1950s Tiger pitcher Gromek was famous for a photograph

This photograph taken after Game Four of the 1948 World Series became famous because of the embrace between Steve Gromek and Larry Doby.

By the time he became a member of the Detroit Tigers, Steve Gromek’s fastball wasn’t as fast and his star wasn’t shining as bright, but he found a second career with his hometown team.

Years earlier, as a member of the Indians, Gromek gained national publicity when a photograph showed him in an embrace with a teammate. But the image never bothered the Hamtramck native.

Behind a talented starting rotation that consisted of Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, and Gene Bearden, as well as shortstop/manager Lou Boudreau, the Indians won the pennant in 1948, squeezing past the Yankees and defeating the Boston Red Sox in a one-game playoff. Their opponent in the World Series was the Boston Braves. In Game Four, Boudreau gave Feller an extra days rest, tapping Gromek to start the contest though he’d spent much of the season in the bullpen. The right-hander had his fastball working that day, tossing a complete game 2-1 victory to give his team a three games to one lead in the Series. In typical fashion, Gromek recorded 17 of the 27 outs via flyballs or strikeouts. He was famous for being a flyball pitcher.

The margin in the game was provided by Larry Doby, the Indians star outfielder and the first black player in the American League. During the locker room celebration, Doby wrapped his arm around the winning pitcher, and Gromek squeezed next to Doby as bulbs flashed. The resulting picture, which shows Gromek and Doby cheek to cheek, went out over the wire and caused a stur. The image of a white man and a black man in embrace was still unusual for America, a nation still uncertain about the issue of integration. For Gromek it was never an issue.

”It seemed in the picture like I was kissing him,” Gromek told The Plain Dealer later. ”I was being interviewed in front of my locker, and somebody asked Larry to come over. He put his arm around me and squeezed me so hard I thought he was going to break my ribs. We were both so happy.”

The moment and the photo were so magical that Doby never forgot them. In 1998 when he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Doby reflected on it.

”That was a feeling from within, the human side of two people, one black and one white,” he said. ”That made up for everything I went through. I would always relate back to that whenever I was insulted or rejected from hotels. I’d always think about that picture. It would take away all the negatives.”

The Indians won the 1948 World Series in six games, and Gromek spent parts of five more seasons with the Tribe. His best season had been in 1945 when he won 19 games as a starter. In a victory that season he pitched a complete game without his defense recording a single assist – every out was a fly out, pop out, or strikeout. In the middle of the ’53 season he was included in a blockbuster trade that sent Ray Boone to the Tigers.

With Detroit, Gromek became a starter again, which revitalized him. In 1954 he won 18 games to pace the Tigers. He won 13 more the following season. In five years with Detroit, Gromek won 45 games before being released in 1957. He spent one year as a manager in the Tigers minor league season before accepting a job as a salesman in the auto industry, an position that allowed him to be with his family in the suburbs of Detroit. He died in 2002, and his New York Times obituary lead was the ’48 photo with Doby.

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