1948 – The All-Boston World Series That Never Was (PART III)

This is the third and final part of my look at the 1948 baseball season in Boston. Parts I and II are available here and here respectively.

The End of Summer Brings Heat to the Pennant Race

As July turned to August and the hottest days of summer descended upon Boston, the pennant races in both leagues heated up to a fever pitch. The Red Sox entered an August 1st doubleheader against Cleveland up by only a half game. The Sox would drop both games of that double-header, falling to 2nd in the American League, just one game behind the Philadelphia Athletics.

Two days later, they would move into a four way tie with a victory over the St. Louis Browns. The 1948 pennant was proving to be a close race between the Sox, Indians, Yankees, and Athletics and this tie, not the last tie to feature more than two teams, was emblematic of that. The next day, a loss to the Browns and victories by the other three teams would move the Red Sox down to 4th in the American League. The Sox would win the next game against St. Louis to take two out of three in the series, they still remained in 4th, one game out of the lead.

The Sox would drop three out of four games in their series against the Chicago White Sox, remaining in fourth but now 2.5 games out of the lead. The Sox found momentum again however as they headed to the Bronx to face the hated New York Yankees, sweeping them in two games, moving to third but still 2.5 games out of the lead. Going down to Washington, DC and taking three out of four against the Senators did little to help their cause and despite their momentum they remained in third, 2.5 games behind league leading Cleveland. After a brief two-game series in Philadelphia, the Sox returned to Fenway and finally caught the breaks that they needed in order to take the lead in the American League. After sweeping the Senators, they defeated the league leading Indians to take a half game lead. A loss to Cleveland the next night would temporarily put Cleveland back on top but the Sox would rally to take the lead the next night.

On August 26, 1948 – the Boston Red Sox began what would be their longest lead in the 1948 American League, a lead that they would hold for almost a month.


The Braves cool off while the Dodgers heat up

As the Summer wore on, the Brooklyn Dodgers were starting a comeback story of their own. Languishing in the second division (lower half) of the National League for much of the year, they entered the All-Star Break in fifth place, 8.5 games behind the Braves. The Dodgers would find their footing after the Break however, ultimately going 21-10 in July. They would start August in third, 6.5 games behind the Braves.

The Dodgers were hot and rising while the Braves had started to cool. The Braves would drop five out of their first six games in August, allowing the Dodgers to move to 3.5 games back. The Braves would rebound to win three out of their next five but would still see their lead shrink by another half-game to three.

The next foe for the Braves and their three game lead was the surging Brooklyn Dodgers. The Dodgers traveled to Boston in second, just three games behind the Braves. They had also won six out of eight games in the month of August. The series, a five game series, had high stakes. Could the Braves hold the surging Dodgers at bay or would they finally see their division lead fall?

In this instance, the Braves were able to hold them at bay by managing to win two out of the five games in the series, escaping with a two-game lead in the Senior Circuit. The Boston fans however had started to become restless and, as the Boston Globe reported, were especially unruly after their loss to the Dodgers in the final game of the series. Fans and the media were especially critical of manager Billy Southworth for his decision to remove star pitcher Warren Spahn from the game in the 8th inning in order to use a pinch hitter. As the Globe reported, the relievers were “as harmful as a fly on an elephant.” The Dodgers would enter the 8th inning with a narrow 2-1 lead and would score four runs on relievers Bobby Hogue and Clyde Shoun to widen their lead to 6-1. As the Dodgers rallied, the fans at Braves Field hurled boos at the home team relievers. Though the Braves would score in the bottom half of the inning, they would be unable to overcome the pitching follies of the top of the 8th and would fall 6-2.

The Braves would head to the Polo Grounds to face the New York Giants, splitting a two-game series while the Dodgers would go onto Philadelphia and sweep them in a two-game series.

The Braves left Manhattan and traveled to Brooklyn to face the Dodgers. The Braves entered the series with a small one-game lead over the Dodgers, a fact which proved worrisome to Southworth. Before the series began, he would meet with team president Lou Perini in order to try to find ways to make the team better down the stretch. The two men were unable to find any available players, both on other teams and in their farm system, that would bolster the faltering Braves. To add to the team’s frustration, the planned first game of the series, on August 20th, had been rained out and Dodgers president Branch Rickey had decided to schedule the makeup for the following Monday, August 23rd, just one day before the Braves were due in St. Louis to begin a series against the Cardinals. When Braves general manager John Quinn pressed the issue with National League president Ford Frick, he was told that the game would happen as long as the team could make their train connections to St. Louis. Billy Southworth was reportedly happy to avoid a Sunday doubleheader and the possibility of four games in two days.

The Braves would go on to win three out of four games in the series, losing only the first game of the Saturday doubleheader. The Braves left the series with a 2.5 game lead over the new second place team and their next opponent, the St. Louis Cardinals. The Dodgers had fallen to third, three games behind the Braves. The Dodgers would go on to lose their next two games and fall to 5 games back. The Braves would use their time in St. Louis to expand their lead, sweeping both games to grow their lead to 4.5 games. However, the pennant race would once again tighten after the Braves dropped both games of a doubleheader to the Cubs on August 26th, dropping their lead to 2.5 games. A loss on the next day would further shrink their lead to just two games.

After a brief bout of resurgence for the Braves and futility for the Dodgers, the dominant narrative of the summer began again. The Braves would ultimately drop six out of the seven games played after the Cardinals series while the Dodgers would embark on a seven game win streak. On August 30th, the Dodgers assumed the lead in the National League but would not keep it for long. Two losses in a double header to the Cubs combined with a Braves win over the Reds would cost them the lead and put the Braves back on top and give them a lead that they would not relinquish again for the rest of the year.

As you will see in the next section, the curtain of the story of the surging Brooklyn Dodgers had fallen.

And The Braves Pull Away

As September began, the Braves were solidly back on track. Winning eight out of the first ten games of the month, the Braves’s lead grew to three by September 11th and six by September 18th. An eight-game win streak from the 12th to 21st helped to erase all doubts that the Braves were the dominant team in the National League.

The Braves were solidly led by star pitchers Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain, whose performance led to the publishing of a poem in the September 14th Boston Post, which is best remembered by the line “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain.” The full version is here. The poem spoke to the Braves’s perceived lack of pitching depth and the fact that rain would force a delay that would afford Spahn and Sain time to rest before being able to pitch again. It’s worth mentioning here because of the poem’s relative fame.

The Braves would glide to the Pennant, going 21-7 through September and October and finishing the season off with an 11-1 win over the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds. The final margin was 7.5 games. The Braves had tied with the Chicago Cubs earlier in the season in a game that was called due to darkness so they were only credited with 153 games in the win/loss column. An anti-climatic end to a Pennant race that looked to be narrowing throughout the summer.

The American League boils over

As you may recall, the Red Sox entered September with the lead in the American League. They would begin September on fire, winning the first eight games of the month and ten out of the first eleven. By September 11th, their lead had grown to a season high of three over the Yankees with the Indians lurking in third, just 3.5 games back. The Athletics had fallen off and were ten games back. The season was coming down to a three-team race.

At times, it looked like the Pennant may come down to the Red Sox and Yankees. As the Globe noted on September 7th, the Sox had won 22 out of the last 26 games but were unable to put any daylight between themselves and the Yankees because the Yankees had won 21 out of the last 25. This particular stretch did result in the elimination of the Athletics from contention however. At the time of that article’s publication, Cleveland sat in third, 4.5 games behind the Red Sox. However, the 6th had been the start of a six game win streak that helped Cleveland narrow the gap to 2.5 games, though they were still in third behind the Sox and Yankees. The 16th however would start a 7-game win streak that would ultimately pull Cleveland even with the Sox.

On September 23rd, Cleveland tied the Sox for the American League lead. On the 24th, the Sox lost to the Yankees to pull them into what was then a three way tie for the American League lead. The Sox knocked the Yankees out of the tie by defeating them the next night. However, the Yankees would then get their revenge by defeating the Sox in the final game of their series and giving Cleveland sole possession of the American League lead. Following a loss to the Senators, the Sox found themselves two games behind Cleveland with just four games to go. The Sox and Yankees were also in a tie for second in the League. For the Sox, the final four games consisted of the final two games of their series against the Senators and then hosting the Yankees at Fenway.

The math for the rest of the season was simple: if Cleveland won at least two out of the next four games, they would be guaranteed at least a tie. If the Sox or Yankees lost even one game out of the remaining four games, Cleveland would just need one win out of the next four to reach that outcome. Because the Sox and Yankees were playing two of those games against each other, a three way tie was a mathematical impossibility. If those teams won two out of four, Cleveland could lose all four games and still tie in the pennant. The Sox or Yankees needed to win at least two of the next four games to have a shot at the pennant.

Cleveland would win two out of the last four games of the season while the Red Sox would win all four remaining games, including a sweep of the Yankees. Bolstered by a home run by Dom DiMaggio and Vern Stephens and two doubles by Ted Williams, the Sox ended the season with a resounding 10-5 win over the Yankees. The end of the season was a nail biter though. Despite the Sox’s win, Cleveland would have still wrapped up the pennant with a win over the Detroit Tigers in the final game of the season. Luckily for Boston fans, the Tigers would defeat Cleveland, 7-1.

The stage was set: For the first time in the history of American League, there would be a one game playoff to determine the winner of the pennant. Cleveland arrived in Boston to  determine the winner of the 1948 American League pennant.

The One-Game Playoff

Joe McCarthy faced an agonizing decision. Who would pitch in the first-ever one game playoff in American League history? McCarthy could have pitched rookie pitcher Mel Parnell, who had three days rest and had been the best pitcher at Fenway Park all throughout the season. McCarthy however was reluctant to pitch a left handed pitcher against the right-handed power core of Cleveland’s lineup. He could have also pitched right hander Ellis Kinder, who had won four of his last five starts. In fact, McCarthy even said later that he had narrowed the choices to Kinder and Denny Galehouse. Galehouse, the veteran of the rotation, had previously pitched in a World Series, even winning a game for the St. Louis Browns in 1944, and would assuringly be better able to handle the stress of a one-game playoff. In the end, McCarthy went with Galehouse.

As noted in Red Sox Century, the decision to start Galehouse ignored a couple of key red flags. First of all, Galehouse had only pitched twice since September 12th and wasn’t successful in either attempt. He had also been warming up in the bullpen for six straight innings during the game the previous day, making him more fatigued than he normally would have been.

It did not take long for trouble to strike. After retiring the first two batters, Galehouse would see a home run sail over the Green Monster, courtesy of Lou Boudreau. The Sox responded in the bottom of the first with a Pesky double and then a base hit by Stephens to bring him home. Both pitchers held steady over the next two innings but the floodgates would open in the fourth. The top of the fourth started with Boudreau and Joe Gordon reaching on singles. Ken Keitner would give Cleveland the lead with a three run home run to pull them ahead 4-1. McCarthy would then pull Galehouse out of the game in favor of Kinder. Kinder would give up one more run before getting the Sox out of the inning.

The top of the 5th would bring yet another Boudreau home run. The Sox would show signs of life in the bottom of the 6th when Bobby Doerr sent out a two-run home run to pull it to 6-3. However, the Sox wouldn’t score again and Cleveland would score two more runs to win the pennant with a final score of 8-3.

The Red Sox came within one game of finishing off an incredible comeback. While the Braves were more or less consistent throughout the year, they were 46-31 in the first half of the season and 45-31 in the second half, the Red Sox mounted an amazing turnaround in their second half. In the first half of the season, the Sox were 39-35 but were 57-24 in the second half. If the Red Sox had matched their second half production in the first half, they would have finished the season with 108 wins and easily won the pennant. This could have been amazing story. The 1948 season however now tends to be lost in the shuffle of Boston sports and is often forgotten when great seasons are mentioned.

And Boston would miss their shot at another World Series crown when Cleveland defeated the Braves, four games to two. Their 1948 triumph remains their last World Series win to date, the longest dry spell in Major League Baseball.

I hope that you all enjoyed this look at 1948 in Boston baseball and yet another look at heartbreak at Fenway Park, a common theme in Boston sports history.