I don’t remember when Parmenter Elementary School dismissed classes on Wednesday, October 6, 1948, but I do know that I was out the door in a flash. Something was happening and I wanted to know about it. The Boston Braves were in the World Series, and this was the day of the opening Series game!
Were they winning or losing? As I remember, my mom picked me up from school that day, a somewhat unusual event. And we had a new car with a radio, a 1948 Oldsmobile, replacing the ’37 Chevy that had gotten us through WW II, when there were few new cars available. It was a cool, gray afternoon, and I might have heard the end of the game at home on the radio, if not in the car. It was a short game, lasting only 1:42. So if it started at 1:00, as I think games did then, it may have been over when I got home.
I remember people talking about the “pickoff play.” That play decided the game. The Indians had started their ace, Bob Feller. Feller had started pitching in Cleveland in 1936 at the tender age of 17, was coming into his prime when the war started, and lost almost four whole years in the shank of his career (age 23 through 26) in the military. But in 1948 he was an all-star for the seventh time, going 19-15 with an ERA that had crept up to 3.56 and would never go below 3.00 again. The Braves threw Johnny Sain, part of the Braves’ famed “Spahn and Sain and two days of rain” rotation. Indeed, the pair had been instrumental in the Braves’ wrapping up the NL flag by winning 14 of 15 games in a streak from September 6 through 21. At one point the two of them started and won eight out of 11 straight games. Sain won six in a row, all complete, in the streak, and seven of nine complete-game starts for the month. His season was 24-15, with a 2.60 ERA.
The two pitchers were throwing a dual shutout as the game entered the eighth inning. In that frame, Feller walked Bill Salkeld, a slow-footed catcher. He was replaced by a slightly less slow-footed catcher, Phil Masi [at whose sporting goods store I bought, a couple of years later, a Ted Williams autograph bat]. Masi was sacrificed to second, and Eddie Stanky (a .320 hitter that year) was walked intentionally to bring up Tommy Holmes (a .325 hitter) and thereby create a force play at third.
At this vital juncture Feller and shortstop-player-manager Lou Boudreau tried to pick Masi off second using a timing play in which each one counted to a certain number, and then Boudreau went to the base and Feller wheeled and threw. It looked like they had Masi, but the ump said the tag was up his arm, and his hand had reached the base first. There were, of course, no replays, as the medium of television was in its infancy, though this Series was broadcast regionally for the first time. The still photos have a quality just slightly better than your average security camera these days, since high-speed black-and-white film and telephoto lenses were also in their infancy. But those photos do seem to show that Masi was out. Tommy Holmes then ripped a single down the third base line and Masi scored the game’s only run.
That was the game I remember best, because of the close call. The Indians came back to win it four games to two, and when Feller pitched again he was matched against journeyman Nelson Potter. Spahn relieved Potter in the 4th, however, and ended up the victor as the Braves rallied for an 11-5 win. So Feller lost to both Sain and Spahn, never won a Series game in his illustrious career, and ended with a Series career ERA of 5.06. In the six games of 1948 each team scored 17 runs, all the games except the Spahn victory were close, and the Braves both outhit and out-erred the Indians. Satchel Paige, in his first big-league year at age 41, pitched one inning for the Indians. There were two games shorter than the first game in the Series, at 1:31 and 1:36. The longest took 2:39. How times change. Perhaps most notably, the six-game series was played in six consecutive days, with no time off for travel. I guess the “Water Level Route” from New York/Boston to Chicago must have provided a quick and easy train ride from South Station to Cleveland and back. And at least you could sleep in the Pullmans.
I don’t know of any other major sports championship ever played between two teams with native American nicknames, until these same two teams met in 1995, when the Braves won. And this one almost didn’t happen. The Indians and Red Sox tied for the American league pennant in 1948. The Indians won a single-game playoff in Boston, when the Sox inexplicably started Denny Galehouse when more skilled and experienced hurlers were available. Lou Boudreau hit two home runs and the Sox lost 8-3. We almost had an all-Boston series. And that Sox loss made the Braves’ victory on October 6 much more special to at least one nine-year-old fan.
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2016