In 1948, Indians owner Bill Veeck made headlines with his signing of Satchel Paige. The ageless wonder was most known for his achievements in the Negro Leagues, but he was famous on at least two continents with regular barnstorming tours and playing winter ball in South and Central America.
He was so well-traveled that his stint with the Indians wasn’t even his first time in Cleveland.
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.
October 10, 1948
This afternoon, Indians fans proved that they are some of the most passionate and patient fans.
While the two may not go together, the record-setting crowd of 86,288 packed Cleveland Stadium for the Tribe’s first World Series crown in 28 years, but instead will have to wait at least another day. The fans’ patience was tested again today just as they were a week ago when Cleveland had chances to clinch the pennant but could not.
Instead, the largest crowd ever to see a baseball game saw its best pitcher of this generation get tagged for seven runs from the Boston Braves in six and one-third innings. Bob Feller fell behind early and could not hold the lead when Cleveland battled back, eventually falling in a rout in Game Five, 11-5.
September 14, 1948
For even the biggest believers in the Cleveland Indians, the pennant hopes for 1948 are starting to flicker a little less brightly.
This afternoon the Indians lost their final matchup of the season with the New York Yankees, losing 6-5 in front of 34,064 fans at Cleveland Stadium. Bob Lemon suffered his third loss of the season against the Bronx Bombers when he couldn’t survive a four-run rally by New York in the seventh inning. Eddie Lopat, the Tribe’s nemesis for years, logged his fifth win of the season against Cleveland.
The loss for Cleveland drops them four games back of league leading Boston and two back of the Yankees, who seem cozy in second place. With only 15 games remaining, overcoming a four-game deficit and chasing down two teams seems to be a more daunting task with each passing day.
September 12, 1948
The Cleveland Indians appear to be getting hot at the right time, now we’ll just have to see if enough time remains for the Tribe to chase down first place.
This afternoon the Indians did what a pennant contender should do, putting away the lowly St. Louis Browns early by plating five runs in the first four innings. They used the early lead to hold off a late rally from the Brownies to win 6-4 in front of 55,616 believers at Municipal Stadium. It was the Indians’ seventh straight triumph.