This article was written by Joseph Wancho
If Cleveland Indians fans were champing at the bit, one could hardly blame them. The Indians had held a commanding 3-games-to-1 World Series lead over Boston, and Game Five would be at Cleveland Stadium. Cleveland was sending Bob Feller to the hill. Feller had lost Game One, 1-0, after umpire Bill Stewart made a controversial safe call on a pickoff play at second base. The ruling still gnawed at Feller. Rapid Robert could still fire the old pill, as he posted a 19-15 record in 1948, with an ERA of 3.56. He led the majors in strikeouts with 164.
Boston was pinning its hopes on Nelson Potter. The veteran right-hander from Mount Morris, Illinois, was making his second appearance in the Series. Potter threw two innings of relief in Game Two, when he surrendered an unearned run in the Indians’ 4-1 win. It had been a well-traveled season for Potter. He started the campaign with the St. Louis Browns, but was sold to the Philadelphia Athletics for $17,500 on May 15. The A’s released him a month later, and he signed with Boston on June 20. He started seven games for Boston and posted a respectable 5-2 record with a 2.33 ERA.
The whiff of a world championship hung in the air. A World Series record 86,288 patrons shoehorned their way into massive Cleveland Stadium. (The record stood for 11 years until the Chicago White Sox-Los Angeles Dodgers series in 1959, when the Dodgers played their home games at the Los Angeles Coliseum. The attendance exceeded 92,000 for each game. Game Five of the 1948 World Series still stood, as of 2017 as the fourth-highest in attendance.)
The Braves struck first, and struck big in the top of the first inning. Tommy Holmes and Al Dark led off with singles. After Earl Torgeson flied out to right field, Bob Elliott homered over the fence in right field. The Braves, whose offense produced three runs in the first four games, equaled that total with one swing of the bat. Boston’s bats were awakening just in time.
Dale Mitchell led off the Cleveland first with a home run to right field, and the Braves led 3-1 after one frame. In the top of the third inning, Elliott homered again, this time a solo shot into the left-field stands. The Braves’ lead was now 4-1.
Cleveland finally gave the home crowd something to cheer about in the bottom of the fourth inning. Joe Gordon singled to left field and Ken Keltner walked. Wally Judnich singled to center field to score Gordon and Gordon checked into third base. Jim Hegan followed with a three-run homer to left field. The Indians broke out in front, 5-4. Bedlam ensued within the ballpark and around Cleveland.
Hegan’s blast chased Potter from the game. Warren Spahn relieved, and the party was over for the Indians. He shut the door on the Tribe, allowing only one hit and striking out seven and walking one over the final 5⅔ innings.
The Braves evened matters in the top of the sixth inning when catcher Bill Salkeld hit a solo home run to right field, making the score 5-5. But the Braves kicked the door down for good in the top of the seventh inning. After Holmes singled to left field, he was sacrificed to second by Dark. Torgeson then singled Holmes home for the Braves sixth run. Feller got the hook, and he was relieved by Ed Klieman. The new pitcher for the Indians walked Elliott, and then gave up a single to Marv Rickert. Torgeson scored and Elliott came in when Larry Doby threw wild trying to get him at third base.
After Klieman walked Salkeld, Russ Christopher was summoned from the bullpen. The move did not help as three more runs scored in the inning. Boston’s six runs gave the Braves a commanding 11-5 lead, and eventually that was the final score.
Satchel Paige replaced Christopher to finish out the seventh. He recorded two outs in his only appearance in a World Series.
“I can’t understand it,” said Spahn. “I did exactly what I did in those games when I was in trouble, but today it all worked out swell. I think I threw just two curveballs in the 5⅔ innings. I forgot about curves, worked on fastballs, changeups, and I had good luck pitching to spots.”1
“I hit a fastball for the first homer,” said Elliott, “a curve for the second, a beauty that broke right where I like ’em, over the plate, but off the corner.”2
Of his pitching performance, Feller said, “Aw, nuts, I had lousy control and I couldn’t get loosened up. They were due to break out, and they did it today, that’s all.”3
Back in Boston, a melee broke out at Braves Field as 6,000 people stormed the ticket windows to scoop up bleacher and standing-room tickets for Game Six. At about 4:30 P.M. the ticket windows opened for business, but the throng was too large to handle. There was inadequate police detail, as the frenzied crowd stormed the ticket windows on Gaffney Street. The “first come-first served” plan was abandoned as latecomers jumped the lines ahead of customers who had been waiting longer.4
The sale of bleacher seats was put off until 9 AM the next morning.5
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also accessed Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and SABR.org.
1 Henry McKenna, “Spahn Disdains Curve Ball; Elliott Gives Whole Club Lift,” Boston Herald, October 11, 1948: 1.
2 McKenna: 17.
3 Will Cloney, “Braves Got Good Relief Job — Lou,” Boston Herald, October 11, 1948: 17.
4 Joe Looney, “Melee Halts Sale of Game Tickets”, Boston Herald, October 11, 1948: 18