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Indians Indians Archive Cleveland Sports/ Classic Rock Vault: 9/12/54. Happy Anniversary, Tribe Fans!
Written by Greg Popelka

Greg Popelka

cleveland stadium fullBy now, you may already have heard. I do hope it was from me, on Twitter. (What a kick it would be, for an old history guy like yours truly to “break” a “story.” Ha, I know. Humor me.)  

If you follow the Cleveland Indians, this day is yours. Live it, love it, speak of it proudly. For September 12, 2013 is the fifty-ninth anniversary of the largest crowd ever to witness an Indians game live. At the time, it was a major-league record. On the afternoon of Sunday, 9/12/54, 86,563 fans – several thousand of who purchased standing-room-only tickets – flooded Municipal Stadium to watch a scheduled doubleheader * between the rival New York Yankees and the Tribe. 

What a scene that must have been, live. The old barn (as one-time Indians announcer Joe Tait has described it) was much maligned, for several good reasons. But when full, it was electric. The Indians, heading into that day at 102-40, were very good for most of the period in the post-WWII years, from the late 1940s through the ‘50s. But the Yankees usually were better. However, late in the 1954 season, the Tribe appeared to be distancing themselves from the powerhouse from the Bronx. Leading the way were four of the eventual top six vote-getters for the American League MVP Award: CF Larry Doby would place 2nd; 2B Bobby Avila would flirt with hitting .400 and place third; starting pitchers Bob Lemon and Early Wynn would place fifth and sixth. 3B Al Rosen, hampered earlier in the season with a thumb injury, was the MVP in 1953! 

The visual draws a sharp contrast to the sketchy fan attendance of the 2013 Indians. Locally prominent media folks have whined and begged recently… The tack they seem to currently favor has transitioned past disgust, to the conferring of shame. On Twitter, it’s become reduced to trolling of the fans by long-time newspaper writers. I am not very fond of that. 

From us fans, excuses and explanations abound over how we got to this point (the Indians board on this site currently hosts a running discussion). Certainly, the dwindling season ticket base is a key. Various viewpoints focus on the loss of such stars as CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez (Victor cried with us, for crying out loud!). Some blame the economy. Or the typical lag time between winning and attendance (just like the lag time between the start of a losing trend and dwindling attendance). The utter futility in beating Detroit, the second half collapses we’ve seen recently… those don’t help. People talk about the 1990s teams; I think a couple home run hitters on this team would capture the imagination of the casual fan (and kids). The awful job the Indians front office does in promoting the young players through the winter is regrettable (a guy like Jason Kipnis needs to be the face of the team). And recently, the off-season timing of ticket sales has hampered those who might purchase tickets for Christmas. 

Some wonder about the fatigue of all the losing we’ve seen, among all our professional sports. But that does not jibe with the ongoing support of the Browns… 

Fans point to the team’s television ratings. They are up over 30% this year, so my contention is collectively, we are engaged. Close to the tipping point of coming out to the ball park en masse. To me, the bottom line is Wild Card or no Wild Card, we just don’t believe in the Cleveland Indians as a bona fide World Series contender. Hopefully, the improving farm system will remedy that in the near future. 

But this is a day of observance. A day to celebrate our past, and our potential. To express appreciation for watching The Show live. 

Let’s look at that doubleheader in 1954. And since our fair city loves its Rock n Roll, I thought it would be fun to start a series of Cleveland sports history articles that also handles loosely-related music topics. We’ll see how that develops over the next several weeks. Today, we’ll give a nod to my favorite live rock albums by also looking at three of those (check them out on YouTube!). 

hammersmith odeon bruceHammersmith Odeon London ’75, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. 

Wow. My all-time favorite live album, and I avoid most of his stuff. Released around 2006, this is a perfect snapshot of Springsteen and the band during the time I liked them the most. I’ve listened to some of the many bootleg albums of the band, but this is just about perfect. 1975 was when Born to Run was released, and a lot of those songs, while appreciated, seem as yet unfamiliar to the crowd. The benefit is we don’t hear a lot of cheering during the opening notes of such tunes as Thunder Road and She’s the One. Furthermore, the version of the former only features The Boss (with Miami Steve doing backup vocals) and Roy Bittan on piano. That’s it. Bare bones, really good (I’m getting goosebumps, and I’m not even listening to it). The latter begins and ends with Springsteen on harmonica. 

al rosenGame one of the double dip featured Cleveland’s Bob Lemon vs. New York’s Whitey Ford. A marquee matchup. Notables in the Yankee lineup included 2B Gil McDougald leading off (Herb Score- who would debut for the Tribe in 1955 – would be struck in the eye in 1957 by a ball off the bat of a remorseful McDougald). CF Mickey Mantle batted third. C Yogi Berra- 1954’s eventual A.L. MVP winner- hit cleanup. RF Enos Slaughter (present-day crossword puzzle fans see his name on a regular basis) hit sixth. 

The Indians’ lineup was, largely, one for the ages. LF Al Smith; 2B Bobby Avila; CF Larry Doby; a healthy 3B Al Rosen (left); 1B Vic Wertz; RF Dave Philley; SS George Strickland; C Jim Hegan. 

The Tribe won the opener, 4-1. Lemon’s record improved to 22-6. He went the distance (it’s always nice to save the bullpen in game one), lowering his ERA to 2.66. Allie Reynolds took the loss, as Ford was lifted for a pinch hitter in the seventh in a 1-1 ballgame. The turning point of the game was Rosen’s two-out, two-run double off Reynolds in the bottom of the seventh that made it 3-1 at the time. 

(Indians broadcaster Jimmy Dudley would not have been able to issue the standard invitation of future announcer Herb Score. Early in a double header, Score would encourage listeners to come down to the ballpark. On this day, it was not true that “plenty of good seats are still available.”) 

kinks one for the roadOne for the Road, The Kinks (1980)

For having been part of the much-hyped British Invasion of the '60s, The Kinks are pretty underrated. Put them on, and everyone begins bobbing their heads, maybe doing little dances - both old and young. Women seem to like this album. One thing that appealed to me in the wake of its release was the refreshing brevity of the songs. It came during an era that featured a lot of lengthy releases featuring elaborate production; Ray and Dave Davies and company had a nice hard edge (some consider You Really Got Me’s power chords as a heavy metal precursor), yet didn’t stray far from the light and danceable. One exception to the short length of the tunes is this recording’s classic Celluloid Heroes, whose long synthesizer intro here makes the original studio version sound incomplete. 

Bobby avila sittingFor Game Two, Yankee manager Casey Stengel inserted Phil Rizzuto into the lineup, at shortstop. Hank Bauer started in RF, taking over for Slaughter. (Stengel had managed Bill Veeck’s minor league team in the early ‘40s. He was Veeck’s choice with whom to replace Lou Boudreau in 1948- before public disapproval convinced him not to. The Indians won the Series under Boudreau that year.) The pitching matchup was Early Wynn of the Indians vs. the Yankees’ Tommy Byrne. 

The Tribe took the second game as well, earning the sweep. Wynn found himself down 2-0 in the top of the first when Berra went deep. The Indians did all of their scoring in the fifth, when with two outs, Wynn, Smith, Avila (left) and PH (for Doby) Wally Westlake went single, single, single, double. The final score was 3-2. Catching great Jim Hegan gunned down a runner in the second inning. 

The 86,000+ went home happy. Cleveland finished up the season with a then-record 111 wins, and the Yankees finished well behind, in second place and out of the World Series - with 103 wins of their own, in the 154-game season. 

4 way street4 Way Street, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young (1971)

Truth be told, I really like this era of Neil Young, and wouldn’t listen to the rest of this album much if he weren’t on it. The band introduces him separately, and to me, he steals the show. But I like the idea of these guys playing together. Stephen Stills, who had the street cred of not being who Don Kirschner wanted when considering him as a founding member of The Monkees; a good songwriter. David Crosby, a transfer from The Byrds whose acoustic guitar playing I never really liked, frankly (more likely, I just never understood it). And Graham Nash, who to me was the syrupy type who didn’t really add anything that I liked. The album remains fun to listen to, with the band pretentious enough to hush the audience before beginning to play some of the numbers. Neil carries the recording, with “Cowgirl in the Sand”, “Southern Man”, and “Ohio.” 

So, see? We like our Indians baseball. Or rather, we want to like it. Anyway, we watch it on TV. Yeah, as with any show, it’s better live. Don’t worry; we’ll “get there.” 

* What’s that, smart guy? You say since it was a doubleheader, the attendance per game was only 43,281.5? 

***Hey, follow me on Twitter!   #thanks 

Sources included; Wikipedia.

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