On May 31, 1948, the Boston Red Sox sat 14-23, 11.5 games out of the lead in the American League. Their first season under manager Joe McCarthy, who had won seven World Series with the New York Yankees, was not going particularly well.
The Sox had won the pennant in 1946 but finished a disappointed third in 1947. In order to boost their chances in 1948, the team made a couple of changes in the off-season. In addition to hiring Joe McCarthy to replace a retiring Joe Cronin who been promoted to General Manager of the franchise, the Sox also acquired shortstop Vern Stephens and pitchers Ellis Kinder and Jack Kramer from the St. Louis Browns, a move which necessitated that Johnny Pesky be moved to third. The move was initially compared to McCarthy’s decision to shift Red Rolfe to third as manager of the Yankees. Of course, this shift would be less successful and Stephens and Pesky would switch positions a couple of years later. The acquisition of Kinder and Kramer was meant to address the pitching issues that had hindered the 1947 squad and there was initial excitement about their ability to do so.
The media rated the Sox and Yankees as the two (and equal) favorites to win the American League in 1948. In fact, the two teams battled to a 17 inning draw in spring training on March 29th in St. Petersburg, FL with neither giving an inch. Bobby Doerr even told the Boston Globe that he felt that this was the team he had played on since joining the team in 1937. Expectations were high.
Certain elements of the team performed well in those fraught first couple of months, Ted Williams continued to rake and was one of the few bright spots of that early 1948 team. Of course, the team had to reckon with possibly losing Ted Williams before the season started. He was sent home in early April from spring training with what the team and even a local doctor thought was appendicitis and contemporary media reports estimated that it would cost Williams the first six weeks of the season. Upon arriving in Boston however, Williams learned it was food poisoning and was cleared to rejoin the squad. If Williams had, in fact, had appendicitis then the Sox may have found themselves in a deeper hole than they already found themselves on May 31st.
In spite of their failings, McCarthy held firm that his team would ultimately win the pennant. A comeback from 14-23 would certainly etch the 1948 Boston Red Sox into history alongside the 1914 Boston Braves, who had made a similar comeback 34 years earlier. Speaking of the Braves, they were actually have a good year in 1948, atypical for a team that were perennial basement dwellers. The newspapers in Boston were fond of unfavorably comparing McCarthy with his National League counterpart, Billy Southworth. By the end of May, the sportswriters in Boston were questioning what was wrong with the Red Sox and if they would ever recover.
On May 31st, the Red Sox reached the valley of their 1948 campaign. After splitting a doubleheader with the American League leading Philadelphia Athletics, they were 14-23, 11.5 games out of first. They were coming to the end of a road trip that had seen them lose 12 out of 15 games with four of those losses coming from walk-offs.
On Thursday, I am going to look at the amazing summer that propelled the 1948 Boston Red Sox from the cellar to the penthouse. How did a team that was 11.5 games out of first ultimately find themselves leading the American League? Come back on Thursday to find out.