This is part II in my look at the 1948 Boston baseball season, you can view part I by clicking this link .
1948 – The All-Boston World Series That Never Was (PART II)
The Braves get over early hiccups to perform as expected
In a sharp contrast to their crosstown rivals, the Red Sox, the Braves were able to hit the ground running in their quest to capture the National League pennant. Led by skipper Billy Southworth, the team ended May just four games behind the National League leading New York Giants. In what was a tight pennant race, this was good enough for fourth in the senior circuit.
The team narrowly averted trouble however before the season even began. In a move that could have possibly derailed the 1948 season, star pitcher Johnny Sain started spring training from his porch in rural Arkansas, after having difficulty coming to an agreement with the Braves over compensation. The team and Sain were able to resolve their differences relatively quickly and Sain joined the team for spring training.
The Braves did start the season with a mini-slump, winning just six out of the first fifteen games. Living up to their reputation for impatience, the Boston sports media soon began to question the Braves. As Harold Kaese wrote in the May 2nd edition of the Boston Globe, “[i]f the Braves and Red Sox continue to lose more games than they win, the Boston managers will have to shake up their teams. The public and press will demand it; and so will plain common sense.” In response to questioning, Southworth told Kaese that he believed that more practice was the answer to getting over a slump and that a manager should work to boost the confidence of his players in order to get results. Braves coach Fred Fitzsimmons even said that it was better to keep a slumping player in the lineup than to put him on the bench and risk hurting his confidence.
Southworth, himself already a three time National League pennant winner as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, was no stranger to leading successful teams. His managing style would lead to a quick turnaround for the Braves who would take the lead in the National League in mid-June and never look back, holding the lead, with the exception of August 30th when the Brooklyn Dodgers briefly took the lead, until the end of the season.
The Boys of Summer turn it around
Meanwhile at Fenway Park, the end of May was a bleak time. The Sox were 14-23 and 11.5 games behind American League leading Philadelphia Athletics. The idea that the Sox would finish in the top half of the league, much less win the pennant, seemed like a far-fetched dream.
As spring gave way to summer in New England, a new team seemed to emerge. The Sox posted an astounding 18-6 record in June, vaulting them up to 4th in the League, just 6.5 games behind the league leading Cleveland Indians. In fact, between May 30th and the All-Star Break in mid-July, the Red Sox posted the best record in the American League, going 26-13, just ahead of the New York Yankees at 25-17. The Sox were led by the bats of Bobby Doerr, Ted Williams, and Vern Stephens. Stephens, whose .856 OBP at the end of June put him second to Ted Williams, was a crucial pickup for the Red Sox during the 1947 off-season. He was an offensive powerhouse, a 4-time All-Star with the St. Louis Browns and American League home run leader in 1945. He batted clean up behind Ted Williams, a coveted spot for sure and one suited for his ability.
For as good as June was, July would prove to be even better for the Sox. In July, the team would go 25-9, including a 13-game win streak that stretched from the 10th through 28th. The Sox would take the lead in the American League on the 27th. With the Braves also holding the lead in the National League, this would mark the first time since September 4, 1916 that both Boston teams concurrently held the lead in their respective leagues.
The Braves stretch their lead
As the Red Sox climbed their way to the top of the American League, the Braves were putting distance between themselves and the rest of the National League. They entered July up by just 1.5 games over the St. Louis Cardinals. By the All-Star Break in mid-July, that lead had swelled to 5.5 games. Their lead would peak at 8 games on July 18th before settling back to 5.5 at the end of July.
The Races Heat Up
July would end with Harold Kaese’s early season prediction of an All-Boston World Series appearing to be coming true. However, August and September would prove to be challenging months for both teams as the National League pennant race tightened and the American League pennant race continued to be a nail-biting affair with the Athletics, Yankees, and Indians all within 2 games of the Sox as July drew to a close.
Part III will tell the story of the last two months of the season and the frantic run to the pennant.