1948: When Boudreau Led the Boys
With last season’s Game 7 loss in the World Series to the Chicago Cubs, the Cleveland Indians took over a title desired by none across the Major League Baseball landscape – the team with the longest active championship drought in the game.
A heartbreaking defeat last November, after overcoming every obstacle thrown their way in the final months of the season, added another year of suffering to the long history of the Indians. After bringing home the hardware in each of the franchise’s first two World Series appearances in 1920 and 1948, the Tribe has dropped four opportunities since, in 1954, 1995, 1997, and 2016, and had a couple of other close calls along the way.
In between those trips was a lot of pain and a lot of what some might call despair, a term back to the forefront of the Cleveland lexicon this week after Sports Illustrated’s senior baseball writer Tom Verducci wrote the Indians’ epitaph after a 1-0 loss on Sunday, their first of this postseason.
Seventy years ago Wednesday, baseball innovator and mogul Bill Veeck and a small handful of other investors officially purchased the Cleveland Indians organization, setting the stage less than two years later for one of the most exciting pennant chases the game of baseball had ever seen and one of a handful of sports moments forever celebrated in the city of Cleveland.
Veeck, then 32 years old, had spent his life involved in the game of baseball.
Do you have $20,000 burning a hole in your bank account that you just don’t know what to do with?
Send it to me. Student loans and mortgage payments are hard to deal with. No? I tried.
If you aren’t feeling so generous, but you are in a position to purchase a unique piece of Cleveland Indians history, one lucky fan could come to own an extremely rare collectible from the legendary 1948 season.
On April 15th of every year, Major League Baseball takes pause to recognize the contributions of Jackie Robinson to the advancement of African-Americans (and minorities as a whole) in professional sports and, in a much larger construct, society.
Robinson had been playing for the Kansas City Monarchs when he was signed by Branch Rickey’s Brooklyn Dodgers in August of 1945. He played minor league ball in Montreal with the Royals in 1946 preceding his Major League debut on April 15, 1947. In a hitless 0-for-3 at the plate, Robinson shook the world as it was known and doors began to open, including one less than three months later in Cleveland when owner Bill Veeck acquired Larry Doby from the Newark Eagles in a cash exchange. The legacies of Robinson and Doby would forever be entwined when Doby put on an Indians uniform and took the field for the first time on July 5, 1947.
Robinson was 28 when he reached the biggest stage of all and played first base, not the second base for which he was much better known. He hit .297, had an on-base percentage of .383, and led the league with 29 stolen bases and the MLB with 28 sacrifices and earned the Rookie of the Year award after appearing in 151 games for the Dodgers.
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.
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.
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.
November 25, 1948
This afternoon the Baseball Writers Association of America announced Lou Boudreau as the Most Valuable Player of the American League.
Boudreau, the Indians player-manager, led the 1948 Tribe to the World Series crown last month. On the field, he hit .355, with 18 home runs and 106 runs batted in in 152 games. All three numbers were career highs for the Tribe’s shortstop. Off the field, the 30-year-old manager helped guide the Indians to their first World Series crown in 28 years.
October 12, 1948
This morning the Cleveland Indians arrived home from Boston, victors of the 1948 World Series, and received a heroes’ parade upon their arrival.
A dozen slow moving vehicles carrying Indians players and personnel traveled from the Cleveland Terminal to University Circle. It was estimated that between 200,000 and 500,000 fans turned out to honor the first baseball championship in Cleveland in 28 years. Fans lined both sides of the street and threw paper and held signs from building windows.
While it seems reasonable that future pennants will be won and future players will become stars, this championship and squad seems special in that regardless of nationality or background, Clevelanders had a player on the team that embodied their morals and beliefs.
October 12, 1948
Cleveland’s official civic welcome to its returning baseball champions, a parade of open cars bearing team members and officials from Union Terminal to University Circle along Euclid Avenue, will begin about 8:30 this morning.
This triumphant homecoming celebration will be simple and swift, according to Mayor Thomas A. Burke, out of deference to wishes of the team, but he expressed the hope that what the parade lacked in elaborateness would be made up by the enthusiasm of onlookers.
October 11, 1948
As the Indians clinched their first World Series championship in 28 years, the celebration started on the field but spilled into the clubhouse and lasted much of the evening in Cleveland.
Clevelanders are getting used to celebrating championships as this is their third trophy in the last ten months. The Cleveland Barons hockey team won last April and the Cleveland Browns football team was champions in December. But for the Indians, the drought of 28 years seems like an eternity for veteran players and a generation of fans.
It was a special feeling for outfielder Bob Kennedy to catch the final out of the season and bring the World Series crown to Cleveland. Kennedy was dealt to Cleveland in May for outfielder Pat Seerey. Kennedy left the last place Chicago White Sox for the first place Indians.
October 11, 1948
The Cleveland Indians are World Series Champions.