April 18, 1948
Cleveland fans are nothing if not loyal to their Tribe and its players. Their loyalty might have saved Lou Boudreau‘s job and earned themselves a few beers this offseason.
Last October, during the World Series, it is believed Indians owner Bill Veeck floated the idea of trading Boudreau to the St. Louis Browns during the winter. After hitting .307 and leading the American League with 45 doubles in 1947, Boudreau’s value as a player has never been higher. His third-place finish for the AL Most Valuable Player award confirms the notion.
The discussion, allegedly at Toots Shor’s restaurant in Manhattan, was off the record, but eventually found its way into a Chicago newspaper. Boudreau’s hometown newspaper was surprised by the rumor, but when the Cleveland media found out, fans were outraged.
Fans loudly opposed the move, and according to Veeck, the deal already was dead when the public discovered the rumor. Mass meetings for the protection and preservation of Boudreau were held in downtown and forced Veeck to issue a statement.
“If I find that the people of this city are against trading Lou Boudreau, then you can be certain he won’t be traded,” Veeck assured.
To win favor with the infuriated fans, Veeck has been known to appear around town in bars and buy patrons beers while explaining his rationale and mistake in handling Boudreau.
Instead of trading him, Veeck gave Boudreau a new two-year contract as manager of the Tribe. The contract will pay him $35,000 this season. Despite the new deal, Boudreau enters the season directly on Veeck’s hot seat as manager. The 30-year-old shortstop might be a six-time All-Star on the field, but he is not at that level as manager.
Since taking over the reins as player-manager of the Tribe before 1942, Boudreau has only led the Tribe to three winning seasons. The team has never finished higher than third and hasn’t been in serious contention for the pennant. Had Boudreau’s ankles not been so bad, he likely would have fought in World War II like so many of his teammates, instead of being named manager at only 24 years old.
Veeck’s attempt to trade Boudreau this winter supposedly was with the intention of naming Al Lopez as the Tribe’s new manager. However, it isn’t his first attempt to relieve Boudreau of his duties. When Veeck obtained ownership of the Indians in 1946, he asked Boudreau to step down as manager, but the prideful leader declined his new owner’s request. Allegedly Veeck wanted to replace Boudreau with either Jimmy Dykes or Casey Stengel. Each has been managing successfully in the Pacific Coast League. Veeck’s list of potential successors looks to be growing.
So, as the 1948 season opens, it appears the pressure is on Boudreau on the field and in the manager’s office. No longer can Boudreau hide behind the excuse of the War’s impact on his team. Players are back, healthy and in baseball shape after several struggled in their first season upon returning from overseas. He has possibly the best pitcher in baseball in Bob Feller and an owner willing to do almost anything to win.
Since Veeck has taken the reigns as the Tribe’s owner, he’s moved the team out of League Park and to Municipal Stadium on a full-time basis to give fans the chance to see a home game in a spacious venue every day. He’s already proved his willingness to integrate with the signing of Larry Doby last July in an attempt to build the best roster he can put on the field.
With a bigger and better stadium and improved roster, it only might be a matter of time before Veeck chooses to not listen to the fans’ pleas and upgrade the manager’s office.
The next round of drinks on Veeck might be to give fans something to cry in while they reflect upon the loss of their favorite player.
Photo: Cleveland Memory Project