Hope to see drought end against Cubs
Cleveland Indians fans who saw the team win the World Series in 1948 – the last time the baseball team won it all – still vividly remember the games and are nostalgic for a time when baseball was king among Cleveland sports.
Now, those still-loyal fans are ready to see the Indians win their first World Series crown in 68 years when they play the Chicago Cubs in the best-of-seven matchup that started Oct. 25 at Progressive Field in Cleveland where the Indians took a 1-0 Series lead with a 6-0 victory.
Indians general manager Mike Chernoff told the Cleveland Jewish News following the American League Championship Series against Toronto, “It’s a huge organizational accomplishment to get to where we got to. And you just think about all the hard work that each area scout and each coach and each person in our office put in to get to that, and I think that’s the most special part of it.”
Chernoff said that the team looked at the first game of the World Series as “just another baseball game.”
“We’ve battled through a lot of adversity. This has been a really resilient team all year and we hope to just keep that going for one more series,” said Chernoff, a member of The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood with his wife, Sarah, and sons, Brody, 6, and Owen, 3.
Those 1948 fans anticipate a potential World Series victory and reflected on how baseball has changed since the Indians beat the Boston Braves for the crown that year.
Donald Freedheim, 84, worked for Cleveland Concession Co. in 1948, selling Coca-Cola at Indians games for 15 cents, where he made a penny per Coke sold.
“You could either work hard during the game and make your money or put your bucket down and watch the game. You couldn’t do both,” Freedheim said.
He said spots to sell at the World Series were coveted, but he got to work at two of the home games. “We all would sit at the last couple games,” he said, laughing.
Freedheim said that the Indians’ fan base is not what it was in 1948 and gave theories for why.
“Clevelanders are fair-weather fans,” Freedheim said. “I think another reason is that it costs so much money now. Before you could get a ticket and hot dog for $5 to $10, now taking a family of four (costs) hundreds of dollars.”
However, Freedheim said that not everything was better in the past.
“In those days they sold beer the whole game, and it was like the football games; people got smashed, they got in fights,” Freedheim said. “Now after the seventh inning they stop selling beer.”
After living on the East Side of Cleveland and teaching psychology for 40 years at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Freedheim recently moved to Alexandria, Va., to be near his children and grandchildren. However, he is still connected to Cleveland sports.
“My theory is the basketball team has really energized the baseball team because after the middle of the season when Cleveland won, they thought ‘we want to bring another championship to Cleveland,’” Freedheim said. “Although I’m not generally happy about the focus on sports rather than education and the other important things in life, I think the Cleveland Cavaliers, and if the Indians go all the way, it will energize the fans a lot.”
Marv Gisser, 82, of Mayfield Heights went to the third game of the 1948 World Series.
“I was 14 years old at the time so I didn’t realize how long it had been since they’d won (since 1920), but not like 1948 to 2016. When you are a kid, it’s a little bit different,” Gisser said.
Gisser also vividly remembers that in 1948 the Indians won the tiebreaker playoff game against the Boston Red Sox to advance to the World Series on Rosh Hashanah, just as he was walking home from services.
“You could hear games as you walked down the street,” he said.
Gisser, a congregant of the Temple Israel Ner Tamid in Mayfield Heights, added that Lou Boudreau, player-manager and shortstop for the 1948 team, was Jewish. He said that some ways baseball has changed since 1948 is that then, players left their gloves on the field in between innnings and fans didn’t have to go through security. He said although today more fans travel to go to away games, the cost of tickets can be more prohibitive for the average fan.
“Normal people could go to the game,” he said.
Bette Lawrence, 92, who lives at Wiggins Place, an assisted living community that is part of Menorah Park Center for Senior Living in Beachwood, also attended the 1948 World Series. Although she was not a baseball fan at the time, her friend had an extra ticket.
“Everybody was screaming their heads off,” Lawrence recalled. “It was exciting, it was a beautiful day and the sun was shining.”
Lawrence said although it seems like more women are interested in baseball today – including herself, adding that she’s also now a fan of basketball and football – she too has observed decreased fan interest, which may have something to do with the rise of other sports and today’s culture becoming less baseball-centric.
“In those days, everyone threw a baseball around in the backyard or on the street or whatever, and that was more popular than anything at that time,” Lawrence said. “I don’t think I even thought about football.”
Lawrence noted the impact the team is having on the city.
“It’s exciting for Cleveland, absolutely, because I’ve seen (baseball) when it was great when I was growing up, then it went downhill and now it’s coming back up and I just feel it’s so great that everyone is interested,” she said. “I just hope it stays like this.”
Leonard Robuck, 92, who lives at Wiggins Place, had tickets to the 1948 final game, but fell ill and couldn’t attend. However, his father-in-law brought him back a scorecard from the game.
“It was a great team and I enjoyed watching,” Robuck said. “My wife’s uncle had a gold pass to all the ball games, so I got to see many, many games during the year and I got to meet many of the players.”
Robuck still has autographs, including Bob Feller’s, and other baseball memorabilia on a stand in his bedroom. Although he said he probably will not attend the World Series games this year, his grandchildren have season tickets. He said he is happy to see the team coming back, but that one of the biggest changes between 1948 and now is loss of fan base, especially since the 1990s.
“I think what’s happened is they lost a lot of fan interest. You can’t always tell, but since (1997) the team has gone though a very rough period because all the good stars they had then are gone now. So they’ve rebuilt the team in a sensible way and I think that this year’s team, even if they don’t win, has given the city something it hasn’t had,” Robuck said.
Phil Sugerman worked at the 1948 World Series home games. At 20, Sugerman sold beer in the stands and remembers Bob Feller pitching for the Indians.
“Now it’s only a few innings that they pitch, where Bob Feller and Bob Lemon, they could go all nine innings,” Sugerman said.
Sugerman, 88, who lives at Wiggins Place, still follows the games closely.
“I’m very excited to know they are possibly going to win the (World) Series,” Sugerman said.
Terry Sobo, 91, who lived in Shaker Heights, worked at the U.S. Department of the Navy and attended one of the World Series games with her friends from work.
“I composed a little poem for the Indians to cheer them on, and I sent it to them through the Western Union bank,” Sobo said, adding that at the time, such messages were normally sent through wire transfers.
“It was sensational, it was absolutely different from a regular baseball game,” she said.
Sobo has since moved to Los Angeles, but she continues to cheer on the Indians. She said for the Indians to improve their chances of defeating the Cubs, they have to “win one or two games in Cleveland.”