- Pitching to the Pennant: The 1954 Cleveland Indians ed. by Joe Wancho
All but the most ardent baseball enthusiasts would be hard-pressed to name the major league team with the highest single-season winning percentage. The New York Yankees, Cincinnati Reds, or Baltimore Orioles may come to mind, but the answer is the 1954 Cleveland Indians who set big-league records by winning 111 games (losing just forty-three) for a winning percentage of .721. That season was no fluke for the team that played its games in cavernous Cleveland Stadium situated on the banks of Lake Erie. The Indians teams from the late 1940s through the mid-1950s may be among the most overlooked and least remembered successful teams in major league history. After winning the World Series in 1948, the Indians finished in second place every year from 1951 to 1956 except in 1954 when they broke the New York Yankees’ five-year hold on the American League crown. Pitching to the Pennant: The 1954 Cleveland Indians, edited by Joseph Wancho, commemorates this team as part of the Memorable Teams in Baseball History series jointly published by the University of Nebraska Press and the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). The volume contains biographies of all of the players on the roster that season, coaching staff, general manager, as well as radio and television announcers. A detailed game-by-game summary of both the regular season and the World Series round out the excellent book.
All of the biographies follow the firmly established format of SABR’s innovative Bio Project, an on-line, on-going research project that has published in excess of 2,800 comprehensive biographies of players, coaches, and individuals who have made significant contributions to the sport. More than a dry compilation of statistics, each biography presents an overview of the player’s life and career in baseball. For example, the reader will learn about the player’s earliest contact with the sport, how he was scouted and ultimately signed, his minor and major league career, and finally what the player did following his active playing days. All of the contributors to this volume are volunteers and SABR members; some are professional writers while others are not, but all of them are united by their passion for baseball history and unending desire to move beyond the surface level to present a contextualized and nuanced depiction of the player, coach, or personality associated with the team, complete with endnotes and bibliographies. Continuing SABR’s tradition of impeccable research, the authors have combed archives and special collections, data banks, newspapers, and previously published sources.
The Cleveland Indians teams of this era are associated with pitching. While thirty-five-year-old Bob Feller, the longtime face of the franchise, was winding down his illustrious [End Page 152] career, the staff was led by a trio of stalwarts—Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, and Mike Garcia. The staff led the league in ERA and complete games. But the Indians were anything but one-dimensional. In fact, they led the AL in home runs in 1954 for the fifth consecutive year. Larry Doby, the first African-American player in the AL and the second in the big leagues, led the league in home runs for the second time in three years and also knocked in a league-high 126 runs.
The 1954 Indians boasted six future Hall of Famers—Feller, Lemon, Wynn, pitcher Hal Newhowser, and Doby, but none was more important than manager Al Lopez who won pennants for the Indians in 1954 and Chicago White Sox in 1959 but also finished second to the Yankees on nine other occasions. A seventh Hall of Famer, Hank Greenburg, was the general manager whose tenure running the club could be described as stormy at best.
Pitching to the Pennant transports the reader to a different time when sports seemed simpler, players more accessible, and salaries not yet astronomical. For every star player, there are countless role players and others whose...