#TBT: Cleveland Indians’ 1948 Opening Day Starting Lineup

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Sports Illustrated tabbed the 2015 Cleveland Indians as their World Series favorites, but what did the Tribe roster look like on Opening Day when they won their last MLB crown?

Much like the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants of a year ago, the World Series is likely to see another unlikely pair of league champions this season.

It has become status quo over the last several years, as baseball’s playoffs have become more and more of the “crap shoot” Billy Beane described in 2009. Now, perhaps more than ever, there is greater parity throughout the league, making the World Series victor increasingly unpredictable.

So why not the Cleveland Indians? Why not a team who hasn’t won a World Series in 67 years?

It’s Throwback Thursday and, in honor of the Tribe’s last World Series team and the home opener tomorrow afternoon, we are taking a look at the Opening Day lineup for the 1948 Cleveland Indians.

CF – Thurman Tucker

Thurman Tucker was acquired by the Tribe on Jan. 28, 1948 in exchange for rookie catcher Ralph Weigel. According to The Telegraph Herald, the Indians considered Tucker the “finest defensive player in all of baseball, but never really fulfilled his potential in Cleveland. He spent much of the second half of the season as the Indians’ fourth outfielder and finished the season batting .260 with 52 runs in 83 total games. He participated only in Game 6 of the World Series, walking and scoring a run in a 4-3 Indians’ victory.

RF – Larry Doby

Larry Doby became the first black player to integrate the American League in 1947 and was the first ever to go directly from the Negro Leagues to the majors. He and teammate Satchel Paige were the first African American players to win a World Series in 1948 and Doby played a significant role in the Indians’ success. He hit .301 in 121 games on the season despite being racially abused by opposing teams. Doby led the Indians with a .318 average during the Series and hit the first home run by a black player in World Series history in Game 4. His embrace with white teammate Steve Gromek was on the cover of the Plain Dealer the next day, marking what the New York Times called a “signature moment in the integration of Major League Baseball.”

SS – Lou Boudreau

Lou Boudreau won a World Series as a player and manager – and he did it in the same season. Boudreau was the Indians’ player-coach during the 1948 run. He played in 152 games, hitting a ridiculous .355/.453/.534 on his way to the AL MVP award and an All Star Game apperance. Boudreau had a career-best 199 hits on the season despite enduring a reportedly contentious relationship with the Indians’ front office. His offensive did fall a smidgen, however, in the World Series, as Boudreau hit .273 in the World Series.

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  • 2B – Joe Gordon

    Nicknamed “Flash” in reference to popular comic-book character Flash Gordon, Joe Gordon was crucial to the Tribe’s success in 1948. He befriended teammate Larry Doby, despite Doby being there to eventually replace Gordon, and hit .280 out of the No. 4 spot in the lineup. His 32 home runs, which remained the AL’s single-season mark for a second baseman until Bret Boone hit 36 in 2001, were second in the league behind only Joe DiMaggio. He led the team with 124 RBIs and placed sixth in the MVP voting. He hit a home run in Game 6 of the World Series, giving the Indians a 2-1 lead in the sixth inning of a game they eventually won 4-3 to capture the crown.

    1B – Eddie Robinson

    Eddie Robinson was one of the Tribe’s weak links offensively in 1948. He hit just .254/.307/.408 with 16 home runs, but he did drive in 83 RBIs. He enjoyed a more successful stretch during the World Series, hitting .300 in 21 plate appearances during the six-game stretch. Defensively, Robinson was near perfect for the Tribe at first base. He committed just seven errors in 1,299 chances that season, good for a .995 fielding percentage.

    LF – Allie Clark

    Allie Clark started his career in Cleveland in a four-player battle for three outfield spots with Doby, Tucker and Wally Judnich. He was primarily a starter during the first half of the season, but faded on his way to splitting time in right field with Hank Edwards. He hit .310 with nine home runs and 38 RBIs on the season. He played first base for the first time in his career, at any level, during the Tribe’s tie-breaker victory against the Boston Red Sox for the right to play in the World Series.  Clark went 0-for-4 in his one game appearance during the World Series.

    More from Away Back Gone

    3B – Ken Keltner

    Ken Keltner spent almost his entire career with the Tribe and helped lead the way to the Indians’ World Series victory in 1948. He had a career-season, placing third in the AL in home runs (31) and posting career-best in RBIs (119), runs (91) and walks (89). Keltner singled, doubled and clubbed a three-run home run over the Green Monster to help the Indians defeat the Boston Red Sox in the one-game playoff that eventually led to the Indians’ World Series appearance. He hit just .095 in the World Series, going 2-for-23 despite the Indians’ victory.

    C – Jim Hegan

    While he wasn’t much of an offensive threat, Jim Hegan was widely known as one of the best defensive catchers of the time. He hit .248/.317/.407 on the season, clubbing a career-best 14 home runs and driving in 61 RBIs. He batted just .211 in the postseason, as Cleveland went on to win the World Series. Despite his pedestrian statistics, Hegan finished 19th in AL MVP voting because of how well he handled the Indians’ pitching staff, which led the league in winning percentage, shutouts and ERA.

    P – Bob Feller 

    This is as good as being President. –Bob Feller, 1948

    Although the Indians experienced one of their finest seasons in history, Bob Feller had a regular season full of highs and lows. Despite being selected his seventh All Star Game, Feller declined to play because he felt his performance didn’t warrant a selection. He was 9-12 at the end of July before rattling off a 10-3 record to finish the season 19-15 with 164 strikeouts and a 3.56 ERA. He started Game 1 of the World Series that season and, despite allowing just two hits, Feller took the loss 1-0. He lost again in Game 5 in front of a then-record 82,288 fans in Cleveland before Bob Lemon won Game 6 and gave the Tribe its second World Series championship. During the Indians’ victory parade, Feller told the Vancouver Sun, “This is as good as being President.”

    Photo courtesy of Cleveland.com

    One thing we can certainly take way from the historic 1948 season is how rapidly things change throughout the season. Some of the players on the Indians’ Opening Day roster — and in the starting lineup — wound up as role players before season’s end, while others filled the void. Any fans clamoring for the Tribe’s dismissal of Ryan Raburn and/or David Murphy should keep that in mind as this season progresses. If guys continue to falter, you can bet manager Terry Francona will call on the next man up to produce down the stretch.

    It’s not about who starts the season; it’s about who finishes it.

    Next: #TBT Al Rosen's legacy with the Indians

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