Gordon a Double Play Combo with Many Greats in His Career

May 23, 1948

Joe Gordon knows what a good shortstop looks like when he sees one. He’s played with them his entire career.

For Gordon, today’s doubleheader between the New York Yankees and his Cleveland Indians is like the past meeting the present of his career. Gordon, originally a youthful Yankee, helped lead the Bronx Bombers make five World Series, winning four, prior to World War II. Now, Gordon is a veteran trying to help the Indians to their first World Series in 28 years.

Gordon believes he, too, is a good shortstop, someone better has just overshadowed him throughout his career. Even today, despite never playing an inning at shortstop in the big leagues, he thinks he’s the Indians second best option behind player/manager Lou Boudreau.

“I’ve been working on him,” Gordon said, “to promise me that if anything happens to him he’ll move me to shortstop and let Johnny Berardino play second. I tell him that if the customers ever see me play shortstop they won’t stand for him coming back.”

Gordon was a shortstop at the University of Oregon and his first year in professional baseball in the Yankees’ minor leagues. He signed as an amateur with New York in 1936.  After a season at shortstop in Oakland in — one of New York’s farm teams — Gordon was moved to second base when he was promoted to Newark in 1937. The Yankees already had a speedy shortstop in Frankie Crosetti and needed a replacement for Tony Lazzeri at second base. Gordon was moved to the other side of the bag and became a starter in 1938 for New York.

Immediately, Gordon became a power-hitting threat in the Yankee lineup. He hit between 24 and 30 home runs in each season from 1938 to 1941 and won the American League Most Valuable Player Award in 1942 when he hit .322, with 18 home runs and 103 runs batted in. According to Gordon, that season was one of luck.

“When a guy busts out suddenly with one of those big years like I had in ’42 it means that a lot of balls are going between the fielder instead of right at ’em,” Gordon said.

Gordon’s luck started to run out after 1942, however. In 1943, he hit only .249, with 17 home runs and 69 runs batted in. After missing 1944 and 1945 to serve in the war, Gordon hit only .210 with 11 homers in 1946. After the season, the Yankees traded him to Cleveland for starting pitcher Allie Reynolds.

Both Reynolds and Gordon have had a rebirth to their careers since the change in scenery. Reynolds won a career-high 19 games in 1947, while Gordon made his seventh All-Star team, hit 29 homers, drove in 93 and hit .272. Despite a slow start in 1948, Gordon’s average is up to .255, with five home runs and 22 runs batted in, in 98 at bats.

Despite his resurgence, Gordon feels the biggest difference between he and Boudreau at shortstop is their offense.

“The only thing is, I can’t hit like Lou,” Gordon admitted. “And for that matter, who can? The guy is uncanny. The way it looks to me he can get a base hit any time he wants to. Sometimes I say to him, ‘Look if you don’t hit one through the box next time up I’ll know you’re not trying,’ and nine times out of 10 he’ll low-bridge the pitcher with a line drive.”

Gordon feels that if Boudreau had speed, he would be regarded as the greatest shortstop of all-time. That’s a lofty statement when being compared to Hall of Famer Honus Wagner.

The former Yankee, Gordon, and Boudreau will face off with New York this afternoon for two games at Cleveland Stadium. The Indians need to improve upon their play against the Yankees at the Stadium. In 1947, the Indians lost nine of 11 games against the Yanks. In order to continue to lead the American League, they’ll need to improve upon that record against New York. Today’s crowd is expected to be around 80,000 fans.

Gordon feels the pennant race could come down to Cleveland and New York all season. Their record head-to-head could be a determining factor.

“We think that if the breaks aren’t too much in the other team’s favor we’re a little better than even money any day,” Gordon said.

Photo: Cleveland Indians promotional photo

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