Former Cleveland Indians outfielder and seven-year Major Leaguer Al Luplow passed away on Thursday, December 28.
Luplow joined the Indians organization in 1959, when he signed his first professional contract after becoming a multi-sport star and an All-American at St. Andrew High School in Saginaw, Michigan, and suiting up for Michigan State University as both a baseball and football player. He was believed to be gifted enough to have played football professionally, but baseball became his path through much of the 1960s.
He worked his way through the Indians farm system steadily, seeing time at Batavia, Mobile, Reading, and Salt Lake City before stepping onto the Major League field for his first game action on September 16, 1961, at the age of 22. He played in five games for the Tribe that season but got a much longer look in 1962, when he appeared in 97 games for the club and hit .277 with 14 homers and 45 RBI while working regularly as a corner outfielder.
The following season, the numbers dropped a bit at the plate (.234 average with seven homers and 27 RBI in 100 games), but it was a defensive gem that year that gave him his claim to big league fame. On June 17, he robbed the Red Sox’s Dick Williams of a home run in a game at Boston’s Fenway Park. The Indians, having dropped four straight games in Boston during the series, were trying to avoid a five-game sweep and held a 6-3 edge with two on and one out in the bottom of the eighth. Williams sent a drive, described as something between a line drive and a fly ball by Luplow, into the deepest part of Fenway. The gritty Luplow, who was in right field for the Tribe as a late inning defensive replacement and was respected for his all-out style of play and for being one of the fastest men on the team, broke for the ball, leapt after hitting the warning track, and cleared the five-foot wall in front of the Red Sox bullpen, backhanding the ball and crashing to the earth below.
“I felt the warning track, so I was definitely aware of the wall. But I guess I’d just made up my mind to catch the ball,” Luplow shared in a story in Sports Illustrated on October 14, 1985. “It was actually over the fence when I caught it, and I just barely touched the fence with my right knee going over.
“After I caught the ball, I said, ‘Uh oh!’ If I’d kept going face first, I would have really hurt myself. I think my football background helped me because I tucked my left shoulder and rolled and fortunately all I did was spike myself on the right knee.
“I sure wouldn’t ever do it again. I could have easily broken my neck. I must have put those guys in the bullpen in shock.”
Luplow appeared in just 19 games for the Indians in 1964, making 19 trips to the plate while working primarily as defensive relief, and spent the majority of the season back in the minors at Portland. He played in 53 games the next season for the Indians, hitting .133 solely in a bench role, and on November 29, 1965, he was purchased by the New York Mets, bringing an end to his time in Cleveland.
“You know how anxious I am to get away from the Indians and get a chance to play regularly,” Luplow was quoted in the November 4, 1965, edition of The Plain Dealer upon rumors that he would be dealt. “I don’t care who it’s with – I just want to prove I can still play.”
He appeared in a career-high 111 games for the Mets in 1966, hitting .251 on the year while working at all three outfield spots for the club. He split the following year between the Mets’ and Pittsburgh Pirates’ big league clubs, appearing in 96 total games while hitting .195 in what would be the final action of his professional career.
His memorable catch followed him well into life after baseball, as Luplow shared in the aforementioned Sports Illustrated piece that “Every once in a while, I’ll get a card, and someone will mention it – kids, you know, who’ve heard their dads talk about it. It’s nice to know they remember.”
Luplow’s post-playing career took him into the world of real estate, where he worked as an appraiser. He also helped coach young baseball players in his area and owned a tavern for a stretch while enjoying hunting, fishing, and golfing. In 2002, he was inducted in the inaugural class of the Saginaw County Sports Hall of Fame.
Luplow is survived by his wife of 55 years, Marlene, their son and two daughters, and eight grandchildren. He is the great uncle of current Pittsburgh Pirates corner outfielder Jordan Luplow, who made his MLB debut in 2017.
Photo: Luplow’s 1963 Sports Service card