October 9, 1948
When Larry Doby lifted the World Series’ first home run and starting pitcher Steve Gromek was carving up the Boston Braves lineup, Cleveland Mayor Thomas Burke said to Boston Mayor James Curley, “Your honor, I can just about taste those baked beans.”
This is according to The Plain Dealer, who reported a bet that had occurred between the mayors of the two cities. The mayor of Tribe-town would receive 100 pots of baked beans while the Beantown mayor would get a wooden Indian if their respective cities won the World Series.
Gromek and Doby put Burke one victory away from a truckload of beans when they defeated the Braves 2-1 in Game Four.
The Indians grabbed a commanding 3-1 series lead in front of the largest World Series crowd in history on Saturday at the Stadium. The total of 81,897 who witnessed the game is second all-time only to an Indians regular season doubleheader against Philadelphia this past June. Saturday’s game fell 884 fans short of the all-time mark.
Gromek (1-0, 1.00) pitched brilliantly in what was only his tenth start of the season against 29 relief appearances. The right-hander scattered seven hits while the Indians made the most of their five base knocks. Gromek added his name to the outstanding list of pitchers that the Indians have thrown out in the first four games of the series.
“You’ve seen our pitching staff for the next five years,” Bill Veeck bragged after the game. “(Bob) Feller, (Bob) Lemon, (Gene) Bearden and Gromek. Are there any better?”
Gromek was admittedly nervous prior to taking the mound, claiming to have a bit of insomnia to go along with his jitters.
“Nope. I didn’t sleep much last night,” Gromek said. “I still was nervous taking my warmup pitches but when the first batter flied out it was just another game until the ninth.”
Opposing the sleepy and nervous Gromek was Johnny Sain (1-1, 1.06), who had shut out the Indians in Game One. The outstanding young right-hander pitched well again, but was ultimately done-in by Doby’s dinger in the third inning.
Gromek worked past a two-out double in the top of the first to throw a scoreless initial frame. The Tribe bats then got to work and Sain allowed his first run of the series in the bottom half. Dale Mitchell slapped a leadoff single into center field to start the ball game for the Tribe and was moved to second when Doby pushed a grounder to first. Mitchell came around to score when Lou Boudreau smacked a hit into the right field corner, but the player/manager was thrown out trying to stretch a double into a triple after Mitchell touched home. Boudreau was called out in the close play by nemesis umpire Bill Stewart, who has been the center of attention on three controversial plays now this series. After the game, Stewart was given police protection as he exited the ballpark. Regardless of Stewart’s decision, the Indians had a 1-0 lead and all of the momentum in a series that has been dominated by its pitchers.
The Tribe threatened again in the second when Eddie Robinson reached on a single, but broke through in the third when Doby took Sain out of the ballpark to right field, well over the 380 foot sign that hangs on the fence. The home run was the first of the 1948 Fall Classic and was also the first in baseball history by an African American player. The blast gave the Indians a 2-0 advantage and ultimately proved to be the winning run.
“That home run was off a twister,” Doby said of Sain’s awesome curveball. “It was outside and a little high – just where I like them. Sure would like to get that ball for a souvenir.”
Sain settled down and Gromek continued to roll from there. From Doby’s home run through the end of the sixth inning, Sain surrendered only an infield single to Robinson. Gromek, meanwhile, allowed only two singles and a walk – thankfully all in separate innings.
It wasn’t until the top of the seventh inning that Boston finally broke, as left fielder Marv Rickert took Gromek over the right field wall to cut the Tribe’s lead to 2-1.
“I was behind 2-0 and just took a chance putting the ball right in there,” Gromek said of the home run. “Actually I didn’t throw it as hard as I could have because I wanted to make sure it went across. I was just playing the percentages to avoid a walk and lost.”
Fortunately for the Indians, that was the only time Gromek would lose on Saturday, but there were moments in the eighth inning that made even the most optimistic fans’ hearts stop.
Leadoff hitter and Braves right fielder Tommy Holmes slammed a ball deep to center field to lead off the eighth and Doby had to run a long way to make a fantastic running catch.
“The footing was soft and I slipped when I started back for the ball,” Doby said. “Man, but my heart was really pounding when that ball hit my glove.”
Doby’s catch proved to be just as big as his blast because two batters later first baseman Earl Torgeson roped a double to left field that would have undoubtedly scored Holmes. As it was, however, Gromek took the one-run advantage into the ninth when his nerves kicked back in.
“When I went out there for the ninth I was thinking about this being the series and my biggest chance as a pitcher,” Gromek said. “I believe I threw the ball faster than ever before.”
The adrenaline-filled Gromek struck out Rickert and Mike McCormick to start the ninth and then finished the ball game when pinch hitter Bill Salkeld flew out to right. Gromek hugged and high fived his teammates, thrilled with his performance.
“It was a wonderful feeling to win,” a relieved Gromek said. “I was giving it all I had in that last inning.”
Cleveland will look to win its second championship in franchise history and put this World Series to bed on Sunday.
The Indians will send their chief, Bob Feller (0-1, 1.13), to the mound to face Nels Potter (0-0, 0.00) and to try and clinch the series. Feller was outstanding and a hard-luck loser in Game One, while Potter appeared out of the Boston bullpen in Game Two and fired two scoreless innings of relief. The Indians will play their final game at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium on Sunday and are 7-to-20 favorites to win the World Series in their home park.
Photo: The Sporting News archives