Thoughts and facts about the last NL Champion from Boston

On October 11, 1948 — exactly 31 years and one day before I was brought into this world — the Cleveland Indians won their last World Series championship. The Indians had previously won the World Series in 1920, something they did for fallen shortstop Ray Chapman, who had died after being struck in the head by a pitch thrown by Boston Red Sox right-handed pitcher Carl Mays. Of course, the Indians made it back to the World Series in 1954 and then again in 1995 and 1997. Though the legendary Bob Feller lost both of his 1948 World Series starts, the Indians prevailed over the Boston Braves of the National League. What stands out about the series is the fact that it is the last time Boston would represent the National League in the fall classic, as they would start play in Milwaukee in 1953.

This World Series could have been an even bigger one for the city of Boston. The American League’s Red Sox finished the regular season in a tie for the AL top, only to lose to the Indians in a one-game playoff. Ted Williams had just played in his first World Series in 1946, and 1948 was the closest the Splendid Splinter would get to another WS appearance.

The rise to competition for the Boston Braves started with the addition of Billy Southworth as manager before the 1945 season. Southworth won two World Series championships with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1942 and 1944. Coming into 1948, the Braves were led by 1947 Most Valuable Player third baseman Bob Elliott and outfielder Tommy Holmes, who finished second in the 1945 MVP race. And of course, the longtime baseball expression of “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain” told you everything you needed to know about the pitching staff of the Boston Braves — though they had a little more talent than the expression would suggest. They made a trade with the Brooklyn Dodgers for second baseman Eddie Stanky after Brooklyn decided to move forward with 1947 Rookie of the Year Jackie Robinson as their starter at second. Also helping the cause for the Braves was rookie shortstop Alvin Dark, whose .322 batting average and 175 hits helped him gain the honors as the second-ever Rookie of the Year (Robinson was the first).

The later part of the 1940s and the majority of the 1950s belonged to New York baseball. From 1947 through 1958, the New York Yankees would win seven World Series and appear in two others. The Brooklyn Dodgers would have their best run during that time, winning the Series in 1955 and winning the NL Pennant in 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953 and 1956. The New York Giants would win the World Series in 1954, against the Indians, while also winning the NL Pennant in 1951. Overall, out of the 24 possible Pennants from either the NL or AL during that time frame, the Yankees, Dodgers, or Giants won a whopping 17 of them! And nine of the 12 World Series Championships.

Obviously, the significance of this particular World Series would not be known until the latter part of the 1950s, as it marked the only time a New York team was not representing either league. With no disrespect meant towards the Indians, it would have made it cooler if the Red Sox played the Braves, just like when Southworth’s Cardinals played the St. Louis Browns in 1944.

The Indians were certainly a worthy opponent as well as a solid representative of the American League. Feller and Bob Lemon led the pitching staff and their lineup featured future Hall of Famers Larry Doby and shortstop/manager Lou Boudreau, as well as power-hitting first baseman Eddie Robinson. It was Boudreau’s two home runs and a solid performance by 20-game winner Gene Bearden that led the Indians past the Joe McCarthy-led Red Sox team in the one game playoff. Satchel Paige being part of the mix placed an impressive eight Hall of Famers in this matchup.

The first four games demonstrated the talent of the great pitchers showcased in this series. Johnny Sain beat Feller, 1-0, in Game One, while Lemon scattered eight hits in a complete-game win in Game Two. Bearden went the distance on a five-hit shutout in Game Three, and Steve Gromek outdueled Sain in a 2-1 victory to give the Indians a three games to one lead. What makes the Indians’ success even more amazing, especially thinking about today’s baseball, is how the Indians used four different starting pitchers, each of whom threw a complete game.

Game Five was the antithesis of Games One through Four. Nels Potter got the start for Boston, and he was knocked out in the fourth inning with the Indians leading the game, 5-4. Feller was pitching for the Indians and he was prone to the longball — Elliott took him deep with a three-run shot in the first inning and catcher Bill Salkeld (grandfather of former MLB pitcher Roger Salkeld) hit a solo homer in the third. Elliott’s second homer of the game, a solo shot off Feller, tied the score, 5-5, in the sixth. The Braves then responded with a six-run outburst in the seventh inning off Feller and three relievers — including Paige — to take a commanding 11-5 lead. To put the scoring barrage in perspective, Boston had scored just 4 runs in the first four games of the series. Warren Spahn was the star of the day as he came on in relief in the fourth and went the rest of the way shutting out the Tribe. In 5.2 innings, Spahn gave up just one hit and one walk while striking out seven for the Braves.

Perhaps trying to give Sain the necessary rest to pitch a potential game seven, Southworth went to Bill Voiselle — his fifth different starting pitcher in six World Series games — to match up against Lemon. A Boudreau double put Cleveland on top, 1-0, with the Braves tying it up in the bottom of the fourth. Joe Gordon led off the sixth with a home run off Voiselle to put the Tribe on top again. Before the inning was over, the Indians had a 3-1 lead. The Indians made it 4-1 on a Robinson single off of Spahn, who relieved Voiselle to start the eighth.

Lemon got into a little trouble to start the eighth for Cleveland. A one-out double put runners at second and third, and over came Boudreau to take out Lemon and replace him with Bearden. A sacrifice fly and a double put the tying run at second with two outs, but Bearden retired Mike McCormick on a comebacker to end the inning. Stanky led off the ninth with a walk, but Bearden got Sibby Sisti to pop a bunt into a double play and got Holmes out on a fly ball to end the game. The Indians, for the first time since 1920, were World Series Champions.

Of course, the next four seasons would be the last National League baseball played in the city of Boston. However, this was a team that should always be remembered. Johnny Antonelli was the youngest to play for the 1948 Braves at age 18. Frank McCormick, a backup first baseman, was the oldest player at age 37. Sadly, firsthand memories of this team would start to die off during the 1960s. First was Vern Bickford, who died of stomach cancer at the age of 39 in 1960. Next was utilityman/pitcher Al Lyons, who passed away in 1965, followed by Elliott in 1966. Then it was Salkeld, who passed away in 1967. Clyde Shoun, a left-handed reliever, passed away on his 56th birthday on March 20, 1968. In July 1969, left-handed pitcher Glenn Elliott (no relation to Bob) died of a brain tumor and lung cancer, followed by Southworth in November of that year.

The trade that brought Stanky to the Braves from the previous NL Champion Dodgers included first baseman Ray Sanders. Sanders was an everyday player for Southworth’s Cardinals, playing in the World Series from 1942-44. On March 8, 1948, the Dodgers sent Stanky and a player to be named later to the Braves for three players, one of whom was Sanders. On April 18, the Dodgers sent the PTBNL to the Braves and it was … Sanders. For the record, both Antonelli and back up outfielder Clint Conatser are still alive from the 1948 Braves ballclub.

As we all know, the Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee for the 1953 season, where they remained through 1965. Of course, they played in two World Series in Milwaukee, beating the Yankees in 1957 and losing to them the following season. Since they moved to Atlanta, they won the NL West division in 1969, then again from 1991-1993, appearing in the World Series in 1991 and 1992. They won the World Series in 1995, then won the NL East every season through 2005. Unfortunately, they only appeared in two more World Series, losing in both 1996 and 1999 to the New York Yankees.

While in Boston, they only appeared in two World Series, the first being the miracle team of 1914, which shocked the world by defeating the heavily favorited Philadelphia Athletics. And, as we all know, the Athletics had a similar moving path, relocating first to Kansas City in 1955, then to Oakland in 1968.

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