The Cleveland Indians are hot lately: winning 11 of their last 15 games has put them only a couple games behind the heavily favored Detroit Tigers in the American League Central. This impressive win-loss record might be best explained by an obscure statistic reported on in several media outlets: before their game against the Chicago White Sox Tuesday, the Indians had scored before their opponent in 16 consecutive games, setting a franchise record. It goes without saying that getting runs early puts you in a good position to get the win.
Many Indians fans would say that, perhaps next to the mid-nineties teams, the late forties and early fifties were the glory years of the franchise. Without implying that he deserves all the credit, you could call it the Hank Greenberg era, as he played a variety of front office roles for the team during that time. Greenberg was brought in as a potential player/manager in 1948 by then-owner Bill Veeck and he stayed on with the team for ten years, even becoming a part-owner.
Bill Veeck welcoming Greenberg to the Indians organization in 1948
Photo credit: Michael Schwartz Library, Cleveland State University
Does frequently scoring first foreshadow success for a team? In 1954, the Indians won 111 games (still one of the winningest seasons ever) but their longest streak of “striking first” during that season was 7 games (in July of that year). That Indians team went on to be swept in the World Series. In 1948, on the other hand, the Indians had more frequent stretches of early leads. In August of that year the Indians scored first in 12 consecutive games, not far from the then franchise record of 15. That run included a 26-3 victory in St. Louis and four consecutive shutouts.
The 1948 Indians team was talented. It had 6 future Hall of Famers and benefited from outstanding hitting by Joe Gordon, Larry Doby, Dale Mitchell, Ken Keltner and that year’s MVP, Lou Boudreau. On the pitching staff was Bob Lemon and Gene Bearden (both getting 20 wins with a sub-3.00 ERA) and the amazing Bob Feller, who lead the league in strikeouts.
White Sox first baseman Adam Dunn broke the current Indians’ streak last night with a two run double in the top of the first inning. It was also an RBI double that ended the 1948 team’s streak on August 24th, when Boston Braves rookie Billy Goodman connected on a pitch from the Indians’ rookie starting pitcher, 42-year-old Satchel Paige. Paige and Doby integrated the American League and in 1948 became the first African American ballplayers to win a World Series against that same Boston team.
Satchel Paige loosening up in the 1949 film, The Kid From Cleveland
(More from the film can be seen in the 2013 special edition of the The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg)
Film still courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Scoring first is an infrequently cited statistic and is probably not that meaningful, but taking charge of games early can definitely give a team momentum. Although they can’t compare to the legendary 1948 roster, the 2013 Indians are a good team: they’re just above the league average in batting but they have scored a lot of runs and have pretty good pitching, especially lately. If the Indians stay close enough to complete, their early aggressiveness might serve them well in the playoffs.