Were he alive to see it, today would be Major League player, manager and broadcaster Lou Boudreau’s 98th birthday.
When players like David Ortiz or Nelson Cruz come to the plate, infields shift accordingly to play the, heavily likely, pull.
Shifting infielders is nothing new in baseball. In the late 1940s, Cleveland manager Lou Boudreau favored lefty Ted Williams’ pull. His defensive alignment became known as “The Boudreau Shift”
The history of the shift reads as commonsensical. According to Joe Ponanski’s article, Williams grounded “right into the teeth of it, as if playing along, and he was thrown out by Boudreau himself, who as shortstop was standing between the first and second baseman.”
The player-manager basically trademarked the shift, even forcing Fleer to print a card detailing the move.
As Baseball-Reference confirms (though with incomplete data) Williams grounded out to the right side about 80% of the time. Boudreau’s vision to keep Williams contained was not the only time he looked like a visionary.
Pitcher Bob Lemon (HoF 1976) threw seven twenty-win seasons and walked away with a .618 winning percentage. Even with his insane numbers, Lemon didn’t always pitch. His full-time career on the mound came about from his 1948 manager (well, player-manager), Boudreau.
That same season, Lemon and Boudreau teamed up for a World Series.
Boudreau totaled a modest .295 batting average while he played. He reached eight All-Star games in the 40s and the Indians have retired his number five jersey.
After his playing days, Boudreau joined WGN’s radio broadcast of Cubs games. He remained there until 1987. With one exception.
In 1960, Chicago became so peeved by manager Charlie Grimm that they swapped Boudreau for Grimm – going booth to dugout, and dugout to booth. The trade and his broadcast career is well summarized by Stephen Nidetz here.
He’s the definition of a man who lived for the game of baseball. Upon his Hall of Fame induction in 1970, Boudreau said, “This is reaching the top. That’s what we all strive for no matter what profession we’re in. I feel that my life is fulfilled now.”
Intertwined with the great stories from some of baseball’s best, Bob Feller recalls Boudreau calling pitches as a player-manager from the shortstop position.
Today, he is honored with an award given to the Indians’ best Minor League position player.