After the Cleveland Indians’ 1948 Season (Part 2)
Vince Guerrieri | On 03, Apr 2016
This is the second of three installments of “After the Cleveland Indians’ 1948 Season”, the final chapter of the 1948 season review. See Part 1 here.
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, and was named AL Manager of the Year in 1977.
After he was fired by Veeck in 1978, he became the Yankees manager, hired by George 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 season. Casey Stengel, Bearden’s former manager in Oakland and one-time “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 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. Progressive 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 and is the last living member of the 1948 Indians World Championship club.
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.
Photo: Courtesy of the Ernie Harwell Sports Collection, Detroit Public Library