Legends On Deck

1948 Indians vs 1955 Dodgers

This will prove to be an interesting matchup as the 1948 Cleveland Indians of Bob Feller take on the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers of Jackie Robinson and the “Boys of Summer.” Cleveland won the American League pennant in 1948 in a thrilling one game playoff with the Boston Red Sox and then went on to defeat the National League champion Boston Braves four games to two to capture the “Tribe’s” second World Series title (Cleveland won their first in 1920 the year Ray Chapman lost his life after tragically being beaned by New York Yankees pitcher, Carl Mays.

Brooklyn, in 1955 was the end of a run where they could be considered the best team to never win a World Series. In the Dodgers storied history which goes back to 1884 and the Brooklyn Atlantics, had never won a World Series title. After the great Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in the major leagues in 1947, Brooklyn had finished first, second or third in the American League standings every year until 1958 when they finished seventh.

The lineups for these teams would each have a number of players that later on would be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. For Cleveland, there was their player/manager Lou Boudreau, who as a shortstop would team up with Joe Gordon who played second, giving Cleveland strength up the middle of the diamond. The Indians also had Larry Doby, the first black man to play baseball in the American League. As for the Hall of Famers on the pitching staff, the Indians had Bob Feller, Bob Lemon and the ageless wonder Satchel Paige.

Brooklyn’s Hall of Famers on the roster included, manager Walter Alston, Roy Campanella at the catcher’s position. Pee Wee Reese, Brooklyn’s shortstop and the Jackie Robinson at the hot corner, third base. The lone Dodger outfielder in the Hall on the 1955 team was Duke Snider. Brooklyn also had a 19-year-old rookie left handed pitcher on their roster in 1955 named Sandy Koufax who would later go on to a Hall of Fame career, that was tragically cut short by an injury to his pitching arm.

Cleveland’s starting lineup would look like this, Jim Hegan was the catcher with Eddie Robinson at first base. The second base and shortstop positions would be manned by Joe Gordon and player/manager Lou Boudreau. Completing the infield for Cleveland was Ken Keltner at third base. In the Indians outfield was Thurman Tucker, Dale Mitchell and the aforementioned Larry Doby. The staff for the Indians consisted of 20 game winners Bob Lemon and Gene Bearden. They also had Bob Feller, Sam Zoldak and Don Black, with Paige being used both as a starter and reliever, and ending up with a record of six wins and one loss.

For the hard luck Brooklyn Dodgers, their catcher would be Roy Campanella, with Gil Hodges playing first base. The rest of the Dodgers infield would have, Jim Gilliam at second base, Pee Wee Reese at shortstop and Jackie Robinson at third base. Brooklyn had an outfield that would consist of Sandy Amoros, Duke Snider and Carl Furillo. As for the rotation for Brooklyn would send 20-game winner Don Newcombe to the mound and he would be followed by Carl Erskine, Johnny Podres, Billy Loes and Russ Meyer. Brooklyn would also have Clem Labine who wove his role of starter reliever into a record of 13 wins and 5 losses.

Gil Hodges – Brooklyn Dodges

Starting off at the catcher’s position it would pit Jim Hegan versus Roy Campanella. With no disrespect to Hegan, this one is not a contest. In 1955 Campanella had just come off his third MVP season, finishing with a .318 batting average and 32 home runs. “Campy” also had a .992 fielding percentage as a catcher. Campanella who had been catching since he was 15 years old with the Negro League’s Washington Elite Giants consistently finished in the top three in fielding percentage as a catcher and the advantage in this position matchup most certainly goes to the Dodgers, Campanella.

Moving to the first base position, it shows Eddie Robinson of Cleveland against Gil Hodges of the Dodgers. Robinson had a .254 average in 134 games, 16 home runs and 83 RBIs. He had 1299 chances in the field at first and his percentage was .995 and he was selected to the All-Star team four times during his 13- year career. Hodges had 27 home runs and 102 RBIs to go with a .289 batting average. As a fielder, his fielding percentage was slightly less than Robinson’s as Hodges had a .991 fielding average for 1391 chances. Yearly there is an argument as to whether Hodges should be in the Hall of Fame. Whether he should or should not can be discussed later, but given the numbers the advantage goes to the Dodgers and Hodges.

For the Indians at second base it would be Joe Gordon, the former American League MVP (1942). Gordon, who was approaching the end of his 11- year career hit for a .280 average with 32 home runs and 114 RBIs. In the field for the Indians Gordon had 23 errors in 789 chances for a fielding percentage of .971. Gordon would play two more years and then in 2009 was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Second base for the Dodgers would be occupied by Jim Gilliam who was in the third season of his 14-year Dodger career. In 147 games, he hit .249 with 7 home runs and 40 RBIs. This was close to the norm for his career at the plate and while he was in the field in 1955 he made 16 errors in 498 chances for a .971 fielding percentage. While he was a mainstay of the Dodgers and a steady ballplayer the advantage at second base goes to the Indians and Joe Gordon. Also, Gilliam only played in 99 games for Brooklyn at second, playing 46 more games in the outfield.

Lou Boudreau – Cleveland Indians

Both shortstops, Boudreau and Reese were later selected for the Hall of Fame making this a tough choice. Both of the men were field generals out there on the diamond with Boudreau managing in the majors for a total of 16 years, winning the World Series in 1948. Boudreau batted .355 in 152 games hitting 18 home runs, with 116 RBIs. With the glove in 151 games, he had a .975 fielding average as he handled 800 chances, making 20 errors. It also cannot be ignored that Boudreau would win the 1948 American League MVP as well and was an eight-time All-Star selection and a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Reese, who was nicknames the “Little Colonel” for his leadership abilities, had a .282 average with 10 home runs and 61 RBIs. In the 145 games he played and in the field had a .965 fielding average making 23 errors in 666 chances. He also during his career was a 10-time All Star and later was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. A slight and I mean slight advantage here goes to the Indians with Boudreau, however Reese would not be a disappointment.

Ken Keltner was the third baseman for the Indians and was a fine defensive player and the man who helped end Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak with some fine defense at the hot corner. For the Dodgers, Jackie Robinson was the third baseman and although he was nearing the end of his playing career, Robinson still could cause excitement on the diamond. He played all of the infield positions during the course of his 10 year major league career.

Keltner in 1948, had 31 home runs and 119 RBIs while batting .297 for the 1948 season. During the course of his 13-year career he had 163 home runs and 852 RBIs while maintaining a .276 career batting average. In the field for 1948 he had a .969 fielding percentage, making 14 errors in 449 chances. Keltner was also a seven time selection as an All Star.

Robinson, would retire after the 1956 season and in 1955 he had a .256 batting average with eight home runs and 36 RBIs. In 84 games at third base he had a .966 fielding percentage as he made 9 errors in 263 chances. For his career, he was a Rookie of the Year (1947), National League MVP (1949) and a 6-time selection for the All-Star game. Of course, one cannot take away what he did and what he went through in breaking the color barrier in baseball. With all of that, the advantage at third base here, would go to Keltner and the Indians.

We move to the outfield and for Cleveland there would be Thurman Tucker, Larry Doby and Dale Mitchell going up against Sandy Amoros, Duke Snider and Carl Furillo. Tucker played in 61 games in the outfield for Cleveland with a .260 batting average, one home run and 19 RBIs. He made zero errors in 177 chances for a 1.000 fielding percentage. Larry Doby, the first black to play in the American League hit .301 with 14 home runs and 66 RBIs. In the field, he made 14 errors in 313 chances for a .955 fielding percentage. Dale Mitchell who would in 1956 become the last man out in Don Larsen’s perfect World Series game, hit .336 with 4 home runs and 56 RBIs and then in the field he had a very good .991 fielding percentage as he made three errors in 332 chances in the field.

Even though Cleveland’s numbers may be a little better on the offense side, defensively overall as a unit the advantage goes to the boys from Brooklyn as Furillo and Snider played together for well over 10 years and Furillo out of the three had a tremendous arm. Of course, Snider was immortalized in the song “Talking Baseball” where he is mentioned in the same breath as Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, some pretty good outfielders themselves.

In looking at and comparing the players they matchup even in most positions, but overall because of them finishing first or second in the National League for almost 10 years, advantage goes to Brooklyn and there will be no more “Wait Til Next Year” for the Bums from Flatbush.

Kevin Larkin

Kevin Larkin has been going to minor league and major league baseball games since 1967. He has been to numerous major league and minor league parks and describes himself as a "baseball fan" who likes the Yankees. He enjoys researching, writing and reading about about baseball and will talk for hours on end about his favorite sport.
He is in love with the history of the game, having written three books about his beloved sport. They are "Baseball in the Bay State" a history of baseball in the state of Massachusetts. Then he wrote Gehrig:Game by Game, a history of all of the major league ballgames including All Star games and World Series games as well as regular season that the "Iron Horse" Lou Gehrig played in. The third book "Baseball in the Berkshires" a history of baseball in Berkshire County co written with three others, Tom Daley, Jim Overmyer and Larry Moore. As a result of this book Larkin and the other three gentlemen have put together a museum exhibit that is now permanently housed at the Berkshire Mall in Lanesboro Massachusetts.
Larkin also does fact checking and writing for the Society for American Baseball Research or SABR and has had numerous articles published there as well.
He lives in Great Barrington Massachusetts, in the heart of Red Sox country and is involved in a number of projects. He also is a security guard at Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington after having been a police officer for 24 years in his home town