Henry Eugene Bearden (September 5, 1920 - March 18, 2004), like many other Major League players from the 1940s, served in the United States military during World War II, but was among the few that saw heavy combat and survived the sinking of the USS Helena, the Naval vessel on which he was assigned. Signed by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1939, Bearden went 35-17 over two seasons with the Miami Beach Flamingos of the Class-D Florida East Coast League, before being shipped to the Pacific Theatre in World War II. When the USS Helena took three torpedoes from a Japanese warship, Gene suffered a massive head wound and a severe knee injury that required a lengthy rehabilitation. Upon his recovery and discharge, Bearden returned to baseball, now a member of the New York Yankees community. While pitching with the Oakland Oaks, manager Casey Stengel encouraged Bearden to develop a knuckleball and he would ride that pitch to Majors 1947. The Yankees sent Gene to the Cleveland Indians in 1946 and he made his very forgettable debut, with the Tribe in 1947.
In 1948, Gene Bearden had the very definition of a career year, as he would barely match his year’s numbers over the remainder of his career collectively. Bearden was the third starter in the rotation that included Hall of Famers Bob Lemon and Bob Feller. Gene went 20-7 with 80 strikeouts, 15 complete games, six shutouts and a 2.43 ERA in 37 games. Down the stretch, as the Indians battled the Boston Red Sox for the American League pennant, Bearden shutout the Detroit Tigers and then was named player/manager Lou Boudreau’s selection to face the BoSox for the single game playoff, two days later, in which he shut down Boston with an 8-3 win. The Indians took the pennant and then the World Series over the Boston Braves in six games. Bearden finished second in the MLB Rookie of the Year voting to his Braves counterpart Alvin Dark. The remainder of his career was wrought with hope, but very little success. Gene pitched seven years in the big league with the Indians (1947-1950), the Washington Senators (1950-1951), the Detroit Tigers (1951), the St. Louis Browns (1952) and the Chicago White Sox (1953). Gene Bearden finished his career as injuries limited his productivity and he retired with a 45-38 record. He also had 259 strikeouts, 29 complete games, seven shutouts, and a 3.96 ERA in 193 appearances. Following the 1948 season, Hall of Fame Boston slugger Ted Williams almost prophetically claimed, “You watch, Bearden won’t win 20 games the rest of his career.” He was nearly right.