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
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.
B/W PHOTO: HY PESKIN