World Series photo left impression on national pastime

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

For two long downtrodden baseball franchises, the 2016 World Series between the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs was billed as an epic matchup, of two rustbelt teams that featured enough intriguing storylines to momentarily help keep our collective minds off the presidential campaign.

It turns out that 1948, the last time that the Indians won the World Series, also was a presidential election year, a contest that pitted incumbent Harry S. Truman against New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey. The race, of course, offered a publishing storyline that was immortalized by The Chicago Daily Tribune when it erroneously ran a banner headline across the front page pronouncing that "DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN."

The gaffe has served as a teaching point in newsrooms ever since, almost to the degree of a photo that appeared in The Cleveland Plain Dealer a month or so before the 1948 election.

The photo lesson to be learned was about the importance of integration in the national pastime, a story that was retold this week by The New York Times in a story chronicling the 1948 signing of Larry Doby by the Indians and his role as the first black player in the American League.

Doby proved to be a key player in Cleveland's championship run, batting .318 in the World Series and slugging a home run in the pivotal fourth game of the Fall Classic. A locker room photo of Doby and Steve Gromek, Cleveland's winning pitcher that day, showed the pair in a smile-filled hug that personified the winning spirit.

The photo is a point of pride for Carl Gromek, who for nearly a decade served in the dual role of chief of staff for the Michigan Supreme Court and state court administrator for the more than 240 trial courts in Michigan.

At the time the photo was snapped in the fall of 1948, some 68 years ago, it also brought out the unsavory side of "prejudice" in certain segments of American society where racial bigotry and intolerance held a steely grip.

The prized photo, which first appeared in The Cleveland Plain Dealer the day after the hometown Indians won Game 4 in the '48 World Series over the Boston Braves, continues to mesmerize Gromek each time he sets eyes on it.

"I can feel the energy and the enthusiasm of the moment," he says. "It's as if it happened yesterday."

On the left is the winning pitcher in that World Series game, a hard-throwing right-hander who outdueled Boston's star hurler Johnny Sain in the 2-1 contest. His counterpart in the photo is the hitting hero of the Cleveland victory, a promising centerfielder who slugged a home run in the third inning to provide the winning margin.

Steve Gromek.

Larry Doby.

Their names are forever linked by a photo that captured more than a mere celebratory moment. It was a "shot" literally heard beyond the baseball world, perhaps in a different context rivaling the epic reach of Bobby Thompson's historic home run blast that would be sounded at the famed Polo Fields three years later.

The photo brought together two teammates who unknowingly were about to be embraced in some social quarters and vilified in others.

Gromek, who was raised in the Polish-American enclave of Hamtramck, was a key member of Cleveland's pitching staff that magical year. He posted a 9-3 record with an impressive 2.84 earned run average, providing mound support for a star-studded Indian staff that included Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Gene Bearden, and the ageless Satchel Paige.

That year, Gromek's oldest son was born, eventually becoming one of the most influential attorneys in the state.

Doby, of course, gained instant fame the year before as the first black player in the American League, following on the heels of Brooklyn Dodger great Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball earlier during the 1947 season. He hit a stellar .301 in the championship season of 1948, socking 14 homers and driving in 66 runs for the Tribe.

But neither their combined stats for the season, nor their individual heroics that fourth game of the World Series proved to be the story the baseball nation would feast upon that October day. Instead, it was a photo that seemingly signified the beauty of brotherhood that would grab nationwide attention.

"My father wasn't making a political statement with that photo," says Carl Gromek, who once harbored his own Major League pitching dreams. "It was simply a moment where two teammates were caught up in the excitement of winning a World Series game. One had just beaten Johnny Sain, one of the great pitchers of that era, while the other had hit the game-winning home run. In sports, it's all about what you did on the field. They weren't thinking about anything 'black' or 'white.' It was all about winning."

Gromek actually has two autographed copies of the photo in his house outside Lansing. One is signed by his father, who died at age 82 in March 2002. The other by Doby, a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame whose life story was told in the biography "Pride Against Prejudice" by Joseph Thomas Moore. Doby, who died in 2003, twice led the American League in home runs during a 12-year career.

"I often sit and just stare at that picture," Gromek says. "It's a classic photo and really captures what my dad was all about. He had a real love of life."

That zeal was inherited by Gromek, a 1966 graduate of Birmingham Brother Rice who earned a baseball scholarship to Florida State University, a traditional power that placed second in the nation to the University of Southern California his senior year with the Seminoles. He would share that love of the national pastime with his younger brother, Greg, who also would earn a baseball scholarship to FSU, eventually playing several years as a pitcher in the minor league farm system of the Detroit Tigers. Greg, like his older brother, settled on a career in the law after his days on the diamond, and now is a partner with the firm of Plunkett Cooney in Bloomfield Hills.

Both Gromeks would become Academic All-Americans while playing for FSU. Greg was a two-time recipient of the national honor, while Carl achieved the distinction during his final season at the Tallahassee school. They each were instrumental in helping the Seminoles make it to the championship game of the 1970 College World Series in Omaha, Neb., where they lost 2-1 to USC in 15 innings. Gromek came on in relief of Seminole ace Mac Scarce during the fateful final inning.

"With the bases loaded, there was a dribbler to third," Gromek recalls. "Ron Cash, who played for the Tigers, was too deep to make the play and I fielded the ball but my throw to the plate was not in time. How many times have I thought about that one," he asks rhetorically.

It was an unfortunate ending to an otherwise banner season, one that still lives a long life in the memory bank of Gromek. He posted a spotless 5-0 mark in 13 appearances with a 262 ERA during the celebrated 1970 season. For the 1969 and 1970 seasons, Gromek had a combined ERA of 2.05, which stands as the seventh best mark in school history for pitchers hurling between 50 and 99 innings.

Gromek earned his bachelor's degree in business from FSU and worked for a short time at the venerable Dodge Main Plant on the midnight shift before enrolling in law school at the University of Detroit. He was an associate editor of the Law Review and director of the Moot Court Board, using his academic success there as a springboard to a position as a research attorney and judicial clerk for the Michigan Court of Appeals from 1974-76.

From 1988-98, Gromek served as the research director for the Court of Appeals, adding the title of chief clerk in 1998. He was named Chief of Staff for the Michigan Supreme Court in 2001. Four years later, Gromek also was appointed to the position of State Court Administrator. During his career in the state court system, ending in retirement in 2011, he published the Michigan Appellate Handbook, recognized as one of the leading treatises on appellate practice. He also has served as an instructor for the State Bar of Michigan, the Institute of Continuing Legal Education, as well as for several law schools in the state.

Published: Mon, Nov 07, 2016

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