Today continues our countdown to the start of Indians pitchers and catchers reporting to Goodyear, Arizona on February 20. We’ll count down the days, profiling a former Indian who wore the corresponding number. Some players will be memorable, others just our favorites and some, the only one we could find who wore that number. Today, we chronicle the career of Lou Boudreau.
By Vince Guerrieri
At the age of 24, Lou Boudreau became player-manager for the Indians.
Six years later, he was named the American League MVP when the led the Tribe, on the bench, at bat and in the field, to the team’s most recent World Series championship.
And in 1970, at the age of 50, his uniform number 5 was retired – the same year he was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Boudreau was a two-sport star in high school and college, playing baseball and basketball. And indeed, he played both sports professionally. While a student at the University of Illinois, he played for the Hammond All-Americans on the National Basketball League, which later merged with the Basketball Association of America to form the NBA. He debuted for the Indians in 1938 at first base, of all places. A third baseman by training, Boudreau moved to short in 1939. In 1940, he batted .295 and was named to his first American League All-Star team.
He was known for his defensive prowess. In 1941, he barehanded a ball and started a double play, getting Joe DiMaggio out at first. It was the game at Municipal Stadium where Dimaggio’s 56-game hitting streak ended. Boudreau also invented a shift to try and hold down Ted Williams, moving the shortstop to the right side of the infield, and shading the third baseman toward short. The center fielder would move toward right, and the left fielder would move to left-center. The idea was to put more fielders in a position to catch anything hit by Williams, a pull hitter, but Boudreau said it was mostly a psychological ploy.
When Bill Veeck took over the Indians in 1947, he pondered trading Boudreau to the St. Louis Browns, but fan outcry was such that he decided against it. In 1948, Boudreau proved him right, getting named MVP with a .355 batting average, 18 home runs and 106 RBI. The Indians finished the season tied with the Red Sox, and played a one-game playoff at Fenway Park. Boudreau surprised and mystified everyone by picking Gene Bearden as starting pitcher, and helped Bearden win by going 3-for-4 with two home runs and two RBI.
Boudreau was fired as a manager and released as a player after the 1950 season. He went on to play and serve as player-manager for the Red Sox, and later managed the Kansas City Athletics and the Chicago Cubs, where he served as a broadcaster for many years as well. He was also the radio voice of the Chicago Bulls for two seasons.
Photo: Cleveland Press Photo File