Almost a Beantown Trolley Series in ’48

Over the 53 seasons in which the Boston Braves and Red Sox played together in the city, only once was there close to being a crosstown streetcar world series, back in 1948.

The Braves had dominated in the late 1800s, winning 11 pennants in their first 29 seasons. The Red Sox had also had early success, winning 5 World Series, in their first 18. But since the Sox had last won in 1918, both clubs had only one pennant between them over the next 38 years. In 1946, the Sox had taken the St Louis Cardinals to 7 games before Enos Slaughter of the Redbirds made his mad dash home from first on a single in the bottom the of 8th. Shortstop Johnny Pesky held the ball for a split second too long on a relay throw, allowing Slaughter to score the eventual winning run.

In ’48 the Braves had won the National League pennant in an unlikely fashion, winning 91 games in a decidedly mediocre year for the league. The offensive standouts for the team included outfielder Jeff Heath, who was acquired from the St Louis Browns, and Tommy Holmes. Both hit over .300, with Heath also clobbering 20 homers. Three infielders also had excellent seasons. Rookie shortstop Alvin Dark and second basemen Eddie Stanky hit .320 and .322 respectively, while reigning NL MVP 3rd baseman Bob Elliot also smashed 23 dingers for the  club.

The real strength of the team was its two ace starters, young Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain. Spahn was the only career Brave who started in Boston to make the Hall of Fame in the 20th century. Pitching in the massive pitcher friendly Braves Field, they combined for 39 wins and inspired the rally cry: “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain”, to denote the patchwork condition of the rest of the pitching staff. Manager Billy Southworth made the most of his ragtag group of veterans and rookies, plugging in players when he knew their strengths would be utilized and their weaknesses downplayed.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, had acquired two top pitchers in Jack Kramer and Ellis Kinder, and all-star hitting shortstop Vern Stephens from the same cash-strapped St Louis Browns before the 1948 season. Adding those three to a team with Ted Williams and ace Mel Parnell made the Sox a formidable choice for the pennant. They also added World Series winning manager Joe McCarthy, plucked from their arch-nemesis, the New York Yankees.

Thus the American League race went down to the wire, with the Yankees, Sox and Cleveland Indians being within 2 games of each other by the end. Boston would best their rivals, winning the last two games in Fenway Park against them to knock them out of the race. The Indians would lose on the last game of the regular season, with ace Bob Feller losing to Hal Newhouser and the Detroit Tigers to force a one game playoff at Fenway Park to decide the pennant.

Skipper McCarthy then made a major blunder that would live in infamy for Sox fans, for instead of starting southpaw Parnell in the do-or-die match, went with veteran Denny Galehouse against Tribe knuckleballer Gene Bearden. This was done supposedly because the wind was blowing out to the short leftfield on the day of the game.

Galehouse, who had only pitched twice in the previous two weeks, gave up a homer early to player manager and league MVP Lou Boudreau of the Indians, and was out by the fourth inning. Bearden on the other hand pitched the game of his life, going the distance and giving up only one earned run on one day’s rest, as the Indians won 8-3 to clinch the pennant. The Red Sox players were floored by the decision to start the so-so Galehouse, who was mostly a relief pitcher, and this would hint at more heartache to come in the next season, 1949.

The Braves were dealt a serious blow with 4 games left in the season, with Jeff Heath breaking his leg while sliding into home plate. He would not be available for the postseason. In game one of the World Series, Sain willed the team to victory anyway, winning a 1-0 thriller over Bob Feller of the Indians. But the Braves could not overcome the loss of Heath. The stellar pitching of Bob Lemon, Steve Gromek and Bearden, as well as the timely hitting of Jim Hegan, Larry Doby, Lou Boudreau, and Joe Gordon helped Cleveland win 4 out of the last 5 games. The Indians were world champions, and have not won since, only coming close in 2015.

In 1949, the Braves would have a quick come down, only winning 75 games. The Red Sox would lose out on the Pennant once again on the last day of the season, this time to the Yankees, after only having to win one of the last two games in Yankee Stadium.

Braves Field attendance would continue to dwindle, and owner Lou Perini was tired of playing second fiddle to the Red Stockings. The Braves would move to Milwaukee after the 1952 season, and were welcomed with massive crowds in Brewtown, leaving Beantown with one lone baseball team.

There have been 14 times when teams from New York have faced off against each other in a Subway Series, the most recent being in 2000 when the Yankees crowned their threepeat by besting the Mets in 6 games. Yet it could have been one hell of a Trolley Car Series between two bitter intercity rivals in the Olde Town in ’48, had things turned out slightly different.

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