The last time the Indians won a pennant was in 1954, when SPORTS ILLUSTRATED was born and I started working for the magazine. The Indians were always near the top in those days. Season after season they were just about the best team in the American League—except for the Yankees, who would be attempting to win the pennant and the World Series for a sixth straight time that season.
Everyone outside of New York hated the Yankees. One Washington Senator fan, Douglass Wallop, wrote a book entitled The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant. Sheer fantasy, of course—everyone knew the Yankees never lost. But Wallop's little epic of 1954, which inspired the musical Damn Yankees, sold like mad, and the Yankees did lose the pennant.
It was Cleveland that beat them. The 1954 Indians weren't a good fielding team and they didn't run well, but just about everybody could pop the ball; eight men reached double figures in home runs. Much of manager Al Lopez's strategy was to wait for the home run while holding the other team down with his magnificent pitching. Lopez had two 23-game winners in Bob Lemon and Early Wynn. Mike Garcia, who won 19, had the best ERA in the league. Two other starters, Art Houtteman and the aging Bob Feller, won 28 games between them.
Cleveland took over first place in May and never surrendered it. Casey Stengel spurred his second-place Yankees to 103 victories, more than any of his 10 championship teams ever won, but that did not make it close. The Indians won a record 111 games.
The bubble of success burst in the Series when the Giants swept them. Dusty Rhodes, a pinch hitter, ruined Lemon and Wynn with home runs, and Willie Mays snatched a game away with his catch of a Vic Wertz ball in deep center (picture at left).
That was the first Series I covered for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. Despite Rhodes's homers and Willie's catch, my most vivid memory is of stunned Cleveland fans lingering outside Municipal Stadium after the Series ended so abruptly. A lot of them had tickets for the fifth game, and they couldn't quite believe there wasn't going to be one. Nor would they have believed that there would not be another World Series game in Cleveland for—well, how long will it be next October, 33 years?