Indians Pitcher Gene Bearden Dies at 83
ALEXANDER CITY, Ala. — Gene Bearden, the knuckleballer who completed a remarkable rookie season by closing out the Cleveland Indians' last World Series championship, has died. He was 83.
Bearden died Thursday.
Pitching on a staff with future Hall of Famers Bob Feller, Bob Lemon and Satchel Paige, Bearden emerged as the star of the Indians' 1948 title team.
Bearden was 20-7 with a league-leading 2.43 ERA, and he completed 15 of his 29 starts with six shutouts.
Bearden's 20th victory came in a one-game playoff for the AL pennant. Picked by manager Lou Boudreau to start on only one day of rest, Bearden responded by pitching a five-hitter and leading the Indians over Ted Williams and the Boston Red Sox 8-3.
The World Series was tied at 1 when Bearden started Game 3 at Cleveland. The 28-year-old lefty was at his best, shutting out the Boston Braves on five hits in a 2-0 victory — at the plate, he contributed a double and a single.
In Game 6 at Braves Field, Bearden was summoned from the bullpen to relieve Lemon in the eighth inning. Bearden got the final five outs for a save and the Indians held on for a 4-3 win that clinched the championship.
Bearden's success was even more amazing considering he had pitched in only one major league game prior to 1948. The year before, he worked one-third of an inning for the Indians and allowed three earned runs, giving him an 81.00 ERA.
There was just Rookie of the Year picked in the majors that season, and the award went to Alvin Dark of the Braves.
In 2001, when the Indians celebrated their 100th anniversary, Bearden was chosen as one of the club's greatest 100 players.
"Indians fans will always remember his contributions to the team's last World Series title in 1948," team owner Larry Dolan said in a statement. "His victory in the 1948 American League playoff game against Boston still ranks as one of the greatest wins in franchise history."
Bearden, however, never came close to duplicating his rookie season. He never won more than eight games in a year after that, and twice led the AL in wild pitches.
The Indians put him on waivers during the 1950 season, and he was claimed by Washington.
Bearden finished with a 45-38 record and a 3.96 ERA in a career that lasted until 1953. He also pitched for Detroit, the St. Louis Browns and the Chicago White Sox.
Bearden's one big year, however, was enough to make an impression on the man regarded by many as the best hitter in baseball history.
In his book "My Turn At Bat," Williams wrote that "Gene Bearden was a left-handed knuckleball pitcher who ordinarily wouldn't draw a second glance on a staff with Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn and Mike Garcia. Every ball he threw was either a little knuckleball or a little knuckle curve."
Bearden played for Casey Stengel in the minors. The New York Yankees traded Bearden to Cleveland after the 1946 season.
Bearden is survived by his wife, Lois, and a daughter. Burial will be Tuesday in West Helena, Ark.