When the Indians take the field this afternoon, the likely largest opening day crowd ever will see a team with many changes from the 1947 season. Even this morning, manager Lou Boudreau still is uncertain of his starting lineup.
The new look Cleveland Indians have 14 new members on the team from a season ago. The Indians will look to improve upon their 80-74 record from a year ago that landed them in fourth place in the American League, 25 games behind the World Series Champion New York Yankees. With rumor of Boudreau possibly being traded last offseason, the Indians have higher expectations than a mediocre finish.
Yesterday, Boudreau told a group at the Hotel Statler that he thinks the Yankees and Boston Red Sox are the two teams to beat in order to win the pennant. But after several seasons of not contending, Boudreau and the Indians feel they have a roster capable of competing for the top.
“The boys have shown a fine spirit and they’ve worked hard,” Boudreau originally told Harry Jones of the Plain Dealer. “On the basis of what we’ve got, I can’t say that we’ll finish any higher than third, but we have a chance of making it tough for the Yankees and Red Sox.”
After the luncheon at the Hotel Statler, the team went to Municipal Stadium for a three-hour workout to prepare for today’s opener. First baseman Eddie Robinson was unable to participate, however. Robinson still is nursing an ankle injury suffered last Tuesday in Wichita, Kan. Robinson, who hit .245 with 14 home runs and 52 runs batted in last season, was unable to play the final three exhibition games against the New York Giants.
The injury is just a sprain and not related to the broken foot he suffered last September. If Robinson is unable to start today, the Indians instead will go with Johnny Berardino.
“I want to see how Robbie feels in the morning,” Boudreau said yesterday. “If it feels at all sore, he had better not play, and we’ll use Berardino.” Berardino has played all three exhibition games at first base.
The Indians infield will round out with Joe Gordon at second base, Boudreau at shortstop and Ken Keltner at third base. Boudreau will hit third in the Indians lineup after hitting .307 last season and leading the American League with 45 doubles. Gordon will bat cleanup coming off his 29 home runs and 93 RBI from a year ago, and Keltner will hit seventh behind a healthy Robinson. The sure-handed Keltner hit 11 home runs and drove in 76 in 151 games last season.
Cleveland dons an entirely new outfield from a season ago. The Indians had eight players competing for the three open spots this spring. Allie Clark, who was acquired Dec. 11, 1947, from the New York Yankees for pitcher Red Embree, will bat fifth and play left field. His timely hitting this spring won him the first outfield job. Clark hit .373 in 67 at-bats — his first as a big leaguer — with the Yankees last season.
Just this weekend, Boudreau named Thurman Tucker his starting center fielder and leadoff hitter and Larry Doby his right fielder and second hitter. The speedy Tucker hit only .236 last season in 89 games for the Chicago White Sox. The Indians acquired him via trade this winter for Ralph Weigel. Meanwhile, Doby had the least amount of experience and largest odds to make the team, but will transition from the infield to the outfield. Doby is the only African American in the American League at the start of 1948.
Behind the plate, the Indians return catcher Jim Hegan. While handling the pitching staff, Hegan was an All-Star for the first time in his career in 1947. He hit .249, with four home runs and 42 RBI.
Hegan’s main responsibility has been handling the pitching staff, and this year will be no different. Bob Feller will lead the rotation and start this afternoon. He feels stronger than a year ago, but not as strong as he did in 1940 when he no-hit the Chicago White Sox on opening day.
“I can’t stand cold weather like I used to,” the 29-year-old Feller said. “I find it much harder to loosen up when it’s cold. Let’s hope it’s good and hot for the opener.”
The St. Louis Browns’ Fred Sanford, who was 7-16 last season, will oppose Feller. Browns Manager Zack Taylor has been indecisive in his decision to name an opening day starter. Taylor has changed his mind several times between Sanford and Sam Zoldak.
Feller was 20-11, with a 2.68 ERA in 299 innings last season. It was the fifth straight full season Feller has pitched and won 20 or more games. He missed 1942-44 while serving in the Navy and only pitched nine games in 1945 upon returning from overseas.
Bob Lemon, who will shoulder a much bigger load than the 15 starts he made a year ago, will support Feller in the rotation. Don Black, Al Gettel and Bob Muncrief each is expected to make spot starts and serve in the bullpen with Russ Christopher and Steve Gromek.
Fans attending this afternoon’s opener will want to arrive on the shore of Lake Erie early. More than 45,000 tickets have been sold in advance with general admission seats going on sale beginning at 9 a.m. today. The Indians set an opening day attendance of 55,014 a year ago against the White Sox. Today, the Tribe could break that record by 10,000 fans.
Team President and owner Bill Veeck will not comment on specifics, but he promises a pregame show greater than any opening day celebration in years past. It’s believed there might be daylight fireworks, several bands and comedy entertainment prior to the first pitch.
Photo: Cleveland Memory Project
Quotes from April 20, 1948 Cleveland Plain Dealer