From the War Front: Gene Bearden, sp, Cleveland Indians

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On the morning of July 6th, 1943 the USS Helena, a 10,000-ton cruiser, was part of a naval task force that was assigned to attack elements of the famed “Tokyo Express” who were resupplying Japanese troops on New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.  The Helena was part of a task force that was comprised of three cruisers and four destroyers.  The Japanese, in an effort to protect their supply line, dispatched a group of 10 destroyers to intercept the task force.  Seven minutes into the battle The Helena was hit by three a Japanese torpedo, ripping off the bow and mortally wounding the ship.  It took less than a half hour, and the Helena went down.

Plenty of crew survived, but the Japanese continued to fire on the survivors in the water.  Two America destroyers attempted to save stranded crew, but kept getting diverted to reengage the Japanese, who were still close.  It would take two days for the survivors to be retrieved.  When the smoke cleared, 168 of the 900 man crew were killed.

One of those survivors was a man named Gene Bearden.  A pitcher in the Yankee farm system prior to the war, he a was a Machinist’s mate aboard the Helena.

Bearden survived the battle, but was a mess.  He was hit during the battle and knocked unconscious. He was pulled from the wreckage by an officer and put in a life raft.  His wounds were serious:  he has a skull fracture and his knee was all but destroyed.  He would spend two days floating in the Pacific, and at one point a Japanese destroyer would drive right by him, filming the life raft and the wounded survivors. Eventually he would be plucked out of the ocean by a friendly Destroyer and be sent to the Naval Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida. He would end up having a plate inserted into his skull, and a metal hinge inserted into his damaged knee. Bearden was told that he would survive, but his days as a pitcher were all but over.

USS_Helena-CL-50-TorpedoDamage

Damage the the Helena took during the battle

But Bearden was not going to let a thing like some plates in his knee slow him down, and by 1945 he was back in the Yankee Minor League system.  In 1946 he would be traded by the New York Yankees with Al Gettel and Hal Peck to the Cleveland Indians for Sherm Lollar and Ray Mack.  He would make the majors in 1947–for all of one batter–but by 1948 would be a member of the Tribe rotation, and a 20 game winner.  That season was also the last time that the Cleveland Indians won a Championship.  That was 67 years ago.

But to even get the chance to play in the Championship, they were forced to play in the first ever one-game playoff in MLB history, against the Boston Red Sox, who had tied them in the American League with 97 wins.

You can imagine how huge this game was.

Lou Boudreau had three legit aces to choose from when deciding who to start the game:  Bob Lemon (20-14, 1.226 WHIP), Bob Feller (19-15, 1.323 WHIP), Gene Bearden (20-7, 1.276 WHIP).  Lemon was the most logical choice since he was the most rested of the three, but Boudreau decided to go with who he though was the best pitcher, and selected Bearden.

That day, in Boston at Fenway Park in front of 33,957 fans, Bearden would pitch a complete game, allowing 3 runs on 5 hits and 6 K, walking 5.  The Indians would win, 8-3.

They would go to the World Series, and take it from the Boston Braves in 6.

Bearden would never really have another great season, and was out of the game by 1954, but that one season should have been more than enough for him to know that he could walk away from the game feeling good about his career.

I was able to get this card for $10.  I actually like that it is personalized, and the tape marks on the corner don’t bother me at all.  Bearden is a tough autograph to find…though I am not sure why.  I don’t see many nice index cards pop up, or anything else for that matter.  This was, I think, an attractive piece and I am glad that I hopped on it.

Year Age Tm Lg W L ERA G GS CG IP H BB SO ERA+ WHIP Awards
1947 26 CLE AL 0 0 81.00 1 0 0 0.1 2 1 0 10 9.000
1948 27 CLE AL 20 7 2.43 37 29 15 229.2 187 106 80 168 1.276 MVP-8,RoY-2
1949 28 CLE AL 8 8 5.10 32 19 5 127.0 140 92 41 78 1.827
1950 29 TOT AL 4 8 4.99 26 12 4 113.2 138 65 30 89 1.786
1950 29 CLE AL 1 3 6.15 14 3 0 45.1 57 32 10 70 1.963
1950 29 WSH AL 3 5 4.21 12 9 4 68.1 81 33 20 107 1.668
1951 30 TOT AL 3 4 4.64 38 5 2 108.2 118 60 39 90 1.638
1951 30 WSH AL 0 0 16.88 1 1 0 2.2 6 2 1 28 3.000
1951 30 DET AL 3 4 4.33 37 4 2 106.0 112 58 38 96 1.604
1952 31 SLB AL 7 8 4.30 34 16 3 150.2 158 78 45 91 1.566
1953 32 CHW AL 3 3 2.93 25 3 0 58.1 48 33 24 137 1.389
7 Yrs 45 38 3.96 193 84 29 788.1 791 435 259 103 1.555
162 Game Avg. 11 9 3.96 47 21 7 194 194 107 64 103 1.555
CLE (4 yrs) 29 18 3.76 84 51 20 402.1 386 231 131 109 1.534
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/7/2015.
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