Boston’s Last National League Pennant

It has been exactly 70 years since the last time a baseball team from Boston won a National League pennant. The Braves had called Boston home since 1871 and had great success throughout the 19th century. As part of the National Association, they won championships in 1872, 1873, 1874, and 1875. After the formation of the National League in 1876, they continued their success winning pennants 8 more times between 1877 and 1898. That success stalled when the Red Sox came to town in 1901, save for 1914 when the “Miracle Braves” defeated Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics to become World Champions. Before and after that however, the team struggled and mostly finished in the second division.

Johnny Sain and Warren Spahn (From the Digital Commonwealth

The 1948 team was different. The Braves turned it around in the post World War II years, especially after the return of star pitchers Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain from military service. The pitching duo combined for 49 of the teams 91 wins in ’48. This success coined the phrase “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain” after the poem written by Gerald Hern of the Boston Post. The duo went 8-0 in a twelve day period after a series of days off and rain cancellations. Spahn and Sain carried the team defensively, while offensively they were lead by a number of players who put up big numbers all season long. Fan favorite Tommy Holmes, an outfielder, batted .325 that season and recorded 190 total hits. Shortstop Al Dark hit .322 and lead the team with 39 doubles. Hard hitting third baseman Bob Elliott lead the team with 23 home runs, 100 RBIs, and a franchise record 131 bases on balls. The team played consistently all season, clinched the pennant on September 26th, and ended the season 6 games ahead of the second place St. Louis Cardinals.

The American League would take a little bit longer to decide, and in the running were the Braves hometown rivals down Commonwealth Ave, the Boston Red Sox. The Sox won the AL pennant two years prior in 1946, losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. They had an excellent 1948 season like the Braves, making Boston was the center of the baseball universe for much of the summer. The Red Sox and Cleveland Indians battled for first place and ended the regular season in a tie, with both teams winning 96 games a piece. For the first time in American League history, there would need to be a playoff game to decide the pennant winner. In a surprise decision, the Red Sox went with pitcher Denny Galehouse instead of Mel Parnell who had defeated the Indians three times that season. Cleveland took an early lead and won the game 8-3, depriving fans of an all Boston World Series.

The Braves fought hard in the World Series, but fell to the Indians in six games. The Indians were the first team in the American League to have integrated, and were lead by former Negro League stars Satchell Paige and Larry Doby. They also had star pitcher Bob Feller, and player manager Lou Boudreau. The Braves won the first game, dropped the next three, won game five, and lost the series in Boston in game six. Cleveland has not won a World Series since.

The Braves would leave Massachusetts for Wisconsin before the 1953 season, making Boston a one team town for the first time since 1900, and forever preventing another National League pennant to be hoisted in the city. The team would go on to win the World Series as the Milwaukee Braves in 1957. Warren Spahn and fellow Boston Brave Eddie Matthews helped lead that championship team, along with Hank Aaron, who was signed while the team was still in Boston but didn’t debut until after the team had moved.

Chicago, New York, and St. Louis had all previously hosted an all city World Series. 1948 turned out to be the closest Boston ever got to doing the same, and the Braves and Red Sox are still yet to meet in a World Series despite the long histories of both teams. It’s fun to imagine the excitement the city felt in the summer and fall of 1948 with the prospect of both teams competing being so close. The match up would have guaranteed a World Series champion in the Commonwealth. Lost now to history is the show down between Warren Spahn and Ted Williams, and several unanswered questions; had the Braves beaten the Red Sox, would it have been the Sox shipping out of town 4 years later instead? Would Boston still be a two team town? Would Cleveland’s World Series drought stand at 98 years instead of 70?

In a fun coincidence, you can look at the 2018 World Series in a similar, but reversed way as 1948. The Red Sox take on the Dodgers, who defeated the Braves in the NLDS, once again preventing a Red Sox and Braves World Series. While we still have to wait for those two teams to meet up in the Fall Classic, we can root for the Red Sox to repeat their 1916 success, and beat the Dodgers again in five games.

The 1948 National League Champion Boston Braves (From Digital Commonwealth

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