Top 100 Teams
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
Only a handful of teams in the long history of the American Association have won 100 games. The Indianapolis Indians of 1948 were one of this august group, hitting the barrier right on the nose. In doing so, the club also set a standard of popularity that would not be equaled in the league for another 32 years.
The city of Indianapolis has enjoyed a rich baseball history beginning in the years following the Civil War. Here, the amateur Active, Western and Indianapolis clubs regularly played matches against the top teams in the country. In 1877, the city fielded a professional team in the minor league International Association. The next year, the Blues (as they were known) joined the National League for a one-year stint, going 24-36.
Over the next several years, Indianapolis participated in both the majors and the minors, as they entered teams in the major league American Association (1884) and National League (1887-1889), in addition to the minor league Western League (1885, 1892). In 1894, a new team, dubbed the Hoosiers, joined a revamped minor Western League. Here, the team won pennants in 1895, 1897 and 1899. The 1897 entry won 98 games - the most wins of any 19th century minor league club. In 1900, the Western League was renamed the American League. Indianapolis stayed on for one season before being dismissed in favor of a more populous eastern franchise when the league upgraded to major league status.
In 1902, Indianapolis became a charter member of the American Association, a new high-level minor league operating in the midwest. In the circuit’s inaugural season, the Indianapolis Indians dominated the loop, winning the pennant with a 96-45 record to finish in the top 100. However, during the decades to follow, the team only won a handful of titles (1908, 1917 and 1928). After the latter flag, the Indians spent the next 20 years searching for their next. During this span of years, the club did reach the finals of the playoffs on six separate occasions, but lost each time. In the years following WWII, they would find pennant success once more.
In 1946, the Indians entered into an agreement with the Boston Braves, becoming their top farm team. This arrangement lasted only one year. Late in 1946, Indianapolis banker and Democratic party bigwig Frank McKinney, co-owner of the Indians with ex-major league infielder Donie Bush, headed a syndicate, including Bing Crosby and John Galbraith, which purchased the Pittsburgh Pirates and in 1947 Pittsburgh replaced Boston as Indianapolis’ parent club. This relationship paid off big dividends the following year.
| Ted Beard |
(photo courtesy of Indianapolis Indians)
The 1948 Indianapolis Indians got off to a flying start, winning 12 of their first 15 games. They fell to second place in May, but regained the lead on May 27 and remained in first place the rest of the season. They finished with a 100-54 record, 11 games ahead of second-place Milwaukee. However, ten days before the close of the regular season, McKinney announced that the Pirates were calling up star right-fielder Ted Beard, who had just been voted the Indians’ Most Popular Player. Beard, who hit .301 with 85 RBI, led the league in triples (17), runs (131) and walks (128). McKinney had kept a pre-season promise that Pittsburgh would not call up any players until the pennant was won and the Indians had clinched first place. He said that Pittsburgh was battling Boston for first place in the National League and “definitely needs an outfielder who can catch the ball.” The team was a popular draw as 494,455 fans watched them play - the league’s highest total to date.
Despite the loss of Beard, the Indians were optimistic about the playoffs. They were meeting third-place St. Paul, whom they had beaten 17 times in 22 regular season games, in the opening round. However, after the series was knotted at two wins each, the Saints took the next two games, in their home park, to end the Indians’ season.
The Indians were led by Al Lopez, who had wrapped up a 19-year major league catching career the year before. His 1,918 games spent behind the plate for the Dodgers, Braves, Pirates and Indians set a record for endurance that lasted until the 1980s when Bob Boone broke the mark. In addition to managing the Indians, Lopez served as a backup catcher, seeing action in more than 40 games. In 1951, he began a 17-year managing career in the majors, which saw lengthy stints with both the Indians and White Sox. Highlights of Lopez’s big league bench career included pennants won by the ’54 Indians and ’59 White Sox.
| (L-R) Jack Cassini,|
Les Fleming, Tom Saffell
(photo courtesy of
The ’48 Indians led the league with a .289 average. The biggest contributor to this mark was first baseman Les Fleming. Fleming batted a team-high .323, poled a club best 26 homers and finished with a league high 143 RBI. For his efforts, Fleming was named to the American Association All-Star team and voted league MVP as well. His big-league career consisted of five years spent with Detroit and Cleveland from 1939-47 and 24 games with the Pirates in 1949. Fleming batted .277 with 29 HR during the six-year stint.
Joining Fleming on the All-Star team in 1948 were second baseman Jack Cassini (.305), shortstop Pete Castiglione (.308), catcher Earl Turner (.313) and Beard. All of the four saw service in the big leagues. Cassini had three hits in eight at bats for the ’49 Pirates, Castiglione played eight years for the Pirates and Cardinals from 1947-54, batting .255, Beard batted .198 in 194 games from 1948-58 and Turner hit .240 in 42 games in 1948 and 1950. In addition, part-time outfielder, Roy Weatherly, enjoyed a ten-year career in the majors from 1936-50, batting .286 for the Indians, Yankees and Giants.
| Tom Saffell is now|
Gulf Coast League
The Indians’ center fielder was fleet Tom Saffell, a 27-year-old World War II Navy Fighter pilot who was making the big jump from Selma in the Class B Southeastern League. Saffell, who became a star in the American Association and Pacific Coast League, played four seasons with Pittsburgh, batting .322 in 75 games for the Pirates in 1949. He has been president of the Gulf Coast League since 1980 and was the 1999 Baseball Winter Meetings’ “King of Baseball.”
None of the Indianapolis pitchers possessed sparkling ERAs, but Bob Malloy finished with a solid season, leading the league with 21 wins. Also, Cal McLish (12-9) led the loop with four shutouts. Indian hurlers who made it to the majors included Jim Bagby who won 97 games from 1938-47, Ed Bahr who went 11-11 in 1946-47 for the Pirates, Frank Barrett who relieved in 102 games from 1939-50, Jack Hallett who won 12 games in six years, Johnny Hutchings who went 12-18 primarily as a relief pitcher from 1940-46, Malloy who won only four games in five years for the Reds and Browns and McLish who enjoyed a 19-8 season in 1959 for Cleveland.
During the ensuing years, the Indians won four more flags (1954, 1956, 1961 and 1962) before the American Association went dark for seven years. The team played in the International (1963) and Pacific Coast Leagues (1964-68), before rejoining a new American Association in 1969. Here, the club won ten divisional crowns from 1971 to 1995, accompanied by six playoff championships, including four in a row from 1986-89. Following the American Association’s untimely demise in 1997, the Indians joined the International League, where they remain today.
Although outdrawn by Denver (565,214) in 1980, whose figure was in turn obliterated by the first seven-figure minor league attendance in Louisville (1,052,438) in 1983, the 1948 Indianapolis Indians remain a popular champion. Their 100-win season puts them in select company -- one of less than two-dozen American Association teams to reach the century mark in 95 years of history.
(L-R) 1st row - RPeters, TBeard, PCatiglione, RBarrett, DGutteridge, Les Fleming;
2nd row - TCuccinnello, JWalsh, JCassini, RGanss, RWetherly, CJohnson, ETurner, TSaffell, Al Lopez;
3rd row - "Hump" Pierce, CMcLish, JHutchings, JBagby, PErickson, EBahr, CRikard, JKalin, BMalloy, JHallett
(photo courtesy of Indianapolis Indians)
|1948 Indianapolis Indians Standings|
|1948 Indianapolis Indians batting statistics|
|1948 Indianapolis Indians pitching statistics|