Friday May 19, the University of Illinois baseball team is honoring Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Lou Boudreau with Lou Boudreau Day for what’s now a doubleheader against the Iowa Hawkeyes. The day is being given in recognition of Boudreau being inducted in the first class of the University of Illinois Sports Hall of Fame in the Fall of this year. Boudreau attended the University of Illinois from 1935-1938, playing both baseball and basketball. In the 1936-37 season, both the basketball and baseball teams won Big Ten Conference titles. He attempted to become a three sport athlete at one point, trying out as a kicker for the football team. However, Illinois football coach Bob Zupke forgot about him, and he kicked for two hours. Boudreau’s leg was so sore that he had to spend the night in the hospital, and that was the end of his kicking career. Boudreau signed with the Cleveland Indians to play baseball in 1938, but he was able to finish his bachelors degree in education. He returned to Illinois to coach the freshman basketball team in 1939 and 1940. His baseball jersey number 5 was retired at Illinois in 1992. Red Grange and Dick Butkus are the only other Illinois players to have their numbers retired in any sport.
Boudreau would go on to have an outstanding career as a major league baseball player and manager. He was given thejob of player-manager of the Indians in 1942 at the age of 24. He was nicknamed the “boy manager.” To this day, he has the most wins of any Cleveland manager, with 728. As a player, he was a shortstop, who led the majors in hits in the 1940s, with 1578 hits.
In 1948, Boudreau led his team to win the World Series over the Boston Braves. He was the MVP that season, hitting .355 with 18 home runs and 106 RBIs. At the end of the season, the Indians had one game playoff with Boston Red Sox for the American League Pennant at Fenway Park. Boudreau had two singles and two home runs to lead his team to an 8-3 victory, and the American League Pennant. Lou Boudreau is credited with being the first manager to use an overshift. An innovation he devised to stymie Ted Williams, who was a dead pull hitter. Boudreau’s career at Cleveland came to an end after the 1950 season. He played a couple of years for the Red Sox, was a player-manager in 1952, and bench manager from 1953-54. From 1955-1957, Boudreau managed the Kansas City Athletics. When he lost that job he was offered the job as color man on WGN radio’s coverage of Chicago Cubs baseball, a position that he held until the end of the 1988 season, except for a brief stint as the team’s manager the second half of the 1960 season. He nearly thirty years in the booth was the longest tenure as a broadcaster for the Cubs on radio. Doing the team’s games for almost twice as long as Harry Carey, who was with the Cubs for only sixteen seasons. In his time as a broadcaster, he also covered the Chicago Bulls, the Chicago Blackhawks, Big Ten football, and the IHSA Boys Basketball Tournament.
As a player, manager, and coach, Lou Boudreau was involved with Major League Baseball for fifty years. The things that he did after he left the University of Illinois are a credit to the school.