Boudreau Earns Captain Status for the Indians All-Time Team
By Ronnie Tellalian
Lou Boudreau was as popular and legendary a figure as has ever dawned an Indians’ uniform. He was a skilled player and a brilliant manager. He had his hands in nearly every famous event that occurred in the Cleveland baseball scene in the 1940’s and he stood atop the American League during the Indians last World Series Championship. He was a Tribe legend and the clear cut choice as the captain of the Cleveland Indians All-Time team.
Shortstop: Lou Boudreau
Boudreau attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he played basketball and baseball. The Indians heavily scouted him and wanted to make sure he would become an Indian. Cy Slapnicka, the Tribe General Manager at the time paid Boudreau under the table in return for Boudreau’s guarantee that he would sign with the Indians after he graduated. His father complained to the Big Ten and Boudreau was ruled ineligible to play college sports. Boudreau wanted to remain in school but needed to stay in shape so the college junior signed on to play pro basketball with the Hammond All-Americans in the National Basketball League. He eventually honored his agreement and signed with the Cleveland Indians in 1938.
Boudreau got his first chance to start everyday in 1940. He came up with the Indians as a third baseman, but Manager Ossie Vitt needed him at another position. Ken Keltner already had the third base job, so Boudreau moved over to short. He played in all 155 of the Indians games that season batting .295 with 185 hits, 97 runs, 10 triples, and 101 RBI. He also made the All-Star Game that year, playing back-up to White Sox Hall of Famer Luke Appling. He capped off the season by finishing fifth in the American League MVP voting.
After the 1940 season, Indians owner Alva Bradley appointed former player and Wooster, Ohio native Roger Peckinpaugh General Manager. One of the first moves Peckinpaugh made was to make Boudreau player-manager of the Cleveland Indians.
At age 25, Boudreau became the youngest manager in baseball history, a record that still stands. He led the league in doubles that year with 45 and made his second All-Star team. The most famous moment of the season came on July 17, 1941. Joe DiMaggio came into Cleveland having gotten a hit in his last 56 consecutive games. The Indians players desperately wanted to end his record streak. After two famous and amazing diving plays by Tribe third baseman Ken Keltner, DiMaggio stepped to the plate for his final at bat in the eighth inning with no hits on the day. DiMaggio scorched a ground ball up the middle and Boudreau raced to his left to try and make a play on the ball. At the last moment, the ball took a bad hop bouncing up and to the right. Boudreau made a bare-handed stab, snatched the ball out of the air and tossed it to second to initiate a double play. The great plays by both Keltner and Boudreau ended DiMaggio’s record streak.
While many young baseball players shipped off to fight in World War II in 1942, Boudreau stayed in Cleveland. Playing basketball had put a strain on Boudreau’s ankles that turned into severe arthritis which classified him as 4-F and thus ineligible for military service.
From 1942-1947 Boudreau hit .301, winning the batting title in 1944 with a .327 average. He hit 194 doubles, leading the league twice and made four All-Star games. He finished in the top 10 in MVP voting each year.
Boudreau’s best year, and perhaps the franchises best year came in 1948. Boudreau reached career highs in runs scored with 119, hits with 199, home run with 18 and RBI with 106. He also batted a career best .355 en route to the American League MVP. For those who like advanced statistics, Boudreau dominated the league in astounding fashion. According to Fangraphs, Boudreau piled up a total of 11.6 WAR, the highest single season total in Indians history.
The team finished with a league best record of 97-58. They faced the Boston Braves in the World Series winning the series four games to two. This marked their first World Series since 1922 and only the second ever in franchise history. Boudreau managed six hits in the six games, including four doubles.
Boudreau was a brilliant and innovative Manager. A common practice today is to shift players around the field in order to take away the strength of a given hitter. This technique was originally known as a “Boudreau shift”. He first utilized his shift on July 14th, 1946 against baseball legend Ted Williams. Williams was a known pull hitter and Boudreau sought to use his strength to the Indians advantage. First baseman Jimmy Wasdell played directly behind the first base bag. Second baseman Jack Conway played in the hole between first and second and deepened into shallow right field. Boudreau played the traditional second base spot, and third baseman Keltner played just to the right of second base. The shift held Williams hitless on the game, although the patient hitter drew two walks.
Boudreau played two more years in Cleveland before being receiving his outright release. He retired in 1952 at the age of 34. He was a Cleveland Indians legend, one of the best and most popular players ever to wear a Tribe uniform. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1970 with 77.33% of the vote. That same year, his uniform number 5 was retired by the Cleveland Indians.