One Hot Summer – The 1948 Boston Red Sox and the Almost All-Boston World Series

Review Part I of my look at the 1948 season here

The weather in Boston on May 31st mirrored the state of the Red Sox, it was cloudy, chilly, and rainy. The high for the day was only 58 and it was over 10 degrees colder in Boston than it was in Concord, NH and Burlington, VT. The entire month of May was colder and cloudier than normal. The Boston area was experiencing a cold front and so were the Red Sox.

The Sox began June 1st at Shibe Park with an 8-1 win over the American League leading Philadelphia Athletics, bringing an end to a road trip so disastrous that Boston Globe writer Harold Kaese lamented that the win had actually cost manager Joe McCarthy a record for the worst road trip by a Red Sox manager. The Red Sox returned to Boston, 15-23, 10.5 games out of the lead in the American League.

On June 2nd, Daniel Griffin of Cambridge wrote a letter to the editor of the The Boston Globe to lament the negative coverage that the team had received. He was “greatly disturbed by the revolting display of poor sportsmanship and disloyalty put on by those literary jackals, the Boston baseball writers.” He further stated that a few warm days and support from the fans and media would spark a comeback for the team and have those who “have come to bury Joe McCarthy be here to praise him to the skies in the fall.” His words were almost prophetic.

The Red Sox opened their home stand on June 2nd with a loss to the St. Louis Browns, moving them to 15-24, still 10.5 games out of first. After this game however, you could count their losses in June on one hand. As the mercury inched higher, the temperature and the Red Sox got red hot. The Sox would win their next five games, a stretch which included 2 double header sweeps. The team would cross the .500 threshold for the first time on June 20th with a 8-3 win over the Detroit Tigers at Tiger Stadium that carried them to 27-26. They would finish June with a 7-3 win over the Yankees at Yankee Stadium. The team finished the month, 32-29, in 4th place in the American League and still 6.5 games out of the lead. They had gone 18-6 in June.

The Red Sox proved in July that June was no fluke. On July 25th, the team would enter into a tie for the lead in the American League after a 3-0 win over the Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park. They would take their first lead in the league the very next day. In a span of just under 2 months, the team had rocketed from 7th in the American League, 11 games out of first, to the lead.

As the dog days of summer wore on, an interesting reality began to come into view for Boston baseball fans, the possibility of all-Boston World Series. The cross-town Braves, led by manager Billy Southworth, had led the National League for much of the summer. Much like the Sox, they had gotten off to a slow start. Though their early slump was nowhere near as severe. The Braves entered June, 17-17, in 4th place in the National League but only three games out of the lead. The Braves took a half game lead on June 17th and would never surrender it again. The team was buoyed by the pitching of Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain, a twosome so fearsome that fans coined the phrase “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain.” If it would only rain enough for Spahn and Sain to get some rest, the team would be unhittable.

But for Boston to be guaranteed its first World Series win since 1918, the Red Sox had to first maintain their lead in the American League. As the season came to a close, the Sox found themselves locked in a three way battle between the Indians and the Yankees for the pennant. Early league leader, the Philadelphia Athletics, had fallen off in the summer months. The three teams battled down to the wire and no one could pull away. In fact, the largest lead that the Sox ever got in the race was a mid-September, 3.5 game lead. It was one of the most exciting pennant races in history.

The Sox put the Yankees away for good in a 2 game sweep at Fenway Park on October 2-3 to close out the regular season. However, the Sox had ended the season in a tie with the Indians for the American League Pennant. The decision over who would go on to face the Boston Braves in the World Series would come down to a single game, an October 4th one game playoff between the Sox and Indians at Fenway Park. This would be the first time in American League history that a one game playoff would decide the pennant.

Manager McCarthy went with the curious choice of 36 year old Denny Galehouse, who coincidentally had started his career in Cleveland over a decade earlier, as his starter in that game, passing on team ace Mel Parnell. The Indians started Gene Bearden, a rookie whose success against the Sox in the regular season convinced player/manager Lou Boudreau that the lack of rest wouldn’t be a barrier. The decision to not use Parnell was simply baffling. He had plenty of rest, he hadn’t pitched since September 30th. The idea to start Parnell was such a no-brainer that Parnell himself even assumed that he would be starting. It wasn’t until the day of the game that Parnell learned that he was being passed over for Galehouse, a spot starter with no notable credentials and certainly not enough of a track record to be trusted in a game where the entire season was on the line.

The game went about as well as you could have imagined. Boudreau homered off of Galehouse in the first inning to give the Indians an early lead. Vern Stephens answered in the bottom of the inning and hit a single that brought Johnny Pesky home. The game was blown open however in the 4th when Galehouse gave up four runs, including a three run blast from Ken Keltner. Ellis Kinder would replace Galehouse in the 5th but the damage was already done and the Indians would win the game, 8-3. Mel Parnell would say years later that McCarthy told him after the game that he had made a mistake and should have started the lefty ace. Galehouse would pitch just two more innings in a Sox uniform before being released in May 1949. Parnell however would lead the American League in wins in 1949 and continue pitching until 1956, pitching a no-hitter in his final season, which I covered here. Injuries woes would ultimately cut his career short.

Even with the Red Sox down, the hope of Boston’s first World Series win in 30 years was still alive. The Braves just had to beat the Indians to make it happen. Though they put up a fight, even winning game one and taking the series to six games, the Braves would ultimately fail.

Boston would have to continue to wait for its first World Series since 1918.

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