After the Cleveland Indians 1948 Season
Vince Guerrieri | On 20, Mar 2014
The 1948 World Championship was the crowning moment in Bill Veeck’s career as an owner – and one of the loneliest in his life. Veeck would own another pennant winner, but no other world champion. On Sept. 23, 1949, Veeck led a funeral procession out to the outfield to bury the pennant, with the Indians mathematically eliminated from the race. That fall, Veeck’s wife Eleanore filed for divorce, and Veeck was forced to sell the team to pay for it.
In 1951, Veeck, newly married, bought the St. Louis Browns. His idea was to run off the Cardinals, and with a mix of his own wacky promotions and Cardinals owner Fred Saigh’s income tax problems, it appeared he might do so. But Saigh sold the team to Gussie Busch, heir to the brewing fortune and a St. Louis institution. Veeck sought to move the team to Baltimore, but was blocked by baseball owners and was forced to sell the team – which then moved to Baltimore.
He did some scouting for the Indians while his friend Hank Greenberg was general manager, but ended up buying the White Sox. The Go-Go Sox of 1959, with a mixture of speed and pitching, won the American League pennant – the only postseason appearance by the White Sox between the 1919 World Series and 1983 – but lost to the Dodgers in the World Series. Veeck ended up selling the team because of health concerns, but bought the White Sox again in 1975. Unable to compete with free agency, Veeck sold the team in 1980 (a sale to Youngstown mall magnate Edward DeBartolo was denied, and Veeck sold to Jerry Reinsdorf). Veeck spent his waning days drinking beer and smoking cigarettes in the Wrigley Field bleachers. He died in 1986, and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame five years later. His plaque calls him “Champion of the little guy.”
Hank Greenberg stayed on as general manager of the Indians after Veeck sold the team. He soured on baseball in Cleveland and tried to move the team to Minneapolis. After other partners killed the move, Greenberg was fired as general manager and sold his shares in the team. He later said, “The only way I want to see Cleveland is flying over it at 30,000 feet.” Greenberg was a partner of Veeck’s when he bought the White Sox in 1959 and 1975. Greenberg, a 1956 Hall of Fame inductee for his playing career, died in 1986.
Lou Boudreau’s career as an Indian ended in 1950, when he was fired as manager and traded as a player to the Red Sox. Boudreau played for former Indian Steve O’Neill, and when he was fired, Boudreau became the Red Sox manager. He served as player-manager in Boston for a year, and spent two years there as manager. He also managed the Kansas City Athletics, where he put his Williams shift to work against Mickey Mantle, and managed the Cubs for one year. None of the teams Boudreau managed after the 1948 Indians finished higher than fourth place.
After his playing and managing careers were over, Boudreau spent an extensive amount of time in the broadcast booth, calling Cubs games as well as Bulls games (Boudreau was captain of the basketball team at the University of Illinois, and played in the National Basketball League, the forerunner to the NBA). Boudreau was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1970, the same year the Indians retired his number 5. Boudreau retired from the broadcast booth in 1988, and died in Illinois in 2001.
Boudreau said Bill McKechnie, a hire made by Bill Veeck for the 1948 World Series, was an invaluable help. McKechnie, who had managed three different teams to pennants, stayed with Boudreau through the 1949 season, and coached with him again in Boston. McKechnie was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962 and died in 1965 in Bradenton, Fla. The Pittsburgh Pirates, whom he led to a World Championship in 1925, still hold spring training in Bradenton at McKechnie Field.
Mel Harder holds the record for the most time spent in an Indians uniform. The 1948 season was his first as a coach after a 19-year playing career. He remained in the Indians dugout until 1964, and also coached for the Mets, Cubs, Reds and Royals. Bob Lemon said if Mel Harder couldn’t teach you how to throw a curveball, then you couldn’t learn how. Harder’s number was retired by the Indians in 1990. He lived to see the 1990s glory years of the Indians, and died in 2002.
Johnny Berardino made his movie debut in 1948 in “The Winners Circle.” He played baseball players in “The Kid from Cleveland,” “The Winning Team,” a biography starring Ronald Reagan as Grover Cleveland Alexander, and “The Kid From Left Field.” After his playing career ended in 1952, he went into acting full-time, acting under the name John Beradino, and is probably best known for portraying Dr. Steve Hardy on the soap opera “General Hospital,” playing the role from 1963 to shortly before his death in 1996. He’s the only man with a World Series title and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Joe Gordon’s major league playing career ended in 1950. He served as player manager for the Sacramento Solons, and later managed the San Francisco Seals. His first major league managing job came in 1958 with the Indians. He was fired by Frank Lane, but Lane took him back after he was unable to hire Leo Durocher to manage the Indians – the first of several occasions the Lip was linked to the Tribe. Lane later traded Gordon to Detroit for their manager, Jimmie Dykes. It wasn’t much of an improvement. Gordon has the rare distinction of managing two different teams in the same city. He managed the Kansas City Athletics and then when they left and were replaced by an expansion team, he became the first manager of the Royals. Gordon died in 1978, and was a Veterans Committee selection to the Hall of Fame in 2009, a year after he was elected to the Indians Hall of Fame.
Ken Keltner played in 80 more games for the Indians, in 1949, before he was released. He played for the Red Sox in 1950, and latched on with Sacramento in 1951, playing for Gordon. After his career was over, he returned to his hometown of Milwaukee, where he died of a heart attack in 1991. He was inducted into the Indians and Wisconsin halls of fame, and Boudreau said he deserved consideration for Cooperstown as well.
One of the reasons the Indians felt comfortable releasing Keltner was because Al Rosen was waiting in the wings. Rosen, in his official rookie year of 1950, hit 37 home runs to set a rookie record. In 1953, he became the first unanimous MVP, and missed the batting title – and thus, a Triple Crown – by less than a point. Rosen hit two home runs in front of the hometown crowd at the 1954 All-Star Game, and helped lead the Indians to the pennant. Two years later, injuries and particularly nasty contract negotiations with Greenberg forced Rosen out of baseball. Rosen spent time as a stockbroker and working at a Las Vegas casino before returning to baseball, being hired as president of the Yankees by Cleveland native George Steinbrenner. Rosen served in the front offices of the Astros, building the team that won the 1986 NL West, and the Giants, assembling the teams of the late 1980s and being named executive of the year in 1987. He lives in Rancho Mirage, Cal.
Bob Lemon had the first of seven 20-win seasons for the Indians in 1948. He became a mainstay of the pitching staff through the 1950s. His 1950 season was one for the ages, going 23-11 and leading the league in wins, innings (288), starts (37), complete games (22) and strikeouts (170). He won 23 games again in 1954 as the Indians rolled to the pennant. He retired in 1958 with a career record of 207-128, and had a successful career as a manager. He managed the Royals, was hired by Bill Veeck to manage the White Sox, where he was named AL Manager of the Year in 1977. After he was fired by Veeck in 1978, he became the Yankees manager, hired by Steinbrenner and reunited with Al Rosen. The Yankees won the World Series that year, and Lemon was named manager of the year again. But his son’s death in a car accident cast a pall on the 1979 season for him, and he was fired 25 games into the season. Lemon came back to manage the Yankees in 1981, as they won the pennant. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1976, and his number 21 was retired by the Indians in 1998. He died in 2000.
Lou Boudreau dedicated the 1948 World Series win to Don 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.
After the 1948 season, Ted Williams said that Gene Bearden wouldn’t win 20 games in a season ever again. Bearden won a total of 25 games for the rest of his career. He went 8-8 in an injury-plagued 1949. Casey Stengel, Bearden’s former manager in Oakland and onetime future Indians manager, became Yankees manager that year and started sharing that Bearden’s knuckler finished outside the strike zone. Hitters started to lay off, and his pitching became less effective. In 1950, the Indians traded him to the Senators. He was reunited with Veeck in St. Louis in 1952, and pitched for the White Sox in 1953, but after that, he was finished in the majors. Bearden died in 2004.
Even without Bearden, the Indians had the ERA leader in 1949, as Mike Garcia posted a 2.36 ERA going 14-7 for the Tribe. Garcia made one appearance during the regular season for the Indians in 1948, and went on to become part of the starting rotation, with 20-win seasons in 1951 and 1952. He also led the league with a 2.54 ERA in 1954 when the Indians won the pennant. Garcia had losing seasons in 1955 and 1956 as his career started to trend downward, accelerated by a back injury in 1958. He played for the Veeck-owned White Sox in 1960 and was signed by the expansion Senators in 1961. Garcia, a California native, remained in the Cleveland area after his career was over, owning a chain of dry cleaners. He had diabetes, which led to kidney problems and large medical bills. Garcia was reunited with Feller, Lemon and Early Wynn, along with manager Al Lopez, for a benefit in December 1985. He was dead a month later at the age of 62.
Bob Feller never got another chance to win a World Series game. He was part of the team through 1955, but he clashed with Al Lopez, Boudreau’s successor as manager. He was scheduled to pitch Game 4 of the 1954 World Series, but with the Indians down 3-0, Lopez elected to start Bob Lemon. The Indians lost anyway. Feller was elected the first president of the Major League Baseball Players Association in 1956, and retired at the end of that season. He was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1962, and remained an Indians fixture for years after his retirement. Jacobs Field features a statue of Feller outside the center field gate, and Feller could be found watching the Tribe from the press box up until his death from leukemia in 2010.
Jim Hegan was a light-hitting catcher in the days of slugging backstops, but he was renowned for his ability to call a game, and was admired by pitchers and other catchers. Yankee Hall of Famer Bill Dickey said, “If I could catch like Jim Hegan, I wouldn’t need to hit.” Hegan caught for the Indians through 1956, and his career ended in 1960 after stints with the Tigers, Phillies and Cubs. He was a coach and scout for the Yankees and Tigers, and died in 1978. Hegan’s son Mike was a major league first baseman, and although he never played for the Indians, he’s known to Tribe fans as a longtime radio and television broadcaster.
Hegan’s backup, Joe Tipton, was dealt to Chicago after the 1948 season for Joe Haynes. Tipton played one year for the White Sox before being traded to the Philadelphia Athletics for Nellie Fox. Tipton played a year in Philadelphia before coming back to the Indians. Fox was a mainstay of the 1959 pennant-winning White Sox and ultimately a Hall of Famer. The Indians held on to Tipton for a couple more years before he ended his career with the Senators. Tipton continued to play in the minor leagues, but ended up being banned after several suspensions and allegations of being a liaison for gamblers. He died in 1994.
Haynes never played a game for the Indians. He, along with Eddie Robinson and Ed Klieman were dealt to the Senators for Mickey Vernon and Early Wynn. Vernon played a year and a half for the Tribe, while Wynn became one of the mainstays of the Indians pitching staff in the 1950s. At one point or another, Robinson played for every team in the American League except Boston – including another stint in Cleveland in 1957. After retiring, he served in the front office for several teams, including as general manager of the Atlanta Braves and the Texas Rangers. Robinson, a Texas native, still lives in the Lone Star State.
Klieman started the 1949 season in Washington, but he was bought by the White Sox after they sold Ernest Groth to a minor league team. Groth had come to Chicago in a trade after the 1948 season, and made three appearances with the White Sox. He returned to his native Beaver Falls. He and his wife ran Groth’s Nursery, selling Christmas trees, and he worked for Standard Steel. Groth, who was elected into the Beaver County Sports Hall of Fame, died in 2004.
Klieman pitched in 1950 for the Athletics before retiring. He died in 1978.
Russ Christopher retired after the 1948 season. The heart ailment that plagued him throughout his career finally caught up to him in 1954, when he died at the age of 37. After his baseball career ended, he worked in an aircraft factory.
Larry Doby settled into the outfield in Cleveland Stadium, and was called the best center fielder in the game by the Sporting News in 1950. Doby led the American League with 32 home runs and 126 RBI as the Indians won the pennant in 1954. He was traded to Chicago after the 1955 season, and spent two years at Comiskey before coming back to Cleveland. The Indians traded him to Detroit in 1959 for Tito Francona. Doby was the first black player for the Tigers. Bill Veeck traded midseason for him to play for the White Sox that year as well. Doby, the second black player in the majors, also became the second black manager. Doby was a coach for the Indians when he was bypassed for Frank Robinson, the first black manager, and went to Chicago, where he was reunited once again with Veeck. He became the Pale Hose manager in 1978 after Veeck fired Bob Lemon, and resigned after the 1979 season. The Indians retired his number 14 in 1994, and four years later, he was elected to the Hall of Fame. Doby died in 2003. He appeared on a Heroes of Baseball postage stamp in 2012, and the street outside of left field at Progressive Field has been renamed Larry Doby Way.
Steve Gromek, whose hug of Doby was immortalized on the front page of the Plain Dealer, was traded to his hometown Tigers in 1953, along with Ray Boone. Gromek pitched until 1957, spent a year managing in the minor leagues, then returned to Detroit, where he sold car insurance. He died in 2002.
Boone led the American League with 115 RBI in 1955 with Detroit, where he spent five years, and retired in 1960 after stints with the White Sox, Athletics, Braves and Red Sox. Boone’s son Bob played Major League Baseball, as did grandsons Aaron (who spent two years with the Indians) and Brett. The Boones are the only three-generation All-Star family in Major League Baseball.
Satchel Paige went 4-7 for the Indians in 1949, and was released. Two years later, Paige and Veeck were reunited. Veeck had bought the St. Louis Browns, and signed Paige to a contract. In 1952 and 1953, Paige was named to the American League All-Star team. He made his final major league appearance Sept. 25, 1965, starting a game for the Kansas City Athletics. In 1966, Ted Williams was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In his speech, he demanded the hall begin to consider inducting Negro League players. Paige was the first inductee in 1971. The baseball lifer died in 1982, his age a matter of some mystery, but pegged around 76.
Dale Mitchell played with the Indians until 1956. He had a career year in 1949, hitting .317 and leading the league with 203 hits, 161 singles and 23 triples. His contract was bought by the Dodgers in 1956, and he played for them in the 1956 World Series, his third appearance in the Fall Classic. Mitchell became the answer to a trivia question, pinch-hitting to become the 27th and final out in Don Larsen’s perfect game. He retired after the season with a career .312 batting average, and died in 1987. Mitchell, a University of Oklahoma alumnus, is the namesake for the college’s baseball diamond.
Bob Muncrief was sold to the Pirates after the 1948 season. The Bucs put him on waivers, where he was claimed by the Cubs. The Yankees picked Muncrief in the 1950 Rule 5 draft, but he made just two appearances in pinstripes in 1951. Overall, Muncrief had a career record of 80-82. He died in 1996.
Among Muncrief’s teammates in Pittsburgh in 1949 was Wally Judnich. Judnich, who had come to Cleveland in a trade from the St. Louis Browns with Muncrief, appeared in 10 games. Judnich, a San Francisco native, continued his playing career in the Pacific Coast League. He died in 1971.
Hal Peck appeared in 33 games for the Indians in 1949, his last year in the majors. He returned to his native Wisconsin, where he died in 1995.
Allie Clark and Thurman Tucker were able to stay with the Indians – albeit in limited roles – until 1951. Clark was dealt to the Athletics that year. He played in Philadelphia until 1953, when he was sold to the White Sox. His major league career ended that year, but he was able to play minor league baseball for another five years before returning to his native South Amboy, N.J. He worked as an ironworker and served as a city councilman. He died in 2012.
Tucker ended up being sent down to Triple-A San Diego in 1951, and spent four years in the minor leagues before retiring from baseball. He served as a scout for the Houston Colt .45s (later the Astros) and lived in Oklahoma City, where he sold insurance. He died in 1993.
Hank Edwards played in five games for the Indians in 1949 before being put on waivers. He was picked up by the Cubs. After the 1950 season, the Cubs traded him to the Dodgers with cash for Dee Fondy and Chuck Connors, who played in 66 games for the Cubs but went on to greater fame as TV’s Rifleman. Edwards bounced around with stops in Cincinnati, Chicago (the South Side) and Baltimore before retiring in 1954. He died in 1988. Edwards, who was born near Cincinnati but grew up in Norwalk, is in the Norwalk High School Hall of Fame.
Sam Zoldak went 1-2 for the Indians in 1949, and 4-2 in 1950. In 1951, he was part of the three-team trade that brought Lou Brissie to Cleveland and sent Minnie Minoso from Cleveland to the White Sox. Ray Murray was also dealt in that trade. Both Murray and Zoldak ended up in Philadelphia, where they played until 1953. Murray was able to latch on in Baltimore for the 1954 season. Murray died in 2003. Zoldak died in 1966.
Bill Kennedy, the pitcher traded by Cleveland for Zoldak, finished with a career record of 15-28 in eight years. In addition to the Browns, he played for the White Sox, Red Sox and Reds before hanging it up in 1957. He died in 1983.
Bob Kennedy stayed with the Indians until 1954, when he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles. Kennedy played until 1957, with the Tigers, White Sox and Dodgers. After his playing career ended, he became head coach for the Cubs during their College of Coaches experiment, and was the first manager of the Athletics after their move to Oakland. He died in 2005.