Picture perfect: World Series photo linked two baseball families


By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

It’s a timeless photo that has been a point of pride over the past 74 years for a pair of families, one of which has deep ties to the state’s legal community.

Retired attorneys Carl and Greg Gromek, both of Oakland County, are the sons of a late Major League pitcher who is part of baseball history thanks to a 1948 photo that is about to take on a new life of its own.

The prized photo, which first appeared in The Cleveland Plain Dealer the day after the hometown Indians won Game 4 of the 1948 World Series over the Boston Braves, is of two members of the winning team, hitting star Larry Doby and pitcher Steve Gromek, the triumphant hurler in the pivotal game.

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 future Hall of Famer 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 – one black and one white – who unknowingly were about to be embraced in some social quarters and vilified in others during a time when the Jim Crow era was still a stain on the nation.

Steve 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.

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 attorney 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.”

The Gromek brothers each have an autographed copy of the photo in their respective homes. Each photo is signed by their father, who died at age 82 in March 2002. The other autograph is from 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 photo,” says 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. “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 for years was a partner with Plunkett Cooney, a prominent Detroit area firm founded in 1913.

Earlier this month, the 1948 baseball photo that signified the dawning of a new era in our national pastime took on added meaning when various members of the two families enjoyed a reunion of sorts that further cemented their bonds.

Larry Doby Jr., the son of the late Hall of Fame player, enjoyed a meal with the Gromek brothers and their wives, Maureen and Heidi. Also on hand for the special occasion was Carl and Greg’s 97-year-old mother, Jeanette. A longtime New Jersey resident, Doby was in the Detroit area as part of the production team for legendary singer Billy Joel, who performed before a sellout crowd at Comerica Park on July 9.

“Larry is every bit the son of his father, a warm and humble man who embodies all of his dad’s finest qualities,” says Gromek of Doby, who played baseball and football at Duke University. “It was great to finally connect with him and to enjoy the opportunity to hear stories about his dad. It was made even more special by how much our mom enjoyed the get-together. She told some stories that Greg and I had never heard before. It was a trip back in time for her.”

She may have the chance for a return “trip” later this year when a special ceremony is scheduled to be held in Washington, D.C., according to Gromek.

The occasion will be when Doby’s father is posthumously presented with the Congressional Gold Medal, representing Congress’s highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions. The medal was first awarded in 1776 by the Second Continental Congress to General George Washington, and was posthumously presented to Jackie Robinson in 2003.

The medal for Doby, however, will be emblazoned with a pictorial message for the ages.

“The Doby family wanted a copy of that photo to appear on the back of the medal, to help symbolize the importance of the friendship that two teammates enjoyed,” says Gromek. “They originally were told that it couldn’t happen, but they persisted and finally made it happen after getting our blessing and the photo rights from the Cleveland paper.

“We are now all waiting for word when the ceremony will be scheduled,” Gromek notes. “We certainly plan to attend and we hope that our mother will be able to go as well. It would be particularly fitting if she can.”

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