Monday, October 24, 2016

Clint Conatser recalls how he almost changed the course of the 1948 World Series

Clint Conatser was just 17 years old when he started in the depths of the Cleveland Indians organization in 1939. Some 77 years later, he is only one of two living participants from the last Cleveland World Series championship in 1948; however, Conatser didn’t enjoy the fruits of the Indians victory, but the labors of defeat as a member of the National League Champion Boston Braves.

Conatser almost never got to the big stage, as he asked to be put on the voluntarily retired list in 1941 so that he could enlist in World War II. They obliged.

“I wrote Cleveland and I asked them to go to the voluntary retired list,” Conatser said during a 2008 interview from his home in California. “If you went in the service, they had to pay $150 to pick you up. They didn’t pick me up and I’m in the South Pacific getting letters from little towns in Georgia and South Carolina that wanted to give me a contract.”

Clint Conatser as a Boston Brave / Author's Collection
Upon his return home, he started to work out at Manchester Playground in Los Angeles, where he attracted the attention of area scouts. He credited his resurgence to physically maturing during his service time.

“I was better than when I left because I was bigger, stronger, and I had matured,” he said. “I had started when I was 17. I just matured and had control of everything.”

He signed with the Detroit Tigers in 1946 and spent two seasons in their minor league system before the Braves purchased his contract prior to the start of the 1948 campaign. He earned the favor of manager Billy Southworth during spring training and seven years after he voluntarily retired from baseball, he was a big leaguer.

Conatser hit .277 in his 90-game rookie campaign while patrolling the outfield for the National League champs. He made two appearances in the 1948 World Series, starting in Boston’s Game 3 loss, and then pinch hitting in the deciding Game 6. During our 2008 conversation, Conatser’s clearest memory of the World Series was how his bases loaded sacrifice fly was inches from helping to force a potential Game 7.

“In the sixth game of the World Series when I pinch-hit with the bases loaded, I hit a shot and a guy made a great play on it,” he said. “They read the box scores and it said I hit a long fly ball to center field; I didn’t, I hit a shot. If the ball goes in, we win, and come back with [Johnny] Sain the next day. [Lou] Boudreau had taken [Larry] Doby out of center field because he played short like Tris Speaker used to and he put in a guy Thurman Tucker who was a world class sprinter; he could really run. He made a great play and Boudreau said that was the defining play because he put him in for Doby. If the ball goes in, it’s a different story. Every series is like that.”

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