Gene Bearden (September 5, 1920 - March 18, 2004) was a left-handed knuckleball pitcher in Major League Baseball who completed a remarkable rookie season by closing out the Cleveland Indians' last World Series championship in 1948.
Bearden was born in Lexa, Arkansas . His boyhood idol was Lou Gehrig and he learned baseball on the Tennessee sandlots. In the minors, he played for manager Casey Stengel with the Acorns when the team was the property of the New York Yankees. The Yankees traded Bearden to Cleveland after the 1946 season.
In 1948 Bearden was 20-7 with a league-leading 2.43 ERA, and he completed 15 of his 29 starts with six shutouts. Pitching on a staff with future Hall of Famers Bob Feller, Bob Lemon and Satchel Paige, Bearden emerged as the star of the Indians. Bearden's 20th victory came in a one-game playoff for the AL pennant. Picked by manager Lou Boudreau to start on only one day of rest, Bearden responded by pitching a five-hitter and leading the Indians over Ted Williams and the Boston Red Sox 8-3.
The 1948 World Series between the Indians and the Boston Braves was tied at 1 when Bearden started Game 3 at Cleveland. The 28-year-old lefty was at his best, shutting out the Braves on five hits in a 2-0 victory; at the plate, he contributed a double and a single. In Game 6 at Braves Field, Bearden was summoned from the bullpen to relieve Lemon in the eighth inning. Bearden got the final five outs for a save and the Indians held on for a 4-3 win that clinched the championship.
Bearden's success was even more amazing considering he had pitched in only one major league game prior to 1948. The year before, he worked one-third of an inning for the Indians and allowed three earned runs, two hits and one walk, giving him an ERA of 81.00. There was just one MLB Rookie of the Year picked in the majors that season, and the award went to Alvin Dark of the Braves.
Bearden, however, never came close to duplicating his rookie season. He never won more than eight games in a year after that, and twice led the AL in wild pitches. The Indians put him on waivers during the 1950 season, and he was claimed by Washington Senators.
Bearden finished with a 45-38 record, 259 strikeouts, 435 walks and a 3.96 ERA in a career that lasted until 1953. He also pitched for the Detroit Tigers, the St. Louis Browns and the Chicago White Sox. However, his '48 big season was enough to make a great impression on Ted Williams, who wrote in his book My Turn At Bat, that "Gene Bearden was a left-handed knuckleball pitcher who ordinarily wouldn't draw a second glance on a staff with Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn and Mike Garcia. Every ball he threw was either a little knuckleball or a little knuckle curve."
When the Indians celebrated their 100th anniversary (2001), Bearden was selected as one of the greatest 100 players in the team history.
Gene Bearden died in Alexander City, Alabama, at 83 years of age.