Feller recalls Boudreau
GameNight: Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller remembers his teammate and manager Lou Boudreau.
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Monday, August 20, 2001
Boudreau stood out as a player and manager
By Richard Urban
Special to ESPN.com
It was the top of the eighth inning, one out, runner on first, Cleveland Municipal Stadium, July 17, 1941. Joe DiMaggio had one last chance to keep his 56-game hitting streak alive after Indians third baseman Ken Keltner had twice robbed Joltin' Joe of base hits.
But Jim Bagby got DiMaggio to hit one more ground ball, this time to short. Lou Boudreau bare-handed the bad hop and tossed it to Ray Mack at second, who completed the double play to Oscar Grimes at first.
The Yankees won 4-3, but DiMaggio's streak ended.
It was one of several defining moments in the career of Hall of Famer Louis Boudreau Jr., who died of cardiac arrest August 10, three weeks after having been admitted to St. James Hospital in Olympia Fields, Ill., about seven miles downstate from his birthplace in Harvey, Ill. He was being treated for a variety of problems resulting from an infection that spread to his kidneys and filled his lungs with fluids. He was 84.
"He was arguably the greatest position player in the history of Cleveland Indians' franchise," the team said in a statement released Friday afternoon. "He played the game with a passion and personified all that is good about the game of baseball."
There is no argument, however, with the fact that Boudreau was the youngest man ever to manage a Major League Baseball team and the winningest manager in Cleveland Indians history. Owner Alva Bradley handed him the job of player/manager in 1942, when Boudreau was only 24, earning him the sobriquet "Boy Manager." No. 5 Boudreau, one of six Indians to have his number retired, was only the second manager to take the Indians to a World Series championship. None has done so since.
Boudreau did it in 1948 despite the fact that owner Bill Veeck tried to get rid of him before the season. When news leaked out that Veeck wanted to trade Boudreau to the St. Louis Browns, Cleveland fans reacted vehemently, and Veeck buckled. Boudreau responded with a .355 batting average, 18 home runs and 106 RBI, earning him Most Valuable Player honors. He also was the Associated Press male athlete of the year.
|Lou Boudreau was a hero in Cleveland, both as a player and a manager.
The '48 season was Boudreau's highlight film. The Indians were challenging the perennial champion New York Yankees in August, when Boudreau hurt an ankle during a doubleheader. Trailing 6-4, Boudreau limped to the plate and singled in the tying run, and the Indians went on to sweep the series. With the Indians and Boston Red Sox tied at season's end, Boudreau went 4-for-4 with two homers in the first-ever AL playoff game to send the Tribe to the Series against the Boston Braves, which Cleveland won in six games.
"He was the greatest shortstop I ever saw," said Hall of Fame
pitcher Bob Feller. "He was afraid of nobody. He was a great
manager, teammate and friend. Just a great man. There is not a more
gracious man than Lou Boudreau.
"There have not been many better all-around players than he
Feller said Boudreau won his player's respect by having
confidence in them.
"I remember in 1948," Feller said. "Lou said, 'We're going to
sink or swim with Feller', I was having a rough season, and after
he said that I won 10 of my last 12 games. He instilled a
confidence in his players they never forgot."
Boudreau began his pro baseball career in 1938 after losing his college eligibility as a University of Illinois basketball and baseball player. He captained the Illini basketball team during the 1936-'37 season, but signed a pro baseball contract in 1938. He stayed in college while playing in the minors, earning his degree in 1939, the same year the Tribe called him up permanently.
In his first full season, 1940, he led the league's shortstops in fielding percentage, a feat he accomplished seven more times, from 1941-'44 and '46-'48. He held the career fielding percentage record at .973 when he retired as a player in 1952. He carried a lifetime batting average of .295, with 68 home runs and 789 RBI. He was also the first player to get five extra-base hits in once game, with four doubles and a homer in the first game of a July 14 doubleheader against the Red Sox in 1946.
A seven-time All-Star, Boudreau led the league in hitting in 1944 with a .327 average. He led the league in doubles in 1941. He is seventh among all shortstops in career batting average and on-base percentage, and is eighth in slugging.
As a player/manager, Boudreau took a young light-hitting Indians third baseman named Bob Lemon, and turned him into a Hall of Fame pitcher. He also came up with what became known as the "Williams Shift," positioning all four infielders to the right of second base against the pull hitting Red Sox slugger. The second baseman was in short right, and two outfielders played right of center. The left fielder was set 20 feet behind the normal shortstop position. Williams tried to power his way through the shift without success and had trouble going the other way, getting but one hit to left.
After the 1950 season, Cleveland released its player/manager. He was a Red Sox backup in 1951-'52 and stayed on as Boston's manager until 1954. In 1955 Charlie Finley hired him as the first manager of his relocated Kansas City Athletics. Three years later, Finley fired him after Boudreau won only 151 of 414 games.
In 1958, he turned to broadcasting, and two years later traded places with Cubs manager Charlie Grimm, who broadcast the games that Boudreau managed. It was part of owner P.K. Wrigley's experiment with what he called his "college of coaches" to blend ideas from several people rather than rely on one manager.
A year later, Boudreau was back in the booth, where he stayed until he retired in 1989.
He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1970. In 1993, he collaborated with longtime Cleveland Plain Dealer writer Russell Schneider on an autobiography titled, "Lou Boudreau: Covering All the Bases."
Visitation for Boudreau is scheduled from 1-9 p.m. Wednesday at the Gerardi Funeral Home in Frankfort. The funeral is tentatively set for 9:30 a.m. Thursday at St. Anthony's in Frankfort. Both are open to the public.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
I never got to see him play, but people who did say Lou Boudreau was something else. Easily one of the best players of his generation, he'll always be known as the last player-manager to win a world championship, which he did when he was just 30 years old. As if that wasn't enough, he also won the AL MVP award that year, hitting .355 and driving in 106 runs.
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