When I was a boy, I didn’t know many people who shared my name of Vern. Sure, there was my father, after whom I was named. And the man who lived across the street from our family, two doors down, was named Vernon Justice. And there was a girl named Verna in my grade who lived one street away (in second and third grade, we used to get valentine cards meant for each other). But I didn’t know any other kids my age who were named Vern, and there sure weren’t many baseball players with that name.
But there was one back then, Vern Fuller, and he played his entire major league career as a member of the Cleveland Indians.
I was a precocious child, one given to reading the Plain Dealer every day, before I had to leave for school and after I got home in the afternoon. I’d be lying if I said I remember doing so, but I must have learned about Fuller for the first time when he got injured during spring training in 1964. The 20-year-old infielder fractured a shoulder blade, and spent nearly the entire 1964 season on the disabled list. Fuller finally saw action with the Tribe in September, when the roster was expanded. He was used in two games as a pinch-hitter, going hitless each time.
In 1965 Fuller was invited to spring training, and managed to stay injury-free. Nonetheless, he was the last man to be cut from the major league roster by manager Birdie Tebbetts, and wound up spending the entire season with the Portland Beavers, the Indians’ AAA affiliate. Fuller was invited to spring training with the varsity again in 1966, but once again failed to make the cut, and was optioned to the Beavers.
But in September, once the rosters were expanded, Fuller got the call-up to Cleveland. He made the most of it, too, playing 16 games at second base without committing an error. He went 11 for 47 behind the plate, but five of those hits were for extra bases (two doubles, a triple, and two homers). The 9-year-old Vern Morrison was glad to see his namesake perform well.
In 1967, Fuller finally made the club out of spring training, but saw limited playing time until mid-July, when he took over the second base position from Pedro Gonzalez. Fuller did a workman-like job, hitting a meager .227 but making only four errors in 281 chances for a team which went 75-87. The following year, Fuller opened the season as the starting second baseman. He moved to third for a couple of dozen games when starter Max Alvis was injured. An inflamed leg caused Fuller to ride the pine for nearly the entire month of May. His offensive production, which wasn’t great in the first place, dropped off, as Fuller had only 10 extra base hits all year, none of which were homers. He had only 18 RBI in 244 at-bats.
By 1970, Fuller lost his job as starting second baseman to Eddie Leon. His last game with the Indians, and indeed as a major league player, was on the final day of the 1970 season, October 1, at Tiger Stadium. Fuller got one of the team’s only two hits that day, as the Indians lost 1-0 to Detroit.
Playing as he did in the 1960s, Fuller, like many players from that era, worked a part-time job to supplement his income. He used to work as a night clerk at various Cleveland hotels, which served him in good stead after his retirement from baseball. Fuller continued to work in the hotel business, and, according to a 2010 interview with the Plain Dealer’s Terry Pluto, he “made more money in 1972 than I ever did in the majors.” Today Fuller is the president of Marathon Associates, Inc., a hospitality, development, and management company. He also serves as executive director of the Cleveland Baseball Heritage Museum, located at the Fifth Street Arcades at 530 Euclid Avenue in Cleveland. The Museum is meant to honor the men and women who played in the Negro Leagues, the Latin and Caribbean leagues, the industrial leagues, and the women’s leagues. Open to the public three days a week, the non-profit museum accepts donations from visitors. I spent a few hours there a couple of years ago, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who has a passion for baseball.
Fuller’s career as an Indian may not have been a memorable one, but his love of the game and his dedication to baseball history, and to the city of Cleveland, can never be questioned.