Back in the olden days, it was very common for a city’s BBWAA chapter to have a banquet—or perhaps, more accurately, a bacchanalia—at which they present various awards and recognition of the mighty deeds of bat, ball and pen that took place during the regular season.
Some chapters had highly theatrical affairs. Leonard Koppett provided a detailed description of the New York chapters’ affairs in his terrific book, The Rise and Fall of the Press Box. But research from Media Committee member Lou Boyd contends that the banquets held by the Cleveland writers’ chapter were at least the equal of that of New York’s.
The Cleveland Baseball Writers Association of America’s Annual ‘Ribs and Roasts’ Shows
‘The Forgotten Cleveland Indian MVP’s’
by Lou Boyd
“Our Dinners Are Terrible”, screamed the headline in a February 1, 1949 article in the Boston Herald, written by Bill Cunningham[i]. This pronouncement was related to the midwinter baseball awards dinner season that was held annually in major baseball cities across the United States to celebrate and skewer their baseball heroes, managers, owners and anyone else who dared to have an impact on the previous year’s baseball season.
Invariably, these presentations were the responsibility of the local baseball writers from the various big league cities. The events ranged from a host of speakers and awards being presented to the winners of select categories up to massive productions of theatrical skits. These so-called skits could take the form of gentle taps on the wrist of their target all the way up to outright embarrassment for the subject.
The article went on to indicate that different cities were producing considerably different shows. New York, as expected, was considered the ‘most stylish of the lot’, yet, there was another city that seemed to be taking the crown away from the Big Apple. It was Cleveland.
The article goes on to say, “To put on a show such as the Clevelanders staged, you need some newspaper men who can really be funny. You need some, or somebody, who can write clever parodies and, if you’re going to lampoon the leading baseball characters of your immediate locality, you need scribes who bear, or who can manufacture, reasonable resemblances to the gentlemen being given the business. That type of affair takes a real talent and a lot of hard work. Maybe it’s worth it. The customers generally think so. Sometimes the organizers have their doubts. Such shenanigans, however, have to be good. Nothing can fall flatter than a string of these firecrackers that fall to explode. All of us have seen some that were utterly awful. It’s hard to foresee what’s going to be done about Cleveland. The place is taking all the honors that exist. It has the world championship in baseball. Its professional football team is the pace-setter and crowd collector of its particular division. Now its literary section is challenging for top honors in the field of Hammerstein, Booth and Barrymore.”
While the 1948 Cleveland baseball season was monumental, the baseball writers exploits during this off-season celebration in early 1949 was not their first. The Cleveland Chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) had been conducting these dinners for the local American League representative Indians beginning in 1938, and each year they selected a ‘Most Valuable Player’ of the Cleveland Indians.
1938 – 1944 Ribs & Roasts Shows
On November 9, 1937, the Cleveland chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America met at the sports offices of the Cleveland Plain Dealer to hold their annual elections for officers.[ii] It is very probable that the genesis of the Cleveland version of a sportswriter’s dinner awards show began at that meeting. The following day, it was announced that Stuart Bell, Sports Editor of the Cleveland Press was elected chairman of the chapter. Eugene Whitney was re-elected secretary and Herm Goldstein was chosen as treasurer.
According to ‘The Sporting News’ on December 30, 1937, “The Cleveland chapter of the Baseball Writers Association will hold its annual dinner on January 4 with Steve O’Neill as the guest of honor. In addition to this affair, the chapter has decided to have monthly dinner meetings and to investigate the possibility of a major party along the lines already popular in several other cities.”[iii]
The Cleveland Chapter did decide to hold a major party and award the honor of “Most Valuable Player” for the 1937 season. The award was presented on February 23, 1938 to Johnny Allen at the first annual banquet referred to as the ‘Ribs and Roasts of 1938’. The awards and banquets continued uninterrupted through the 1943 season. It is assumed that due to the war, no shows or awards were given for the 1944 and 1945 seasons.
Throughout the early years, the formal event to honor these individuals was more often than not known as the annual “Ribs and Roasts” show, with the intent behind the name to present an enjoyable evening of poking fun at the members of the Cleveland sporting community, including the writers, players and management of not only the Cleveland Indians, but also on occasion, the Browns, Barons and any other organization rooted in local Cleveland sports.
Beginning in 1946, the Cleveland writers renamed the award as the “Man of the Year” and presented the honor to Bill Veeck, owner of the Cleveland Indians. The name of the award was changed in order to include “non-players such as owners and other more sedentary personnel”.[iv] In addition to Bill Veeck, the only other non-players awarded the honor were Mel Harder for the 1961 season when he was the pitching coach and Dave Garcia in 1979 when he was manager of the team. The award was officially changed to the “Bob Feller Man of the Year” award beginning in 2010.
For some reason, the MVPs recognized by the sportswriters beginning with the 1937 season through 1943 were forgotten by the local record books and publications. An article by long time Cleveland writer Howard Preston was published in 1969 that said “Late last month the Cleveland chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America presented another ‘Ribs and Roasts Show’ which it dubbed the 23rd annual affair, designed to put the spotlight on the previous year’s sports activities in Cleveland. Somebody can’t count. I have in my possession the program from the first annual Ribs and Roasts show and the date is 31 years ago last night, Feb. 23, 1938.”[v]
Even the Cleveland Indians publicity department somehow forgot about these player awards. Beginning with the 1968 Cleveland Indians Pressbook, the organization started to expand the historical information included in the booklet given to sportswriters covering major league baseball. Included was a list of members of the organization chosen as the Cleveland ‘Man of the Year’ award beginning in 1946. It can be surmised that Marshall Samuel, long time Indians publicist joined the Tribe with Bill Veeck in 1946 from Chicago and was not aware of the previous awards and shows since there had been a lapse of two years.
The Forgotten MVP’s
In addition to Johnny Allen, the 1937 MVP, another six Indians have been lost to the record books for their accomplishments in the annals of Cleveland Indian history. Here is a list of those Tribesmen who should be recognized for their achievements recognized by the Cleveland BBWAA.[vi]
Indians Season Date of Ribs & Roast Show “MVP”
1937 February 23, 1938 Johnny Allen
1938 February 8, 1939 Mel Harder
1939 February 6, 1940 Bob Feller
1940 January 14, 1941 Lou Boudreau
1941 January 20, 1942 Jeff Heath
1942 January 26, 1943 Ken Keltner
1943 May 23, 1944 Al Smith
Hopefully, this information will someday be recognized by the historians for the outstanding contributions these men made on the field for the Cleveland Indians.
[i] Cunningham, Bill. “Our Dinners Are Terrible,” The Boston Herald, February 1, 1949.
[ii] Unknown, “Writers Elect Bell”, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 10, 1937.
[iii] Unknown, “In the Press Box”, The Sporting News, December 30, 1937.
[iv] Preston, Howard, “Who’s Where, 31 Years Later”, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 24, 1969.
[vi] Unknown, “Honor Bearden at Banquet Here”, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 19, 1948.
Further confirmation of MVP awardees and Ribs & Roasts shows for the years 1938 – 1944 were compiled primarily from articles written in The Cleveland Plain Dealer and other various Cleveland newspapers during the timeframe of the awards shows.