Don Black Tragedy Helps Tribe To 1948 Championship
Vince Guerrieri | On 31, Jan 2012
In 1920, the Indians won their first World Championship. They were playing for their fallen teammate, Ray Chapman, who became the first and to date only baseball player to die from injuries sustained on the field when he was struck in the temple by a pitched ball during a game against the Yankees.
In 1948, the Indians won their second World Championship, and once again, they were playing in tribute of a teammate who could not be with them.
On Sept. 13, 1948, the Indians found themselves two and a half games back of the league-leading Boston Red Sox. The pennant race that year had been a dogfight between the Tribe, Red Sox, defending World Champion New York Yankees and until an August fade, the Philadelphia Athletics.
Don Black was pitching for the Indians. He had come to Cleveland in 1946 after three seasons with the Athletics (he failed a draft physical, and thus was not called to serve in World War II). Connie Mack liked Black as a pitcher, but sold him to Cleveland for an undisclosed amount because of his alcoholism. In three years with the As, Black went 21-29.
Black struggled in his first season in Cleveland, and ended up getting sent to the Milwaukee Brewers, then a minor league team. Owner Bill Veeck took an interest in Black, and sent him to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, where Black was able to face down his addiction.
In 1947, Black went 10-12, matching his record from 1944 and a career high win total. On July 10, he threw a no-hitter against his former team, the Athletics.
By 1948, Black was regarded as a spot starter for the Indians, who had lost their lead in the American League as the Red Sox got hot in September. On Sept. 13, Black was starting at Municipal Stadium against the Browns, his 10th start of the yea r—and as it turned out, the last one of his career.
When Black came up to bat, he took one pitch, fouled off a second, and then seemed to walk in a daze around home plate before collapsing. He was helped up and walked to the dugout, but lost consciousness there and an ambulance was called.
Bob Lemon finished his at-bat, and Bob Muncrief came in to pitch in relief. But the Indians were stunned, and ended up losing – and losing more ground to the Red Sox.
Black was taken to the hospital. Doctors said he had a cerebral hemorrhage after an aneurysm burst, and gave him a 50-50 chance to live. Gradually, his condition improved, and he was able to leave the hospital in October. Before he could leave, however, Veeck decided to have a Don Black night at Municipal Stadium, on Sept. 23, during a game against the Red Sox. A near-record crowd of 76,772 people – including Indians players who, in tribute to Black, paid their way into the stadium – watched Bob Feller outduel Joe Dobson. The Indians won 5-3, to pull into a tie with the Sox, and more than $40,000 was raised for Black.
They ended up finishing the season tied, and the Indians beat the Red Sox in the first American League tiebreaker game in history, with Gene Bearden pitching on one day’s rest and Lou Boudreau hitting two home runs. The Tribe went on to win the World Series in six games over the Boston Braves. Boudreau dedicated the victory to Black.
Black tried to make a comeback in 1949, and was signed to an Indians contract. He pitched two innings in an exhibition game and retired. He remained in the Cleveland area as a salesman and broadcaster.
On Christmas 1957, Black was in a car accident in Virginia while going to visit relatives. Police said he had fainted while driving, and lost control of the car. He again was in the hospital in critical condition, but recovered and was able to go home again.
Black died April 21, 1959. He was 40 years old, and watching the Indians on TV at his home in Cuyahoga Falls, when he collapsed again. He was taken to a local hospital and pronounced dead.
The Indians won that night, 14-1 over the Tigers in Detroit.
Photo: Cleveland Press Archive