The Indians suddenly found themselves in the market for a manager after the 1941 season.
Although Cy Slapnicka was celebrated as a scout, unearthing pitching talent like Mel Harder, Herb Score, Bob Lemon and most famously, Bob Feller, he had a rough go as the team’s general manager. After missing out on the pennant in 1940, the Indians ended up four games below .500 in a tie for fourth place – 26 games behind the pennant-winning Yankees. Slapnicka, who had had a heart attack in 1938, wanted to return to scouting, which he said was his first love. After one year as manager, Roger Peckinpaugh was promoted to the front office, but that opened a vacancy in the Indians’ dugout.
And as it turned out, the new manager was found in the Tribe dugout as well.
The Nov. 26, 1941 edition of the Plain Dealer screamed across the front page that the new manager would be Lou Boudreau. At age 24, not only was Boudreau called the “boy manager,” but he was the youngest regular manager in Major League history. The only younger manager was Peckinpaugh himself, like Boudreau, a shortstop in his playing days. Peck managed the Yankees at the age of 23 for the last three weeks of the 1914 season after Frank Chance resigned, going 10-10 before he was succeeded by Wild Bill Donovan. (Ironically, Peckinpaugh, broke in with the Indians, the team that signed him off the Cleveland sandlots, before being traded to New York to make way for Ray Chapman.)
Nobody was more surprised by the hire than Boudreau’s wife Delia, who said bluntly, “I thought he was too young for the job.”
But even though Boudreau had just completed his second major league season, Indians owner Alva Bradley was confident he made the right hire, noting that he’d interviewed about a dozen men for the job and couldn’t find anyone with a professional – or personal – record as spotless as Boudreau’s.
“We couldn’t afford not to take advantage of Lou Boudreau’s natural gift for leadership,” Bradley said. “I don’t know of another man of whom I could be so certain that he would be thoroughly respected by the players, press and public. Lou is smart, he’s a great ball player, a fine young man, a fighter and a leader.”
The Plain Dealer noted that he could literally be a fighter, pointing out that he had to be restrained from taking a swing at Johnny Berardino during a game the previous season with the Browns. Boudreau, the story pointed out, weighed in about a buck-sixty.
Boudreau, an Illinois native who played baseball and basketball at the University of Illinois, was at his alma mater – where he served as an assistant basketball coach in the off-season – when he was notified of the hire. He hastened quickly to Cleveland to sign his contract, and set out shortly thereafter on his managing duties.
Two weeks after the hire, the United States entered World War II, and most major league rosters were depleted as players joined the armed forces – the first being Feller, who enlisted in the U.S. Navy the day after Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japanese fighter planes. But Boudreau failed his physical, due to arthritis in his ankles, and continued as player-manager until after the 1950 season, and leading the Indians to their last World Series win to date.