In November of 1948, Lou Boudreau was the toast of Cleveland. He had an MVP season as player, and as manager, led the Indians to their first World Series appearance – and win – since 1920.
Two years later – 65 years ago yesterday, in fact – he was gone from Cleveland.
Boudreau took the reins as manager in 1942. After Roger Peckinpaugh was promoted to general manager, Boudreau, then 24 and having finished his third full season as the Indians’ shortstop, requested a meeting with Peckinpaugh and outlined why he should take the job. Peckinpaugh agreed, and Boudreau became the second-youngest manager in baseball history – behind Peckinpaugh himself, who was 23 when he took the helm of the Yankees in 1914.
In 1946, self-described hustler Bill Veeck bought the Indians. He saw Boudreau’s value as a shortstop, but was less convinced that he was the right man to manage the team. In fact, he wanted to bring in Casey Stengel, then plying his trade for Oakland of the Pacific Coast League, to manage, and even shopped Boudreau around for a trade. But Boudreau stayed with the Indians in both capacities – and after the Indians won the World Series, Veeck was glad he did.
Ironically, it was Veeck’s departure from the Indians that hastened Boudreau’s as well. Veeck sold the Indians after the 1949 season to pay for his divorce. That year, the Indians won 89 games – a distant third behind the Yankees and Red Sox, who took the season down to the final weekend. Boudreau, forced into playing all four infield positions, saw his batting average drop 81 points, as the arthritis that had kept him out of World War II was starting to catch up to him.
In 1950, Boudreau played in just 81 games and his batting average dropped to .269. The Indians won 92 games but finished fourth, six games behind the Yankees. Boudreau’s two-year contract – paying him $62,000 annually and making him the highest-paid manager in Major League Baseball – had expired, and as November 1950 dawned, it sounded like he’d be re-signed, albeit with a pay cut. “We have made up our minds on what we want to do,” Ellis Ryan, who bought the team from Veeck, said November 7. “We will talk to Lou within a few days.”
Three days later, Boudreau was out as manager, replaced by ill will. He bore no ill will, just saying he wished the decision was made earlier so his coaches could find jobs. His name instantly became linked to the Brooklyn Dodgers, as Burt Shotton was rumored to be on the way out (Shotton was one of the old hands hired as an Indians coach when Boudreau was named manager in 1942). He was also linked to the Pirates job.
On November 21, Boudreau was released as a player. He went to the Red Sox, managed by Steve O’Neill, a member of the 1920 World Series-winning Indians. Two years later, O’Neill was out as manager – replaced by Boudreau. He played four games in 1952, but his major league career was over. After three years managing the Red Sox, he spent time as manager of the Kansas City Athletics and Chicago Cubs, but moved into the broadcast booth for baseball – and basketball. He was captain of the basketball team while he was at the University of Illinois and played professional in the National Basketball League, a forerunner to the NBA.
To a man, Indians management and the press covering the team saw Al Lopez as a chance for the Indians to get a better manager. Lopez spent six seasons as Indians manager, and in only one of them did the Tribe win less than 92 games – his last season in 1956, when they won 88. His winning percentage of .617 is tops among non-interim managers.
Boudreau’s winning percentage of .529 is 13th all-time among Indians managers. He still has the most wins – and remains the last Tribe manager to win a World Series.
Photo: Cleveland Memory Project