One of my first memories of Cleveland Indians baseball came in the early-1980s. It had hardly anything to do with baseball, and it was completely by accident.
My younger brother and I had spent the July 3rd, 1983 afternoon at the Cleveland Grand Prix Indycar auto race watching Al Unser Sr. win the race over the Burke Lakefront Airport grounds, and we had decided to do some tailgating back at our car while the traffic thinned out afterward.
We parked at the nearby Cleveland Stadium parking lots. And as we sat there, we noticed that there were cars that were still coming in, too. That seemed weird to us.
After a nice barbecue, we began packing up our stuff and loading up the car to leave, when a guy just down from us asked “Hey, where ya goin’? The game hasn’t started yet!”
“What game? We’re going home from the race,” we explained.
“You’ve GOTTA watch the Tribe, especially for the fireworks show after the game,” the Indians fan told us.
And so we did.
Cellar dwelling Cleveland upset the Milwaukee Brewers on that night. And no sooner had the Indians fielder caught the final out than the stadium lights went out and an awe inspiring flurry of fireworks erupted over the outfield. I noticed several of the players remained in the outfield to enjoy the spectacle as well.
There wasn’t much to enjoy for Tribe fans or players then, and so fireworks seemed a bigger deal than the team itself!
To get myself in the mood for warm weather and the smack of a hardball into a leather ball glove, I recently read Lew Freeman’s new book called “A Summer to Remember: Bill Veeck, Lou Boudreau, Bob Feller, and the 1948 Cleveland Indians.” It relives the glory days of Cleveland’s last baseball championship.
Take a showman team president in Bill Veeck, mix in talented pitchers in Bob Lemon and Bob Feller to a veteran Satchel Paige from the Negro Leagues, and toss in a talented rookie lefty named Gene Bearden, then top that off with one of the league’s only remaining player-managers in shortstop Lou Boudreau and add Larry Doby, the second African-American ballplayer to join the Major Leagues with the talent of slugger Joe Gordon, … and there you have it, the 1948 World Champion Cleveland Indians.
Boudreau earned American League MVP honors, becoming the first AL shortstop to win the Most Valuable Player award; Bearden finished as runner up to Boston’s Al Dark for Rookie of the Year honors; and the Indians had half of the top-8 vote recipients for the MVP award that season.
With an overall record of 94 wins and 58 losses, only the 1954 and 1995 World Series losing Indians teams have since turned in better winning percentages in a season.
“A Summer To Remember” is an enjoyable light read that digs into the behind-the-scenes operations of a Major League Baseball team. If the recent snow has you down, this book is sure to warm your baseball spirit.
For instance, there’s a famous photo of New York Yankees legend Babe Ruth leaning on a baseball bat as he addressed the Yankee Stadium crowd at his retirement. Well, the actual Yankees locker room Ruth had always utilized was now the visiting team’s locker room, and his retirement came on a day when the Cleveland Indians were in town.
Ruth dressed for his final appearance in a Yankees uniform in the Indians’ locker room at his original locker. The bat he was leaning on was given to him by Indians first baseman Eddie Robinson to help Ruth climb the dugout steps leading onto the field.
The book’s mention of Satchel Paige’s lightning quick fastball reminds me of something current Cincinnati Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman might throw, only with more accuracy. “All I know for sure, is that there’s a fellow at that plate with a big stick in his hand. It’s him and me, and maybe he’ll hurt me. But if he does, he’s got to hit that fastball,” Paige says in the book.
The 304-page book sells for $24.95 in hardcover. It is available on amazon.com, Barnes & Noble or wherever books are sold.