One of baseball’s most popular players in the 1940s and 1950s, Vernon had a quiet type of charisma. A four-decade player, the consistent, hardy Vernon set the major league record for most games played at first base (2,237).
Vernon led AL first basemen in fielding percentage four times (twice leading the majors) but in three different seasons led ML first basemen in errors. He set the AL mark for most lifetime assists (1,444); his 155 assists in 1949 set the AL first basemen’s record. In one 1943 game, he made two unassisted double plays. He was TSN’s ML All-Star first baseman in 1953.
The soft-spoken, lefthanded slugger led the AL in batting with the Senators in 1946 (.353), and again in 1953 (.337) at the age of thirty-five. He clinched the 1953 title on the last day of the season in a game against the Athletics. Late in the contest, Vernon hit a line drive that was caught by outfielder Elmer Valo, bringing his average down to .337. Word arrived from Cleveland that Al Rosen, who was vying for the triple crown, was through for the day. If Vernon didn’t bat again, he would best Rosen by a margin of .0011. He would have come up again had not teammate Mickey Grasso, who had doubled, been picked off second base, or had not Kite Thomas been thrown out at second when he “leisurely” tried to stretch a single into a double. Some felt Vernon’s teammates were protecting his title.
Vernon collected 2,495 lifetime hits, an average of more than one per game. He led the AL in doubles in 1946, 1953, and 1954, and drove in 80 or more runs 11 times, with a high of 115 in 1953.
Vernon was President Eisenhower’s favorite player. On Opening Day 1954, with Eisenhower in attendance, Vernon hit a two-run, tenth-inning homer off the Yankees’ Allie Reynolds to win the game for Washington. In Eisenhower’s excitement, he started to leave his seat and go on to the field, but was stopped by Secret Service men, who brought the Senators’ hero to the President’s box.
Vernon managed the Senators from 1961 through 40 games in 1963. Under his leadership, they finished in a tie for last in 1961, and last in 1962.