CHUCK DIERING in 1954 – The First MOST VALUABLE ORIOLE
When Baltimore got an American League franchise in 1954, Chuck Diering was named Most Valuable Oriole for a team than went 54-100 and finished in seventh place.
Diering batted .258 with two homers, drove in twenty-nine runs and scored thirty-five. He didn’t lead the team in a single offensive category, so his value wasn’t easy to pinpoint more than half a century after the fact. So I went through a lot of back issues of The Sporting News to see what I could find.
Diering grew up in St. Louis and went to the same high school that future O’s skipper Earl Weaver later attended. When Diering was eighteen, he signed with his hometown Cardinals. After a couple years in the minor leagues, he missed three seasons for military duty during World War II. Diering returned to baseball in 1946, made his major league debut a year later, and spent parts of the next five seasons with the Cardinals before being dealt to the New York Giants prior to 1952. There, Diering logged just twenty-three at bats, and he returned to the minors full-time a year later, with a .249 career average in the big leagues and the reputation of a 30-year-old, two-time flop.
Manager Frank Genovese prodded Diering to bear down on every pitch during the 1953 season at Minneapolis though, and Diering responded with his best numbers since turning pro: .322 with 12 homers and 74 RBI.
He kept hitting that winter in the Cuban League, pacing the circuit in doubles while batting .312. While he was there, Orioles General Manager Arthur Ehlers selected him in the minor league draft. Perhaps, went the optimisitic viewpoint, Diering has finally learned how to hit.
Diering was the only true centerfielder on Baltimore’s roster, and he was expected to battle Sam Mele for the job during spring training. A tough position battle got even tougher when veteran Gil Coan was acquired in a trade shortly before exhibition season.
Coan got most of the starts in center when the regular season opened, but he didn’t hit and Cal Abrams took over for a short spell. Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium was a vast ballpark at that time, 446 feet to straight away centerfield, so eventually Diering’s superior glovework earned him a shot to play. Abrams moved over to right after ten days.
Diering made the most of his chance, batting over .400 in June to take over the team lead in hitting. Though The Sporting News said “Diering’s speed is more apparent when he is chasing flies than running the bases”, it made him an exciting player on offense as well as defense.
In one particular game that drew raves against the Senators in DC, Diering skillfully executed a hook slide to score on a squeeze play, and later raced into right-center to make a one-handed grab to rob Jim Busby of a possible triple.
New York Yankees manager Casey Stengel said of Diering in July, “That fella sure can go get ’em”. In case Stengel forgot, Diering ran down 400-foot drives by Yogi Berra and Irv Noren when the Bronx Bombers visited Baltimore in September, helping to preserve Joe Coleman’s one-hit, 1-0 win for the Orioles. So it was dazzling, crowd pleasing defense that made Diering “most valuable” in 1954.
The Orioles had an astute new manager in Paul Richards the following year, and Richards remarked that Diering was “undoubtedly one of the best fielding centerfielders in baseball”.
To prove the point, Diering ran into the hedges bordering deepest centerfield on May 27, 1955 to rob Mickey Mantle of an extra-base hit. The Orioles 1974 yearbook said “old Orioles fans are still talking about it”.
Diering stayed with the ballclub longer than any other members of the 1954 team. His offensive production was about the same in 1955, but he demonstrated his versatility by playing 34 games at third base, and another 12 at shortstop. Diering found playing time harder to come by in 1956 though, and his major league career came to an end when the Orioles purchased powerful Joe Frazier from the Redlegs in late-June and released Diering.
Now 84-years-young, the original Most Valuable Oriole is still alive and well in St. Louis.
By MALCOLM ALLEN
NOTES: Charles Edward Allen Diering was listed at 5’10”, 165 lbs. during his playing days. For the Orioles, he wore uniform #32. He played 315 of his 752 major league games for Baltimore and batted .249.