Cleveland Indians 1948 Champs Helped by Negro League Players

The last Cleveland ballclub to win the World Series had the help of two former Negro League players, Satchel Paige and Larry Doby.

When the Cleveland Indians won the World Series in 1948, Major League Baseball had just begun the process of integrating the game. The previous year, on April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson had become the first African-American player to play in the modern Major Leagues (way back in 1884, African-American Moses Fleetwood Walker played in the American Association, which was considered a major league at the time). While Jackie Robinson is celebrated across baseball annually on April 15th with every Major League player wearing his number 42, a somewhat overlooked player in the integration of baseball is Larry Doby of the Cleveland Indians.

Jackie Robinson entered the Major Leagues as a fully-formed, 28-year-old player. He had played one season with the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues before signing with the Dodgers. After a year in the minor leagues, he jumped right into the starting lineup as a key part of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Robinson played in 151 of the team’s 154 games and had 701 plate appearances in his rookie year. He was the face of integration.


Larry Doby was 23 years old when he played his first game in the big leagues on July 5, 1947, less than three months after Jackie Robinson played his first game. He had a longer history of playing in the Negro Leagues than did Robinson. Doby played for the Newark Eagles from 1942 to 1946, with time off in the middle for military service. Prior to his debut season with the Cleveland Indians, Doby had been an all-star for the Newark Eagles and had finished the year just one home run behind the co-leaders, Josh Gibson and Johnny Davis.

Doby faced the same discrimination that Robinson did, the same abuse from fans, the discrimination by teammates and coaches, and the indignity of not being able to stay in the same hotels or eat in the same restaurants as his teammates. Robinson at least had a chance to prove his worth on the field. Doby mostly sat on the bench during his first year. He played sporadically and most often as a pinch-hitter late in games. He started just four of the 33 games in which he played and his final batting line was an anemic .156/.182/.188.

Larry Doby got regular playing time in the team’s championship season of 1948. He played in 121 games, went to the plate 499 times and hit .301/.384/.490. Based on Fangraphs WAR, Doby was the fourth-most valuable position player on the team, behind Lou Boudreau, Ken Keltner, and Joe Gordon. His season included a 21-game hitting streak and a 34-game on base streak. He also had 16 hits that put his team ahead during the regular season.

The 1948 Cleveland Indians won the American League by a single game over the Boston Red Sox. In addition to his overall consistently good play, Doby had a few moments that contributed to the team winning the pennant. One of the key moments of the pennant race came in the first game of a double-header on September 19. Cleveland was tied 3-3 going into the bottom of the ninth. Joe Gordon led off the inning with a single and was bunted to second by Ken Keltner. Larry Doby stepped to the plate and hit a walk-off home run, years before it was ever known as a walk-off.

Doby upped his game with men on base, hitting .300/.426/.480 in 122 plate appearances. He hit even better with two outs and runners in scoring positions, hitting .381/.490/.571 in 51 opportunities. Just two years after playing in the Negro Leagues, Larry Doby had become a key contributor to the 1948 World Champion Cleveland Indians.

Another former Negro League player on the 1948 Indians was Satchel Paige. By this point of his career, Paige was already a legend among baseball fans, both black and white. He was “allegedly” 41 years old in 1948, but no one ever really knew just how old Satchel was. He’d been around seemingly forever, playing in the Negro Leagues for at least two decades, along with games in the Mexican League and numerous barnstorming trips around the country. He attracted record crowds everywhere he pitched.


Cleveland signed Paige on July 7. He pitched in his first game two days later, tossing two shutout innings against the St. Louis Browns. On July 15, he picked up the first win ever for an African American pitcher. In the nearly three months he was with the Indians, Paige started seven games and relieved in 14 others. He was 6-1 with a 2.78 ERA.

As he had throughout his baseball-playing career, Paige drew big crowds. On August 3, Paige started at home against the Washington Senators. The game drew 72,562 fans, which set a new attendance record for a major league night game. Paige pitched seven innings and allowed three runs in the 5-3 victory.

His next start was against the Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park. Over 50,000 fans paid to see the game, but the turnstiles were crashed by thousands more fans who overwhelmed the ticket takers in their quest to get into the park. Paige beat the White Sox 5-0 in a complete game shutout.

Cleveland faced the White Sox again on August 20 and Paige was on the mound for the game. When 78,382 people showed up to watch him pitch, the night game attendance record was set once again. Paige tossed another complete game shutout, allowing just three hits.

At the end of the season, Cleveland and Boston were tied for first in the American League and played in a one-game playoff, a first for the American League. Cleveland won the game 8-3 and advanced to the World Series. Doby was 2 for 5 with a run scored and 2 RBI in that game.

Satchel Paige didn’t factor into the World Series victory over the Boston Braves. He only appeared in one game and faced just two batters. Doby, on the other hand, had a great series. He hit .318/.375/.500 in the six games. He had two hits and an RBI in their 4-1 victory in Game 2, then got on base twice in the team’s 2-0 victory in Game 3. Facing Johnny Sain in Game 4, Doby hit a solo home run in the bottom of the third inning to make the score 2-0. The Indians eventually won the game 2-1, so Doby’s home run was the game-winning hit. Cleveland took the series with a 4-3 victory in Game 6. Doby was 2 for 4 with a walk in that game, continuing his trend of contributing something to each of Cleveland’s four victories.

The last Cleveland team to win a World Series had help from two players who just a couple years before would not have been allowed on the field. Larry Doby and Satchel Paige likely endured discrimination and outright racism during that season, but both players were key contributors to Cleveland’s title.