Top 100 Indians: #79 Steve Gromek

1953 Bowman Card. Public Domain.

Before Game 4 of the 1948 World Series, manager Lou Boudreau made a hunch move. With the Indians up 2-1, he could have brought back Bob Feller on three days' rest to face , but instead went with Steve Gromek, the club's swingman. Gromek had made only 9 starts that season, but Boudreau had a hunch that he'd do well.

Stephen Joseph Gromek

Relief Pitcher/Starting Pitcher, 1941-1953

Height: 6'2" Weight: 180 lbs

Bats: Both Throws: Right

Acquired: Amateur Free Agent, 1939

Left Via: Trade, 6-15-1953:

Traded by the Cleveland Indians with LHP Al Aber, SS Ray Boone, and RHP Dick Weik for 2B Owen Friend, C Joe Ginsberg, RHP Art Houtteman, and LHP Bill Wight

Born in Hammtramck, Michigan, Steve Gromek was signed by the Indians as an middle infielder after graduating from high school in 1939. The Indians were about to release him a year later when his manager in Flint thought of trying him out as a pitcher. By the middle of 1941, it was apparent that the transition had gone well. when the Indians played an exhibition in Flint, Gromek threw three one-hit innings against them. The performance impressed Cleveland manager Roger Peckinpaugh, and in August of that season, Gromek's contract was purchased by the Indians.Gromek appeared in nine games the remainder of the season, including making one start. That's quite a change of fortune in one season, as the Michigan State League wasn't exactly on the cusp of the big leagues.

The Indians lost several players to World War II, including star pitcher Bob Feller, so Gromek went north with the club in 1942, and had a rather mediocre season pitching mostly out of the bullpen. He was optioned to Baltimore (Cleveland's American Association affiliate) on July 18th, and was brought back just as the season ended. He remained in Baltimore for much of the 1943; he threw 261.0 innings, allowing a 3.34 ERA, and that got him back on the Cleveland roster for 1944, the first of two very successful seasons.

Gromek led the AL with a 7.1 hits/9 in 1944, allowing just 160 hits in 203.2 innings. His strikeout rate of 5.1 per 9 innings ranked third in the league. Keep in mind that Gromek was doing this against lineups decimated with all the enlistments, but Gromek's success in the rotation in 1944 and 1945 allowed him stick around after all the regulars returned in 1946.

Cleveland declined an offer for Gromek from the New York Yankees ($40,000) prior to the season, content to keep him in the rotation even with Feller's return. But by the middle of the season, they had moved Gromek out of the rotation, though he did get occasional starts the rest of the way. This swingman role was how he'd be used the rest of his tenure with the Indians.

In 1947 Gromek threw only 84.1 innings, his lowest total since becoming a full-time major-leaguer, but he got into more games in 1948 even though he made just 9 starts. He was a key player down the stretch that season, winning all four of his starts in August and September, including a 2-hit shutout against the Athletics on September 19th.

So when the Indians won the pennant by beating the Red Sox in the playoff game, he was going to play a key role in the World Series, though as it turned out it was much more than even that. Manager Lou Boudreau decided to go with Gromek to start Game 4, figuring that that way he would have Feller, Lemon, and Bearden on regular rest in Games 5-7 (there were no off days during the World Series at this time). Facing Gromek would be Boston ace Johnny Sain (he of the phrase "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain") The gamble paid off, as Gromek outpitched Sain, holding the Braves to one run on seven hits in a complete game. The Indians scored a run in the bottom of the first on a Lou Boudreau double, and pushed their lead to 2-0 on a Larry Doby home run in the third.

That home run was the basis for one of the most famous photos in Cleveland history; after the game, Gromek and Doby embraced in the clubhouse, and that photograph was run in many of the nation's newspapers the following day. It was a small but poignant step in baseball's racial integration that had begun the season before. In 1994, Doby reflected on that moment:

''That was a feeling from within, the human side of two people, one black and one white,'' he said. ''That made up for everything I went through. I would always relate back to that whenever I was insulted or rejected from hotels. I'd always think about that picture. It would take away all the negatives.''

Feller would lose Game 5, but the Indians would win Game 6 and the series behind Bob Lemon and Gene Bearden. Had the series gone 7 games, they would have faced Sain again, and who know what would have happened? So Gromek's start was one of the key reasons why the Indians won it all. He was no longer just a "wartime" pitcher.

Gromek continued to excel in his swingman role from 1949 through 1952, not really much of a chance to start because the rotation was so loaded. He would finally get another chance a full-time starter, but not with the Indians. He was part of a massive trade between the Indians and Tigers in June 1953, and jumped right into the rotation. In 1954, while the Indians were running away with the pennant, Gromek had his best season, throwing 252.2 innings and posting a 2.74 ERA, good for 5th in the league. He took a step back in 1955 and 1956, and by 1957, he was done at age 37.

After his playing career was over, Gromek managed briefly in the minors, then returned home. He sold cars for 20 years in addition to helping out with several local youth baseball leagues. Steve Gromek died in 2002 at the age of 82.

Indians Career Stats

Year Age Tm ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP ER HR BB SO ERA+ H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9
1941 21 CLE 4.24 9 2 5 1 0 2 23.1 11 0 11 19 94 9.6 0.0 4.2 7.3
1942 22 CLE 3.65 14 0 6 0 0 0 44.1 18 2 23 14 95 9.3 0.4 4.7 2.8
1943 23 CLE 9.00 3 0 3 0 0 0 4.0 4 0 0 4 39 13.5 0.0 0.0 9.0
1944 24 CLE 2.56 35 21 8 12 2 1 203.2 58 5 70 115 129 7.1 0.2 3.1 5.1
1945 25 CLE 2.55 33 30 2 21 3 1 251.0 71 6 66 101 127 8.2 0.2 2.4 3.6
1946 26 CLE 4.33 29 21 6 5 2 4 153.2 74 20 47 75 76 9.3 1.2 2.8 4.4
1947 27 CLE 3.74 29 7 15 0 0 4 84.1 35 8 36 39 94 8.2 0.9 3.8 4.2
1948 28 CLE 2.84 38 9 10 4 1 2 130.0 41 10 51 50 144 7.5 0.7 3.5 3.5
1949 29 CLE 3.33 27 12 5 3 0 0 92.0 34 8 40 22 120 8.4 0.8 3.9 2.2
1950 30 CLE 3.65 31 13 11 4 1 0 113.1 46 10 36 43 118 7.5 0.8 2.9 3.4
1951 31 CLE 2.77 27 8 8 4 0 1 107.1 33 6 29 40 138 8.2 0.5 2.4 3.4
1952 32 CLE 3.67 29 13 5 3 1 1 122.2 50 14 28 65 91 8.0 1.0 2.1 4.8
1953 33 CLE 3.27 5 1 2 0 0 0 11.0 4 0 3 8 118 9.0 0.0 2.5 6.5
CLE (13 yrs) 3.22 309 137 86 57 10 16 1340.2 479 89 440 595 111 8.1 0.6 3.0 4.0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/1/2012.

Cleveland Indians Career Leader

  • t-25th ERA (3.22)
  • t-20th Wins (78)
  • 39th W/L% (.538)
  • 16th WHIP (1.230)
  • 22nd H/9 (8.116)
  • 38th BB/9 (2.954)
  • t-18th Games Played (309)
  • t-41st Saves (16)
  • 18th Innings Pitched (1340.2)
  • 30th Strikeouts (595)
  • 33rd Games Started (137)
  • t-29th Complete Games (57)
  • t-24th Shutouts (10)
  • 23rd Home Runs (89)
  • 23rd Walks (440)
  • 22nd Hits (1209)
  • 42nd HR/9 (.597)
  • t-23rd Losses (67)
  • 19th Batters Faced (5595)
  • 25th Games Finished (86)
  • t-31st Adjusted ERA+ (111)
  • t-16th WPA (7.0)

Cleveland Indians Season Leader

  • t-17th W/% (.750, 1948)
  • 48th WHIP (1.117, 1952)
  • 41st H/9 (7.07, 1944)
  • t-50th Adjusted ERA+ (144, 1948)

Selected Awards/Leaders

Top 100 Greatest Indians (2001)

AL All-Star: 1945

AL WAR: 5th, 1945

AL WAR. Pitchers: 1st, 1945

AL ERA: 6th, 1944; 5th, 1945

AL Wins: 4th, 1945

AL W/L%: 4th, 1945

AL WHIP: 3rd, 1944; 6th, 1945

AL H/9: 1st, 1944; 7th, 1945

AL BB/9: 5th, 1945

AL SO/9: 3rd, 1944

AL IP: 5th, 1945

AL Strikeouts: 6th, 1944; 5th, 1945

AL SO/9: 3rd, 1944

AL Complete Games: 3rd, 1945

AL Shutouts: 6th, 1944

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