Roy Sievers, who won the American League’s first Rookie of the Year Award playing for the 1949 St. Louis Browns and became one of baseball’s leading power hitters of the 1950s with the original Washington Senators, died on Monday at his home in Spanish Lake, Mo. He was 90.
His daughter, Shawn Sievers, confirmed his death.
Playing in the outfield and at first base for 17 major league seasons, Sievers hit 318 home runs. His best season came in 1957, when he had a league-leading 42 homers and 114 runs batted in while hitting .301 for the last-place Senators. The right-handed-batting Sievers also hit home runs in six consecutive games at the Senators’ Griffith Stadium that summer, conquering its cavernous left field in matching an American League record that has since been broken.
Playing for the Senators from 1954 to 1959, Sievers was a favorite of Vice President Richard M. Nixon, who was master of ceremonies at a night for him in September 1957.
In 1959, after Nixon’s so-called Kitchen Debate with the Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev over the merits of capitalism versus communism at a model kitchen in an American national exhibition in Moscow, Sievers was among those at Nixon’s welcome-home party at a Washington airport.
At the time, the Senators were in the midst of a losing streak, and when he greeted Nixon, Sievers recalled, “The first thing he said was, ‘What in the hell is wrong with the Senators?’
“And I said, ‘Mr. Vice President, we’re just not hitting good, the pitching’s not good.’ He said, ‘I’ll be out the next night.’ Usually, when he came out we’d win the ballgame. But we lost.”
The Senators went on to drop 18 straight games.
Beyond the ballpark, Sievers was part of the Singing Senators, organized by the team’s broadcaster Bob Wolff. One day in June 1958, Wolff, playing the ukulele, appeared on the Washington Mall with Sievers, his fellow outfielders Jim Lemon and Albie Pearson and a couple of Senators pitchers and joined them in song for the NBC-TV “Today” program, hosted by Dave Garroway.
Sievers had his salary battles with the Senators’ owner, Calvin Griffith, but “it was a great life,” he told Larry Moffi in the oral history “This Side of Cooperstown.”
“I met Khrushchev when he came over here,” Sievers recalled. “I had lunch with four presidents: Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Eisenhower.”
Roy Edward Sievers was born on Nov. 18, 1926, in St. Louis. He was signed by the Browns out of high school and made his debut with them after military service and two years in the minors.
Sievers hit 16 home runs, drove in 91 runs and batted .306 to win the inaugural A.L. Rookie of the Year Award with a last-place Browns team; Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe won National League honors.
But Sievers was later hampered by a shoulder injury, and when the Browns became the Baltimore Orioles in 1954, they traded him to the Senators.
He was a three-time All-Star with Washington and followed up his 1957 slugging by hitting 39 homers and driving in 108 runs the following season.
But the Senators traded him to the Chicago White Sox in 1960. He had two productive seasons for them, gaining All-Star honors again, then played for the Philadelphia Phillies. They sold him during the 1964 season to the second Senators franchise, created when the original Senators became the Minnesota Twins, and he closed out his career in Washington.
In addition to his 318 home runs, Sievers drove in 1,147 runs and had a career batting average of .267.
In addition to his daughter, he is survived by a son, Rob; a brother, William; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. His wife, Joan, died in 2006, and another son, David, died in 1999.
After his playing days, Sievers coached for the Cincinnati Reds, managed in the minor leagues and was a salesman for a freight company.
He also had a brief movie career.
Sievers can be glimpsed in the 1958 Warner Brothers motion picture “Damn Yankees,” an adaptation of the Broadway musical of the same name and the Douglass Wallop novel “The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant” — the story of how a middle-aged Senators fan with a humdrum life sells his soul to the devil to become a sensational home run hitter, leading Washington to a pennant over the hated Yankees.
Tab Hunter, who played the fantasy slugger Joe Hardy in the movie, wore Sievers’s No. 2 jersey, and Sievers was Hunter’s double in distance shots. Because Hunter took his close-up cuts from the left side of the plate, Sievers is shown as a left-handed batter, thanks to mirror-image technology.