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Looking back on 1948 Tribe

By Don Hohler • Jun 26, 2019 at 12:00 PM

With the present Tribe looking less and less likely it will win a fourth straight American League Central Division title this season, I thought it would be a good idea to relive 1948 when northern Ohio — including Norwalk because of a former State Street resident by the name of Hank Edwards — was going nuts over a team that is still seen by the Sporting News as the ninth best to make the post season.

Edwards wasn’t a starter for the Lou Boudreau-managed team in 1948. He did play in 55 games that year, however, with 160 trips to the plate, batting .269 with 43 hits, 18 RBIs and three home runs. He was among 11 players off the bench.

The American League race that season was between three teams, the Tribe, Boston and New York. The lead bounced back and forth over the last month. When the last regular-season game was played, Boston and Cleveland were tied with 96 wins, necessitating the first-ever one-game playoff.

The game was played at Fenway Park with knuckle-baller Gene Bearden getting the win, 8-3, mainly on the offensive strength of a three-hit performance by Ken Keltner, one of them a three-run homer over the Green Monster in left.

But, to back up a bit. It was the year Leroy “Satchel” Paige, a legendary pitcher from the southern Negro Leagues, was signed, not as a publicity stunt (yeah, right), but to help the team down the stretch. And he did help.

Paige debuted July 9, 1948 as a relief pitcher for Bob Lemon. He pitched two innings, throwing his famed “hesitation pitch” just once, one that brought on the immediately cry of “balk” by the opposing manager. The pitch stood that time, although some umpires did call it a balk, depending on how long he posed before the delivery.

Ironically, it was Larry Doby, the player who would break the AL color barrier, who Boudreau called on to pinch-hit for Paige that afternoon.

Paige would get his first win, 8-5, on July 15, 1948, amazingly one night after he pitched in an exhibition game in front of 65,000 against the Brooklyn Dodgers.

A record crowd of 75,562 fans watched him beat the Washington Senators, 4-2, on Aug. 3, 1948. It was his fourth of five (5-1) wins that year.

Paige did pitch in the World Series (Game 5), but to just two batters becoming the first black pitcher to work in a World Series. His claim to fame may have been that this was one of those times when he was called for a balk.

Now to the actual series, one the Indians won in six games over the Boston Braves.

Bob Feller lost the first game, 1-0.

In Game 2, Lemon beat Boston’s ace, Warren Spahn, 4-1.

In Game 3 in front of 70,306 in Cleveland, Bearden won, 2-0.

in Game 4 in front of series record 81,897, Steve Gromek won in relief, 2-1.

In Game 5, Feller lost again, this time to Spahn, 11-5, in front of 86,288.

In Game 6, Lemon wrapped it up with a 4-3 win.

Few fans knew the Cleveland starters. But, for those who are too old (or too young) to recall them, here they are: Around the horn in the infield, it was Ken Keltner (.297) at third base, Lou Boudreau (.355) at shortstop, Joe Gordon (.280, 32 HR’s, 124 RBI’s) at second base and Eddie Robinson (.254) at first. In the outfield, it was Dale Mitchell (336, 204 hits) in the left field, Larry Doby (.301) in center field and Thurman Tucker (.260) in right. Jim Hegan (.248) was the catcher.

The starters were Bearden (20-7), Lemon (20-14), Feller (19-15), Sam Zoldak (9-6) and Don Black (2-2), while the top relief pitchers as far as appearances were Russ Christopher (45, 17 saves), Ed Klieman (44) and Steve Gromek (38).

One other first for the Tribe that year. The World Series was telecast (WEWS) for the first time in the Cleveland market.

A shocked Mansfield area

Law enforcement officers combed the area, searching for the killers of Mansfield Reformatory Farm Director John Niebel, his wife and daughter. The manhunt was said to the largest in the last 15 years, the biggest since the man-hunt was on for John Dillenger in 1934.

The three people slain were abducted from their home, stripped of their clothing and shot in a corn field.

Authorities believed the abduction occurred around midnight. The bodies were found by a hiker some 14 hours later.

The crimes was blamed on former inmates seeking vengeance.

The only information — and even that is questionable — is the getaway car was a two-tone sedan that was parked in the area of the home about 2 a.m.

Dad’s night victory

The Norwalk Truckers, playing in front of 41 dads at Whitney Field, made them proud after beating rival Bellevue in front of 2,500 fans, 27-0.

Jack Coll, Rich Meagrow and Bill McKinley led the Trucker attack, one that out-rushed their opponents, 297-133.

One strange story two weeks prior called the Truckers, the Norwalk Raiders. Not sure where that came from, but it names the starters who had to make the 85-mile trip to Newark.

They were Lester Franklin and Chuck Prindle at the ends, Jack Lawrie and Lehr Martin the tackles, Jim Lewellen and Joe White the guards and Kenny Sommers the center.

The backfield included Bill McKinley at quarterback, Dave Hester and Rich Meagrow the halfbacks and Jack Coll the fullback.

Comedian named manager

The big town was said to have chuckled with their new hire. The new man’s name was Casey Stengel. He was hired to replace Buckey Harris as manager of the New York Yankees.

Stengel, who played in the outfield for Brooklyn Dodgers, was best known for the time when he duffed his hat to the crowd with a sparrow flying out of it.

Stengel’s appointment was made at a New York City nightclub in the middle of the day.

Flyers handed 21-0 defeat

Vermilion handed the St. Paul football squad its second straight defeat, 21-0.

The Flyer lineup included Meyers and Greenwald at the ends, Strong and Krupp the tackles, Patterson and Camp the guards and Grimesey at center. The backfield included Berry at quarterback, Spaar and Betzold at the halfbacks and Pugalisi at FB.

The subs were Schaffer, Landoll, Stoll, Riley and Jaworski.

The previous week, the story claimed the Mazzoccomen battered Plymouth into submission, 25-6.

St. Louis Cardinal tryout

Thirty-one players were to get a tryout with the St. Louis Cardinals that afternoon here in Norwalk at a three-day camp.

Among the locals who will get a look by scout Hugh East would be pitchers, Berlin Heights native Richard Carnden, Lloyd McPherson from North Fairfield, Crentis Shira from Willard, Paul Neate from Milan, Richard Garlock from Sandusky and John Forbes from Shiloh.

Norwalk’s Edward Dolja, a catcher, Richard Bauerle, Willard, Ed Vanderbilt and Leonard Fenner, both from Plymouth are other position players who will get a look.

Playing on the radio

Just four stations are listed: WTAM, Cleveland, WSPD Toledo, WJR Detroit and CKLW Windsor.

Band of America, The Universal Theater and Guy Lombardo were the top music programs. Gabriel Heater was the top newscaster. “Name the Song” and “Everybody Wins” topped the game show list.

Don Hohler is a longtime Reflector sportswriter.

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