World Series photo left an impression on national pastime

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Tom Kirvan
Legal News, Editor-in-Chief

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 divert attention from the presidential campaign of that year.

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.
In that case, the photo lesson to be learned was about the importance of integration in the national pastime, a story that centered on 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 Gromek’s son, Carl, 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 72 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 Carl 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.

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.

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 for years has been a partner with a prominent Detroit area firm.

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, which came to an end in 2011 when he opted for early retirement, Gromek published the Michigan Appellate Handbook, a 500-page manual that is recognized as one of the leading treatises on appellate practice.

Yet, this week, as a baseball nation prepares for an abbreviated season this summer due to the pandemic, Gromek will answer to a different drumbeat, wondering if the racial lessons of yesteryear can somehow translate to 2020. It’s a question that begs for an answer that can truly stand the test of time.




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