If you missed parts 1 & 2 I highly recommend checking them out here:
Just three years removed from being the World Series champions, the 1951 Cleveland Indians saw another great season headlined by stars Bob Feller and Larry Doby as well as first year skipper Al López. Apart from the managerial change the offseason prior to the 1951 season was relatively quiet and saw the Indians make no impactful moves. The most notable transaction of the season came on April 30th as general manager Hank Greenberg traded rookie outfielder Minnie Miñoso to the Chicago White Sox in a three team trade that sent reliever Lou Brissie to Cleveland. Brissie would have an unremarkable two years in Cleveland, whereas Miñoso would go on to a hall of fame career with the White Sox (with a brief return to Cleveland towards the end).
Finishing the season with a record of 93-61, the Indians finished in second place in the American League, five games behind the New York Yankees. The team played best against the Detroit Tigers, finishing with a record of 17-5 against the Motor City Kitties. However, they struggled against the league-winning Yankees, only going 7-15.
The structure of a baseball season looked a bit different back then with only 16 teams. These teams played 154 games as opposed to today’s 162. When it came to the postseason, only the top team from each league could play for the championship. While today’s Guardians would have made the playoffs if they were second in the American League, the 1951 team did not.
Still riding the high from the championship win three years prior, the Indians had no problem drawing fans in for the 1951 season. They ranked second of eight American League teams in terms of attendance with 1,704,984 fans.
The team was managed by former catcher Al López. 1951 was his first season as Cleveland’s manager after he had played for them in 1947. López had the tall task of replacing a Cleveland legend, the “boy manager” Lou Boudreau. Though he would never win a world series, he saw great success with Cleveland, not only in 1951, as just three years later he would lead the team to another pennant.
While the star-studded lineup from 1948 was not exactly the same, the team still had a potent offensive core in Larry Doby and Al Rosen as well as the “Big Four” of Wynn, Lemon, Garcia and Feller to carry them to 93 victories. Doby, in the midst of his prime, hit .295/.428/.512 over 551 plate appearances. For Feller, a 3.50 ERA, 22-8 record, and 249.2 innings made for yet another successful season for the aging star.
It was an up-and-down season for the Indians, who were almost always fighting for first place. For the month of April, the team was never more than half a game back of first place. May and June were much tougher for the team as they were never in first place aside from a tie over the first two days of May.
By May 27th, the Indians were 10 games back of first place. It remained that way for all of June as the team never made it less than six games back. However, as the weather heated up in Cleveland, so did the bats. The Indians clawed their way back to a first-place tie by July 22nd and spent the majority of August either tied or in sole possession of first place.
On August 2nd the Indians beat the Washington Senators by a score of 5-2, little did they know that they would not lose another game for nearly two weeks. By the time the dust had settled the 1951 Indians had ripped off 13 wins in a row, a franchise record that would stand until the 2016 team won 14 straight, and we all know what happened the following year.
Diving deep into the archives of CoveringTheCorner.com I found this write up on the 1951 winning streak, if you’re interested in more of a deep dive I highly recommend it.
Unfortunately the team couldn’t capitalize off the winning streak as their bats cooled off at the perfectly wrong time as the team hit a slump in late September. Tied for first place on September 19th, they would slip all the way back to five games out of first over the next ten days.
While they don’t have the World Series rings or the pennant to show for it, the 1951 Cleveland Indians were an excellent team, with the lack of postseason opportunity becoming an all too common theme for the Indians in the 1950s. Behind strong seasons from their star players and one of the most talented managers in the league’s history, the 1951 season was one that many 2023 Cleveland Guardians fans would have taken in a heartbeat.