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Indians Summer
Daniel Okrent
May 31, 1999
Lou Boudreau had Cleveland riding high in 1948
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May 31, 1999

Indians Summer

Lou Boudreau had Cleveland riding high in 1948

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Indians fans looking for a good omen need search no further than owner Richard Jacobs's intention, announced on May 13, to sell the team. The last time Cleveland won a World Series, in 1948, it was about to be put on the block, too.

Like this year's club, those Indians were powerful, outscoring their opponents by 272 runs, a margin since unmatched until the 1998 Yankees came along. The '48 Indians didn't have a David Justice batting seventh or a Manny Ramirez playing like an immortal, but they did have second baseman Joe Gordon and third baseman Ken Keltner (243 RBIs between them)—and they had Lou Boudreau (right).

Though Boudreau was all of 30 when the 1948 season began and already in his seventh season as both Cleveland's manager and its best player, it seemed impossible that such a creature would be that year's American League's MVP. Hobbled by gimpy ankles, he was about the slowest runner in the league. At the plate, wrote sportswriter Stanley Frank, "Boudreau resembles a man leaning over a fence to read a neighbor's newspaper while in the act of beating a carpet." Yet he had an unheard-of season for a shortstop: .355 average, 98 walks, 18 home runs and 106 RBIs—all while striking out nine times.

It was a surprise that Boudreau was even wearing an Indians uniform that season. The boy manager had nearly been packed off to the St. Louis Browns the previous October by Cleveland's boy owner, 32-year-old Bill Veeck. A fan rebellion made Veeck back down. "Sure, I tried to trade the guy off," Veeck said. "So Boudreau made up his mind then to prove that I was a jerk. That's just what he did."

He did it not only by playing superbly but also by managing well. He eased the American League's first black player, Larry Doby, into the lineup and the league; used ancient righthander Satchel Paige to maximum effect; and, after the regular season ended in a tie, looked past Bob Feller and Bob Lemon to select Gene Bearden to pitch the playoff game against the Red Sox. Managing doesn't get more intuitive than this: In the biggest game of his career, Boudreau turned to a rookie knuckleballer, on one day's rest, throwing from the left side in Fenway Park.

Like everything else that season, it worked. The Indians beat the Red Sox 8-3 and then overcame the Braves in six games to win the World Series. On the strength of Cleveland's success on the field and at the gate—the Indians drew a then major league record 2.62 million fans that season—Veeck unloaded the club for a tasty profit the next year.

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