Classic Tribe: The Fifty Greatest Games in Cleveland Indians History
Praise for Classic Tribe
“...Jonathan Knight has authored another book as smooth as any double play started by Joe Sewell, Lou Boudreau or Omar Vizquel.”
-Westlake West Life
“...one of the most articulate and devoted sportswriters in Ohio...Knight can hardly restrain himself as he describes the breathtaking moments that have kept hope alive for generations of Tribe fans.”
-Akron Beacon Journal
“Knight’s work is highly entertaining, sure to spark nostalgia and debate among Indians fans...Knight’s work is a must-read for anyone who is or was a fan of the Cleveland Indians or baseball in general.”
-Northwest Ohio History
"Classic Tribe is - more than anything else - an uplifting book...It is impossible to read this book and come out of it without at least a little bit of hope for the future."
At the dawn of autumn 1954, the city of Cleveland did not take on a hard-luck, woe-is-is mentality. As it had throughout the first half of the century, it was thriving. It was the seventh-largest city in the nation, reflected by booming industry, a thriving downtown, and the best baseball team on the planet.
With just twelve games remaining, the ’54 Indians were on the brink of clinching the pennant. Despite the bitter second-place finishes of the previous three seasons, there was no sense of impending doom surrounding the team as it prepared for the biggest day of the year. The here-we-go-again defeatist mentality that would soak into the soul of the Cleveland was still decades away. On a sunshiny September afternoon, Cleveland felt like the glimmering capital of the world, anticipating a knockout punch that would deliver the Indians’ third American League pennant. And on the first Sunday of fall, six days after Labor Day, the Tribe would have a perfect chance to deliver.
Riding a four-game winning streak and now holding an astonishing 102-40 record, the Indians would host the second-place Yankees for a dramatic doubleheader at Cleveland Stadium - the twenty-first and twenty-second times the teams would meet in 1954. Holding a six-and-a-half-game lead over New York, its largest of the season, Cleveland was in control of the pennant race. A split would knock the Tribe’s magic number down to six with ten games left, but a Yankee sweep would put the AL’s five-time reigning champion to within four games in the loss column and perhaps set the wheels in motion for one final New York push toward a sixth consecutive pennant. Though future generations of Clevelanders would sit back and wait for the worst to occur, after the most amazing regular season in franchise history, the citizens of 1954 only expected the golden summer to continue.
Bob Lemon and Early Wynn would face New York’s Whitey Ford and Tommy Byrne. When thousands of fans poured to the Stadium ticket office that morning to snatch up the few tickets that remained, team officials anticipated a big crowd, maybe even better than 75,000. The Cleveland Transit System organized “Baseball Specials,” running added trains between the suburbs and downtown. True enough, many fans with tickets came from the outer burgs and arrived early that afternoon, “giving the city the air of a midwest college town on a Saturday afternoon,” the Plain Dealer’s Murray A. Seeger noted, “as they milled around the streets, restaurants, and hotels waiting for game time.” And when game time arrived, even before the first pitch was thrown, history was made. When the turnstile tally was completed, it stood at 86,563 - breaking the attendance record set at the Stadium in the 1948 World Series and standing as the largest crowd to ever attend a baseball game. And these fans would not be disappointed.