Top 100 Cleveland Indians: #4 Lou Boudreau

Lou Boudreau - Cleveland Indians Sketch Book of 1948

Lou Boudreau played and managed the Indians to the 1948 World Series, a fitting culmination to a Hall of Fame career.

Louis Boudreau (Old Shufflefoot; Handsome Lou)

Shortstop, 1938-1950

Height: 5'11" Weight: 185 lbs

Throws: Right Bats: Right

How Acquired: Amateur Free Agent, prior to 1938 season

Left Via: Release, November 21, 1950

Early Life

Louis Boudreau, Jr., was born in 1917 in Harvey, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. His father played semi-pro baseball, and it was he that taught Lou the game. However, Lou's high school team didn't have a baseball team, so Lou played basketball and excelled in that sport as well, eventually earning an athletic scholarship to University of Illinois.

At Illinois Lou continued to excel at basketball, earning All-American honors in 1938, but he also played baseball as well. On the diamond he wasn't a standout at the plate, but drew raves for his fielding abilities at third base, his father's position. Because of that defensive ability, he got offers from both the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians to jump to pro baseball. A deal signed with Cleveland scout Cy Slapnicka made him ineligible to play college sports in his junior and senior seasons, so that hastened his pro careers in both basketball and baseball. He played two seasons with the Hammond All-Americans of the National Basketball League (the forerunner of the NBA) and began his pro baseball career in the summer of 1938.

Changing Positions

Boudreau started his pro career with Cedar Rapids of the Three-I league, then moved on to Buffalo of the International League in 1939. That spring Boudreau was moved from third base to shortstop, as Ken Keltner was a fixture at that position in Cleveland. Lou not only made the defensive transition rather quickly, he was one of the hitters in the league at the age of 21. In August he was called up to Cleveland, quickly took over the starting job from Skeeter Webb, and would be a fixture at the position for the next 10+ seasons.

The club that Boudreau joined was on the cusp of challenging for a pennant. Hal Trosky was of the league's best hitters, and Bob Feller was just coming into his prime at the age 20. Cleveland went 87-67 in 1939, finishing 20.5 games behind the New York Yankees, but with the addition of Boudreau 1940 was looked at as the season that the Indians would finally take down the Bronx Bombers. And although the Indians just missed winning the pennant (finished one game behind the Detroit Tigers), internal dissent probably cost them the pennant. During the season, a group of Indians players went to owner Alva Bradley to demand that manager Ossie Vitt be fired. Boudreau, who was only in his first full season, didn't participate in the player revolt, and had a breakout season, making the All-Star team and finishing fifth in MVP voting.

The Boy Manager

Vitt was replaced after the season with Roger Peckinpaugh, more of a players' manager, but the Indians finished under .500, well out of the race. After the season, Peckinpaugh was bumped up to the front office, and the club began to look for another manager. Lou threw his hat into the ring, and surprisingly enough, the 24-year-old was named the new team manager, becoming the youngest manager in club history.

The reaction around Cleveland was critical, with some saying that Boudreau would not be able to manage older veterans and others saying that the strain of managing would affect his play on the field. Although player-managers were relatively common in that era, usually the players that took on that role were either well-established stars or transitioning from their playing career to a career in coaching. Boudreau did not fit either of those criteria, as he had just two seasons under his belt, and his best playing days were ahead of him. The front office tried to compensate for Boudreau's lack of experience by bringing in several older coaches, but Lou still had to overcome resistance from the older players.

In addition, just after Boudreau was as manager, the United States entered World War II. Star pitcher Bob Feller enlisted immediately, with others sure to follow before the beginning of the 1942 season. Boudreau, thanks to arthritic ankles (brought on by playing basketball), was declared 4-F, and thus ineligible for the draft, but several of the team's star players would miss at least several years while serving in the armed forces. The Indians of the war years were generally .500 clubs, but never really threatened to win a pennant.

Boudreau the player continued to excel, finishing in the the top 10 in MVP voting each year from 1942-1945, thus putting to rest fears that his managerial duties would detract from his play on the field. But he did have some problems with his players, particularly his pitchers.

The Boudreau Shift

In 1946, Ted Williams was back with the Red Sox and again demolishing the baseball, and the Indians were suffering the wrath of his bat like every other AL club. After one particularly dominating Williams game (four doubles and a home run), Boudreau decided to try something different. When Williams came up to bat with the bases empty on July 14th, Boudreau gave a signal and the entire infield shifted to the right, with the third baseman playing behind second base, the shortstop playing where the second baseman usually played, and the second baseman moving back into shallow right field. Shifts had been tried before, but never to this extent, and it became known as the Boudreau shift. Since then, radical shifts have become a regular part of defensive alignments.

Survival

The Indians were sold to Bill Veeck in 1946, and he immediately tried to replace Boudreau with Casey Stengel, who had agreed to come to Cleveland if he could step right in to the manager's role. But by now Boudreau was such a popular player that Veeck didn't want to risk dealing with a public relations disaster if he had to trade him:

Louie was holding all the cards and he knew it. He knew that if I came out and said "You can play for us but not manage," I'd be running the risk of his answering "If I'm not going to manage I'm won't play for you." He knew as well as I did that I couldn't afford to put either myself or the club in that position.

-Veeck as in Wreck, page 101

Veeck tried in vain to convince Boudreau to step down from the manager's role voluntarily, and when that didn't work, Veeck didn't push things any further, sticking with Lou for the 1947 season.

Thanks to some key additions, such as Joe Gordon, the Indians improved to 80-74 in 1947. In addition, Larry Doby was signed in July, breaking the color barrier in the American League. When Doby arrived in Cleveland, Boudreau took him around personally to introduce him to his teammates.

Even with the improved record, Veeck still tried to replace Boudreau as manager, this time engineering a trade to St. Louis. Veeck had prepared for Boudreau's departure by acquiring Al Lopez in 1947, who was then winding down his playing career. Veeck (correctly) thought Lopez was an outstanding managerial prospect, and intended to replace Boudreau with him for the 1948 season. But a potential trade to the St. Louis Browns not only fell apart at the last moment, but leaked to the public. The outcry was immediate and vociferous, and Veeck had to use all his considerable PR skills to patch up things with the public:

Tony [who worked in the front office] drove me down to Euclid Avenue and Ninth Street...it was mobbed. There must have been 3,000 to 4,000 people milling around the downtown streets. I walked into group of about two dozen angry people and asked them how they felt about trading Boudreau...Somehow as I began to talk, a stepladder appeared at my side. I climbed up, in the middle of the street, and said: "Look Boudreau is going to remain in Cleveland and manage the club. I'm not going to trade him. Because of his importance, as demonstrated here tonight, and the fans in the last analysis run the ball club, I am bowing to their will. I was stupid even to think about it."

Veeck as in Wreck, page 154

Veeck repeated these mea culpas throughout the city that evening, and then negotiated a two-year contract with Boudreau to both manage and play for the club. One concession that Veeck did get from the negotiation was that he would have the final say on the coaching staff. He promoted pitching coach (and former Reds manager) Bill McKechnie to assistant manager, hired just-retired Mel Harder as the pitching coach, and brought back Tris Speaker as a part-time coach. In addition, he hired Hank Greenberg to serve as essentially as a co-general manager, and Boudreau now had to report directly to him.

The Magical Season

Although to this point Boudreau had managed to keep his job, he needed to win on the field, as he probably wouldn't get another reprieve. Everything came together that season, from Boudreau's career-best season at the plate, to both Bob Lemon and Larry Doby having breakout seasons, to Gene Bearden coming out of nowhere to dominate the AL, to Satchel Paige pitching key innings down the stretch.

But even with just about everything going right, the Indians found themselves in a tense three-way pennant race going into the final weeks of the season. Boudreau fought off a shoulder injury in early August to hit an amazing .449/.516/.645 the rest of the month, even stealing home in a key game against the Red Sox:

Boudreau was on third base by virtue of a walk and Eddie Robinson's single and there two outs. Pitcher Sam Zoldak was at bat. Slick Sam took two strikes before Lefty Mickey Harris came in with ball....

"The [1-2] pitch was high and inside to Zoldak and [Boston catcher] Matt Betts couldn't block the plate but I think I had it beat anyway," said Boudreau

Charles Heaton, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 8-2-1948

A week later, Boudreau (now fighting off a knee bruise in addition to the sore shoulder, had a key pinch-hit RBI single against the Yankees, leading to a doubleheader sweep against the Bronx Bombers. Lou was the one who inserted himself into that situation:

It would have been so easy for Lou to duck. He had announced that he would be unable to appear in the Sunday doubleheader. The club physician had ordered him to do nothing which "hurt," and Boudreau had discovered, when he tried to warm up before the game, that his shoulder still caused him pain.

But the chips were down now. This was the ball game, and of all the Indians on the roster, the man likeliest to succeed in this suffocating pressure spot was the club's leading hitter.

Ed McAuley, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 8-8-1948

As the month of September began, the Indians, Red Sox, and Yankees were within two games of each other in the standings, but by the end of the first week the Indians had fallen 4.5 games behind Boston. But by the 24th the Indians had made up that ground, and going into the final week of the season the three pennant contenders were within a game of each other. The Yankees fell out of the race, and after the dust had cleared, the Indians and Red Sox tied for the AL crown, with the playoff game to be played in Fenway Park. The Indians, behind Gene Bearden's dominant start and Boudreau's 4-4 game (including two home runs), beat the Red Sox to clinch their first pennant in 28 years, and would go on to beat the Boston Braves in 6 games.

Boudreau was named both the Manager of the Year and the AL MVP, a feat that had not happened before and has not been matched since.

Boudreau the Player

First and foremost Boudreau was known for his defense, although he remained throughout his career one of the better hitters in the AL regardless of position. He led the AL in Fielding Percentage every year from 1940-1948, led the league in double plays turned five times during the same period, and is well-regarded by Wins Above Replacement, as he led the league in Defensive WAR four times in that 1940-1948 period. All this he did while playing on ankles that he had to tape up before every game, limiting his speed and range.

At the plate, Boudreau held his hands high, with his bat pointed at a 45-degree angle towards the stands. He hit for power, though rarely home run power (with the exception being 1948). He had an excellent eye at the plate, and in 1948 took that to another level: in 676 Plate Appearances, he walked 98 times and struck out just 9 times.

Post-1948

Boudreau never was quite the same after 1948. After an injury-riddle 1950 season, the Indians released him. He signed with the Red Sox, serving as player-manager in 1951, then became a full-time manager. He was let go by the Red Sox after the 1954 season, then managed three seasons with the Kansas City Athletics (1955-1957). He spent two seasons broadcasting games for the Chicago Cubs, then managed the team in 1960. After a poor season, he returned the broadcast booth, where he remained until 1988.

In 1970, Lou Boudreau was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and that season his number (5) was retired by the Indians. The Indians' minor-league player of the year award was renamed the Lou Boudreau Award in his honor.

Lou Boudreau died in 2001 at his home in Frankfort, Illinois.


Indians Career Stats
Year Age Tm G PA R H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB Pos Awards
1938 20 CLE 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000 .500 .000 .500 37 0 /5
1939 21 CLE 53 256 42 58 15 4 0 28 24 .258 .340 .360 .700 81 81 6
1940 22 CLE 155 706 97 185 46 10 9 73 39 .295 .370 .443 .814 112 278 *6 AS,MVP-5
1941 23 CLE 148 681 95 149 45 8 10 85 57 .257 .355 .415 .770 107 240 *6 AS,MVP-17
1942 24 CLE 147 604 57 143 18 10 2 75 39 .283 .379 .370 .749 117 187 *6 AS,MVP-10
1943 25 CLE 152 649 69 154 32 7 3 90 31 .286 .388 .388 .776 134 209 *6/2 AS,MVP-10
1944 26 CLE 150 681 91 191 45 5 3 73 39 .327 .406 .437 .843 145 255 *6/2 AS,MVP-6
1945 27 CLE 97 402 50 106 24 1 3 35 20 .307 .374 .409 .783 132 141 6 MVP-8
1946 28 CLE 140 571 51 151 30 6 6 40 14 .293 .345 .410 .755 117 211 *6 MVP-10
1947 29 CLE 150 624 79 165 45 3 4 67 10 .307 .388 .424 .811 128 228 *6 AS,MVP-3
1948 30 CLE 152 676 116 199 34 6 18 98 9 .355 .453 .534 .987 165 299 *6/2 AS,MVP-1
1949 31 CLE 134 561 53 135 20 3 4 70 10 .284 .381 .364 .745 99 173 65/34 MVP-14
1950 32 CLE 81 295 23 70 13 2 1 31 5 .269 .349 .346 .695 82 90 6/345
CLE (13 yrs) 1560 6708 823 1706 367 65 63 766 297 .296 .382 .416 .798 122 2392
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/10/2014.

Selected Awards/Leaders
  • Hall of Fame: 1970
  • AL All-Star: 1940, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1947, 1948
  • AL MVP: 1st, 1948; 3rd, 1947; 5th, 1940; 6th, 1944; 8th, 1945; 10th, 1942; 10th, 1943; 10th, 1946; 17th, 1941
  • AL WAR: 1st, 1943-8.0; 1st, 1948-10.4; 4th, 1944-8.0; 7th, 1940-6.0
  • AL WAR Position Players: 1st, 1943-8.0; 1st, 1948-10.4; 2nd, 1944-8.0; 2nd, 1947-7.4; 4th, 1940-6.0; 100th, Career-63.0
  • AL oWAR: 1st, 1944-7.0; 2nd, 1948-8.4; 3rd, 1943-5.8; 3rd, 1947-5.3; 10th, 1940-4.5
  • AL dWAR: 1st, 1940-2.5; 1st, 1943-3.3; 1st, 1947-3.1; 1st, 1948-3.0; 3rd, 1944-2.1; 4th, 1941-1.6; 5th, 1942-1.7; 6th, 1949-1.6; 7th, 1946-1.3; 8th, 1945-1.2; 26th, Career-23.4
  • AL Average: 1st, 1944-.327; 2nd, 1948-.355; 8th, 1947-.307; 9th, 1946-.293; 10th, 1943-.286
  • AL On Base Percentage: 2nd, 1944-.406; 2nd, 1948-.453; 4th, 1943-.388; 9th, 1947-.388
  • AL Slugging: 4th, 1948-.534
  • AL OPS: 3rd, 1948-.987; 7th, 1944-.843; 9th, 1943-.776; 10th, 1947-.811
  • AL Runs Scored: 5th, 1948-116; 6th, 1944-91
  • AL Hits: 2nd, 1944-191; 3rd, 1948-199; 7th, 1947-165
  • AL TB: 4th, 1948-299; 10th, 1940-278; 10th, 1944-255
  • AL 2B: 1st, 1941-45; 1st, 1944-45; 1st, 1947-45; 2nd, 1940-46; 7th, 1943-32; 7th, 1948-34; 8th, 1946-30
  • AL 3B: 7th, 1942-10; 9th, 1940-10
  • AL HR: 10th, 1948-18
  • AL RBI: 8th, 1948-106; 10th, 1940-101
  • AL Bases On Balls: 4th, 1943-90; 6th, 1944-73; 6th, 1948-98; 10th, 1942-75
  • AL Stolen Bases: 8th, 1944-11
  • AL Singles: 2nd, 1944-138; 4th, 1948-141; 9th, 1946-109; 10th, 1947-113
  • AL OPS+: 2nd, 1948-165; 4th, 1944-145; 7th, 1943-134; 9th, 1947-128
  • AL RC: 3rd, 1948-135; 5th, 1944-104; 8th, 1947-88; 10th, 1943-80
  • AL Extra Bases: 6th, 1947-52; 6th, 1948-58; 7th, 1941-63; 8th, 1944-53; 9th, 1940-65
  • AL Hit By Pitch: 5th, 1947-4; 7th, 1942-4; 7th, 1944-5; 7th, 1949-4; 10th, 1941-3
  • AL Sacrifice Hits: 1st, 1941-14; 1st, 1946-15; 2nd, 1942-19; 2nd, 1945-20; 2nd, 1947-14; 3rd, 1943-20; 5th, 1944-19; 5th, 1948-16; 6th, 1949-12
  • AL Double Plays Grounded Into: 1st, 1940-23; 8th, 1949-19
  • AL Caught Stealing: 1st, 1942-16; 8th, 1946-7
  • AL Win Probability Added: 5th, 1947-2.4; 5th, 1948-4.1; 9th, 1945-1.4
  • AL Assists: 1st, 1944-517; 2nd, 1947-475; 2nd, 1948-483; 3rd, 1940-454; 3rd, 1941-444; 4th, 1943-489; 98th, Career-4877
  • AL Putouts as SS: 1st, 1941-296; 1st, 1943-328; 1st, 1944-339; 1st, 1946-315; 2nd, 1948-297; 3rd, 1940-277; 3rd, 1947-305; 4th, 1942-281; 38th, Career-3132
  • AL Assists as SS: 1st, 1940-454; 1st, 1944-516; 2nd, 1941-444; 2nd, 1943-488; 2nd, 1947-475; 2nd, 1948-483; 3rd, 1942-426; 3rd, 1946-405; 58th, Career-4760
  • AL Errors as SS: 2nd, 1948-20
  • AL Double Plays Turned as SS: 1st, 1940-116; 1st, 1943-122; 1st, 1944-134; 1st, 1947-120; 1st, 1948-119; 2nd, 1942-107; 3rd, 1941-97; 4th, 1945-73; 4th, 1946-94; 19th, Career-1180
  • AL Range Factor/Game SS: 1st, 1944-5.74; 1st, 1946-5.18; 2nd, 1941-5.03; 2nd, 1947-5.27; 2nd, 1949-5.09; 3rd, 1943-5.37; 4th, 1945-5.22; 4th, 1948-5.17; 5th, 1940-4.72; 51st, Career-5.13
  • AL Fielding Percentage as SS: 1st, 1940-.968; 1st, 1941-.966; 1st, 1942-.965; 1st, 1943-.970; 1st, 1944-.978; 1st, 1946-.970; 1st, 1947-.982; 1st, 1948-.975; 53rd, Career-.973
Cleveland Indians Career Leader
  • 3rd WAR Position Players (61.7)
  • 5th oWAR (49.4)
  • 1st dWAR (22.7)
  • 29th Average (.296)
  • t-19th On Base Percentage (.382)
  • 40th OPS (.798)
  • 3rd Games Played (1560)
  • 4th At Bats (5754)
  • 2nd Plate Appearances (6708)
  • 9th Runs Scored (823)
  • 6th Hits (1706)
  • 7th Total Bases (2392)
  • 5th Doubles (367)
  • t-14th Triples (65)
  • 12th Runs Batted In (740)
  • 3rd Bases On Balls (766)
  • t-49th Stolen Bases (50)
  • 6th Singles (1211)
  • t-27th OPS+ (122)
  • 6th Runs Created (906)
  • 7th Extra Base Hits (495)
  • t-37th Hit By Pitch (28)
  • 8th Sacrifice Hits (159)
  • 2nd Double Plays Grounded Into (145)
  • 15th Caught Stealing (50)
  • 17th Win Probability Added (8.8)
Cleveland Indians Season Leader
  • 1st WAR Position Players (10.4, 1948)
  • t-12th WAR Position Players (8.0, 1944)
  • 14th WAR Position Players (7.9, 1943)
  • t-24th WAR Position Players (7.4, 1947)
  • 8th oWAR (8.4, 1948)
  • t-21st oWAR (6.9, 1944)
  • t-50th oWAR (5.8, 1943)
  • t-3rd dWAR (3.3, 1943)
  • 6th dWAR (3.1, 1947)
  • t-7th dWAR (3.0, 1948)
  • t-12th dWAR (2.5, 1940)
  • t-22nd dWAR (2.1, 1944)
  • t-41st dWAR (1.7, 1942)
  • t-50th dWAR (1.6, 1941, 1949)
  • t-22nd Average (.355, 1948)
  • 11th On Base Percentage (.453, 1948)
  • t-30th OPS (.987, 1948)
  • t-25th At Bats (627, 1940)
  • t-23rd Runs Scored (116, 1948)
  • t-28th Hits (199, 1948)
  • t-38th Hits (191, 1944)
  • t-49th Total Bases (299, 1948)
  • t-20th Doubles (46, 1940)
  • t-22nd Doubles (45, 1941, 1944, 1947)
  • t-21st Bases On Balls (98, 1948)
  • t-47th Bases On Balls (90, 1943)
  • t-31st Singles (141, 1948)
  • t-42nd Singles (138, 1944)
  • 30th OPS+ (165, 1948)
  • t-24th Runs Created (135, 1948)
  • t-12th Double Plays Grounded Into (23, 1940)
  • t-12th Double Plays Grounded Into (19, 1949)
  • t-20th Caught Stealing (16, 1942)
  • t-31st Win Probability Added (4.1, 1948)

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