August 20, 1948
When the Indians left spring training and headed to Cleveland one of their biggest question marks was their outfield play. The Tribe was starting three new outfielders from a year ago and each was unproven in their own way.
A lot has changed in four months.
Now, the Tribe boasts three strong outfielders, all in their 20s with a bright future ahead of them. Despite setbacks from each throughout the season, it appears each is finding his stride and becoming a fixture in the Indians’ lineup.
Dale Mitchell did not win one of those three starting outfield spots in spring training. After hitting .316 in 123 games and 493 at bats in 1947, Indians manager Lou Boudreau felt he had found three fly ball chasers better than Mitchell. However, it didn’t take long for Mitchell to play his way into the lineup in left field. Originally, Allie Clark won the left field job, but when he struggled against right-handed pitchers Mitchell began to platoon. After hitting well in a part-time role, the 26-year-old asserted himself as the every day left fielder and leadoff hitter by the end of May.
Clark, the man who originally beat Mitchell out for the left field job, has become a mainstay in right field as the season has carried on. The 25-year-old outfielder was acquired from the New York Yankees last winter. While his bat has never been a question, his outfield arm was what made the Bombers find him expendable. After losing time in in left field to Mitchell, Clark has played right field against left-handed pitching most of the season. Once Hank Edwards was injured with a separated shoulder, Boudreau announced his .324 batting average would be good enough to play against pitchers from either side of the mound.
Finally, Larry Doby may be the biggest surprise in several aspects. The first African-American in the American League wasn’t expected to make the Indians out of spring training. Signed as a middle infielder, Doby was trying to convert to the outfield. Weeks of work with part-time instructor Tris Speaker taught him to use his speed and athleticism to play an acceptable right field at the start of the season. After several early season errors, struggles at the plate and injuries, Doby has found himself to be a key in the Tribe’s lineup and in center field. His speed has made him an asset in the middle of the diamond.
At only 24 years old this season, his .276 batting average and nine home runs have provided a surprising offensive power surge to the Tribe lineup. His opposite field power is something of a strength as he often takes the ball the other way.
While the outfield may have once been deemed a weakness, it may be the surprising group that helps lead the Indians to the pennant this year and is a core group moving forward. From an offensive standpoint, Ken Keltner, Joe Gordon and Boudreau may be the current leaders, but each is in his prime and heading to pasture sooner than the team may like. Keltner may be having a career year, but at 31 years old and with prospect Al Rosen breathing down his throat, his time could be limited. Boudreau could be the league’s Most Valuable Player this season, but is already 30 years old and battling ankle, knee and shoulder issues as the season progresses. Gordon is currently on the shelf with an ankle injury. At 33 years old, his best power days are certainly more behind him than in front.
If the Indians are to win the 1948 pennant, outfielders may be the surprise in their offensive explosion. But if they are to win pennants moving forward, it may be the expectation for the young core.
Photo: Cleveland Memory Project