Born in Nashville, Tennessee, but raised in Detroit, Michigan, Cullenbine was a switch-hitter and one of the masters of drawing a bases on balls in major league history. In his ten year career, he collected almost as many walks (853) as he did hits (1072), striking out only 399 times in his career. Cullenbine was among the American League leaders in walks for seven consecutive seasons from 1941-1947, leading the AL in 1945 with 113. Three times he topped the century mark in walks (1941 with 121, 1945 with 113 and 1947 with 137 in only 142 games.) He was once walked four times in the same game by Lefty Gomez in August 1941. In another statistical oddity, he scored 5 runs in a game in July 1941 in which he had only 2 official at bats.
Cullenbine grew up in Detroit where he played football at Eastern High School. He served as a batboy for the Detroit Tigers in 1930. In 1932, legendary scout Wish Egan saw Cullenbine working out at Navin Field and signed him. Between 1932 and 1937, Cullenbine played in the minor legues in Shreveport, Louisiana, Greenwood, Mississippi, Springfield, Illinois, Beaumont, Texas, and Toledo, Ohio. (David Porter, "Biographical Dictionary of American Sports: Baseball, A-F" (Greenwood 2000), p. 330.)
1938-1940: Detroit and Brooklyn
He began his Major League career by spending the 1938 and 1939 seasons with his home town Detroit Tigers, afterwhich Cullenbine was among several major league players declared free agents in January 1940 by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. A month later he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He remained with the Dodgers through May of that season when he was traded on May 27th to the St. Louis Browns for Joe Gallagher.
1941: St. Louis Browns and a Full Time Job
It was in 1941 where Cullenbine got his first shot at a full time job with the Browns and he made the most of it. He had a .317 batting average, and walked 121 times (second in the league) for a .452 on base percentage (also good for second best in the American League behind Ted Williams.) Cullenbine also collected 98 RBIs, was named to the 1941 American League All Star team (his first of two All-Star nods), and finished 10th in the American League Most Valuable Player voting.
1942: Moving Around - First Trip to the World Series
The 1942 season saw Cullenbine moving to three different teams. He started the season with the Browns, but was traded to the Washington Senators on June 1st (with Bill Trotter to the Washington Senators for Mike Chartak and Steve Sundra.) He was then selected off waivers by the New York Yankees on August 31, 1942. It was here that Cullenbine got his first taste of the World Series as the Yankees won the American League pennant. Cullenbine went 5-for-19 (.273) with only one walk for a .300 on-base percentage and scored 3 runs as the Yankees lost the series in five games to the St. Louis Cardinals.
On the Road Again
On December 17, 1942, Cullenbine was on the move again as he was traded with Buddy Rosar to the Cleveland Indians for Roy Weatherly and Oscar Grimes.
1943-1944: Indians and Another All-Star Nod
Roy enjoyed two fine seasons with the Indians in 1943 (.289 AVG, .407 OBP) and 1944 (.284 AVG, .380 OBP) where he made his second all-star appearance in 1944, a season where he finished third in the AL in runs scored with 98, seventh in home runs with 16, 10th in RBI with 80, third in walks with 87 and 6th in doubles with 34. He also received minor notice in the MVP balloting, finishing a distant 23rd behind winner Hal Newhowser of the Detroit Tigers.
1945: Back to the Series with the Tigers
In 1945, he was on the move again as he was traded on April 29th to join Hal Newhowser and the Detroit Tigers in return for Don Ross and Dutch Meyer. Cullenbine played a key role in the Detroit Tigers run to the World Series where Roy smacked 18 HR and 93 RBI for Detroit, scoring 83 runs and drawing his trademark 113 walks against only 36 strikeouts. He only managed a .227 average in the Tigers World Series victory in seven games over the Chicago Cubs, but made the most of his hits with 2 doubles, 4 RBI, 5 runs scored and still drew 8 walks.
1946-1948: Closing Out A Ten Year Career
Cullenbine continued to have solid seasons for the Tigers in 1946 and 1947. In 1946 he had a .335 batting average with a .477 on base percentage (both career highs). In 1947, he clubbed a career high 24 home runs and a Detroit Tigers record of 137 walks. Plus his on base percentage of .407 was 3rd best in the American League. From July 2-22, 1947, Cullenbine drew walks in 22 consecutive games, breaking the major league record of 19 consecutive games set by Ted Williams in 1941. Cullenbine's 22-game streak remains the major league record. However, Cullenbine's batting average dropped to .224 in 1947, as he collected more walks (137) than hits (104).
Despite having the 3rd best OBP in the AL, Cullenbine was released by the Tigers after the 1947 season. He was picked up briefly by the Philadelphia Phillies, then released on April 19, 1948, marking the end of Cullenbine's career in Major League Baseball after 10 seasons at age 34.
Cullenbine died of heart disease at age 77 in 1991 at Mount Clemens General
Hospital. He was buried at the Christian Memorial Cultural Center Cemetery in
Rochester Hills, Michigan.