When You Survive a Torpedo Attack, I Guess Everything Else Is Easy!

When You Survive a Torpedo Attack, I Guess Everything Else Is Easy!

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Gene Bearden and the 1948 World Series Photo Gallery
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When You Survive a Torpedo Attack, I Guess Everything Else Is Easy!

Tribute to War Hero and Major League Pitcher Gene Bearden

“I was just another gob, luckier than most” –Gene Beardon, modestly speaking of his war-time experiences.

“Bearden was my best pitcher in 1948, better than Feller or Lemon. I had absolute confidence in him.” – Cleveland Indians Manager Lou Boudreau

“You watch, Bearden won’t win 20 games the rest of his career.” – Ted Williams, commenting after Bearden’s great 1948 rookie season

The title of this piece could serve as Gene Bearden’s epitaph. A low-level minor leaguer in the Phillies’ organization before the war, he was seriously injured while serving aboard the USS Helena during World War II. While he was working in the engine room, the ship was struck by three Japanese torpedoes on July 6, 1943. When the crew was forced to abandon ship, Machinist’s Mate Bearden sustained a fractured skull and a crushed kneecap. Out of a crew of 900, 168 were lost in the attack. Hospitalized until early 1945, he underwent surgeries that inserted metal plates in his head and knee. His war injuries would plague him the rest of his life.

Amazingly, in 1945, just months after his release from the hospital, the wounded World War II survivor miraculously returned to baseball in the Yankee organization, winning 15 games at Class A Binghamton. The following year, at Class AAA Oakland, manager Casey Stengel taught him the knuckleball and he posted another 15-victory season. The pitch became his ticket to the majors.

Following a five-player trade to the Indians, the 6′ 3″ 198 lb. 26-year old rookie finally landed a spot on the Indians’ 1948 major league roster, just five years removed from major war-time injuries. And what a rookie year it was. Although not debuting until May 6, the Lexa, Arkansas native won six of his first seven starts, with four complete games and two shutouts. By September, he was 13–6 with a 2.74 ERA. And then he went on another tear. After losing his first September starts, he won seven in a row. Here’s what happened next:

“With Bearden pitching complete game shutouts on September 28 and October 2, the Indians and Red Sox finished in a tie. For the one-game playoff, at Fenway Park, manager Lou Boudreau went with Bearden. On only one day of rest, Bearden pitched another complete game, shutting down the powerful Red Sox on five hits. Cleveland won, 8–3, behind Boudreau’s four hits and two home runs. Rookie Bearden finished the year at 20-7 (.741), and won the 1948 American League ERA title (2.47).”

But Bearden wasn’t finished. In Game Three of the 1948 World Series against the Braves, he threw a complete game 2-0 shutout. In Game Six, he saved the World Series-clinching game for starter Bob Lemon with a scoreless ninth inning. Within a brief five year span, the war hero had also become a World Series hero. 

In his sensational rookie year, Bearden finished among the top five in victories, shutouts, winning percentage, fewest hits per innings, and walks plus hits per inning pitched. He was seventh in innings pitched and eighth in complete games.

In the featured photo above, we see Gene Bearden being carried off the field on the shoulders of his jubilant Indians’ teammates. Click on the link to see a photo tribute to WW II hero and major league pitcher Gene Bearden: 

Unfortunately, just as Ted Williams predicted, Bearden turned into a “one year wonder.” Control problems plagued him in 1949, as he led the league in wild pitches and walks. After a continued decline in 1950, he was picked up off waviers by the Senators, followed by stops with the Tigers, Browns, and White Sox from 1951-53. Suddenly, his major league career was over. He finished with a 45–38 record, with a 3.96 ERA.

With Hollywood good looks, Bearden later worked as an actor in the motion picture industry, and had a role in the Monty Stratton Story starring Jimmy Stewart. He also was involved in a number of business ventures and was a youth baseball coach. Decorated war hero and World Series hero Gene Bearden passed away in 2004, at age 83.


Gary Livacari

Photo Credits: All from Google search

Information: Excerpts and quote edited from the Gene Bearden Wikipedia page

I'm a baseball historian who also loves to write. My forte is identifying ballplayers in old photos, and my specail interest is the Dead Ball Era.


  1. Rich Giandana · October 6, 2017 Reply

    Great story, Gary!

    As a vet, I’m always appreciative of your stories about ballplayers who served in the military, especially during WWII. And in this case, for Gene Beardon to survive the sinking of his ship with all those other ‘gobs’ lost, and then accomplish what he did with metal plates in his head and knee!

    Shut outs, one day of rest before throwing one of his many complete games? Incredible!

    Thanks, amico!

  2. Gary Livacari · October 6, 2017 Reply

    Thanks for the kind words Rich…I’m a vet too!

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