After the Cleveland Indians’ 1948 Season (Part 1)
Vince Guerrieri | On 03, Apr 2016
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 September 23, 1949, he 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.”
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 five. Boudreau retired from the broadcast booth in 1988, and died in Illinois in 2001.
Boudreau said Bill McKechnie, a hire made by 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, Florida. 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 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 fames, 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 lived in Rancho Mirage, California, where he passed away on March 13, 2015, at the age of 91.
Photo: Rogers Photo Archive/Getty images