Opening Day optimism from 61 years ago:
Some background info is probably needed. The Indians had made great strides in 1947, Bill Veeck's second year as owner, finishing above .500 and in the American League's first division. Joe Gordon paid immediate dividends in his first year with the team, posting a 135 OPS+, turning an anemic offense into a credible one.
After the 1947 season, Veeck made many more moves, adding center fielder Walt Judnich and starting pitcher Bob Muncrief (trade with the St. Louis Browns), infielder Johnny Berardino (another trade with the Browns, to keep him away from Detroit), and outfielder Allie Clark (trade with the Yankees). Russ Christopher, a tall right-handed reliever with a funky underhand delivery, was purchased from the Athletics just before Opening Day.
But the big story of that offseason was the almost-trade of Lou Boudreau. Veeck had acquired the aging Al Lopez during the 1947 season, setting the stage for him to become the next Indian skipper. After the season, Veeck arranged for Boudreau to be dealt to the Browns, but the deal leaked to the public, and the fan outrage was so vehement that Veeck had to not only rescind the deal but to very publicly acknowledge his stupidity in thinking of dealing the star shortstop and manager. Veeck ended up giving Boudreau a lucrative two-year contract.
Jim Hegan, the incumbent catcher, was again supposed to be challenged for playing time because as good he was defensively, he couldn't hit. His competition this year was Joe Tipton, who had excelled in the minors the previous season.
The biggest offensive hole in 1947 was center field. Catfish Metkovich was the everyday center fielder, but he hit just .254/.302/.362, and was dealt (for Berardino) after the season. To help fill that hole, the Indians brought in Walt Judnich to compete with Thurman Tucker for the job.
So what happened in 1948?
- Lou Boudreau hit .355/.453/.534 and won the AL MVP
- Neither Judnich or Tucker became the everyday center fielder, as the Indians moved Larry Doby there from second base. Doby hit .301/.384/.490 in his first full season in the majors, playing both center and right.
- The slimmed-down Pat Seerey would only get 23 at-bats before being dealt to the White Sox in June.
- Russ Christopher finished 28 games for the Indians, posting a 2.90 ERA.
- Gene Bearden came from nowhere to throw 229.2 innings, and allow just a 2.43 ERA (167 ERA+). The trio of Feller, Lemon, and Bearden won 59 games.
- Jim Hegan had a career offensive year, hitting .248/.317/.407.
- The Indians finished 2.5 games ahead of the Yankees, and beat the Red Sox in a one-game playoff to win the AL Pennant.
- They beat the Boston Braves in six games to win their second World Series.
Sometimes all those optimistic preseason predictions can come true.