October 6, 1948
The heavily-favored Cleveland Indians will engage the Boston Braves in a seven-game championship battle in the 45th World Series.
Lou Boudreau’s Indians knocked off the Red Sox in Boston to earn the American League pennant on Monday, clinching the ball club the right to challenge for their second world’s championship.
The Braves, meanwhile, had a much quieter pursuit of the National League pennant. By the middle of June, they claimed the top spot in the league after a slow start to their season. A 20-10 month of June was followed up by a 19-11 July. They strung together a pair of six-game winning streaks in June. They had two separate four-game winning streaks and a five-game run in July. In the two months, Boston outscored their opponents by a 341-255 margin.
They fell off briefly in August, finishing the month with a 14-17 record and briefly seeing challengers in the league after dropping a pair of series in Chicago and Pittsburgh.
The team again found their keys to success in September, putting together two lengthy winning streaks to take 14 of 15 games at the beginning of the month, locking up the highly sought after pennant and World Series birth.
Boston was led at the plate by third baseman Bob Elliott. The reigning National League Most Valuable Player played in 151 games for the Braves this season and led the team in home runs (23), runs batted in (100), and walks (131). He was recognized as a member of the NL All-Star team.
It was the second full season for the third baseman in Boston after being traded by Pittsburgh immediately following the completion of the 1946 season.
Rookie shortstop Al Dark was a spark in the Boston lineup throughout the campaign in his first full year in the Majors. The 26-year-old middle infielder batted .322 and played spectacularly at short.
He may garner a few votes in the Rookie of the Year voting after the season, where his chief competition may be Cleveland’s Gene Bearden. Philadelphia Phillies center fielder Richie Ashburn, Boston Red Sox first baseman Billy Goodman, and Philadelphia Athletics pitcher Lou Brissie are also challengers for the award. Ballots were cast during the last week of the season.
The journey for the Braves has not come without hardship. Their biggest loss of the season may not show up in the loss column, but can be seen by a notable (and familiar) name absent from their postseason roster.
Former Clevelander Jeff Heath severely damaged the chances of the Braves against the Indians lineup after succumbing to an injury late in the season. Heath suffered a broken ankle when sliding into home plate during a 4-3 win against the Brooklyn Dodgers on September 29th, after the Braves had already clinched the pennant.
The left fielder was one of the better offensive contributors on the Boston team. He was second in home runs (20) and RBI (76) and led the team in batting average (.319), despite playing only 115 games on the season.
Heath spent ten years in Cleveland and was a two-time American League All-Star before he was dealt to the Washington Senators following the 1945 season. After the 1947 season, the now 33-year-old Canadian was purchased by the Braves from the St. Louis Browns.
An injury to Eddie Stanky back in July threw off the balance of the infield for manager Billy Southworth, causing him to experiment and tinker with the lineup. Stanky was a key ingredient in their successful infield tandem with Dark. While Stanky was out for 60 days recovering, Sibby Sisti eventually claimed consistent playing time after unsuccessful efforts in 32 starts from Connie Ryan and in 15 starts from Bobby Sturgeon. Sisti made 41 starts up the middle for Boston, but after Stanky played in five of the final six games for the Braves, Sisti may be restricted in his contributions in the postseason.
Ryan batted .213 in 51 games for Boston this season. Sturgeon was just slightly better, posting a .218 line in 34 games. Sisti, meanwhile, drove in 21 runs with a .244 batting average. None was an acceptable replacement for Stanky, who batted .320 with a pair of home runs and 29 RBI in 67 games.
The Indians offense may be limited some at the beginning of the series, thanks to predominant winds blowing in off of the Boston harbor.
The foul lines are not unattainable at Braves Field, but after factoring in the wind, the walls may be unreachable even for the big Tribe bats. The wall in left is 337 feet from home plate and the wall in right is measured at 319 feet. The left field wall is a 40-foot high barrier. The scoreboard in left-center, per the ground rules, is a home run if struck by a fly ball. The wall in right field in front of the bleachers stands at a much-easier-to-clear eight feet in height.
“They tell me it’s a pitcher’s park in the fall when that wind starts blowing in toward the plate,” Indians game one starter Bob Feller shared about Braves Field.
Six different Indians starters reached double-digits in home runs this season, capped by Joe Gordon’s 32 and Ken Keltner’s 31. The power production helped to give Cleveland three different players who eclipsed the 100 RBI mark, including Gordon, Keltner, and shortstop Boudreau.
“We ought to hit in this park,” Boudreau said after the team’s batting practice on Tuesday.
Johnny Sain (24-15, 2.60 ERA) will take the ball for the Braves to start the series. The right-handed hurler has amassed three straight 20-win seasons. He is best known for his composure under pressure and excellent control on the mound of a wicked curveball.
Feller (19-15, 3.56) will oppose for the Indians. He looks to bounce back from a loss against Detroit to end the regular season in a tie with the Red Sox after allowing four runs in two and one-third innings. He had won seven straight decisions before that loss.
“This chance has been a long time coming,” said Feller on Tuesday. “I certainly don’t want to muff it now. I was afraid the damage had been done Sunday by Detroit. You don’t always get a second opportunity.”
Dale Mitchell will bat leadoff and play left field for Cleveland in the series opener on Wednesday. Larry Doby will hit second and play center field. Boudreau will take his customary third spot in the lineup and at shortstop. Gordon will hit clean up and play second base. Keltner will follow and play third base. Walt Judnich will start over Allie Clark in right field. Eddie Robinson will hit seventh in the lineup and play first base. Jim Hegan will bat eighth and call the game behind the plate, and Feller will toe the rubber and bat ninth.
Southworth will start Tommy Holmes in the top spot in right field. Dark will bat second and play short. Earl Torgeson will hit third and play first base. Slugger Elliott will hit fourth and man the hot corner. Marv Rickert will make the start for Heath in left field and bat fifth. Bill Salkeld will play behind the plate and hit sixth. Mike McCormick will follow in center field. Stanky will make the start batting eighth, erasing any doubts about a start by Sisti at second. Sain will round out the order on the mound.
Warren Spahn (15-12, 3.71) is expected to start Thursday’s game, although Southworth had yet to share his rotation with the world. The left-handed starter makes a feared one-two punch for the Braves and will look to bounce back from three tough starts to end his regular season. Bob Lemon (20-14, 2.82) will start for Cleveland. Like Spahn, he did not finish his season strongly, dropping three of his final four starts with 15 earned runs allowed in 28 1/3 innings (4.76 ERA).