April 20, 1948
The Cleveland Indians started the much-anticipated 1948 season with a decisive 4-0 victory over the St. Louis Browns this afternoon in front of 73,163 fans at Cleveland Municipal Stadium.
Bob Feller, making his sixth opening day start, dazzled the crowd and held the Browns at bay, allowing only two hits and walking two while shutting out St. Louis. He received all the offensive help he would need from his battery mate Jim Hegan, who was 3-for-3 with three RBI, including a two-run home run.
Cleveland took the lead right away in the bottom of the first inning off the Browns and starting pitcher Fred Sanford. Thurman Tucker led off the inning with a walk. The offseason acquisition from the Chicago White Sox stole second base, while outfielder Larry Doby struck out at the plate. Indians shortstop and manager Lou Boudreau promptly laced a single to center field to plate Tucker and give the Tribe an early 1-0 lead.
Joe Gordon followed with a single of his own to center field, but Boudreau was thrown out trying to advance to third base by St. Louis center fielder Pete Layden. Eddie Robinson flew out to right field to end the inning for the Tribe. Robinson was a surprise start for the Indians, as he has been battling a sprained right ankle.
The Tribe added to their lead in the bottom of the second inning, when Allie Clark and Ken Keltner each singled to start the inning. Browns manager Zack Taylor had seen enough and pulled Sanford from the game in favor of Sam Zoldak. Taylor had changed his mind on his opening day starter between Sanford and Zoldak several times in advance of Tuesday’s opener. After Sanford had allowed four hits to seven batters, Taylor elected to bring his second option into the game with runners on first and second base.
Hegan greeted Zoldak to the game with a base hit to center field to score Clark and give the Indians a 2-0 lead. Layden gunned down Keltner at third base with the help of a good relay to eliminate the second Tribesman in as many innings on the bases. Feller then hit into an inning-ending double play when he flew out, and Hegan was thrown out trying to advance to second base.
The two runs were more than enough for Feller, who had complete control of the game from its onset. He allowed a single to center field to Whitey Platt to start the second inning, but Feller retired the next three hitters with no damage.
The Tribe left no doubt in the outcome of the game in the bottom of the fourth inning. After Robinson laced a single to right field and Clark followed suit with a single to left field, it appeared the Indians had the table set for a big inning against Zoldak and the Browns. Both Robinson and Clark had two hits in the game.
However, Keltner’s bunt attempt didn’t get far enough out in front of the plate and St. Louis catcher Roy Partee threw to second to start a double play. Hegan gave Feller and the Tribe all the offense they would need when he cracked a two-run home run to give the Indians a 4-0 lead.
Zoldak survived four innings, allowing two runs on four hits while allowing one walk and one strikeout. Sanford (0-1) was charged with the first two runs of the game.
While Feller continued to cruise, the Indians did suffer a scare in the seventh inning. After Hegan singled to left field for his third hit of the game, Feller stepped to the plate in a sacrifice bunt situation. The Browns’ third pitcher of the afternoon, Bryan Stephens, hit Feller on the right hand while he tried to bunt. The finger swelled and the Tribe bullpen immediately began to stir. However, Feller began icing once he was forced out at second base on a groundout by Doby.
Feller allowed his second hit of the game to Bob Dillinger in the sixth inning and walked Chuck Stevens twice. They were the only Browns to reach base. None was able to reach third base, much less score. Feller did not have his normal high-velocity fastball, and he was able to strike out only three.
Cleveland rapped out 11 base hits in the game. With the exception of Feller, only Doby was hitless in the lineup. The highly touted hitter struck out twice in his first game in the outfield in the big leagues. Doby broke the color line in the American League last July and is transitioning to the outfield to have an everyday spot in the Tribe lineup.
Doby might have been intimidated by the 73,163 fans in attendance, the largest crowd to see an opening day game in baseball history. This season will be the second full season at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Until the end of the 1946 season, the Indians still played weekday games at League Park. Last season the Indians were second in attendance in the American League under new owner Bill Veeck in his first full season. He purchased the team in 1946.
The Indians have the next two days off before taking the field on Friday afternoon at Briggs Stadium for the Detroit Tigers’ home opener. Bob Lemon will take the mound for the wig-wammers while Detroit counters with Fred Hutchinson.
Photo: Cleveland Memory Project