July 2, 1948
The train from Detroit to St. Louis was a smooth ride, but at least one Cleveland Indian might have made the road at home a bit bumpier. It seems, according to an anonymous player, the team would rather play on the road than play at home in front of the ridicule of Tribe fans.
“I can speak for just about the whole ballclub,” he said. “I travel with them and I live with them and I know what they all talk about. We just don’t play the same kind of ball at home that we do on the road, simply because of the fan reaction there. So, we’d rather play on the road where we have better than a 50-50 chance.”
The player spoke on the grounds of anonymity, fearing backlash from fans when the Indians return to Cleveland on July 5 for a doubleheader with the Detroit Tigers. Cleveland is 23-8 on the road this season, while just 16-16 at home. In their last homestand, they were just 6-9 against the four eastern American League teams. They were 8-3 against the same four teams on the road trip before returning home.
“We’re not trying to alibi,” the player continued. “We’re simply facing facts. On the road, win or lose, we’re a better ball club because the pressure isn’t there. Not that we mind pressure, but when you get booed at every moment, then it gets a little rough.”
“A pitcher throws two or three balls in a row and the crowd hollers, ‘What’s the matter with him? Get him out of there.’ A hitter takes swings and misses and they holler, ‘Sit down, ya bum!’ But the payoff is when they start yelling to get the ball game over and start the fireworks when we’re behind.”
“I don’t think the crowd reaction has ever been this bad before. It was not good in ’46 and it got worse last year. But this year, probably because we’re right in the thick of a pennant fight, we’re at a psychological disadvantage in Cleveland because they yapper at every wrong move we make.”
Despite the Tribe’s lackluster play at home, they do lead the majors in attendance, drawing just over one million fans in their 32 home games (1,000,948 paid attendance). Cleveland was second in attendance last season, drawing 1,521,978 for the entire season. Last season was the Indians’ first year playing all 77 home games in Cleveland Stadium.
New owner and president Bill Veeck, since taking control of the team in June 1946, has worked not only to build a better product on the field, but also to entertain fans with bands and fireworks, both before and after games. Tribe games have become more competitive on the field and entertaining. Fans have noticed the improvements on and off the field and they’ve come in flocks. Cleveland already has had a crowd of 78,431 for a doubleheader on May 23 against the New York Yankees and set a new major league attendance record on June 20 when Veeck and the Tribe drew 82,871 for a doubleheader with the Philadelphia Athletics.
Despite the droves of fans coming through the turnstiles, this player thinks the fans’ treatment of the players in Cleveland is worse than in any other city.
“I think it’s worse in Cleveland than in any city in the American League and I think everyone on the ball club will agree with me,” the player said. “Philadelphia would be a close second. It’s even worse in Cleveland, this over-excitement and booing, than it is in Boston and it usually gets pretty bad there.”
“Look at Pat Seerey. He’s playing pretty good ball at Chicago, much better than he would be in Cleveland. In fact, he always was a better ball player on the road than he was at home. And he was always a good hitter in the spring until he got to Cleveland and had to take that chatter from the fans.”
“I won’t say that Pat will ever be a great ballplayer, but he certainly could have been a little help to us if he hadn’t been ruined in Cleveland by the booing he got every time he stepped on the field. Just try to do your best work when 50,000 people are booing your ears.”
Seerey appeared in only ten games with the Indians this year before he was traded to the Chicago White Sox on June 2. The power hitter hit only one home run and struck out eight times in 31 at-bats with Cleveland. Since leaving town, he’s hit four homers and driven in 19 runs with the White Sox.
Cleveland opens a four-game series this weekend in St. Louis with an evening tilt tonight. Don Black will take the mound against former Indian Bill Kennedy. Black will start despite a bruised shoulder that was suffered when he was hit by a line drive off the bat of Dale Mitchell during batting practice yesterday. Black had a noticeable bruise after the game.
Saturday, the Indians hope to get Bob Feller’s pitching record back to even and Bob Lemon and Gene Bearden will pitch the Sunday July 4 doubleheader against the Brownies. Lemon toiled a no-hitter in his last outing on Wednesday against the Detroit Tigers.
Cleveland will then return home for eight games in seven days before heading to the All-Star break. Whether the Indians are still in first place when they return home, or how they are received during the homestand, remains to be seen but the crowds are expected to be large again.
“I know this, when we were at home the last time, if I heard it once, I heard it a dozen times. The players were saying, ‘I wish to hell we were on the road.’”
Photo: Cleveland Memory Project