Bearden Has Magical Flash For Tribe in 1948
By Christian Petrila
The first few obscure Indians presented in the Flash in a Pan series have all been relatively recent. This week, however, we take obscurity to a time before color television.
This week’s flash in a pan is Gene Bearden.
Bearden was a southpaw born in 1920 in Arkansas. He was signed as an amateur free agent by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1939. He would never play for the Phillies, as he would be shopped around multiple times in transactions that remain unknown to this day. However, once the Indians stepped in and acquired the lefty, his career would get started.
On Dec. 6, 1946, the Indians acquired Bearden, Al Gettel and Hal Peck from the New York Yankees in exchange for Sherm Lollar and Ray Mack. He would make his debut in 1947. It wasn’t a pretty debut, though. Bearden went one-third of an inning in which he allowed three runs on two hits, a walk and a wild pitch. That would be his only appearance of the season, and he would finish the campaign with a tidy 81.00 ERA.
The next season was infinitely better for Bearden and the Tribe. It was his best season in the Majors without any doubt. He went 20-7 with a 2.43 ERA for the Indians. He also struck out 80 while walking 106 in 229.2 innings. The BB/K ratio left a lot to be desired even by today’s standards, but he did an excellent job of not allowing those walks to come around to score. It was evident by the fact that he threw 15 complete games and six shutouts that year. Bearden–pitched and won–the Tribe’s one-game playoff against the Boston Red Sox to advance to the World Series. However, it was his performance in the Fall Classic that turned out to be his biggest performance of the year. Against the Boston Braves, Bearden pitched 10.2 shutout innings with a win and a save all while helping lead the Indians to their most recent World Series win to date. His save came in the deciding game six.
Unfortunately for Bearden, he was unable to keep the momentum from his phenomenal 1948 season going. In an Ubaldo Jimenez-like implosion, his numbers went south. In 1949, he was 8-8 with a 5.10 ERA in 127 innings. He would walk 92 while striking out only 41. He also led the league with 11 wild pitches. 1950 didn’t go any better for Bearden. He started the season 1-3 with a 6.15 ERA before the Washington Senators claimed him off waivers in August. He did improve in his time with Washington, going 3-5 with a 4.21 ERA.
The 1951 season started badly for Bearden once again. He made one appearance for the Senators. He only lasted 2.2 innings while allowing five runs on six hits. The Senators put him on waivers, and he was claimed by the Detroit Tigers on April 26. Once again, the change of scenery helped make Bearden’s numbers look a little better, as he went 3-4 with a 4.33 ERA for the Tigers.
That offseason, Bearden was shipped with Bob Cain and Dick Kryhoski to the St. Louis Browns for Matt Batts, Dick Littlefield, Cliff Mapes and Ben Taylor. In his lone season with the Browns, he went 7-8 with a 4.30 ERA. However, he would lead the league in wild pitches once again, this time with 10. That offseason, he would be placed on waivers once again. Once again, he was claimed by an AL team. This time, it was the Chicago White Sox.
Bearden’s 1953 campaign would be his final one. He did a very respectable job playing most of the season out of Chicago’s bullpen. In 25 appearances (three of them starts), Bearden went 3-3 with a 2.93 ERA – his lowest since the 1948 championship season. However, it wasn’t enough for the White Sox to bring him back for another year.
Bearden would play in the minor leagues until 1957, but would never see Major League action again. He died on March 18, 2004, but he’ll forever be remembered in Cleveland for helping lead the Indians to the promised land they haven’t seen since 1948.