During the late 1940s and most of the 1950s, the Cleveland Indians were the New York Yankees’ main rival.
The Indians won the pennant and World Series in 1948, the pennant in 1954, while also finishing right behind the Yankees in 1951, 1952, 1953, 1955 and 1956.
The Yankees pitching staff, which included Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi, Spec Shea, Eddie Lopat and Whitey Ford was one of the best ever.
But the Tribe’s Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, Mike Garcia and Bob Feller were better.
Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Tommy Henrich, Gene Woodling, Hank Bauer and Phil Rizzuto gave the Yankees the offensive edge.
The Yankees won the 1947 World Championship. The Indians finished a distant fourth, 17 games behind.
Then came the unforgettable 1948 World Championship.
The “experts” picked Cleveland to finish no higher than fourth. The infield was considered old.
Second baseman Joe Gordon, third baseman Kenny Keltner and Lou Boudreau, the shortstop who was also the manager, were all at least 30-years-old.
The bench was weak and unbalanced with Johnny Beradino as the only spare infielder. Entering the season, eight different outfielders might share the playing time.
The pitching was more than suspect. After Bob Feller, there were only questions.
Bob Lemon was a former infielder with only a half season of major league experience. Gene Bearden was a rookie left-hander from the Pacific Coast League whom the Yankees had given up on and that was it.
The Yankees pitching was thought to be solid with starters Spec Shea, former Indian Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi and Eddie Lopat. Joe Page was the top relief pitcher.
The offense, led by the great DiMaggio, Tommy Henrich, Yogi Berra and Billy Johnson was solid. Those in the know were certain that the pennant race would be between the Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
The Indians “old” infield was the difference.
Shortstop Lou Boudreau was the American League’s MVP, batting .355 with 18 home runs and 106 RBIsI. He struck out nine times in 560 plate appearances.
How many times does Mark Reynolds or Adam Dunn strike out in a three-game series?
Former Yankee Joe Gordon, whom the Tribe acquired for Allie Reynolds, batted .280 with 32 home runs while third baseman Kenny Keltner batted .297 with 31 home runs. It was the infield, not the outfield, that provided the Indians with offense.
Larry Doby, who had been a second baseman in the Negro Leagues and was the first black player in the American League, won the center field job by default, but he was a surprise by batting .301 with 14 home runs.
The pitching produced. Bob Feller won 19 games, but Bob Lemon and unheralded left-hander Gene Bearden surprised them all.
Lemon won 20 games while Bearden matched Feller with 19 regular season wins. Bearden led the league with a 2.43 ERA.
The season ended with the Indians and Red Sox tied with the Yankees two games behind. Cleveland and Boston would play a one-game playoff for the pennant.
Boudreau decided to start Bearden on one day’s rest against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. It was a fantastic gamble because not only were the Indians giving the ball to a starter on one day’s rest, they were starting a lefty in Fenway Park.
Bearden responded with a complete game as the Indians won, 8-3.
The Indians went on to beat Boston again in a six-game World Series (the Braves), completing one of the greatest seasons in their history.
Daley, Arthur. “How It Looked Last Spring,” New York Times. 4 Oct.1948. p. 18.