Boudreau’s 1948 season a hit on the field and in the dugout
In Lou Boudreau’s first eight full seasons in the big leagues, he had never scored 100 runs in one year, never totaled 100 RBI and had only hit .300-or-better three times.
But in 1948, Boudreau did all of that – and put together one of the best offensive seasons of any shortstop in history.
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“That was my year,” Boudreau told the Associated Press. “It was like I had angels on my shoulders.”
Boudreau, who led the Cleveland Indians to the 1948 World Series title as a player/manager, was named the American League’s Most Valuable Player on Nov. 25, 1948. It capped a season where Boudreau had the magic touch both in the dugout and on the field as he led Cleveland to its first title in 28 years.
Named the Indians’ player/manager prior to the 1942 season at the age of 24, Boudreau was a former college basketball star at the University of Illinois. Ankle injuries sustained while playing basketball limited his footspeed, but Boudreau compensated with quick hands and uncanny positioning. At the plate, Boudreau led the AL in doubles three times from 1941-47 and consistently demonstrated a strong command of the strike zone.
But in 1948, Boudreau and the Indians took it to the next level. After battling the Red Sox, Yankees and Athletics for the top spot for most of the season, Boudreau pushed Cleveland into first place in early August behind strong performances by Larry Doby, rookie pitcher Gene Bearden and the ageless Satchel Paige, who went 6-1 with a 2.48 ERA after signing a contract on his 42nd birthday.
A losing skid left the Indians four-and-a-half games back of the Red Sox heading into play on Sept. 8. From there, the Indians went 19-4 to take a one-game lead over Boston heading into the season’s final day. But a Red Sox win and a Cleveland loss left the teams even, forcing the first one-game playoff in AL history.
In the tiebreaker game on Oct. 4 at Fenway Park, Boudreau went 4-for-4 with two home runs, three runs scored and a walk to lead Cleveland to an 8-3 win. In the World Series, Boudreau hit .273 in the Indians’ six-game victory – receiving wide acclaim for his positioning of his players and tactical choices.
Boudreau’s final stat line in 1948 included a .355 batting average, 106 RBI, 116 runs scored and 98 walks. No other shortstop has posted a single season with at least a .350 batting average, 100 RBI, 100 runs and 90 walks.
Boudreau also struck out just nine times during the regular season. No player since has hit at least .325 while qualifying for the batting title and fanning fewer than 10 times.
Boudreau spent one more season as Cleveland’s regular shortstop, then moved to Boston following the 1950 season and took over as Red Sox’s manager in 1952. He managed the Red Sox through the 1954 season, skippered the Kansas City Athletics for the next two-and-a-half years and then became a Cubs radio broadcaster in 1958 – briefly returning to the dugout with Chicago in 1960 before moving to the broadcast booth for good. He called Cubs games well into the 1980s.
“He had terrific instincts and was a great competitor," said his Hall of Fame teammate Bob Feller. “As a player-manager, he became so good that he went as far as calling pitches from shortstop. He was always thinking, always in the game.”
Boudreau was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1970.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum