Illini Legend, Baseball Hall of Famer Lou Boudreau Dies

Lou Boudreau had his No. 5 jersey retired at Illinois Field in 1992.  He is shown here with Dave Wohlwend, the last Fighting Illini baseball player to wear that number.
Lou Boudreau had his No. 5 jersey retired at Illinois Field in 1992. He is shown here with Dave Wohlwend, the last Fighting Illini baseball player to wear that number.
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Aug. 10, 2001

CHAMPAIGN, ILL -- Lou Boudreau, a member of University of Illinois Big Ten Championship teams in both baseball and basketball and a Major League Baseball Hall of Famer, died today at St. James Hospital in Olympia Fields, Ill., at the age of 84. Memorial and funeral arrangements are not available.

Boudreau is one of only three former Illini to have their numbers retired. His No. 5 was retired by the University of Illinois Division of Intercollegiate Athletics between games of an Illinois baseball doubleheader on April 18, 1992, placing him in elite company with football greats Red Grange (#77) and Dick Butkus (#50).

"Lou Boudreau was a true Illini legend and one of the all-time baseball greats," said UI Director of Athletics Ron Guenther. "He has been a great Illini supporter and certainly the entire University sends its sympathy to the Boudreau family."

Boudreau competed at Illinois from 1937-38 before going on to a long and successful playing and managing career in Major League Baseball, first with the Cleveland Indians and later with the Boston Red Sox, Kansas City Athletics and Chicago Cubs.

Boudreau arrived at Illinois as a basketball player after starring in the sport at suburban Chicago's Thornton High School. He ended up playing both basketball and baseball at Illinois, leading the Illini to Big Ten titles in both baseball and basketball in 1937.

As an Illinois sophomore third baseman in 1937, Boudreau hit .347 with 25 hits and four triples to lead the Illini to the Big Ten championship. In June, 1990, Collegiate Baseball would name Boudreau to its all-time college baseball "Dream Team."

A few months earlier, Boudreau had helped lead the basketball squad to the Big Ten title. Playing for first-year head coach Doug Mills, Boudreau led the team in scoring that year with an average of 8.7 points per game, ranking ninth in the Big Ten in scoring. Based on that performance he would be named captain of the 1938 squad even though he was only a junior.

Despite missing the last third of the 1938 basketball season, Boudreau was named an All-American by the Associated Press. He was the top vote-getter on the all-time Illinois basketball all-star team that was named in 1981.

Boudreau's involvement at Illinois did not end when he joined the Indians in 1938. He returned to coach the freshman basketball team in 1939 and '40. During that time Boudreau was instrumental in recruiting "Whiz Kid" and Big Ten scoring champion Andy Phillip.

In 1987, Boudreau was named Varsity "I" Man of the Year for his more than 50 years of loyal service to the University.

Boudreau joined the Cleveland Indians in the spring of 1938 and was quickly converted from third base to shortstop, the position he would occupy for the duration of his Major League career. His first full year in the major leagues came in 1940 and less than two seasons later, in the fall of 1941 at the tender age of 24, he applied for and was named the new manager of the Indians. He was and still is the youngest manager in the history of Major League Baseball and one of only a handful of men to ever serve as a player-manager in the big leagues.

Boudreau enjoyed his finest year in professional baseball in 1948, leading the Indians to a World Series championship after hitting .355 with 18 homers and 106 RBI en route to earning The Sporting News Major League Player of the Year and American League Most Valuable Player honors. He collected six hits, including four doubles, and hit .273 in the World Series that year, leading the Indians to a six-game victory over the Boston Braves. He remains the winningest manager in Indians history and was the last Indians manager to lead the team to a world championship. Boudreau's #5 is one of six numbers retired by the Indians.

Boudreau played at Cleveland from 1938-1950 before finishing his playing career with the Boston Red Sox from 1950-51. In his 15-year major league playing career, Boudreau hit .295 with 68 homers and 789 RBI.

One of the great fielding shortstops of his era, Boudreau led the league in fielding eight times and in double plays five times. He still holds the major league record for doubles in a game (four) set in 1946 and competed in the All-Star game seven times, including five-straight appearances from 1940-44.

Boudreau managed four major league teams: Cleveland, Boston (1952-54), the Kansas City Athletics (1955-57) and the Chicago Cubs (1960). He served as a television and radio announcer for the Cubs for more than 20 years, retiring from the game and the broadcast booth in 1987.

Boudreau was inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 1970 after being included on 232 of the 300 (77.33%) ballots distributed that year by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Boudreau was born on July 17, 1917, in suburban Harvey, Ill. He competed solely in basketball for Thornton High School while playing baseball for semi-pro teams in the Chicago area during the summer. Despite signing to play professionally before his senior year, Boudreau took the time during the early years of his professional baseball career to earn a B.S. in education from the University of Illinois in 1940.

Boudreau was a member of Thornton High School's basketball team and was the first athlete to compete in three state boys basketball tournaments while in high school. He was a three-time all-state selection in basketball, earning the honor during the 1933, '34 and '35 seasons.

Lou Boudreau lived in Dolton, Ill., with his family since his retirement.