Bearden was born in Lexa, Arkansas. His
boyhood idol was Lou Gehrig and he learned baseball on the Tennessee
sandlots. In the minors, he played for manager Casey Stengel with the
Oakland Acorns when the team was the property of the New York Yankees.
The Yankees traded Bearden to Cleveland after the 1946 season.
In 1948 Bearden was
20-7 with a league-leading 2.43 ERA, and he completed 15 of his 29
starts with six shutouts. Pitching on a staff with future Hall of
Famers Bob Feller, Bob Lemon and Satchel Paige, Bearden emerged as the
star of the Indians. Bearden's 20th victory came in a one-game playoff
for the AL pennant. Picked by manager Lou Boudreau to start on only
one day of rest, Bearden responded by pitching a five-hitter and
leading the Indians over Ted Williams and the Boston Red Sox 8-3.
1948 World Series between the Indians and the Boston Braves was tied
at 1 when Bearden started Game 3 at Cleveland. The 28-year-old lefty
was at his best, shutting out the Braves on five hits in a 2-0
victory; at the plate, he contributed a double and a single. In Game 6
at Braves Field, Bearden was summoned from the bullpen to relieve
Lemon in the eighth inning. Bearden got the final five outs for a save
and the Indians held on for a 4-3 win that clinched the championship.
Bearden's success was even more amazing considering he had pitched in
only one major league game prior to 1948. The year before, he worked
one-third of an inning for the Indians and allowed three earned runs,
two hits and one walk, giving him an ERA of 81.00. There was just one
MLB Rookie of the Year picked in the majors that season, and the award
went to Alvin Dark of the Braves.
Bearden, however, never came close to duplicating his rookie season.
He never won more than eight games in a year after that, and twice led
the AL in wild pitches. The Indians put him on waivers during the 1950
season, and he was claimed by Washington Senators.
Bearden finished with a 45-38 record, 259 strikeouts, 435 walks and a
3.96 ERA in a career that lasted until 1953. He also pitched for the
Detroit Tigers, the St. Louis Browns and the Chicago White Sox.
However, his '48 big season was enough to make a great impression on
Ted Williams, who wrote in his book My Turn At Bat, that "Gene
Bearden was a left-handed knuckleball pitcher who ordinarily wouldn't
draw a second glance on a staff with Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn
and Mike Garcia. Every ball he threw was either a little knuckleball
or a little knuckle curve."
the Indians celebrated their 100th anniversary (2001), Bearden was
selected as one of the greatest 100 players in the team's history. The
choice of Bearden to pitch the playoff championship game was against
tradition. The Red Sox despite Williams presence were predominantly
right-handed power hitting team, and Fenway Park had a short left
field ( a/k/a "Green Monster") fence . Left-handed pitchers were not
very successful there, so sending Bearden with a short rest, is an
excellent example of Booudreau's managing skill. The two homers Lou
hit were also an example of his clutch hitting ability.
Bearden was struck by shrapnel causing serious head injury while
serving on a cruiser in WW 2. It required removal of some skull bone.
He was fitted with a silver replacement for the cranial bones removed
in the surgery . However, secondary to these injuries he had chronic
headaches and intermittent optical incidents. They required the use of
painkilling drugs and others aimed at addressing optical and balance
issues. Bearden turned to ETOH to help deal with these problems. His
relatively short career was as much a product of his self medication
with ETOH , and the war caused traumatic injuries as any physical
Indeed, they blighted his life for long periods
although better pharmaceuticals and surgical procedures gave him
greater relief from the principal symptoms later in life. Bearden's
life was a casualty of the War, despite his relatively long physical
presence after it.
Gene Bearden died in Alexander City, Alabama, at 83
years of age.