The Indians Last Became World Champions 69 Years Ago Wednesday
Bob Toth | On 10, Oct 2017
With last season’s Game 7 loss in the World Series to the Chicago Cubs, the Cleveland Indians took over a title desired by none across the Major League Baseball landscape – the team with the longest active championship drought in the game.
A heartbreaking defeat last November, after overcoming every obstacle thrown their way in the final months of the season, added another year of suffering to the long history of the Indians. After bringing home the hardware in each of the franchise’s first two World Series appearances in 1920 and 1948, the Tribe has dropped four opportunities since, in 1954, 1995, 1997, and 2016, and had a couple of other close calls along the way.
In between those trips was a lot of pain and a lot of what some might call despair, a term back to the forefront of the Cleveland lexicon this week after Sports Illustrated’s senior baseball writer Tom Verducci wrote the Indians’ epitaph after a 1-0 loss on Sunday, their first of this postseason.
On Wednesday, with the series now tied at two games apiece, the Indians and the New York Yankees will meet one final time in the 2017 season in a winner-takes-all event for the ages. The Indians have dropped two straight games for the first time since late August and will be looking to avoid a three-game sweep (something avoided by the club since the first few games of the second half) much more dreaded than any endured this season. The Yankees will look to knock off the defending American League pennant holders after charging into the playoffs and overcoming a worst case scenario just a handful of batters into the AL Wild Card Game just eight days ago.
While the Indians look to chase the ghosts of the 1948 title team, they will have to keep their playoff hopes alive on the exact date that the last team of Clevelanders was proclaimed champions of the baseball world.
For those of us at Did the Tribe Win Last Night, the 1948 season took on new meaning a few years back, when managing editor Mike Brandyberry and writers Steve Eby, Vince Guerrieri, and Bob Toth relived the season day by day for our readers through a grueling, but rewarding, process of research and a significant sum of time reading through stories, biographies, and news reports, and game recaps from The Plain Dealer.
In honor of the 69th anniversary of the Indians’ last world championship, here is one of the final chapters of that story, penned and emoted by our long-time editor, Mike, in a post originally dated March 17, 2014.
Enjoy. – BT
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INDIANS WIN WORLD SERIES!!!!!!! Indians 4, Braves 3
October 11, 1948
The Cleveland Indians are World Series Champions.
For the first time in 28 seasons, the Tribe stands on top of the baseball world as they defeated the Boston Braves, 4-3, at Braves Field this afternoon in front of 40,103. The game was a microcosm of the Indians’ season – good offense and starting pitching, but a late rally by the opposition tested the Tribe’s mettle and Gene Bearden once again saved the day.
For the second straight Monday afternoon, the Indians carried the slim, rookie southpaw off of the field on their shoulders. A week ago, his teammates hoisted Bearden away when he threw a complete game against the Boston Red Sox in a one-game playoff for the American League pennant. Today, they carried the Purple Heart recipient off of the field again after getting the last five outs of the season and protecting a lead en route to a World Series title.
His eighth inning stab of Mike McCormick’s grounder up the middle kept the Indians lead intact and avoided a potential winner-take-all Game Seven tomorrow. The Indians, along with their 1920 title, become the first team in major league baseball to win multiple World Series titles without suffering a series loss.
“We didn’t sell the Braves short and they certainly proved we were right,” Indians manager Lou Boudreau said. “They were dangerous all the way and never quit.”
Indians’ ace Bob Lemon started today’s Game Six against the Braves’ Bill Voiselle. Cleveland looked to close out the series, while Boston hoped to ride yesterday’s offensive outburst to another win and a series tie. A Boston victory would set up a final closeout game tomorrow with their ace, Johnny Sain, on the mound.
“I had no pitcher selected for tomorrow,” Boudreau said. “If we had to have one it would have been Bearden. We threw the works today.”
But Cleveland had other ideas early in the game. After each team had scoring opportunities in the first two frames, the Indians finally broke through in the third inning. Dale Mitchell doubled to left field to start the inning off Voiselle. After Larry Doby flew out to left field, Boudreau doubled to right to bring Mitchell around and give the Indians a 1-0 lead.
Boston answered with a run of its own in the bottom of the fourth inning. Bob Elliott, yesterday’s hero for Boston, singled to start the inning with one out. After Marv Rickert flew out to left field, Bill Salkeld walked to advance Elliott into scoring position. McCormick then singled to center field to score Elliott and tie the game at one run apiece.
Cleveland tallied a pair in the sixth inning and took a lead that it would not relinquish. Joe Gordon started the sixth inning with a solo home run to deep left field, over the 20-foot wall that rests 340 feet away from home plate. Gordon’s blast gave the Indians a 2-1 lead and the first home run hit in Boston by either team.
After Voiselle recorded an out, Thurman Tucker – making his first start of the series – walked and Eddie Robinson singled to right field to put runners on the corners. Jim Hegan then grounded to third base and Elliott threw to Eddie Stanky at second base, but Robinson’s slide to into second was just enough for Stanky’s throw to go offline. Hegan was safe at first, prolonging the inning and allowing Tucker to score and give the Indians a 3-1 lead. Lemon grounded out to end the inning, but Cleveland now had a two run lead.
Warren Spahn, yesterday’s relief winner, entered the game at the start of the eighth inning after Voiselle was removed for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the seventh. He had much worse luck this afternoon than he did yesterday in Cleveland. After Gordon lined out to left to start the inning, Ken Keltner and Tucker singled to start the inning and Robinson made it three in a row to extend the lead. When the Tribe veteran Keltner touched home, Cleveland led 4-1 with just six outs remaining.
But just like the entire Tribe’s season, nothing could be easy. Lemon, who had scattered just six hits and a run over seven innings, found trouble in the eighth inning. Holmes started the inning with a single to center field. Alvin Dark lined out to right before Earl Torgeson doubled into the right field corner to put runners on second and third with just one out. After Lemon walked Elliott to load the bases, Boudreau went to the bullpen for Bearden.
“Oh, I was tired, no doubt about that,” Lemon said. “Lou did right in taking me out. We won. That’s all I care about.”
Bearden got pinch-hitter Clint Conatser to fly out to center field on a deep smash, but Holmes scored to cut the lead to 4-2. Torgeson advanced from second to third as Tucker threw back into second base. The play proved pivotal because Phil Masi hit a pinch-hit double off of the left field wall to score Torgeson, but Elliott could only advance from first to third base.
With the score now 4-3 and with two Braves in scoring position, McCormick hit a one-bounce smash back up the middle that Bearden stabbed and threw to first base for the last out of the inning. Had the lanky lefty not made the stab, it likely would have bounded into center field and given the Braves the lead.
The Indians instead clung to a one-run lead heading to the ninth, but the final three outs were not without drama. Stanky walked to start the ninth. After Connie Ryan pinch-ran, Sibby Sisti pinch-hit for Spahn looking to sacrifice the tying run to scoring position. Sisti popped up the bunt and Hegan made the catch, then fired to Gordon covering first base to double off Ryan for two outs.
Holmes, then batting with no one on, flew out to Kennedy – a defensive replacement for Mitchell and the May acquisition from Chicago – to end the season and series with the Indians as champions for the first time in 28 years.
Indians from the playing field, bullpen, and dugout all converged on Bearden in the center of the diamond. Bearden got the final out ball back from Kennedy as the celebration ensued. Teammates were hugging, kissing, and backslapping on the field and into the clubhouse.
“That’s one for my boys,” Bearden said.
Lemon (2-0) is the only pitcher in the series to win a pair of games. He pitched seven and one-third innings, allowing three runs on eight hits and four walks while striking out one. He gave way to Bearden – the hero of the last two weeks of Cleveland’s season – for the final five outs, allowing just a hit and a walk in earning a save.
“It was Bearden’s series all the way, all his,” Boudreau said. “Gene was the key to our success.”
Bearden allowed just three runs (and only one earned) in his last 37 2/3 innings on the mound. He won his last six regular season starts (including the one-game playoff in Boston), Game Three of the World Series, and earned a save today in the clincher.
Voiselle, the husky right-hander, pitched a fine game, allowing three runs on seven hits and two walks. Spahn allowed the decisive run in the eighth inning. He pitched the final two innings, allowing three hits.
The Indians win the World Series, nearly 28 years to the day Stan Coveleski blanked the Brooklyn Dodgers at League Park, 3-0, on October 12, 1920. It’s the third championship Cleveland has won in the last ten months. Championship City celebrated last December 14 when the Cleveland Browns repeated as All-American Conference champions by defeating the Yankees at New York, 14-3. Last April 11, the Cleveland Barons won the American Hockey League playoffs when they took their fourth straight game at Buffalo, 6-2.
All three championships were won on the road.
The Indians are expected to arrive back at Union Terminal tomorrow morning at 8:30 a.m. where a parade is currently being planned to honor the champions.
Photo: AP Photo