chicago White Sox, he was discouraged from dining with African-American players Larry Doby and Minnie Minoso . “I told them to pound sand,” he later said.

After he retired, he devoted himself to his wife and three children. He moved to Marblehead, Mass., and got involved in real estate, finance and the fireworks business. On a fireworks-related trip to China, he hit a ball over the Great Wall – becoming the only person to hit a ball over Fenway Park’s Green Monster and the Great Wall of China.

Walt Dropo died on December 17, 2010, at the age of 87. His funeral service was held at the Serbian Orthodox Church he helped found in Cambridge, Mass.

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