By Tom Ruane
This article is a continuation of the Retro-Review articles. As with the other pieces, this is not intended to be a proper history of the decade. Instead, each review is a collection of things that interested me while I was helping to proof the box scores for that year and generate the html files for our web-site.
In addition, from time to time I will be focusing on a few of the statistical discrepancies from these years. These are cases where the data being displayed on Retrosheet's web-site differs from either the current official statistics or what was considered official at the time. In many cases, it is unclear which version is correct, but in many others the official view is pretty obviously wrong and at some point ought to be corrected.
Of course, like the earlier articles, this one would not have been possible without the work of dozens of Retrosheet volunteers who worked on digitizing the major league box scores for the 1910s.
Similar articles on the 1900s, 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1950s and 1960s are also available on our web-site.
Yearly links: 1940 1941 1942 1943 1944 1945 1946 1947 1948 1949
A note on the scope of the data presented in these articles:
As of this writing, the data used in these articles does not include any of the Negro Leagues that are now considered by MLB to be part of the "Major Leagues" as of December, 2020. These leagues are the Negro National League from 1920 to 1931 and 1933 to 1948, the Eastern Colored League from 1923 to 1928, the 1929 American Negro League, the 1932 East-West League, the 1932 Negro Southern League, and the Negro American League from 1937 to 1948.
This omission is not in any way a reflection upon the major league status of those leagues (or for that matter any additional leagues that may come under the Major League umbrella in future years), only that I did not have access to data associated with these leagues while I was researching and writing these articles. In light of this, any data presented in this article, as well as my use of the term "major leagues," should be viewed in light of this omission.
On the surface, things seemed to be looking up for Cleveland in the early going of 1940. Bob Feller started things off with the first opening day no-hitter in major league history1 and was off and running, winning eight of his first ten decisions. With the Yankees playing poorly, the American League entertained dreams of its first pennant race since 1928, and the Indians were right in the thick of it. Even after losing eight of thirteen on a four-city eastern swing in early June, they were only two games out of first when they returned home on June 13th. But there was trouble brewing in Cleveland, and shortly before noon that day eleven players walked into owner Alva Bradley's office and demanded manager Ossie Vitt's resignation. A twelfth player, star slugger Hal Trosky, was in Iowa at the funeral of his mother, but supported his teammates by telephone.2
Vitt was accused of being sarcastic to his players, comparing his current team unfavorably to the 1937 Newark Bears (a minor league team he had managed to 109 wins), and ridiculing them to writers, fans and the opposing team. In addition, his nervous mannerisms and antics on the field embarrassed the players and, they thought, made the team the laughingstock of the league. A few incidents on the recent road trip had finally brought their dissatisfaction to a head. While losing to the first-place Red Sox on June 11th, Bob Feller was on the mound when he heard his manager call out: "Look at him! He's supposed to be my ace! I'm supposed to win a pennant with that kind of pitching."3 And when Vitt came out to remove Mel Harder from a game the next day, he told his pitcher: "It's about time you won one, the money you're getting."4
In stark contrast to the Pittsburgh revolt in 1926, the Cleveland players involved were not summarily released or otherwise disciplined. For one thing, just about all the team's veterans were involved. Instead, the owner promised to investigate their grievances and left Vitt's fate undecided for a few days. The players felt confident that he would be removed, but peace was restored on June 16th with a victory for the manager.5 Most of the insurrectionists signed a statement giving up the fight and withdrawing their original request.6
One unusual sidebar was Hal Trosky's promotion to captain, primarily to make the first-baseman the point man on any arguments with the umpires. Vitt didn't feel that a manager in the dugout had any credibility in on-field disputes: "We're licked before we start when I have to come all the way from the dugout to kick about a decision. Time after time, the umpire has waved me back with the statement that I couldn't possibly have seen the play in question."7 Funny, I don't remember that ever stopping Billy Martin or Earl Weaver.
Despite all the unrest, the Indians refused to fold under the direction of their unpopular manager. The Indians started an eight-game winning streak on the day the revolt was squashed and battled the Tigers all summer for the top spot. On September 1st, the Indians led the Tigers by three and a half games, with the resurgent Yankees only another game behind. A week later, a Cleveland slump had left all three teams within a game of the lead. During the previous off-season, Hank Greenberg had agreed to move to the outfield to make room in the lineup for Rudy York, a move that paid off all year, but especially in September when the league's top one-two punch combined to hit 24 home runs and drive in 77 runs. By the time the Tigers arrived in Cleveland for the final three games of the year, they held a two game lead over their rivals, meaning that the Indians would need a sweep of the series to capture the pennant.
In the first game, the Indians sent Bob Feller, who had already won 27 games, to the mound against Floyd Giebell, making only his second major league start. Gieball had pitched well in his first start eight days earlier, but he was even better that day, pitching a six-hit shutout. Feller was almost as good, but a two-run homer off the bat of Rudy York provided the margin of victory in the Tigers' surprising pennant-clinching victory. For Gieball, it would be his last win in the majors, as he would pitch briefly and ineffectively for Detroit the next year before being sent to the minors for good at the end of July.
After spending the first two-thirds of the season in the second division, the Yankees caught fire in August and September and were able to climb into the pennant race. On August 8th, they were in fifth place and a game under .500. After defeating Bob Feller and the Indians in the first game of their double-header on September 11th, they had completed a 26-6 run that had put them momentarily in first place. In the rain-soaked second game, a costly error by first-baseman Babe Dahlgren resulted in four unearned runs and a loss. The defeat dropped them back into third place, and six losses in their next eight games pretty much ended their hopes. Joe McCarthy was convinced that Dahlgren's error cost his team the pennant and thought that his first-baseman had missed the ball, not because of the poor visibility, but because Babe had smoked marijuana.8 McCarthy unloaded Dahlgren before the start of the next season, starting him on a journey that would take him to seven different teams over the final six years of his career.
In contrast to the junior circuit, the National League pennant was won in relative ease by the Cincinnati Reds, who took command of the race when they won 18 of 20 games during July and finished things off by going on a similar hot streak in September. Their season, however, was not without its drama and tragedy. On July 26, Ernie Lombardi sprained his ankle while pinch-hitting in the Reds 9-5 win over the Phillies, forcing Willard Hershberger to assume most of the catching burden for the team. Three days earlier, Hershberger had collected four hits in a 9-2 win, raising his batting average in a part-time role to .378, but the hot weather and the greater workload contributed to a slump that saw the catcher get only four hits in his next eight games. After a double-header loss in Boston on August 2nd, Hershberger broke down in manager Bill McKechnie's office and confessed that he often had suicidal thoughts. By the end of a lengthy discussion, McKechnie thought his catcher had gotten over his depression, but the next day, while his teammates were taking the field against the Bees, Hershberger killed himself in his hotel room.9 Hershberger's death caused the Reds to convince coach Jimmie Wilson to come out of retirement and he would become an unlikely hero of the 1940 World Series, catching six of the seven games, including a quietly perfect day at the plate in the last. More on that in a moment.
The major leagues celebrated a breather from Yankee domination by staging a competitive World Series. There were heroes in both dugouts, a goat or two, and a close final game. Foremost among the heroes was the well-travelled Bobo Newsom, who pitched a complete game victory in the opener, came back after the death of his father to pitch a three-hit shutout in game five, and then went the distance on only one day's rest, losing the decisive game 2-1. A victory that day would have made him the first pitcher since 1920 to win three games in a series.
The Reds had another unexpected star in addition to Wilson. Jimmy Ripple had been a waiver pickup in late August. Inserted into the lineup in left-field, he led the Reds with six RBIs, two of them on a go-ahead homer that helped even the series at one apiece, and was in the middle of the rally that won the series in game seven.
Newsom was pitching a four-hit shutout and holding onto a one-run lead when Frank McCormick opened the bottom of the seventh that day with a double. Ripple followed with a double to right that tied the game. After Wilson sacrificed him to third, Billy Myers hit a fly ball to center to score Ripple with what would turn out to be the winning run when Paul Derringer blanked the Tigers the rest of the way. Derringer and his mound mate Bucky Walters each won a pair of games for the Reds, a comeback from the year before, when they shared three losses.
During the off-season, Jimmie Wilson would be hired to manage the Cubs. He had previously suffered through five unsuccessful seasons at the helm of the Phillies during the thirties and would have little more success in Chicago, managing the second-division Cubs until he was fired after his charges lost nine of their first ten games in 1944.
One odd note related to the Reds that season concerned their July 4th double-header sweep of the Pirates. In the game story the next day, The New York Times noted that the Reds had tied "a modern National League record of four consecutive double triumphs" and had "equaled the record held by the Dodgers (1924) and the Giants (1928)."10 They were wrong. To be sure, the Reds had swept their previous four twin-bills (the previous ones were on June 16th, June 23th and June 30th), but this wasn't even close to a record. As a matter of fact, the record was eight consecutive sweeps and had been tied only the year before when the second-place Cards swept the Phillies in a double-header on August 26th. The mark was originally set by the 1931 Cards, who swept their last eight double-headers during a 25-7 finishing kick.
On September 24th, the Red Sox routed the Philadelphia A's 16-8 in the first game of a double-header. In the sixth inning, Jimmie Foxx became only the second player in major league history to hit 500 home runs. His shot came in the middle of a record-tying three consecutive homers hit by the visiting Sox and it could have been even worse. Following the blows by Ted Williams, Foxx and Joe Cronin, Bobby Doerr hit a ball that many observers thought could have been an inside-the-park home run. After the second-baseman had settled for a triple, Jim Tabor followed with another round-tripper. So the Red Sox came within a conservative decision on the part of their third-base coach of hitting five consecutive homers.11 The Red Sox set a modern major league record with 14 extra-base hits in that game, a mark that would be broken by the Red Sox in 1950. Ted Williams would hit two home runs in both games.
George Caster was on the mound during that inning and he would end his day allowing a record-tying six home runs. In his previous start, Caster had been left in to absorb a 14-0 pounding in a complete game loss to the Tigers. In those two games, he allowed 23 runs and eight home runs in only ten and a third innings pitched. Manager Connie Mack must have taken pity on his over-matched pitcher at this point, because Caster did not make an appearance in the last eight games and was allowed to finish his year with a 4-19 record. Of course, Mack wasn't through dispensing tough-love to his hurlers, permitting Chubby Dean to finish what he started four days later in a 16-4 drubbing, again at the hands of the Red Sox. It was Dean's second straight complete game, as he previously went without relief during a 13-2 loss to the Tigers. I'm guess that Dean and Caster were both glad to see the season come to a close.
On May 7th, the Cardinals tied two National League marks when they hit seven homers and thirteen extra-base hits while routing the Dodgers 18-2. Every starter in the lineup had at least one extra-base hit, the first time this had happened since at least 1918. Not counting games with the DH, this has happened twice since: by the Reds in their 22-2 win over the Cubs in 1957, and the Expos during their 19-0 dismantling of the Braves in 1978.
Less than a week later, St. Louis was involved in a wild extra-inning game. Billy Werber of the Reds hit four doubles in a game for the second time, having previous done it for the Red Sox in 1935. Johnny Mize countered with three home runs for the visiting Cardinals and the game ended in an 8-8 tie after fourteen innings. This was a makeup game and the league had neglected to assign umpires to it, so two substitute umpires, Reds coach Jimmie Wilson and Cards pitcher Lon Warneke, filled in along with regular umpire Larry Goetz, who had been planning to enjoy a day off but lived in Cincinnati.12 Warneke must have liked the experience, since he would umpire in the National League for seven years after his playing career was over.
Johnny Lucadello hit the first two home runs of his career, one from each side of the plate, on September 16th. He was only the second player in major league history to do this, joining Augie Galan, who had homered from both sides in 1937. It would be done again next by Jim Russell in 1948.
Harry Craft hit for the cycle, and three of his teammates chipped in four hits apiece, as the Reds clobbered the Dodgers 23-2 on June 8th. Carl Doyle, took most of the pounding, giving up sixteen hits and four walks, good for fourteen runs in the middle innings. He also threw two wild pitches and tied a modern major league record by hitting four batters.
Spud Chandler was almost the whole show on July 26th, pitching a five-hitter and hitting a single and two home runs (including a ninth-inning grand-slam), good for six RBIs. His grand-slam was hit off of Pete Appleton, the last pitcher to knock in six runs in a game. Like Appleton before him, Chandler had only one other RBI all season.
Johnny Rucker started his salary drive late in 1940. Entering the September 24th game, he had yet to hit a homer and had driven in only eleven runs in 80 games. In his last six games, however, he hit four home runs and more than doubled his RBI total, culminating in a two-homer and seven-RBI game in the season finale. George Case tied a record by collecting nine hits in a double-header on July 4th, the first time this had been done since Bill Terry in 1929. And Bama Rowell set a record that few (if any) knew about until now when he hit in 33 straight games at Braves Field from July 28th to September 17th, breaking the previous mark of 30 straight games set the previous year by Deb Garms.
Ted Lyons turned 39 before the year began and so his manager decided that perhaps he should only work one day a week. That day was Sunday and during 1940, he started twenty times on that day, the most during the Retrosheet Era. He only started twice on any other day (once on a Monday following a rainout and once on a Saturday), and so his percentage of Sunday starts (90.9) was also the highest. Here are the pitchers who had more than half of their starts (ten minimum) on a Sunday (from 1918 to 2011):
Player Team Year TGS GS CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO W L ERA PCT Ted Lyons CHI A 1940 22 20 15 3 168.1 172 80 63 36 68 10 8 3.37 90.9 Ted Lyons CHI A 1941 22 17 14 2 142.1 159 76 66 34 56 8 9 4.17 77.3 Porter Vaughan PHI A 1940 15 10 4 0 67.1 73 50 36 36 37 1 6 4.81 66.7 Ted Lyons CHI A 1942 20 13 13 0 118.2 108 33 25 12 27 10 3 1.90 65.0 Ted Lyons CHI A 1937 22 14 8 0 113.1 124 56 50 32 27 9 2 3.97 63.6 Red Ruffing NY A 1942 24 15 9 1 118 121 50 47 29 52 8 4 3.58 62.5 Jim Turner CIN N 1940 23 13 8 0 104.0 109 37 32 12 31 8 5 2.77 56.5 Tommy Bridges DET A 1943 22 12 8 2 96.2 87 34 31 24 55 7 5 2.89 54.5 Ted Lyons CHI A 1939 21 11 8 0 86.2 97 43 33 8 34 6 4 3.43 52.4 Paul Derringer STL N 1931 23 12 10 2 106.1 97 28 25 30 78 9 3 2.12 52.2 Jesse Flores PHI A 1944 25 13 8 2 96.1 80 27 25 16 36 7 6 2.34 52.0
I have no idea why Porter Vaughan started two-thirds of his games on a Sunday, but it was probably simply a coincidence. Since he only won one of them, we can probably rule out superstition. I also have no idea why the use of Sunday pitchers peaked during World War Two. It is true that weekend double-headers were in widespread use during the war. But here are the number of starters with at least 35% of their starts on Sunday (ten starts minimum) along with the percentage of games played on that day for each four-year period from 1930 to 1961:
Years # Pct 1930-1933 6 20.0 1934-1937 5 20.9 1938-1941 10 22.5 1942-1945 39 28.2 1946-1949 9 23.3 1950-1953 2 22.6 1954-1957 3 23.4 1958-1961 1 21.6
So while the number of Sunday games did peak during the war, the increase was not sufficient to explain the number of pitchers specializing in pitching on that day.
The highest percentage of starts on the other days of the week? Well, the percentages are much lower than the previous group (and, with the possible exception of the Saturday pitchers, probably random):
Day Player Team Year TGS GS CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO W L ERA PCT MON Eppa Rixey CIN N 1926 29 11 5 1 81.1 71 38 29 21 23 6 1 3.21 37.9 Art Nehf NY N 1920 33 12 8 2 91.0 102 34 34 16 23 9 3 3.36 36.4 TUE Joe Niekro 2 tms 1987 26 10 1 0 60.2 62 31 27 21 33 3 5 4.01 38.5 WED Jeff D'Amico PIT N 2003 29 10 1 1 66.2 60 32 32 15 40 5 4 4.32 34.5 Bobo Newsom 2 tms 1937 37 12 5 0 75.2 87 60 57 62 45 4 6 6.78 32.4 THU Kirby Higbe 2 tms 1947 33 10 5 1 74.1 71 30 25 32 39 6 4 3.03 30.3 Jimmy Ring PHI N 1923 36 10 6 0 69.2 86 43 33 19 26 3 5 4.26 27.8 FRI Jesse Jefferson TOR A 1978 30 12 2 0 77.1 78 41 40 36 37 3 5 4.66 40.0 Juan Pizarro CHI A 1964 33 13 4 1 93.2 67 31 27 20 76 9 1 2.59 39.4 SAT Dick Fowler PHI A 1951 22 12 2 0 66.2 81 46 42 36 20 1 7 5.67 54.5 Bob Smith BOS N 1930 24 11 6 0 86.0 100 54 46 25 29 5 5 4.81 45.8
On June 20th, the Yankees dropped an eleven-inning 1-0 game to the White Sox. New York protested a ruling earlier in the game on a disputed catch, and less than two weeks later, the protest was upheld and the game was declared a no-decision.13 No-decisions were not exceptionally rare at the time, having occurred twice in the previous three years, but this was the last such game in major league history. Unless, of course, you count a game in 1947 that is discussed in detail below.
Finally, the Red Sox were already losing 11-1 on August 24th, when Ted Williams pitched for the only time in his career. He was called upon to pitch the last two innings of the first game of a double-header with the Tigers. Backup catcher Joe Glenn was behind the plate, having replaced starter Jimmie Foxx earlier in the game. Williams gave up three hits and a run in his two innings of work. He didn't walk a batter and he struck out one. It was Glenn's first appearance in almost a month and the last of his major league career. Almost seven years earlier, Glenn was a September callup for the Yankees when he caught Babe Ruth's final appearance on the mound, a 6-5 win over the Red Sox.
For the second time in two years, a Yankee hitter set a record that most baseball observers thought would never be broken. Lou Gehrig, who had concluded his incredible string of playing 2,130 consecutive games in April, 1939, would die of his disease on June 2nd. On the same day, Joe DiMaggio hit a single and a double as New York lost to Bob Feller and the Indians, extending his hitting streak to 19 games. On June 29th, he hit in his 41st and 42nd straight game, breaking George Sisler's modern (and American League) record set in 1922. Three days later, DiMaggio would set the major league record of 45 when he hit a two-run homer in the fifth inning off of Dick Newsome in the Yankees' 8-4 win over the third-place Red Sox.
At that point, the next mark in his sights was the professional record of 69 games set by Joe Wilhoit of the Wichita Wolves in 1919.14 DiMaggio (or De Maggio, as he was often referred to at the time) had previously made a run at that record, setting the Pacific Coast League standard with a string of 61 games in 1933 while playing for the San Francisco Seals. He didn't quite make it to either mark, but his streak reached 56 games before it was ended in Cleveland on July 17th against Al Smith and Jim Bagby in the Yankees 4-3 win. His last chance to extend his record ended when Bagby induced him to ground into a double-play with the bases loaded to end the eighth inning.15 Bagby was the son of Jim Bagby Sr., who had won 31 games for the Cleveland Indians in 1920. His earlier streak with the Seals had been broken up by Little Ed Walsh, the son of Big Ed Walsh, who had won 40 games for the 1908 White Sox.16
By the way, when Wilhoit set his mark in 1919, the previous professional mark had been 49 consecutive games, set by Jack Ness of the Oakland Oaks in 1915. At the time, it was felt that Ness had broken the mark held by Ty Cobb, who had a 40 game streak for the 1911 Tigers.17 Ness had briefly been a teammate of Cobb's that year, batting only .154 in twelve games and making his last appearance for them on May 25th, the tenth game of Cobb's record streak. As it turned out, Cobb held only the American League mark because Willie Keeler had put together a string of 44 games for the Baltimore Orioles in 1897. I'm not sure when Keeler's record was uncovered, but it was known by the time Sisler made his run in 1922.
DiMaggio also hit in 41 straight games at Yankee Stadium that year, which I had thought was the longest hitting streak at one park since at least 1918. And it was, but only if you ignore streaks that span seasons. If you include multi-season hitting streaks, here are the ten longest streaks:
# Player Park Start End 46 Joe Medwick Ebbets Field 1933- 8-19 1937- 7-24 41 Joe DiMaggio Yankee Stadium 1941- 5-15 1941- 8- 2 39 Jimmie Foxx Comiskey Park 1931- 6-22 1934- 9-20 36 Freddie Lindstrom Baker Bowl 1928- 4-26 1931- 4-18 Mel Ott Baker Bowl 1928- 9- 3 1932- 4-20 35 Mark Grudzielanek Dodger Stadium 1999- 5-18 1999- 9-14 34 Heinie Manush Sportsman's Park 1930- 4-28 1931- 6-30 33 Earl Averill Sportsman's Park 1929- 6-26 1932- 9- 5 Bama Rowell Braves Field 1940- 7-28 1940- 9-17 Amos Otis Royals Stadium 1978- 8-30 1979- 5-20
Mel Ott and Freddie Lindstrom were teammates during their streaks, both hitting in 29 straight games at the Baker Bowl from September 3, 1928 to April 18, 1931.
Forgotten in the lore surrounding DiMaggio's historic performance is the fact that the Yankees had started slowly that year. After losing their third straight game on June 5th, they were only a game out of sixth place and had been outscored by their opponents (although only by a single run). An eight-game winning streak followed that loss and by August 2nd, they had completed a 44-8 run and were in first place by more than twelve games. It was like 1936-39 all over again. Part of the credit for their turn-around went to their batters, but the real improvement was in pitching and defense as they went from allowing 5.27 runs a game to permitting only 3.19. Just about the entire staff pitched much better during this period, but the biggest gains came from:
Before During Player W L ERA W L ERA Marv Breuer 1 1 7.39 5 1 2.48 Spud Chandler 0 2 6.00 4 1 1.56 Lefty Gomez 4 3 4.87 6 0 1.96 Johnny Murphy 2 2 4.15 6 1 1.43
The big story in the National League was the Dodgers' first pennant in 21 years. They fought the Cards all year in a close race, with neither team ever having more than a four game lead. In their last meeting of the season, with Brooklyn holding a one game lead, Dodger ace Whit Wyatt pitched a three-hit shutout at Sportsman's Park to beat Mort Cooper. The victory was his twentieth of the season and gave the Dodgers a little breathing room in the race. From there, they went on to win nine of the remaining twelve games on their road trip, finally clinching the flag with their win on September 25th over the Braves.
The Dodgers were led by Pete Reiser and National League MVP Dolph Camilli in the field, and 22-game winners Whit Wyatt and Kirby Higbe on the mound. Although very different players, Reiser and Camilli ended up with extremely similar on-base and slugging percentages, .406 and .558 for Reiser and .407 and .556 for Camilli. It was the third straight winning season for the Dodgers, as they went from third to second to first in the standings under manager Leo Durocher.
The 1941 World Series was the first of many matchups between the Yankees and the Dodgers, and set the tone for the next several when a dropped third strike by catcher Mickey Owen allowed Tommy Henrich to reach first base on what should have been a game-ending strike out, tying the series at two apiece. Reliever Hugh Casey didn't exactly pick his teammate up, as the next five batters all reached base. By the time opposing pitcher Johnny Murphy was finally retired to end the inning, Casey had locked up his second straight defeat, setting the stage for New York's series-clinching win the next day.
In the first game of a double-header with the Red Sox on July 1st, New York collected fifteen hits on their way to a 7-2 win. None of those hits were home runs, however, snapping the team's record of having hit at least one in 25 straight games..18 During this span, the Yankees hit forty round-trippers in all, including ten by DiMaggio and nine each by Charlie Keller and Tommy Henrich. All three of these players would end up with thirty or more home runs in 1941, the first time this was done by an American League team. The 1929 Phillies were the first major league team to do this, thanks to Chuck Klein, Lefty O'Doul and Don Hurst.
DiMaggio actually hit in 57 games during his streak, but the double he hit in that year's All-Star game didn't count toward the record. Ted Williams was the star that day, making perhaps the most dramatic hit in the history of the midsummer classic: a two-out three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning to turn a 5-4 loss into a 7-5 victory. It was one of the few times during the season when Williams was not overshadowed by the Yankee centerfielder, despite having a much better season at the plate. Even during DiMaggio's hitting streak, Williams put up better numbers:
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO HBP SH SB CS AVG OBP SLG Williams 55 187 61 77 15 0 12 50 50 9 2 0 1 2 .412 .540 .684 DiMaggio 56 223 56 91 16 4 15 55 21 5 2 0 0 1 .408 .463 .717
And these numbers for Williams are actually slightly worse than what he did over the rest of the season, as he finished with career highs in both on-base (.553) and slugging percentage (.735). Williams walked 50 times in August alone, the highest monthly total for any hitter during the Retrosheet Era, and at one point in the season walked in a major league record 19 consecutive games. (Prior to Williams, Max Bishop had held the record, with 44 walks in July, 1930.) By an odd coincidence, on the same day that DiMaggio started his famous streak, Ted Williams also began the longest hitting streak of his career, one that eventually reached 23 games on June 7th.
In addition to the All-Star game, Williams also stole the headlines from DiMaggio on the last day of the regular season. Williams entered that day with a batting average of .39955, which when rounded up would have made him the first .400 hitter since Bill Terry in 1930. Instead of protecting his average by sitting out the final two games, Williams played in both ends of the double-header, belting out six hits in eight at-bats and raising his average to .406. Or so the story goes. Of course, few would have considered him a real .400 hitter had he sat out those games and he knew it. Even that early in his career, I'm sure he had a good idea what the Boston sportswriters would have made of his absence on that last day.
On May 12th, Jimmie Foxx hit his 200th home run in a Red Sox uniform, making him the first player to do this with two different teams. Mark McGwire would be the second player to join this club when he hit his 200th homer as a Cardinal on July 12, 2001. Both began their careers (and hit over 300 home runs) with the Athletics.
The first trickle of players headed into military service in 1941. Hugh Mulcahy was the first major leaguer to leave his team, heading to a training camp in March..19 Mulcahy had just finished a rough four years as a starting pitcher for the Phillies, leading the National League in runs allowed for three straight years and averaging nineteen losses a year. He seemed to be turning it around in 1940 and after his complete game victory at the end of July had twelve victories, tied for third in the league, and a winning record. Things turned sour after that and he lost his next twelve starts, half of them complete-game losses. He broke his losing streak in his season finale, pitching his best game of the year, a four-hit shutout against Carl Hubbell and the New York Giants. Hubbell's defeat saddled the pitcher with the first and only losing season of his major league career. For Mulcahy, it would be more than four years before his next start (a loss) and he would win only three more games before finally retiring in 1947.
The only major star to leave his team in 1941 was Hank Greenberg, whose departure after hitting two home runs in his farewell game on May 6th dealt a severe blow to the Tigers' hopes of repeating as AL champions. The attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States' entry in World War Two during the off-season would have a dramatic effect on all aspects of American life over the following four years, and baseball would not be immune, as most of their top players would leave to serve their country.
One of the players who would depart after the 1941 season was Cecil Travis, the star shortstop of the Washington Senators, who was coming off his best season and was arguably the best player in baseball other than Williams and DiMaggio. He was 28 when he was inducted into the army, and while certainly not a sure thing, he had what seemed like an outside chance of making the Hall of Fame before missing almost four years due to the war. He came back to the Senators in the last month of 1945, but his skills never returned and, despite being only 32 at the time, he was pretty much washed up.
The most promising debut that year belonged to Stan Musial, who started his career with 15 hits in his first 30 at-bats, including six hits in his first double-header. There aren't a lot of players who never finished a major league game with a career batting average under .300. Among players who debuted after 1900 with at least 500 at-bats, only nine fall into this (admittedly obscure) category. Here's the list (in chronological order by debut):
Name Debut AB H BAvg Riggs Stephenson 1921 4508 1515 .336 Bob Fothergill 1922 3269 1064 .325 Earle Combs 1924 5746 1866 .325 Jimmie Foxx 1925 8134 2646 .325 Dale Alexander 1929 2450 811 .331 Joe DiMaggio 1936 6821 2214 .325 Barney McCosky 1939 4172 1301 .312 Stan Musial 1941 10972 3630 .331 Dale Mitchell 1946 3984 1244 .312
Earlier in the season, another rookie had an impressive start. Chuck Aleno hit safely in his first seventeen games, a record for the Retrosheet Era. The next closest is sixteen, set by Juan Pierre in 2000.20 Once his streak ended, however, Aleno pretty much forgot how to hit. Here are his statistics both during and after those first seventeen games:
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO HBP SH SB CS AVG OBP SLG Games 1-17 17 72 12 28 2 2 0 9 3 6 0 0 2 0 .389 .413 .472 Games 18-118 101 248 22 39 9 1 2 25 28 29 1 4 1 0 .157 .245 .226
Lefty Grove won the 300th game of his career on July 25th as the Red Sox rallied to defeat the Indians 10-6. Grove finished the game, the 297th complete game of his career, and he would finish his next start as well, losing that one 6-5. He would not register another victory or complete game. Three starts later, Grove injured his side pitching to the first batter of the game and would only pitch once more, getting knocked out in the season finale after one inning.
After Grove's historic win, Frederick Lieb wrote:
"It is quite possible that this generation of fans is seeing the last of the 300-game pitchers in Bob Grove. This writer does not particularly subscribe to the belief held by many that this generation, including its ball players, is getting soft. However, the livelier ball has made a great deal of difference in the game, and the old-timer would have laughed at a ten-man pitching corps."21
A few things are curious about this quote. First of all, I suppose just about every era's old-timers think that the current batch of kids are soft, but I was still surprised to see the "greatest generation," people raised during a depression and on the verge of heading off to join the rest of the world in a bloody war, described this way. I also wonder what the elder statesmen of 1941 would think of our current twelve and thirteen men pitching staffs.
At the time of Lieb's article, there were no future 300-game winners active in the major leagues, not even the obvious choice to follow Grove into the club. Even Lieb admitted that Bob Feller, the 22 year-old right-hander who would finish 1941 with 107 victories, had a chance to win 300, but quite reasonably worried about the effect of his upcoming military service on his career. In September, the Senators recalled Early Wynn after he had won 16 games for the last-place Springfield Nationals of the Eastern League, and on September 7th, he won the first game of his career. Almost 22 years later, Wynn would tie Grove's mark when he won the 300th and last game of his career. But Wynn wouldn't be the next pitcher to join the 300-win club. That pitcher wouldn't debut until 1942 and wouldn't win his first game until 1946.
Spud Chandler enjoyed pitching in Yankee Stadium in 1941. From July 1st to August 17th, he set a stadium record by having a 35 inning scoreless streak. Here are his home/road splits that season:
G GS CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO W L ERA Home 13 11 9 4 95.2 60 20 18 37 41 7 2 1.69 Away 15 9 2 0 68 86 48 40 23 19 3 2 5.69
During his career, Chandler posted a 2.62 ERA at his home park, fourth lowest in Yankee Stadium history. The pitcher with the lowest career ERA in the "House That Ruth Built" might surprise you. It's Fritz Peterson, whose 2.52 mark was slightly ahead of second-place Whitey Ford (at 2.56).
Ike Pearson had a rough time as a starter in 1941, losing all ten of his starts, but he pitched much better in relief:
G GS CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO W L ERA Start 10 10 0 0 44.2 61 41 33 21 16 0 10 6.65 Relief 36 0 0 0 91.1 78 34 21 49 21 4 4 2.07
Lefty Gomez set a record when he walked eleven St. Louis Browns in a nine-inning shutout on August 1st. It is the last shutout of his career. Johnny Vander Meer's control was even worse in his start against the Giants on June 16th when he walked the first four batters of the game. At that point, manager Bill McKechnie had seen enough and called in Junior Thompson to pitch. Thompson walked the first batter he faced, setting a major league mark that still stands for the most consecutive batters walked at the start of a game. Paul Derringer twice pitched sixteen innings in a game, the longest outings by any pitcher that year and lost both games. And Kirby Higbe became the second pitcher since 1900 with consecutive four-hit games when he turned the trick on August 11th and 17th. He was hitting .114 prior to his hot streak. and would finish his career with a .153 batting average. George Earnshaw had done this previously in 1931, and going back even further, Guy Hecker had collected four and six hits in back-to-back games in 1886.
The Philadelphia A's finished first by a record margin in 1942, despite their 99 losses. In a scheduling quirk, the team completed their season a full week ahead of the other AL teams, wrapping things up by splitting a double-header with the Senators on September 20th. This was the first time since the 1899 Chicago Orphans that a team was scheduled to end their season so far ahead of the rest of the league. The Orphans still had two games to make up after they played their last scheduled game (made up on the last day of the season in a three-team double-header), but the Athletics had no such makeups to worry about, so the team disbanded and the players were able to get a quick start on their off-season jobs. As it turned out, the Browns' year was also done after their double-header on September 20th, but they didn't know it yet. They were scheduled to play two games against the White Sox the next weekend (after five consecutive off-days), but both of those games were rained out. In 1945, the schedule makers would give two teams an early vacation, the A's and Senators, but we'll have more to say about that later.
On August 8th, the Dodgers had a nine game lead over the Cardinals. They played well down the stretch, going 30-17 the rest of the way, a pace that over the course of an entire season would have yielded 98 wins. So how did they lose the pennant? Well, the Cardinals put together one of the greatest stretch drives in history, winning 43 of their last 51 games. How many other times in major league history has a team managed to do this (or better)? Once. Only the 1906 Chicago Cubs finished as hot or hotter than the Cardinals did in 1942, when they closed out their record-setting season on a 55-8 run. One difference is that Cubs were already in first place when they started their streak; the Cards were far behind at the beginning of theirs. The team that has come closest since? The 2001 and 2002 Oakland A's.
While the Dodgers were getting next to no help from the rest of the league, Brooklyn had an excellent chance to take matters into their own hands when St. Louis arrived at Ebbets Field for a two-game series on September 11th. Each team had an ace on the mound for the first game. The Dodgers sent 17-game winner Whit Wyatt to the hill while the Cards countered with Mort Cooper, who entered the game leading the league in wins, shutouts and ERA. Last year, Wyatt had pitched a three-hit shutout to win his twentieth game and defeat Mort Cooper in a crucial mid-September series. Unfortunately for Brooklyn, this time the roles were reversed and Cooper pitched a three-hit shutout for his twentieth win.
The Dodgers still had a one-game lead and sent Max Macon out the next day. Macon had come up with the 1938 Cards only to be cast off following a poor rookie season. It would have made a nice story (at least in Brooklyn) if he had been the pitcher to turn back the tide, but it was not to be. He pitched well, giving up only a two-run homer off the bat of Whitey Kurowski, but Max Lanier pitched even better and St. Louis left town with a 2-1 win and a share of the lead. It took Brooklyn a day to regain their composure, but that day included a double-header loss to the Reds that dropped them out of first place for good. The Dodgers gave it their best shot, winning ten of their last twelve games, but lost even more ground as the Cards lost only once more the rest of the way.
In the Junior Circuit, it was business as usual when the New York Yankees streaked out to a 41-13 record (and nearly a ten-game lead) before the middle of June. Some of the stars might have been less familiar than in years past, but the results weren't. Tiny Bonham was the pitching sensation of the first few months, taking the early lead in shutouts, wins and ERA. The Red Sox made it interesting for a few weeks, pulling within three games on the eve of their holiday series with the Yanks in early July. But Boston dropped two of those three games, and by the time New York had finished winning 15 of 16 toward the end of the month, their lead had swelled to twelve and a half games and they would not be seriously challenged again.
One curious thing about the second half of the season was the performance of the Yankees' bullpen ace Johnny Murphy. Here are his stats both before and after the beginning of July:
G GF SV IP H R ER BB SO W L ERA Before 14 13 6 25 21 5 4 11 8 4 1 1.44 After 17 13 5 33 45 22 18 12 16 0 9 4.91
Murphy is the only pitcher during the Retrosheet Era to lose as many as nine games in a row while pitching for a team with 100 or more wins. The closest are two long losing streaks on 93-win teams: ten straight by Hideo Nomo with the 2004 Dodgers and nine straight by Frank Castillo with the 2002 Red Sox. The next longest streak on teams with 100 or more wins is seven, by three pitchers: Max Lanier in 1944, Jim Beattie in 1978 and Jason Marquis in 2005.
The Yankees appeared to be up to their old tricks when they took a seven-run lead into the bottom of the ninth inning of the opening game of the 1942 World Series. But the first indication that change was afoot came when the Cards' knocked out Red Ruffing in their last at-bat, eventually bringing the potential winning run to the plate in the person of Stan Musial. Reliever Spud Chandler induced him to ground-out, securing New York's 33rd series win the their last 37 decisions, dating back to the first game of the 1927 World Series. But it was just about the last thing that would go their way. Musial would make amends the next day, hitting a run-scoring single in the bottom of the eighth to even the series at a game apiece.
Ernie White had only won seven games in 1942, but three of them were in the second half of September, and he continued his comeback by blanking New York once the action resumed in Yankee Stadium. A high-scoring affair turned into a battle of the bullpens the next day, with Max Lanier's besting both Atley Donald and Tiny Bonham, before Whitey Kurowski's ninth-inning homer gave St. Louis a two run lead in game five. In the bottom half of the inning, a single and an error put the tying runs on base before Joe Gordon was picked off second and rookie Johnny Beazley retired the next two batters to end the series. For the 24-year-old Beazley, it was his second complete-game win against New York and the highlight of his career. He would spend the next three years in the military, winning only nine more major league games upon his return in 1946.
Paul Waner hit a single on June 19th to become the seventh major league player to collect 3000 hits. He had briefly reached the milestone two days earlier when Eddie Joost failed to handle his difficult grounder. It was initially ruled a hit by official scorer Gerry Moore, but Waner, standing on first base, waved it off and the play was changed to an error.22 I wonder what Joost thought of the move, as Waner's hit was turned into Joost's league-leading 25th error of the season. Waner was the first player in over 17 years to reach this milestone and it wouldn't be done again for nearly another 16 years
On May 13th, Jim Tobin became the first pitcher since Guy Hecker in 1886 to hit three home runs in a game. He hit the first two off of Jake Mooty, who less than two weeks earlier had given up home runs to two Giants pitchers, Hugh East and Harry Feldman. Tobin had hit a pinch-homer the day before and after his big game was tied for fourth in the league with five home runs (in only 27 at-bats).
September callup Ed Freed had a debut to remember when he had four hits, including two doubles and a triple, in the Phillies 8-5 loss to the Reds on September 11th. He would also get a single and a double the next day as well (another Phillies loss), but would only hit four singles the rest of the year (and his career). It's not too surprising that the Phillies lost both of those games despite Freed's six hits. Losing was a speciality of the team during those years. They lost 109 games in 1942, and that was actually two fewer than they had lost the year before. Just about the only good news was that, due to rainouts, they only had to play 151 games.
Giants' center fielder Babe Young had one of the most extreme home field advantage in 1942. Here are his splits:
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO HBP SH SB CS AVG OBP SLG Home 54 154 27 55 10 1 11 43 18 11 3 1 0 0 .357 .434 .649 Away 47 133 10 25 7 0 0 16 16 11 2 0 1 0 .188 .285 .241
Mort Cooper turned in perhaps the NL's best pitching performance of the decade in 1942, with ten shutouts and a 1.77 ERA. He was rewarded by being named the league's MVP, but his mastery over opposing hitters didn't extend to the World Series, where the Cardinals defeated the Yankees in five games despite his poor showing, or to the All-Star game, where he gave up two first-inning home runs and took the loss. The only run for the NL came on a pinch-homer by Mickey Owen, who would not hit one during the regular season. No one else has ever hit more home runs in the All-Star game(s) than the regular season. As a matter of fact, Owen hit as many homers in that All-Star game as he hit in the four seasons from 1940 to 1943, a total of 1,479 at-bats. By the way, Cooper would lose the 1943 All-Star game as well.
Carl Hubbell's years as one of the league's best pitchers had been over for some time, but from July 11th to August 18th he pitched eight straight victories, seven of them complete games. He had only a 1-6 record (and a 5.06 ERA) prior to his hot streak, but he finished the year with eleven wins for the fourth consecutive year.
On July 1st, White Sox starting pitcher Orval Grove never retired a batter, giving up five hits, a walk and an error, resulting in seven first inning runs. The relief pitcher, Jake Wade, followed with nine shutout innings. Wade allowed only three hits the rest of the way, pitching his best game since his one-hitter stopped Johnny Allen's seventeen-game winning streak back in 1937, but the deficit he inherited from Grove was too great and the White Sox ended up losing the game to the Indians 7-2. Grove would get dropped from the starting rotation after that game, but he would return to win 43 games from 1943 to 1945.
20 year-old Tigers left-hander Hal Newhouser started the season in the bullpen, but after seven consecutive hitless relief appearances, was moved into the starting rotation. This was the most consecutive hitless games pitched since at least 1920 (and considering the small number of relief specialists prior to that, probably the most in major league history), breaking the previous high of six set by Rosy Ryan from 1922 to 1923, and tied by Jack Wisner in 1925. Newhouser's mark would be tied by Johnny Murphy in 1947, before being broken by Gary Roggenburk in 1963. Roggenburk did not allow a hit in the first eight games of his major league career, but he only pitched four and two-thirds innings in those games, giving up four walks and a run. His record was tied several times before being broken by Jeff Lahti in 1985 (ten games and seven and two-thirds of an inning), John Franco in 1986 and 1987 (thirteen games and twelve innings), Scott Aldred in 1998 and 1999 (fourteen games and seven and two-thirds of an inning), and Mike Myers in 2000 (fifteen games and eight and two-thirds of an inning).
Despite an 8-14 record, Newhouser would pitch quite well in 1942, allowing only 6.7 hits per nine innings, the lowest rate in the league among qualifying pitchers.
Although he didn't know it at the time, 34-year-old Larry French went out in style when he pitched a one-hit shutout in his last major league start on September 23rd. It was the fewest hits he had ever allowed in a nine-inning game. The win raised his record to 14-4 and lowered his ERA to 1.80. Used as a spot starter most of the season, French won his first ten games and had an ERA under 1.00 as late as July 20th. After his last start, French pitched twice more in relief, winning his final appearance. That December, sports writers named his performance the third greatest comeback of the year (behind boxer Hammerin' Henry Armstrong and the St. Louis Cardinals)23 and by January he was working as a supply officer in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.24 French had 197 wins at the time he entered the Navy, but he would retire from baseball upon his discharge three years later.25
At the other end of the career spectrum, Warren Spahn made his second start and pitched his first complete game on September 26th. He probably caught a break when a large group of kids, attending the game as part of a scrap metal drive, stormed the field in the middle of the eighth inning. The resulting forfeit turned a likely 5-2 defeat into a no-decision for Spahn, while costing Giants pitcher Bob Carpenter what would have been a career-high twelfth win.26 In case you were wondering how many other pitchers threw their first complete game before their first decision, the answer (at least since 1920) is three: Ernie Nevers in 1926, Grady Adkins in 1928 and Max Lanier in 1938.
It didn't exactly make his name a household word, but Red Sox pitcher Bill Butland did something that year that hadn't been done since at least 1918 when he beat every other team in the league exactly once. When his achievement was noted in the 1946 Sporting News Guide, the writer wrote that it was "a record that isn't likely to be duplicated in a hurry."27 It would be done twice more before eight-team leagues became a thing of the past: by Saul Rogovin in 1953 and George Susce in 1957. Butland would win only two other games in his career, one before and one after that year. By the way, I found only one instance where a pitcher lost exactly once to each team: Slick Castleman in 1936.
After clinching the pennant with a win in the opener of their double-header with the Cubs on the final day of the regular season, the Cards manager Billy Southworth decided to give their regulars a rest and played an almost entirely different team in the second game. Only Stan Musial appeared in both games. One weird thing was that Stan entered the second game trailing teammate Enos Slaughter by less than three points in the batting race (.3181 to .3153). I'm not sure whether Southworth sat Slaughter to help him protect his title, or to give Musial a chance to overtake him, but I wonder what would have happened if Stan had gotten hits in his first two at-bats. That would have raised his batting average to .3183 and made things very interesting in the second half of the game.
I was wondering if any other teams have played almost entirely different
squads in each game of a double-header. And during the Retrosheet Era,
there have been only four other occasions where only a single player
appeared in both games. Not surprisingly, all of these games took place
in the last week of the regular season. But in
fielded two entirely different teams in their
loss to the
That has never happened before or since. The September callups who played
in that second game included rookies
1943 was the year of the "balata ball," a new baseball with a cork and balata center, introduced to conserve the war-time supply of rubber.28 The results were dramatic. All four of the games played on opening day resulted in shutouts and the Cardinals started the defense of their World Championship with back-to-back extra-inning 1-0 defeats. Complaints about the new ball came quickly, and on the second day of the season Commissioner Kenesaw Landis promised to fix the problem, saying "I don't know what changes will have to be made, but I'll attempt to get the necessary work started at once."29 Two days later, National League president Ford Frick and the vice-president of the sporting goods company manufacturing the balls announced that the problem had been discovered (inferior cement) and would be fixed within two weeks.30 In the meantime, Frick replaced the balls with more resilient ones from the year before, while the American League stuck with the dead balls until relief arrived on May 9th.31 As a result, the NL outscored the AL for the first time since 1930. In the 28 games played in the junior circuit during April, batters hit only two home runs to go with a .208 batting average and a .252 slugging percentage. As late as May 3rd, only one player in both leagues, Danny Litwhiler, had hit more a single round-tripper.
Once the new balls showed up, offenses returned to their 1942 levels. Here are the runs scored, batting average and slugging percentage by month in the American League in both 1942 and 1943:
-------- 1942 -------- -------- 1943 -------- R/G HR/G BAVG SLG R/G HR/G BAVG SLG April 8.69 0.91 .257 .370 5.57 0.07 .208 .252 May 9.22 1.03 .262 .371 7.13 0.47 .244 .320 June 8.19 0.86 .258 .358 8.13 0.82 .251 .342 July 8.85 0.93 .256 .359 7.98 0.84 .249 .344 August 7.62 0.74 .250 .337 8.41 1.13 .256 .366 Sept/Oct 8.64 0.74 .260 .350 7.61 0.68 .255 .349
The low scoring no doubt was partly responsible for a spike in extra-inning games in 1943. A higher percentage of games went past nine innings than in any other year since at least 1918. Here are the top years:
Year Total ExI PCT 1943 1238 171 .138 1957 1235 162 .131 1918 1016 125 .123 1942 1224 147 .120 1944 1242 141 .114
So the war years were good to fans who like bonus frames. The years with the lowest percentage:
Year Total ExI PCT 1948 1237 89 .072 1939 1231 91 .074 1947 1243 93 .075 2005 2431 182 .075 2006 2429 185 .076
Here are the teams that played the most extra-inning games:
Year Team G W L RS RA 1943 BOS A 31 15 14 21 25 1922 CHI A 28 16 12 24 18 1943 STL A 28 10 18 14 29 1957 DET A 28 13 15 18 32 1943 BOS N 27 14 13 25 26 1943 CLE A 27 13 14 28 23 1957 BAL A 27 15 12 25 21 1967 LA N 27 10 17 17 34 1990 HOU N 27 14 13 23 28
The Red Sox and the Browns played eight extra-inning games in 1943, including four straight on May 31st and June 2nd. The Browns set the mark since 1918 with 18 extra-inning losses, while the 1991 Texas Rangers hold the record with 42 run scored and the 2002 Royals with 39 runs allowed in extra-innings.
Despite the fact that every team was hard hit by the war, the roster turnover didn't seem to disrupt the natural order of things in either league, as both the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals repeated as pennant winners. But even these two teams had to scramble for players. The Yankees' offense was built around two stars, Charlie Keller and Joe Gordon, two older veterans, Bill Dickey and Frankie Crosetti, and a bunch of rookies and retreads. The Cardinals, with their huge minor league system, were better able to withstand the losses of their regulars than the other teams in their league. They were also helped by having the best player in the league, Stan Musial, available for most of the war.
One of the veterans the Yankees looked to was their 35 year-old catcher and Bill Dickey responded with a great season. He was no longer a full-time player, but when he rapped out a double and two singles against the Red Sox on September 11th, completing a three game stretch in which he had ten hits (including four doubles) in twelve at-bats, it raised his batting average to .383 (and his on-base plus slugging percentage to 1.108). He slumped after that, picking up only two singles in his next 31 at-bats, before rebounding with five hits in his last two games.
In the World Series, the Yankees revenged their previous year's loss to the Cardinals behind Spud Chandler's two complete game victories, including a game five shutout. Leading the series two games to one, Joe McCarthy started Marius Russo in game four, despite his regular season record of 5-10 with a 3.72 ERA. The gamble paid off when Russo pitched a complete-game 2-1 victory over Max Lanier and scored the go-ahead run after hitting his second double of the game in the eighth inning. Russo had pitched well in September, including a two-hit shutout on September 23rd, but only one previous pitcher in World Series history had ever been given a starting assignment after posting a winning percentage of .333 or lower. That was Dizzy Trout, who started game four of the 1940 World Series despite a regular season mark of 3-7 (and a 4.47 ERA). That gamble didn't end well for Tigers manager Del Baker, as Trout failed to record an out in the top of the third inning and the Tigers went down to a 5-2 defeat. The two worst marks since then for a starter in the Fall Classic belong to Ken Heintzelman, who lost game three for the 1950 Phillies (3-9 and 4.09), and Ewell Blackwell, who had a no-decision in game five for the 1952 Yankees (4-12 and 4.73). In Blackwell's case, however, there were extenuating circumstances. All of his losing that year had come while pitching for the second division Reds in the NL; he had won his only decision for the Yankees while posting a 0.56 ERA (although in only sixteen innings).
Only four players in the major leagues that year hit twenty or more home runs, and the greatest power display unquestionably belonged to Rudy York, who hit nine homers in nine games in August on his way to hitting a near-record seventeen for the month. This gave him the top two monthly totals in history (he had hit eighteen in August 1937). York certainly enjoyed hitting during August. Over the course of his career, York hit 83 home runs and had a slugging percentage of .575 during that month. In his next best month (June), he hit 45 homers and slugged nearly 100 points lower (.477). By the way, if York had not hit a home run in any other month that season, his 17 homers would have tied for the fourth most in the league.
Another player making news with the long-ball was Joe Cronin, who set an American League record by hitting five pinch-hit home runs. In the space of three days in mid-June, he hit three three-run pinch-homers. In all, he drove in 25 runs with his 18 pinch-hits. Here are his positional splits in 1943:
Position G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO HBP SH SB CS AVG OBP SLG AT 3B 10 35 0 6 0 0 0 4 4 1 0 0 0 0 .171 .256 .171 AT PH 49 42 8 18 4 0 5 25 7 3 0 0 0 0 .429 .510 .881
And here is his record as a pinch-hitter during his other seasons:
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO HBP SH SB CS AVG OBP SLG PH 70 61 2 12 0 0 0 9 9 15 0 0 0 0 .197 .300 .197
Other offensive highlights that year included White Sox outfielder Guy Curtright's rookie record 26-game hitting streak (a mark that would stand until Nomar Garciaparra's 30-game streak in 1997), and Cincinnati Reds infielder Woody Williams, who had ten consecutive hits from September 5th to 6th, including five in one game. At the end of play on September 6th, Williams had a .388 career batting average (albeit in only 103 at-bats). He would be given the Reds second-base job when Lonny Frey went into military service the next year and would play in all 155 of his team's games, leading the National League in at-bats. But he hit only .244, with both an on-base and slugging percentage under .300, and after hitting even worse the next year, he would find himself out of a job once Frey and others returned to the team in 1946.
Nick Etten made headlines that year (or at least a note in the 1944 Sporting News Baseball Guide32) when he went seventeen games without hitting a single from July 30th to August 15th. During that time, he had fourteen extra-base hits (nine doubles and five home runs). So I went looking for players who had a dozen or more extra-base hits in a consecutive game streak that did not include a single. Here's what I found since 1918:
Player G AB H 2B 3B HR Start End Earl Webb 8 28 12 8 2 2 1931- 5-21 1931- 5-30(1) Nick Etten 17 66 14 9 0 5 1943- 7-30 1943- 8-15(2) Barry Bonds 8 37 12 6 2 4 1988- 4- 8 1988- 4-17 Brad Fullmer 23 69 14 8 2 4 2002- 5-21 2002- 6-21 David Ortiz 10 32 12 5 2 5 2003- 7-27 2003- 8- 7 Jim Edmonds 22 60 13 7 1 5 2008- 7-22 2008- 8-26 Jermaine Dye 11 46 12 8 0 4 2008- 8-12 2008- 8-24
Although it didn't quite make the cutoff, I should perhaps mention Frank Fernandez, who in 1968 went 34 straight games without a single between April 30th and August 27th, hitting six doubles, a triple and three home runs. His two singles on August 28th raised his batting average from .126 to .143.
One more offensive highlight before turning to the pitchers. Saturday, July 10th was "Salvage Day" at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, and 4,512 women traded tin containers of fat (and a dime) for tickets to the game. In all, over 5000 pounds of fat were collected in drums outside the park for use in making explosives.33 But the game almost wasn't played. While more than two tons of fat were seasoning nearby in the summer sun, Brooklyn players were threatening to strike over manager Leo Durocher's suspension of the much-traveled Bobo Newsom for insubordination. There was some dispute over what form this insubordination took. Some said Newsom was suspended for trying to blame catcher Bobby Bragan for the previous day's loss to the Pirates; Durocher insisted that it was for his pitcher's attitude when the manager complained about Newsom's pitch selection to Vince DiMaggio in the same game. Whatever the reason, Dodger players were unhappy about the suspension. I'm not sure how the club would have handled the refunds had the game been cancelled (returning the used fat to the women was probably not an option), but fortunately cooler heads prevailed and all of the players except for Arky Vaughan finally agreed to play.34
And what a game they played. They scored ten runs in both the first and four innings and won the game 23-6 behind Billy Herman's seven RBIs. I wonder if Vaughan, sitting in the stands with Bobo, had any second thoughts about missing out on all the fun. Newsom, among the league leaders in wins at the time, was gone within a week, sent to the Browns in a trade for two players. Vaughan would return to the lineup the next day and on August 29th, he collected his 2000th major league hit in a game against the Phillies. He was only 31 at the time, finished the year leading the league in both runs scored and stolen bases, and was arguably one of the two best shortstops in the league. He was also pretty much done as a player. Problems getting workers for his California ranch, health complaints, as well as his poor relationship with Leo Durocher, all contributed to his decision to retire after the season. He would return in a reserve role in 1947 and 1948, hitting .325 for the pennant-winning Dodgers during Jackie Robinson's rookie season.
Hal Newhouser started the season still looking for his first winning campaign, and it seemed as if everything was finally coming together for him. In his last start prior to the All-Star break, Newhouser pitched a five-hit complete game victory. His 7-5 record wasn't great, but his 1.32 ERA was more indicative of how well he had pitched. He was named to the All-Star game, pitching three scoreless inning in the middle of the American League's 5-3 win. In the second half of the season, things didn't go so well for him. Here's how he did before and after the break:
G GS CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO W L ERA Home 17 12 9 1 115.2 79 26 17 44 87 7 5 1.32 Away 20 13 1 0 80 84 62 49 67 57 1 12 5.51
I'm sure Tiger fans were wondering which Newhouser was going to show up in 1944. Stay tuned.
A similar story was being told in Philadelphia, as A's third-year pitcher Lum Harris entered the All-Star break by pitching consecutive complete game victories, allowing only a combined seven hits and no earned runs. It was his fifth consecutive victory and put him only one game below .500. After a tough extra-inning loss in his next start, Harris bounced back to pitch another complete game win and, once again, he seemed poised for the first winning season of his career. But of course, that's not what happened (or I probably wouldn't be writing about it now). Instead, Harris lost his next 13 starts and finished 7-21. Included in that string were eight complete game losses, although given that Connie Mack was his manager, the standards for being allowed to finish what a pitcher started were pretty low. Harris was the first pitcher since at least 1920 to get saddled with a loss in as many as 13 consecutive appearances. The Senators' Chuck Stobbs would break that mark when he picked up losses in his last five appearances of 1956 and his first nine of 1957.
Harris' bad second-half was part of an overall collapse on the part of the A's, who finished the season on a 12-53 run, including twenty losses in a row. This tied the league record previously set by the 1916 A's (who were finishing up a horrific 4-56 streak that featured additional losing streaks of twelve, eleven and nine games) and the 1906 Boston Americans. The record would be broken by the Baltimore Orioles when they lost 21 straight games at the start of the 1988 season.
Another streaky pitcher on the A's that season was rookie Jesse Flores, who was purchased from the Cubs the previous September and by the end of May already had a seven-game winning streak. This would turn out to be the first winning streak that long on a team with 100 or more losses since Slim Harriss won eight in a row for the 1921 Athletics. The next pitcher to win seven or more consecutive decisions on a team that bad? Flores again, with the 1946 A's. This has been done only once since, when Rick Mahler won seven straight for a terrible Braves team in 1988.
In early July, when Newhouser was still dominating AL batters, he did not have the lowest ERA in the league. That honor belonged to rookie pitcher Milo Candini of the Senators, who started his career by allowing only 3 earned runs in his first 54 1/3 innings pitched, and whose ERA was under 1.00 as late as July 10th.
The best season on the mound that year wasn't turned in by either of these two pitchers, however, but by Spud Chandler, who was leading the AL in wins prior to the All-Star game, but pitched even better after the break. In the last two months of the season, he went 8-1 with an 0.83 ERA. Two years earlier, he pitched much better at home than on the road, but in 1944 he was great everywhere. His home/road splits:
G GS CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO W L ERA Home 15 15 9 1 124.2 91 33 23 24 70 10 2 1.66 Away 15 15 11 4 128.1 106 29 23 30 64 10 2 1.61
I mentioned above that rookie Milo Candidi had an ERA under 1.00 into early July. As you'll remember from the last section, Larry French had a sub-1.00 ERA in late July, 1942. Before them, the last pitcher to have an ERA that low (requiring at least one inning pitched for each of their team's games) into even June was Spud Chandler, who during his rookie season in 1937 had a 0.77 ERA (3 earned runs in 35 innings) on June 1st. Before that, Art Reinhart in 1928 had an ERA as low as 0.98 on June 8th, which turned out to be his final season in the majors. And in 1945, Al Benton would be even hotter. Benton started that season by allowing only two earned runs in six straight complete games. In his seventh start, a Bobby Estalella line-drive broke Benton's right leg and he was out until July.35 When he returned, he continued pitching extremely well, and as late as August 12th had a 0.99 ERA.
Carl Hubbell started the season with 249 wins, and after two no-decisions, picked up victory number 250 in style, with a one-hitter against the Pirates. He lost both his no-hitter and shutout in the seventh inning when Elbie Fletcher homered. It was the start of a three-game winning streak for Carl, but he would pick only one more win in his career once the streak had ended.
It would be an understatement to say that knuckle-ball pitcher Johnny Niggeling was a late-bloomer. He was over 34 by the time he made his major league debut, with two brief relief appearances with the 1938 Braves, and he was 36 by the time he reached the major leagues to stay. By 1943, he was starting his fourth season with the Browns and was coming off his best season, leading the team in wins, strikeouts and ERA. He started well, winning five of his first seven decisions, before going over a month and a half before another win. That game would break a personal six-game losing streak, but the Browns had already decided to rebuild with younger players. The good news is that everyone thought the Niggeling was two years younger than he actually was. The bad news was that even at 38, he was the oldest player on the team. So they traded him to the Senators, along with fading slugger Harlond Clift, for two younger players, Ox Miller, a pitcher who would win only four games in his career, and Ellis Clary, a weak-hitting infielder who would do little for the Browns. Niggeling, on the other hand, became one of the hottest pitchers in the league down the stretch, pitching three shutouts (a two-hitter and two three-hitters) with an 0.88 ERA with his new team. Which goes to show you that with knuckle-ball pitchers, the normal rules with regard to aging often don't apply.
How do you get credit for a loss without giving up any runs? When both pitchers are officially credited with the winning pitcher's statistical line, that's how. In his 1-0 loss to the Reds on September 10th, Max Butcher officially pitched nine scoreless innings and lost. He actually gave up one run in eight innings. On the down side, he was also charged with two more hits and four more walks than he actually allowed. Despite officially allowing no earned runs in a complete game, Butcher was not also given a shutout. A similar discrepancy occurred in a game on August 26th, when Wally Hebert was given the same statistics as winning pitcher Paul Derringer.
And finally, people who pay attention to fielding statistics were finally rewarded when the St. Louis Browns' fielders went an entire game without an assist on August 8th. It was the first recorded instance of this in the major leagues, but it would happen again less than two years later.
From 1906 to 2000 there were sixteen World Series that were played entirely in one city. New York hosted fourteen of them. Of the two not involving the Yankees, one of them was played between the Chicago White Sox and Cubs. The other was played in 1944 between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Browns. The two teams could not have taken more dissimilar paths to the Fall Classic. The Cardinals were the class of baseball, a team that finished their third straight season with at least 105 wins and coasted into their eighth series in less than twenty years.
The Browns, on the other hand, had no such heritage. The best they had to show for their years in the league were two second-place finishes (in 1902 and 1922) and they had finished in seventh or eighth place fifteen times. In order to reach their first World Series, the Browns had to win a furious pennant race between the Tigers and Yankees. New York, despite a 5-17 stretch from May 29th to June 18th, had managed to crawl back into the race and, led by wartime fill-ins like Snuffy Stirnweiss, Nic Etten and Johnny Lindell, were in first place on September 10th. They weren't in first place by much (the third-place Browns were only a game behind), and a five-game losing streak over the next week and a half took them out of the race.
That left only the Browns and the Tigers, who were tied going into the last weekend of the year. They both won on Saturday, the Tigers behind league MVP Hal Newhouser's 29th win, while the Browns were the beneficiaries of Denny Galehouse's five-hit shutout over the Yankees. Amid plans for a winner-take-all one-game playoff to be held Monday in Detroit, the teams headed into the final day. There was a chance of rain on Sunday. Under the rules of the day, any postponed games would only be made up in the case of a tie at the end of the regular season. So if either of those two games had been rained out, the pennant would have been decided by the outcome of the remaining game.
But the rain held off and both games were played. Detroit sent the second of their two aces, Dizzy Trout (with only a single day's rest) to the mound in search of his 28th victory. He was not to get it, however, as Dutch Leonard pitched a four-hitter and Stan Spence had three hits, including a home run, to lead the Senators to a 4-1 win. The Browns sent a unlikely pitcher out in search of their first pennant. His name was Sid Jakucki, a 35 year-old right-hander who had pitched briefly for the Browns eight years earlier and hadn't played professionally since 1938. He was one of the many spare parts that had found a home in the major leagues that summer, and the highlight of his wartime service was his complete game victory that day as, aided by Chet Laabs' two home runs, he pitched the Browns into the Series.
Like the Yankees, the Tigers were hurt by a slow start that year. They headed into July only a half game out of the cellar, despite allowing the fewest runs in the league. Dizzy Trout was one of the victims of poor offensive support in the early going and after his loss on June 25th, had only a 8-8 record despite a league-leading 1.80 ERA. The team's offense came around after that, sparked by the return of Dick Wakefield and a strong second halves by Doc Cramer and Rudy York. Trout won fifteen games (against a single defeat) in July and August, a two-month total not topped since at least 1918 and equalled only by General Crowder in the last two months of 1932. York, by the way, hit seven triples that year, all of them during a twenty-two game stretch in September.
The Cardinals, as mentioned above, had a much easier time of it. Even they had a rough patch, although it didn't come until they had a twenty game lead. Entering September with a 91-30 record, they proceeded to lose fifteen of twenty games over the next three weeks. Max Lanier was right in the middle of the slump, losing seven straight games down the stretch (following a 17-5 start). Despite his late season slump, manager Billy Southworth started him in games two and six of the World Series, and Lanier got credit for winning the deciding game (with a lot of help from Ted Wilks' perfect relief job).
One weird thing about the Cards last few weeks of the season: on September 24th, in his final tune-up for the World Series, Mort Cooper went the distance to defeat the last-place Phillies 4-3 in sixteen innings. He allowed 19 hits in winning his 22nd game of the year. It was the longest outing of his career and it came in a game that meant absolutely nothing.
On paper, the World Series was a mismatch. The Cardinals came in as the first National League team with more than 100 victories in three straight years, while the Browns had the worst winning percentage of a pennant winner in American League history (a record that would be broken the next year). Despite this, the Browns had the upper hand through the early going, and might have led three games to none had it not been for some sloppy fielding on their part in the second game, along with the excellent relief pitching of the Cards' Blix Donnelly. The series hinged on a fine pitching duel in the fifth game, won 2-0 by the Cards as Mort Cooper gained revenge for his 2-1 loss to Denny Galehouse in the series opener. Poor fielding hurt the Browns again the next day, when a costly error by Vern Stephens led to two unearned runs and the final margin of victory. In the series, the American Leaguers committed ten errors to only one by the Cards.
In the fifth game, both Cooper and Galehouse fanned at least ten batters, the first and only time in post-season history that both starting pitchers have done this. As a matter of fact, this hadn't happened during the regular season since July 5, 1926, when both Lefty Grove and Bob Shawkey each fanned ten or more, and wouldn't happen again until Sandy Koufax and Earl Francis (in the only ten strikeout game of his career) turned the trick in 1961.
On May 1st, George Myatt became the first player in the history of the Washington Senators to get six hits in a game. Exactly one month later, Stan Spence became the second.
On April 30th, the New York Giants scored the most runs in a game since 1929 when they routed the Brooklyn Dodgers 26-8. They were helped by a record-tying six consecutive walks in the second inning, four of them with the bases loaded, on their way to a record-tying seventeen walks in the game. Fifth and sixth-place batters Phil Weintraub (eleven) and Ernie Lombardi (seven) combined for eighteen RBIs (the most ever by two teammates) as the Giants set a major league record with 26 RBIs, a mark that would stand until the White Sox knocked in 28 runs in 1955. In the contest, Mel Ott scored six runs in a game for the second time in his career, and the next two hitters in the lineup, Joe Medwick and Phil Weintraub, scored five runs each. Dodgers rookie pitcher Tommy Warren took one for the team, pitching the last five innings of the blowout and giving up fifteen runs.
Six weeks later, Ott and Weintraub were back at it, each scoring five runs as the Giants again routed the Dodgers, this time by a score of 15-9. Les Webber had the misfortune of facing the Giants in both of these games, allowing a combined total of fourteen hits, six walks and nine runs in only one inning.
There was a curious footnote to Mel Ott's performance on July 8th. According to the New York Times: "An erroneous announcement here following yesterday's game had Ott getting his 2,000th base on balls in his nineteen-year career as a Giant. Inspection of the records reveals that actually the two passes he received yesterday boosted Mel's total to 1,601."36 According to the official totals, it looks like those two walks left Mel with 1,602 in his career. But according to our research, Ott walked an additional nine times (one in 1928, two each in 1930 and 1938, and four in 1943), bringing his total at the end of that game to 1,611.
Thurman Tucker was hot over the first two months of the season, batting over .400 as late as June 3rd and leading the league in batting average for the last time on July 7th. By then, he was in the middle of an 1-35 slide heading into the midsummer break. Despite his slump, he was the leadoff hitter for the AL in the All-Star game, the only time all season he had batted in the first slot, and he went hitless in four at-bats.
1944 was certainly a year for iron-men catchers, as both the A's Frankie Hayes and the Reds' Ray Mueller set a record by appearing in all 155 games for their teams. In case you were wondering what effect the heavy workload had on their performances over the last month of the season, September was Hayes' worst month with the bat by far, while Mueller seemed unaffected by the lack of rest.
Hayes did not miss a game in 1945 either, catching 151 games for the A's and the Indians (and again having his worst month in September) and he was joined by the White Sox' Mike Tresh, who caught all 150 of his team's games. On the other hand, there were no overworked catchers at all in the NL during 1945, and Ernie Lombardi's league leading total of 96 games caught was the lowest in modern history.
The Tigers' Hal Newhouser finally came into his own in 1944, winning the most games in the majors since Dizzy Dean in 1934, and like Dean, he was at his best down the stretch, winning eight complete games in September, including three shutouts. In retrospect, his loss in relief to the Yankees on September 21st cost him a shot at a 30-win season. Still, despite his MVP trophy, all those wins, his 2.22 ERA and league-leading 187 strikeouts, he was arguably only the second-best pitcher on his team that year. Dizzy Trout pitched 40 more innings than Newhouser, leading the league in complete games, shutouts and ERA. He did win "only" 27 games to his teammate's 29, but the Tigers scored almost a run less in Trout's starts (4.1 to 5.0).
Bucky Walters started the season strong. After pitching a shutout in his first start after the All-Star game, his record stood at 15-3 with a 1.46 ERA, and he led the NL with five shutouts. He hit a rough patch over the next two weeks, getting knocked out in three straight starts before finishing the season with twelve straight complete games. Apart from those three games in July, Walters averaged more than nine innings per start. Over in the American League, veteran knuckle-baller Johnny Niggeling only pitched about once a week for the Senators, but when he pitched, he also went deep into the game. Six times during the year, Niggeling pitched into extra-innings, and he averaged more than eight and a half innings per start, the highest in the league. Not bad for a guy in his forties.
Playing for the second-division Braves that year, Jim Tobin's record was only 18-19, but he certainly had his moments. After losing a three-hitter in his first start of the season, the right-hander pitched a one-hitter followed by a no-hitter (finishing April by allowing only four hits in 27 innings). In the middle of May, he lost to the Reds 1-0, the victim of Clyde Shoun's no-hitter, before wrapping up this low-hit extravaganza by pitching another no-hit game, this one shortened to five innings by darkness (caused by the length of the first game of the double-header, a fifteen-inning 1-0 Phillies win). His two no-hitters were the second and third pitched at Braves Field, the other thrown by Tom Hughes in 1916.
Roger Wolfe started the season in fine fashion. After his victory over the White Sox on May 13th, he had a 3-0 record to go with a 2.18 ERA. He would win only one more game (and that was a gift, as Wolfe had surrendered a two-run double to give the Yankees the lead in the bottom of the seventh only to have the Senators score five in the eighth to win it) to go with fifteen losses the rest of the way. So how would he do in 1945? Given how unpredictable baseball was during the war, the answer probably shouldn't surprise us: he won twenty games.
A pitcher who didn't bounce back quite so quickly from his unpleasant experience on the hill that year was Joe Nuxhall, the fifteen year-old rookie pitcher who made his debut against the Cardinals on June 10th. It wasn't exactly a pressure-packed game; the Reds were already losing 13-0 by the time Nuxhall came out to start the ninth-inning. But after two outs, two hits, five walks and five runs, he was relieved by Jake Eisenhart, who was also pitching his first (and as it turned out, his only) major league game. By the way, Bill Lohrman, the Reds starter that day, and Buck Fausett, the pitcher Nuxhall relieved, were also playing in their last major league game. Fausett had started the year playing third base, but was given a two-game trial on the mound after getting only two hits in 26 at-bats.
For a while it looked as if that might have been Joe Nuxhall's last major league game too. Farmed out the next season, he would not return to the Reds until 1952, when he held the Dodgers scoreless over the last three innings of the Reds' 19-1 loss. At that point in his career, Nuxhall had played in two games and his team had lost each by eighteen runs. Things would get better. Nuxhall would pitch for sixteen seasons in the big leagues, winning 135 games. He played most of his career with the Reds. Ironically, the only season he didn't was 1961, the year the Reds made their one World Series appearance between 1940 and 1970.
By the end of the decade, Joe Page would be one of baseball's best relievers, but in 1944 he made the All-Star team as a rookie starting pitcher. It was an odd choice. He had started the year pitching well and, after his victory on June 4th had a 5-1 record and a 2.07 ERA. Not bad, but even had the team been picked in early June, I think it would have been hard to justify including Page. As it was, the team was picked a month later, after four straight losses had evened his record at 5-5 and raised his ERA to 3.53. Pitchers passed over (with their records as of July 2nd) included Gordon Maltzberger (8-1, 1.63 ERA), Johnny Niggeling (7-2, 1.83 ERA), Mike Ryba (7-2, 2.60 ERA) and Bill Dietrich (9-5, 2.88 ERA). Two days after the All-Star game, Page would leave the team briefly because of the death of his father and in early August he would be sent back to the minors.37
On a scheduling note, the Phillies and the A's had a pretty straightforward way of dividing up the calendar in the second-half of 1944, with the Phillies spending all of August on the road and the A's staying out of town all September.
After playing .500 ball into mid-July of 1944, the Senators collapsed down the stretch, going 23-49 to drop from fourth to last place in two and a half months. They probably anticipated another boring September in 1945 and so didn't mind that they were scheduled (along with the second-division A's) to finish their season a full week before the rest of the league. It probably made sense to play as many games early in the year, before they were hopelessly out of the race and fan interest dwindled.
But as the Browns' pennant the year before showed, anything was possible during the talent-starved war years. And heading into their last day of the season, Washington was only a game and a half behind the first-place Tigers, with an outside chance of becoming only the second team in major league history (the 1890 Louisville Colonels were the first), to go from worst to first in one season. They were playing a double-header against the last-place A's (who wouldn't have minded if their season ended early, but had one more makeup game to play). With a sweep on their minds, the Senators suffered a heart-breaking twelve-inning defeat in the opener. The game had featured errors by Buddy Lewis and Cecil Travis that cost the team a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning, before George Binks forgot to wear his sunglasses out to centerfield in the bottom of the twelfth inning. His gaff turned a routine fly-ball that would have ended the inning into a double, and after an intentional walk, George Kell won the game with a single.38
The Senators won the second game behind Marino Pieretti (Binks didn't play) and the Tigers lost to the Browns, so Washington finished their season a game behind Detroit. The next day, Shirley Povich wrote:
"Anyway you look at it, it's an insane finish. The Nats are standing by helplessly, flung on the doubtful mercy of the Detroit club in this final week because the front-office crowded 77 home games into a mess of double-headers, and cleared the way for football.... This is the time when Griffith could be packing the fans in with the pennant riding on the results of the final week, but the Nats' final week was last week thanks to the screwy scheduling"39
So as the Senators waited and watched, the Tigers prepared to play their final four games. The math was simple: win two games; win the pennant.
The Tigers split a double-header with the Indians on September 26th and entered the final day of the season needing only to avoid being swept by the Browns. In the first game, Nel Potter, who had shutout the Tigers on two-hits in his previous outing, started for St. Louis and held a 3-2 lead heading into the top of the ninth inning when Hank Greenberg, back with the Tigers after over four years in the military, hit a grand-slam home run to send Detroit to the World Series.
In the National League, the Cubs beat the Cards in a tight pennant race. The Cards were hurt when Stan Musial and Walker Cooper went into the military, and the Cubs were helped by the mid-season purchase of Hank Borowy, who was able to clear waivers in the American League despite a 10-5 record. Like today, it was not uncommon for teams to ask waivers on players they had no intention of selling for the waiver price (which was $7,500 in 1945). If a player went unclaimed, the team would then be free to sell him to the highest bidder in either league. In this case, the highest bidder was the Cubs, who paid $97,000 for the star pitcher. Borowy was worth every penny as he went 11-2 down the stretch, including three key wins over the Cards in September. With 21 wins, Borowy became the first major league pitcher since Joe McGinnity to win twenty or more games while playing in both leagues.
The Cubs were able to edge out the Cards despite a singular lack of success against their rivals. Chicago lost 16 of their 22 meetings with St. Louis and that is the most losses by a pennant winner against another team. It was also the lowest winning percentage for a first-place team against an opponent since the Philadelphia Athletics lost three of four to the Boston Red Stockings in 1871. (The 1896 Orioles tied the Cubs' mark in half as many games when they lost eight of eleven against the Spiders that year.) The Cubs nearly made up for their poor head-to-head performance with the Cards by winning all but one of their games against the Reds. Those 21 wins tied a major league record last set in 1937 when the Pirates nearly swept their season series with Reds.
In the opening game of the World Series, Hal Newhouser faced Hank Borowy, and for the first time in the history of the Fall Classic, two pitchers started who had faced each other previously during the regular season. In their earlier match-up, Borowy had defeated Newhouser and the Tigers 7-3, and he won even more decisively this time, pitching a six-hit shutout while Newhouser was routed in the third inning. Unfortunately for the Cubs, Prince Hal would win both their game five and seven rematches, and Chicago would lose their seventh consecutive World Series.
A few more things of note from that Fall Classic: in the second game, Virgil Trucks went the distance to even the series, and in doing so became the first pitcher with more innings pitched in a World Series than the regular season (Francisco Rodriguez was the second in 2002). Trucks had been discharged from the Navy less than a week before pitching in Detriot's pennant-winning victory and, as a returning serviceman, was eligible for the post-season roster. Claude Passeau pitched the first one-hit shutout in series history in game three. Ed Ruelbach had pitched the only other World Series one-hitter in 1906, but the White Sox scored an unearned run in that game. In addition to winning one of his three starts against Newhouser, Borowy also won game six in relief, becoming the first pitcher since Red Faber in 1917 (and the last) with more than three decisions in one series. And finally, Hank Greenberg was responsible for two of the three home runs hit by the two teams, making him the first player to account for the majority of the homers in a World Series since Babe Ruth hit the only two in 1927.
Tommy Holmes had by far the best year of his career in 1945, leading the majors in hits, doubles and home runs, and putting together a 37-game hitting streak, the longest in the National League since Willie Keeler's 44-game streak in 1897. The last day of the streak was July 8th, the day before the All-Star break (minus an actual All-Star game that year), and his two hits in the double-header that day lowered his batting average to .401.
Mel Ott didn't hit his first major league home run until his 74th big league game and didn't hit his second until game number 120, but on August 1st, in a 9-2 win over the Braves, he became the third player to hit 500 home runs. It came in the third inning off Johnny Hutchings, who would lead the league in home runs allowed with 21.
The season's top offensive performance was turned in by Pat Seerey, who hit three home runs and a triple, good for eight RBIs, in the Indians 16-4 win over the Yankees. This was the first time a player had fifteen or more total bases in game since Chuck Klein in 1936.
The NL champion Cubs put on a fireworks display a day early when they trounced the Braves 24-2 on July 3rd. The first four players in the lineup combined to reach base 21 times and three of them, Stan Hack, Don Johnson and Phil Cavarretta, each scored five times. At the other extreme, the Chicago White Sox tied a mark for futility when they managed only three hits in a double-header against the Red Sox on May 27th. This tied the mark originally set by the Dodgers when they faced the Dean brothers in a double-header in September 1934.
Detroit's Red Borom had two five-hit games within a few weeks of each other when he rapped out four singles and a double on August 13th and then hit five straight singles on September 1st. After that last game, he would get only two more hits in his career. His 36 major league hits is the third lowest since at least 1918 for a player having one five hit game, much less two. The ones with fewer career hits are Dick Smith in 1964 (31 hits) and Wade Rowdon in 1986 (34 hits). The fewest career hits for a player getting four in a game? Chip Coulter in 1969 (six hits).
In the first game of that double-header, the White Sox faced 23 year-old rookie Dave Ferriss, who pitched a one-hitter. It was the sixth game of his career and all six of them had been complete-game victories, including four shutouts. His 0.50 ERA was the lowest in the first six starts of a pitcher's career since at least 1920, breaking the previous low ERA of 0.88 set by Milo Candini two years earlier. A pitcher wouldn't have a hotter first six starts until Fernando Valenzuela allowed only two earned runs in 54 innings for an ERA of 0.33 in 1981. But Ferriss' dominant pitching wouldn't end with his one-hitter against the White Sox. He wasn't removed from a game until he had completed his first ten starts and he followed that game with eight straight wins. By the time he was relieved for the second time, when the White Sox got some small measure of revenge on August 16th, Ferris had 22 complete games and 19 wins.
He slumped after winning his 19th game, going 2-5 with a 6.33 ERA in the last month and a half of the season. Red Sox fans had to wonder that off-season if the league had caught up permanently with their young right-hander, or if he had simply worn down under the heavy workload and would come back strong after a winter of rest.
38 year-old Ray Prim led the National League in ERA with a strong second half. Here are his statistics in the first and last three months of the season:
G GS CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO W L ERA April-June 15 6 1 0 52 57 36 28 14 31 2 4 4.85 July-Sept 19 13 8 2 113.1 85 22 16 9 57 11 4 1.27
It was a great second half, but it didn't carry over into the next season. He would lose the pinpoint control he'd shown toward the end of 1945 and would pitch poorly in limited action before his career came to a close at the end of 1946.
Don Fisher only made one start in his major league career, but it was a good one. On the last day of the season, Fisher started the first game of a double-header against the Braves and thirteen innings later emerged with a 1-0 victory on a home run by Nap Reyes. It was last hit of Reyes' short war-time career.
Tom McBride had the greatest inning of his career on August 4th, knocking in six runs in the Red Sox's twelve-run fourth inning of their win against the Senators. Joe Cleary relieved Sandy Ullrich with four runs already in and a man on third. Nine batters later, eight more runs had scored and Bert Shepard was called in to retire the side.40 Shepard had lost part of his right leg when his plane was shot down in the war and played with an artificial limb.41 It didn't seem to bother him that day, as he allowed only three hits and a single run the rest of the way. For both Cleary and Shepard, this would be the first and only games of their major league careers. Cleary would finish with an ERA of 189.00 and Shepard with a mark of 1.69.
The Tigers and the A's played a marathon on July 21st that finally ended tied at one after 24 innings. In was the longest game in the majors since a game by the same score in 1920. The previous one featured two complete games. This time around, each team employed two pitchers: Les Mueller and Dizzy Trout for the Tigers, and Russ Christopher and Joe Berry for the A's. Irv Hall tied a record with eleven at-bats in the game and George Kell went 0-10.
The Phillies lost their sixteenth game in a row on June 13th, breaking their club record of fourteen, which had been originally set in 1883 and tied in 1936. Only they didn't. Because on June 3rd, the second game of their double-header with the Pirates was suspended at the end of the sixth inning with the Phillies leading 11-9. It wasn't completed until July 13th, but when they won that game, it broke their losing streak into two (non-record breaking) streaks of seven and nine games.
As teams scrambled to find players to fill out their rosters, they often had to keep players in the lineup who in past years would have been sent to the bench or the minors. As a result, several hitters set records for offensive futility during these years for players appearing in 150 or more games. Here are the marks for the league records set for the lowest or the fewest in the follow categories:
1945 CHI A 458 at-bats Mike Tresh 1944 CIN N 112 hits Ed Miller 1944 CIN N 82 singles Ed Miller 1946 DET A 31 RBIs Eddie Lake 1943 BOS N 131 total bases Whitey Wietelmann 1945 CHI A 11 extra-base hits Mike Tresh 1944 CIN N .209 batting average Ed Miller 1943 BOS N .281 slugging percentage Whitey Wietelmann
Some of these records were broken during the offensive drought during the 1960s.
Players started coming back from the war during 1945. Hank Greenberg might have made the biggest impact, but several other big stars, including Bob Feller, Luke Appling, Cecil Travis and Buddy Lewis, were back in the lineup by the end of the season. Of course, with players returning from the war that meant that the war-time replacements were departing. On the last day of the 1945 season, 39 players appeared in a major league game for the last time. This tied the pre-expansion mark for the most career finales on a single day. The other day with 39 departing players is one you might have guessed: October 3, 1915, the last afternoon of the Federal League. By the way, the record for the most debuts on one day is also not a surprising one: May 1, 1884, the opening day of the season for two of the three leagues that operated that year.
Feller, making his first start in nearly four years, picked right up where he left off on August 24th, striking out twelve and allowing only four hits in Cleveland's 4-2 win over the Tigers. Less than four weeks later, he pitched a one-hit shutout against Detroit, the seventh one or no-hit game of his career. And in his first start since returning from the military, Dick Fowler pitched a no-hitter against the Browns. The next day, Walt Masterson was almost as good in his return from the military, pitching a two-hit shutout against Bob Feller and the Indians. For both Fowler and Masterson, these shutouts would be their only wins of the season.
In an effort to cut operating costs, major league baseball increased the number of double-headers during the war year. In 1945, the Braves played a record 46 double-headers, and the Cubs set records by sweeping twenty of them, and for their 51 wins in twin-bills. Of the teams playing the most double-headers in a season, the top fifteen date from 1943 to 1945.
Baseball had somehow weathered the war. They did it with makeshift rosters comprised of older veterans, green rookies and players who for one reason or another were unfit for military service. But the regulars returned in 1946 and baseball that season bore little resemblence to the seasons that had preceded it. For example, the Red Sox, one of the top teams in the AL before the war, had finished seventh in 1945. Their three best position players that year had been Eddie Lake, Skeeter Newsome and Bob Johnson. Unfortunately for them, they happened to play the same positions as returning veterans Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr and Ted Williams. So the Red Sox released Johnson, sold Newsome to the Phillies, and traded Mayo to the Tigers for Rudy York. As a result, an almost completely different team took the field for Boston in 1946. Only one player in the lineup on opening day (George Metkovich) had even been on the roster the previous year.
There had been some concern about how the returning players would do, about whether the long layoffs might have permanently damaged their abilities on the diamond, but at least in the case of the Red Sox, these concerns were unfounded. Williams, Pesky and Doerr all had big seasons, as did Dom DiMaggio, Tex Hughson, Mickey Harris and Joe Dobson, and these returnees, along with big years from Rudy York and Dave Ferriss, propelled Boston to their first pennant since 1918. They won it in a walk. Their victory on June 11th gave them a 41-9 record and a ten game lead over the second-place Yankees.
It was a similar return to form in the National League, as the Cardinals and Dodgers, the league's two best teams before the war, returned to the top in 1946 and battled each other down to the wire, and beyond. Going into the last weekend of the year, both teams were tied for the top spot. Both teams won on Saturday and lost on Sunday, necessitating the first playoff in league history. The Dodgers lost their chance to win the pennant outright when they were shutout by the ex-Cardinal star Mort Cooper and Cardinals were forced into the playoff when Ed Munger, who had posted a 11-3 record with a 1.34 ERA when he had last played in 1944, failed against the Cubs.
The best-of-three playoff began on Tuesday with the Cardinals winning 4-2, behind Howie Pollet's 21st victory of the year. The Dodgers had countered with Ralph Branca, who had played sparingly that year, but had pitched back-to-back shutouts in September, including a big win over the Cards. His defeat in the playoff was his first of the year, dropping his record to 3-1. The series shifted to Brooklyn on Thursday, where the Cards, behind Murry Dickson, completed the sweep and sent St. Louis to their fourth World Series in five years.
The Cards were helped by returning veterans Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Pollet and Dickson, and might have had an easier time winning the pennant had it not been for the defection in May of Max Lanier. At the time, Lanier had won all six of his starts, the first three without allowing an earned run, and was leading the league in both wins, shutouts and complete games. A holdout in the spring, Lanier jumped to the outlaw Mexican League along with two other Cardinals, second-baseman Lou Klein and rookie pitcher Fred Martin. Of course, the Mexican League's raid on baseball wasn't limited to the Cardinals, and the Dodgers lost catcher Mickey Owen and outfielder Luis Olmo. Although not a contender, the Giants were especially hard-hit, losing eight players, including pitchers Ace Adams and Sal Maglie.42
Commissioner Happy Chandler responded by suspending the players for five years, which with time off for good behavior, turned into a three year suspension when the defectors were reinstated on June 5, 1949.43
In the World Series, the Cards were pushed to the limit by the Red Sox, making their first trip to the Fall Classic since 1918. After Boston staged a comeback victory in the first game behind Rudy York's tenth-inning home run, the teams traded shutouts (by Harry Brecheen and Dave Ferris), before a blow-out Cardinal win evened the series at two apiece. They continued the pattern of alternating wins in games five and six, setting the stage for a play in the deciding game that is still discussed and argued about today. Dave Ferris and Murry Dickson started the game, but both were gone by the time the Red Sox rallied to tie the game at three in the top of the eighth inning. In the bottom half, Enos Slaughter was on first when Harry Walker doubled to center. Substitute center fielder Leon Culberson threw the ball to shortstop Johnny Pesky, who either held the ball or paused for a fraction of a second as Slaughter, running on the play, easily beat the throw home and scored the winning run. While Pesky might have not deserved being the goat of the series for that play, both he and Ted Williams, two of the team's best hitters, hit poorly during the series, with no extra bases hits and only one RBI between them.
Two of the year's top offensive performances occurred in the same game when Lou Boudreau set an American League record with five extra-base hits, only to see his team lose to the Red Sox behind Ted Williams' three home runs and a single, good for career high eight RBIs. It was the first three-homer game of Williams' career. A week later, he would hit for the cycle for his first (and only) time. When Williams batted in the second game, player-manager Boudreau employed an exagerrated shift, putting six fielders to the right of second base.44 It was the first appearance of the "Boudreau shift" but it would not be the last, and the St. Louis Cardinals would employ a variation of it successfully during the World Series.
Two other offensive highlights also involved Red Sox players. Johnny Pesky became the first American League player to score six runs in a game on May 8th. No other Red Sox player in the game scored more than twice. And Rudy York became only the second AL player to knock in at least ten runs in a game on July 27th (Tony Lazzeri was the first). He was the first of four Red Sox players to accomplish this feat (the others would be Norm Zauchin, Fred Lynn and Nomar Garciaparra). No other franchise has had more than two players in this club, although the Cardinals have two players, Jim Bottomley and Mark Whiten, who share the top spot with twelve RBIs each. York hit two grand slams in the game, making him only the third player (after Lazzeri and Boston's Jim Tabor) to do this.
37 year-old Mel Ott hit a three-run homer in the Giants' opening day victory over the Phillies. It was the 511th and last of his career. After that win, he would play in 34 more major leagues games, but hit only three singles and a double in 68 at-bats.
Pirate rookie Ralph Kiner hit 23 home runs in 1946, the first of a record seven straight seasons in which he would lead or tie for the league lead in homers. He was helped that year by injuries to Johnny Mize, who was six ahead of Kiner with 22 circuit clouts when he was hit by Joe Page pitch during the August 5th Mayor's Trophy game with the Yankees, breaking his hand.45 Despite missing the next five weeks, he was still two home runs in the lead when he returned on September 13th. But Mize broke his toe in the eighth inning of his first game back and missed the rest of season.46 Kiner finally passed him on September 25th, during Pittsburgh 16-inning victory over the Cubs. Since Mize and Kiner tied for the league in circuit clouts in both 1947 and 1948, they came within a single homer of matching each other's totals in three consecutive years.
The big story on the mound in 1946 was Bob Feller's assault on the single-season strikeout mark. He struck out ten while pitching a three-hit shutout in the opening game of the season, and he struck out eleven in pitching his second career no-hitter at the end of April. By the time he completed back-to-back shutouts in early July, Feller had struck out ten or more batters in a game ten times. At the All-Star break, he had thrown nineteen complete games in twenty starts and had 190 strikeouts to go with a 15-5 record and a 1.90 ERA.
And he wasn't done yet. At the end of July, he pitched a one-hitter and eight days later, he did it again. This was his eighth career one-hit game, breaking the previous AL record set by Addie Joss from 1902 to 1910 and tying the major league mark set by Old Hoss Radbourn from 1881 to 1888. By an odd coincidence, the batter with the only hit against Feller in his latest one-hitter was Frankie Hayes, who had been with Cleveland earlier in the year and had caught Feller's no-hitter.
Feller had a 21-6 record after the one-hitter, and even though he lost six of his next seven decisions, he didn't pitch poorly during that stretch. He did, however, pitch a lot. In September, Feller made nine starts, completed eight of them, and pitched twice in relief for a total of 79 innings. Four of those starts came with only two days rest and one came only two days after he had pitched five innings in relief. All this might have made sense if the Indians had been in a pennant race, and Boudreau had decided that the chance of winning a pennant outweighed the risks of ruining Feller's arm, but at the beginning of September, Cleveland was in fifth place, 31 1/2 games behind the Red Sox. No, the Indian braintrust kept running Feller out there every three days for one reason: they wanted him to break the strikeout record.
And he did. Or he didn't. On the last day of the season, Feller defeated Newhouser and the Tigers 4-1. The victory left both Feller and Newhouser with 26 wins, the most in the majors, but more importantly, Feller's five strikeouts gave him 348 for the season, five more than the 343 batters Rube Waddell struck out in 1904. But even as he was approaching Waddell's record, researchers were saying that the 343 mark was incorrect, that Rube had actually struck out 349 batters in his record-setting season. If you count the three strikeouts during his winning stint in that year's All-Star game, Feller topped even Waddell's actual strikeout total. But of course no one does.
To modern baseball fans, used to pitch counts and innings limit, what Feller did that season seems crazy. Things were different then, however, and while people might have looked at Feller's 5-9 record down the stretch and worried that all those innings pitched might have tired him out, few would have connected his workload that year with the fact that his fastball disappeared midway through the next season, or that he would never again strike out as many as 200 batters in a season and would have one only more game in his career with ten or more strikeouts after the first two months of 1947.
Dave Ferriss, after slumping down the stretch for the Red Sox the year before, won his first ten decisions in 1946, with quite a bit of help from his teammates. He was knocked out early in his first two starts, but was taken off the hook both times as his team scored thirteen and twelve runs to win. In the second game, Ferriss was looking to pick up his first loss of the season before Boston rallied to tie the game with six runs in the bottom of the ninth inning. He pitched very well after that. including nine complete games and four shutouts in his ten wins. He went on another streak, after the All-Star break, winning twelve consecutive games. At the end of the season, Ferriss had 46 wins in his first two seasons and wouldn't turn 25 until December. But shoulder problems in 1947 would ruin what promised to be an excellent career and he would win only 19 more games before his career came to an end in 1950.
On May 19th, Ted Lyons played his last major league, going the distance in the White Sox 4-3 defeat to the Senators. It was the fifth straight complete game of the year for the 45 year-old pitcher and his 28th straight overall, dating back to 1941. This was the longest string of consecutive complete games since before 1920, topping the previous high of 27 set by Red Lucas from 1931 to 1932. Both Lucas and Lyons were excellent hitting pitchers and so there was seldom the need to remove them for pinch-hitters in the late innings of close games. Still, some late inning relief might have come in handy for Lyons in 1946. He pitched into the ninth inning in three of his games that year, giving up two runs each time. On two occasions, including his last game, those runs cost his team the victory.
Lyons' mark would be tied by Robin Roberts in 1952 and 1953, although we should at least mention Rick Langford's streak of 22 consecutive complete games in 1980, when complete games, at least outside of Oakland, were much harder to come by.
Before his next start, Lyons would succeed Jimmy Dykes as manager of the Sox, bringing his playing career to an end. His charges would play better than .500 ball for him over the remainder of that season, but in general, his time at the helm was not a successful one, and he was fired after his team lost 101 games in 1948.
Johnny Sain came oh so close to throwing a perfect game on July 12th. The only hit was a first-inning double off the bat of Grady Hatton that fell in shallow left field while three Boston fielders tried to decide who should catch it.47 It would be the closest Sain would come to a no-hitter in his career.
Dodger pitcher Ed Head threw a no-hitter in his first start back after war, but would win only twice more before being released. And September callup Bill McCahan pitched a seven-inning shutout in his debut with the A's on September 15th. His other complete game that year was also a seven-inning affair, once again the second-game of a double-header shortened by darkness. His only other major league shutout was a full-length no-hitter, with the only runner of the game reaching on an error by Ferris Fain.
The pitching dual of the year took place on September 11th, when the Reds and the Dodgers played a 19-inning scoreless tie. Dodgers starter Hal Gregg pitched a five-hitter over ten innings, but was outpitched by Johnny Vander Meer, who allowed seven hits over fifteen innings while striking out a season-high fourteen batters. On the same day, the Cubs and the Braves played a 17-inning 3-3 tie, the second longest of the year. In that game, Hank Borowy pitched seven hitless innings in relief.
In April 1945, Joe Bostic, a writer for Adam Clayton Powell's "People's Voice" newspaper, showed up at the Dodger's Bear Mountain Park camp with two black players and demanded a tryout. Dodger President Branch Rickey was embarrassed and more than a little annoyed but agreed to the request.48 Although his choice of a target was ironic, Bostic's timing was excellent for two reasons. First of all, at the beginning of July, the Quinn-Ives bill was scheduled to take effect, making it illegal for businesses to exclude blacks in New York state. Secondly, Kenesaw Landis' twenty-five year reign as commissioner had come to an end the previous November with his death, two days after Thanksgiving, at the age of 78. Throughout his term as commissioner, Landis had been vigorously opposed to the re-integration of Organized Baseball. In this belief, he was not much different from almost all of the owners who employed him. The lone exception seemed to be Rickey and, although he didn't think much of the two prospects he looked over that afternoon, later told Bostic: "I'm more for your cause than anyone else you know, but you are making a mistake using force, dictating in this manner."49
That fall, Larry MacPhail seemed to be outlining the majority opinion when he stated his objections to signing black players. First of all, teams in the Negro Leagues often rented major league stadiums for their games. As a result, Organized Baseball had a financial interest in the health of these leagues and any effort to lure away their top athletes would be sure to injure them. In addition, signing a few black players would be harmful because:
"There are few, if any, Negro players who could qualify for play in the major leagues at this time. A major league player must have something beside natural ability."50
But he wasn't about to rule out ever allowing black players into the major leagues. He favored a plan: "under which a limited number of Negro players, who first establish ability, character, and aptitude in their own leagues, might advance to the majors...." In other words, he wasn't looking for a black Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb. He wanted a player of character, a pretty high standard from a man who would end his baseball career in a drunken brawl following the Yankees 1947 World Series victory, when he tried to punch co-owner Dan Topping and general manager George Weiss.51
A month after MacPhail's statement, Rickey signed Jackie Robinson to a contract for his Montreal farm team in the International League. He was fortunate in his choice of Robinson as well as in Organized Baseball's selection of Happy Chandler to succeed Landis as commissioner. Despite the opposition of his employers, Chandler refused to interfere with what Rickey was attempting. Robinson had a great season with Montreal in 1946, leading the league in hitting (.349) and runs scored (113) and it became obvious to most observers that Rickey was planning to promote his player to the parent club the next spring.
On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first black man to play in the major leagues since Fleet Walker played for Toledo in 1884. As he proved his worth as a player and, perhaps even more importantly to the owners, as a top gate attraction52 during the first two months of the 1947 season, Branch Rickey played down the amount of black talent available, saying "I don't believe too many of 'em would make good, not enough for distribution around the National and American leagues."53 Cleveland's Bill Veeck, who had followed Rickey's lead and signed Larry Doby, agreed that there were probably no more than half a dozen black players of major league ability: "as the years go by, we'll have an increasing number of colored boys in the majors. But now, there is no danger of a large influx."54
I'm not sure if they really believed what they were saying or were simply trying to calm the fears of white players and give their fellow owners an excuse not to follow their lead. After all, both Rickey and Veeck would prefer to have this untapped reservoir of talent all to themselves, and at least for the first few years, they did. The Browns signed two players shortly after Veeck did in a rather transparent attempt to cash in on Robinson's popularity. "Gates Rusting, Browns Rush in 2 Negro Players," said the headline in The Sporting News announcing the signing of Hank Thompson and Willard Brown. "Naturally we believe these colored boys will help us at the gate," Bill DeWitt, the Brown's general manager said, noting both St. Louis' sizable black population and the large crowds that had come to see the Dodgers to play the Cards.55
Neither hit much and both were released a little more than a month later. The article mentioning their release said that: "While local Negro fans flocked to Sportsman's Park to see Jackie Robinson, Brooklyn's first baseman, they were strangely apathetic toward the Brown's two colored players. On the other hand, some white fans were antagonized. St. Louis is in a border state, and old prejudices and customs survive."56
What Bill DeWitt had failed to grasp was that the fans flocking to Sportsman's Park were going there to see a great black player, someone whose hitting, base running and flair for the dramatic were already being compared to Ty Cobb's. It was quite another thing to pay their way into a ballpark to see two men struggling to hit .200. Including Dan Bankhead, who pitched briefly with the Dodgers that September (and gained some instant fame by hitting a home run in his first major league at-bat), five black players appeared in the major leagues that first year.
Aided by Robinson's Rookie of the Year performance, Pee Wee Reese's fine play at shortstop and Ralph Branca's 21 wins, the Dodgers won the pennant despite a late rush from the Cardinals, who started the year badly and as late as June 12th were still in the cellar. Stan Musial, slowed by an illness in the early going, was mired in a slump that saw him hit .202 (with a .643 on-base plus slugging percentage) in his first 44 games. He returned to form after that and the Cardinals got back into the race, but thirteen straight Dodger wins at the end of July gave Brooklyn a commanding lead, and St. Louis could get no closer than three games of the top the rest of the way.
An even longer winning streak propelled the Yankees back into the World Series after a four-year absence (a long time by their standards). After salvaging a split in second game of their June 29th double-header with Washington, New York had a four and a half game lead over the Red Sox. After winning their next eighteen games, tying the league mark for consecutive wins originally set by the 1906 White Sox, they had a double-digit lead and the race was pretty much over. They were led by Joe DiMaggio, a controversial MVP choice over Boston's Ted Williams (who won the triple crown), and the relief pitching of Joe Page.
The 1947 World Series was an exciting affair won by the Yankees in seven games, but the two most famous games were Dodger wins. The first was a game that almost featured the first no-hitter in series history but, one out from immortality, Bill Bevens lost both the no-hitter and the game when Cookie Lavagetto doubled home two runs in the bottom of the ninth. It was the last hit of Lavagetto's career and the last major league start for Bevens. Game six contained one of the World Series' most famous defensive plays when Al Gionfriddo, playing in his last major league game, robbed Joe DiMaggio of a game-tying three-run homer. The deciding game was almost anti-climatic as Bobby Brown's third straight pinch-hit erased an early Brooklyn lead, and Joe Page shut down Brooklyn over the last five innings to bring the Yankees their eleventh World Championship. The Dodgers were still looking for their first.
National League hitters rediscovered the long ball in 1947, and after hitting 575, 577 and 562 homers the three previous seasons, NL batters topped that level by more than 300, falling just six homers shy of breaking the league record set in 1930. Ralph Kiner and Johnny Mize led the parade with 51 homers each. Mize's blasts were part of the New York Giants' major league record 221 homers. Mize had been a top power hitter before, leading the league in circuit clouts in 1939 and 1940, but much of his supporting class had career years in 1947. Willard Marshall, second on the team with 36 homers, and Walker Cooper, right behind him with 35, never hit more than twenty before or after that season. At one point, Cooper homered in six consecutive games, and his thirteen round-trippers in June alone matched his previous career high.
Mize's big year included a record fifth three-homer game, part of an NL-record sixteen straight games in which he scored a run. For much of the year, he was comfortably ahead of Kiner in their home run race. For example, as late as September 9th, he was five homers in front. But the next day, Kiner went on his second record-setting home run binge of the year. In August, he had hit seven homers in four consecutive games, setting the league mark. Less than a month later, he broke both his league record and the major league mark by hitting eight in four games. Both streaks were highlighted by three-homer games, the first Pirate hitter to do this. His first big game was part of ten homers hit by the Pirates and Cardinals, tying the major league set first in 1923 and then tied in 1930. On August 12th, Kiner had 28 homers and 78 RBIs. Here's how he did over the next 31 days:
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO HBP SH SB CS AVG OBP SLG 29 114 32 42 6 1 21 44 19 12 0 0 1 0 .368 .459 .991
During that period, Kiner also had the first five-hit game of his career. All five of the hits that day were singles.
The 1946 Athletics were a bad team, and one of the many reasons was the poor performance by 36 year-old first-baseman George McQuinn, who hit only .225 with three home runs. In January, he was released by the team and his career sure looked over. Fortunately for him, the Yankees had an even bigger problem at first base, and McQuinn looked like an upgrade over a fading Nick Etten. It would be putting it mildly to say that signing him turned out to be a good move for his new team. A hot streak early in the year pushed his batting average to .392 on May 27th, and in July he became one of the least likely All-Star game starters. He would hit well in the early going the next year as well, appearing in his third (and final) All-Star game, but he would fade over the last few months of the season and lose his job to converted outfielder Tommy Henrich.
Roy Cullenbine was a player only a sabrmetrician could love. In 1947, he set a record by drawing at least one walk in 22 consecutive games. (For some reason, the record was not recognized at the time, first showing up in The Sporting News record book in 1980 and Seymour Siwoff's record book a year later.57) He finished the year second in the league in walks, third in on-base percentage, and fourth in home runs. According to Pete Palmer's Batter-Fielder Wins, he was the third most valuable player in the AL that year. Unfortunately for him, his .224 batting average was the fourth worst in the league and, in an era that valued batting average above almost all else, he was shipped off to the Phillies during the off-season and cut at the end of the next spring training.
After losing on opening day, Bob Feller pitched three straight shutouts, including two one-hitters, the ninth and tenth of his career. According to Feller, he lost his fastball shortly after that, in a game Rob Neyer identified as his June 13th start against the A's. Feller struck out nine of the first eleven batters that day, but then slipped off the mound, injuring his shoulder.58 He was eventually removed with no one out in the bottom of the eighth inning, although he did get credit for the victory. He would often pitch well after that, but his strikeout rate would never be the same. Here are his stats that year, up to and after that game:
G GS CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO W L ERA K/9 To 6/13 15 13 7 4 109.1 73 39 34 52 87 8 5 2.80 7.16 After 6/13 27 24 13 1 189.2 157 58 55 75 109 12 6 2.61 5.17
Ewell Blackwell was the most dominating pitcher in the National League in 1947, winning sixteen straight decisions from May 10th through July 25th. He went the distance in all of the wins during the streak, including a no-hitter followed by a two-hitter (both hits came in the ninth inning), as well as three other shutouts.
The pitching dual of the year was the Senators 1-0 eighteen inning win over the White Sox on June 8th. Walt Masterson pitched the first sixteen innings of the game, part of a post-1920 franchise record 34 inning scoreless streak. His outing was the longest by a Senators pitcher since 1918, when Walter Johnson also defeated the White Sox 1-0 in eighteen innings. Masterson's scoreless mark was finally broken, over a three month period, by J.C. Romero in 2004.
Ted Wilks lost in his last appearance of 1945 his first of 1948, but he won twelve games in between without a loss in 1946 and 1947. He didn't pitch particularly well over those two years, with an 3.96 ERA, but his 77 consecutive appearances without a loss broke the previous mark of 70 set by Joe Pate from 1926 to 1927 (the first 70 games of Pate's career). The next pitcher to go at least 70 appearances between losses? Ted Wilks again, with exactly 70 appearances without losing from 1949 to 1951. His record would be broken by Phil Paine, who would pitch the first 81 games of his career before the first and only loss of his career on July 29, 1958. Of course, with the increasing use of relief specialists, this record has been broken several times over the last few decades. The current record holder is Trever Miller, who appreared in 240 straight games without a loss from 2006 to 2009. He won eight games during the streak.
At 37 years-old, Phillies pitcher Schoolboy Rowe was a little old for his nickname, but he started the season by going 8-1, and was rewarded for his hot start by being named to the 1947 All-Star team. He had previously pitched for the AL in the 1936 game, and when he pinch-hit for Warren Spahn in the bottom of the ninth, he became the first player to appear for both leagues in an All-Star game. To modern fans used to World Series rosters of 100 or more, it must seem crazy that with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of a one-run game, manager Eddie Dyer had no better options than to send a pitcher to the plate, but Rowe was the last remaining player on his bench.
Sure it was a publicity stunt, but when Dizzy Dean came out of the broadcasting booth to start the season finale for the last-place Browns, nearly 16,000 fans showed up to see a meaningless game against the White Sox. Dean pitched four scoreless innings before pulling a muscle and having to depart. His mound opponent, Eddie Lopat ended up winning the game, despite allowing fourteen hits in what would be his last start before being traded to the Yankees.
In an earlier article, I mentioned that Cotton Tierney played in 92 road games for the Pirates and the Phillies in 1923, the most during the Retrosheet era. The mark for the most home games played in a season since 1920 was set by Jake Jones in 1947, who played 91 home games that year for the White Sox and the Red Sox. When Jones was traded on June 14th, the White Sox had played 32 of their 53 games at home, while the Red Sox had played 31 of their 48 games on the road. Not coincidentally, Rudy York, the player he was traded for, played in 90 road games that season, two short of Tierney's mark.
Starting in 1903, the major leagues enjoyed a remarkably stable fifty years, with no teams moving and no expansion. During those years, both leagues were split nicely into eastern and western teams. Of course, given the east-coast bias of things at the time, the dividing line was not near the Mississippi River, but rather through central Pennsylvania. In the National League, Boston, Brooklyn, New York and Philadelphia were in the east, and Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis were in the west. And in the AL, the eastern teams were comprised of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, while Cleveland - well, you get the idea.
The schedule-makers took advantage of this division by breaking each season into sections. For most years prior to 1936, this meant that three times during the season, the eastern teams would travel west, and three times their western counterparts would come east. Starting in 1936, the road trips were shortened, requiring four trips in each direction during the season. The reason I bring this up now is that baseball writers would often look at how players did on these trips into the other half of the league. For example, in the 1948 Sporting News Guide there was a note mentioning that the Giants' Walker Cooper hit in 31 straight games in the west from May 13th to September 8th.59
It turns out that this was the third longest streak from 1918 to 1952. The top five:
# Player Start End Direction 34 Earle Combs 1930- 9-13(2) 1931- 6-30 East->West 32 Ross Youngs 1918- 5-18 1918- 8-22 East->West 31 Walker Cooper 1947- 5-13 1947- 9- 8 East->West 28 Lou Gehrig 1930- 6- 7 1930- 7-26 East->West Stan Musial 1952- 6-14 1952- 9- 9 West->East
By the way, the player with the best performance when visiting the other half of his league during these years (at least if you look at batting average, slugging percentage and OPS) was Stan Musial in 1948. His line:
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO HBP SH SB CS AVG OBP SLG 44 182 58 85 21 5 17 43 44 11 1 0 4 1 .467 .525 .918
And finally, no discussion of the 1947 season would be complete without a mention of the Dodgers-Cardinals game on July 20th. The Cardinals were leading 2-0 in the top of the ninth with two outs when Ron Northey hit a ball that either bounced off the wall or the stands. As Northey was running around the bases, however, third-base umpire Beans Reardon supposedly ruled the ball a home run, an opinion not shared by first-base umpire Larry Goetz. Northey slowed down into his home run trot and was thrown out in a close play at home plate to end the inning. In the bottom of the ninth, the Dodgers rallied for three runs to (apparently) win the game. Ford Frick upheld the Cards protest, but with an odd twist. Normally, an upheld protest resulted in the game being replayed from the point of the disputed play. In this case, Frick felt that this would unfairly penalize the Dodgers, who would be unlikely to stage another come-from-behind rally. So he decided that Northey would be granted a home run, and that the Dodgers rally would stand. So, officially, both teams had only two outs in the ninth inning (the Cards because Northey's third out was removed by the upheld protest, and the Dodgers because they stopped hitting after they "won" the game with two outs in the bottom of the ninth). The entire game was replayed on August 18th, the Dodgers winning 7-5.
1948 was a great year for baseball, complete with crowded pennant races, late-season heroics and two unfamiliar champions. In early August, half of the American League was within a few percentage points of the lead, including the surprising Philadelphia Athletics, and on September 1st, seven teams in the major leagues were within two games of first place. In the National League, the Boston Braves started to distance themselves from the rest of the pack after that, winning 21 of their last 27 games behind their two aces, Johnny Sain and Warren Spahn. At one point in September, they started 15 of the team's 21 games, inspiring the slogan "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain." Here's how those two pitchers did from September 1st on, compared to the rest of the staff:
G GS CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO W L ERA Spahn/Sain 17 17 11 1 135 116 44 37 28 58 12 4 2.47 Pray/Rain 33 11 4 1 122 106 27 24 28 51 9 3 1.77
So the rest of the staff pitched even better than their two aces down the stretch. In particular, Vern Bickford went 4-0 in September and October, with a 1.05 ERA, including a win over the Giants on September 26th that clinched their first pennant since 1914. Unfortunately for their World Series prospects, Jeff Heath, one of the Braves' best hitters, broke his leg sliding into home three days later, ending his season.60
The resolution of the American League pennant was a less straightforward affair. By September, the Athletics had faded from the race, but the Yankees, Red Sox and Indians staged a ferocious battle down the stretch. On September 24th, with all three teams tied for first place, American League officials flipped a series of coins to determine the nature of the playoffs should the three teams end the season deadlocked. It was decided that the Indians would play the Red Sox at Fenway Park on October 4th, with the winner heading to Yankee Stadium the next day to decide the pennant.61 By the start of the season's final weekend, Cleveland held a one-game lead over their two rivals. On Saturday, Gene Beardon, the Indians 28 year-old rookie, pitched a shutout against the Tigers to win his nineteenth game of the season, while the Red Sox, behind Ted Williams' perfect day at the plate and Jack Kramer's five-hit complete game, beat the Yankees 5-1, eliminating them from the race. The next day, in a match-up of two of the league's best pitchers, Hal Newhouser faced Bob Feller with the pennant on the line. Feller had been great in September, going 6-0 with a 1.19 ERA, but he had nothing that afternoon and went down to defeat, 7-1. Meanwhile, Boston clubbed New York to force the first playoff in league history.
Both Joe McCarthy, who had come out of retirement in 1948 to pilot the Red Sox, and Indians' skipper Lou Boudreau had to decide on their starting pitchers for the winner-take-all game. And both made controversial decisions. Bob Lemon was Cleveland's leader in wins, complete games, shutouts and innings pitched, but he had pitched and lost on Friday. Beardon was the hotter pitcher, having white-washed the Tigers on Saturday, but he would be going on only one day of rest. Lemon would have been the safe choice, but Lou went with Beardon.
McCarthy had a somewhat easier choice to make. Of the top pitchers on his staff, Mel Parnell was rested and hot, having last pitched on Thursday and owning a 12-3 record since the beginning of July. If he wanted to mimic Boudreau's pick, he could have gone with Jack Kramer on a single day's rest. A more offbeat selection would have been Ellis Kinder, who had only a 10-7 record, but was well rested and undefeated since August. So who did McCarthy pick? 36 year-old journeyman spot-starter Denny Galehouse, who had a mediocre 8-7 record and had pitched poorly in his only two appearances over the previous four weeks.
Unfortunately, Galehouse failed to make his manager look like a genius, and got knocked out in the top of the fourth inning. Beardon responded with a complete-game victory, his twentieth win and his seventh straight since September 10th, as the Indians decisively defeated the Red Sox 8-3 to head to their first World Series since 1920. As he had been several times that season, league MVP Boudreau was the hitting star that day, with two home runs among his four hits. For Boudreau and the Indians, it was the continuation of a wonderful season, one the featured packed houses, odd-ball promotions (like "Joe Earley Night," when the Indians honored an average fan before 60,40562), and most importantly, great baseball.
In the series opener, a blown call on a pickoff attempt at second base cost Cleveland's Bob Feller a run and the game as Johnny Sain continued his torrid pitching with a four-hit shutout. The Indians had the best pitching staff in baseball during 1948, and it showed throughout the series as they permitted only a single earned run over the next three games, all Cleveland wins, giving the Indians a commanding series lead. After losing a two-hitter in the opener, Feller got pounded in game five, and the Braves' hitters erupted from their series-long slump to beat the Indians 11-5. But the series ended the next day. Gene Beardon, who had pitched a shutout in game three, came out of the bullpen in the bottom of the eighth inning to protect a 4-3 lead, bringing Cleveland only its second World Championship.
The top hitter in baseball that year was Stan Musial, who dominated the NL, leading the league in runs, hits, doubles, triples, RBIs, batting average, on-base and slugging percentage. And he came within a single home run of tying Ralph Kiner and Johnny Mize in that category as well. His four five-hit games that year tied the mark set in 1922 by Ty Cobb, and he hit over .400 on the road, something that hadn't been done in the National League since New York Giants teammates Freddie Lindstrom and Bill Terry both did it in 1930. Over in the AL, Lou Boudreau also hit over .400 on the road, the first hitter in the Junior Circuit to do this since Joe DiMaggio in 1939. Only one player in either league has done this since, Ichiro Suzuki in 2004.
For the second time in four years, Pat Seerey had the year's top offensive performance when he hit four home runs in the White Sox's wild 12-11 extra-inning win over the A's on July 18th. Like Chuck Klein in 1936, Seerey hit his fourth home run of the game in an extra inning. With his performance in that game, Seerey became the first player to have fifteen or more total bases in a game twice. Willie Mays would be the second, in 1958 and 1961.
Seerey's big day helped him hit ten homers that July. Unfortunately, that month also showcased his weaknesses as a hitter. Five days after that game, Seerey set another record when he struck out seven times in a double-header. He hit only .224 in July (which would equal his career batting average) and his forty strikeouts that month would set a mark that would stand until Rick Monday fanned 43 times in August, 1968. Seerey led the league in strikeouts that year for the fourth time, despite never getting up more than 414 at-bats in a season, and he would play in only four more major league games after 1948.
Red Schoendienst had a hot streak to remember in early June that included a major league record eight doubles and nine extra-base hits in three consecutive games; Hank Majeski set another major league mark when he hit three doubles in each game of a double-header on August 27th, and Ralph Kiner became the first player to hit three home runs in a game three times in less than a year on July 5th. Joe DiMaggio hit for the cycle (with a home run to spare) for the second time in his career on May 20th; three days later, he hit three home runs in a game, also for the second time in his career. And the Red Sox scored fourteen runs in the seventh inning of their July 4th win over the Athletics. Rookie Bubba Harris gave up twelve of the runs and saw his ERA climb from 1.12 to 3.73.
The most runs scored in a game during 1948 was the 26 tallied by the Indians against the Browns on August 12th. Cleveland scored nine in the top of the first, knocking out the first two of five Browns pitchers, and were only held scoreless in two innings all day. In the middle of the eight inning, with the Tribe up 26-1, Boudreau decided to give Gene Bearden the rest of the day off. Apart from his pitching, Bearden was also probably worn out from all his baserunning (he had a career high four runs, hits and RBIs that day). So Boudreau went to the bullpen and brought in... Bob Feller? Maybe he needed the work, having started two days earlier and entering the day second in the league in innings pitched. He wasn't pitching well at the time, having failed to complete his last seven starts, and allowing nearly a run an inning over that period, and so perhaps Boudreau wanted to give him an opportunity to work on some things in the stress-free environment of a 25-run lead.
On the same day that Pat Seerey was tying a record with four homers, Dodger hitters reached base seventeen straight times against the Cardinals. Well, I suppose that depends upon what you mean by "reached base". Three of them grounded into force plays during the streak which does technically qualify as reaching base. Anyway, by the time pitcher Hank Behrman struck out in the top of the second inning, St. Louis was already using their fourth pitcher of the game and the visitors had a ten (soon to be thirteen) run lead. Once the damage was done, the last three Cardinal relievers combined to hold the Dodgers to two hits and no runs over the final seven and a third innings.
The old Sporting News Guides used to have filler notes scattered among the pages of their minor league statistics. In the Guide covering the 1948 baseball season, there was one mentioning that Ralph Kiner had hit 17 home runs on Sundays during the past year.63 That got me to wondering if that was a record, which got me to wondering what the records were for the other days of the week as well. The short answer is that he had tied the record, originally set by Rudy York in 1943. It has been tied twice since, by Kiner again the next year and by Carlos Pena in 2007. Here are the leaders for each day of the week:
Day Player Year G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO AVG OBP SLG Sunday Rudy York 1943 44 161 34 57 10 2 17 41 15 22 .354 .412 .758 Ralph Kiner 1948 38 127 36 37 4 0 17 41 32 13 .291 .441 .724 Ralph Kiner 1949 35 130 38 45 4 0 17 33 22 10 .346 .441 .769 Carlos Pena 2007 25 90 27 34 4 1 17 27 10 19 .378 .446 1.011 Monday Sammy Sosa 1998 18 76 18 27 0 0 14 27 3 23 .355 .380 .908 Tuesday Mark McGwire 1998 23 76 26 29 7 0 16 33 18 18 .382 .490 1.105 Wednesday Jeff Bagwell 1999 25 91 31 32 2 0 19 44 17 17 .352 .455 1.000 Thursday Barry Bonds 2001 20 64 25 28 4 0 17 29 24 12 .438 .596 1.297 Friday Mike Piazza 2000 24 94 26 37 2 0 16 38 10 16 .394 .452 .926 Saturday Chuck Klein 1929 34 147 34 59 11 2 14 41 7 16 .401 .429 .789 Hack Wilson 1930 24 94 27 37 4 0 14 44 14 8 .394 .472 .883 Roy Campanella 1953 22 81 23 31 0 0 14 36 8 6 .383 .444 .901 Mark McGwire 1987 25 99 27 35 4 2 14 34 10 23 .354 .405 .859 Alex Rodriguez 2002 26 108 24 39 4 0 14 29 8 25 .361 .412 .787
And while I realize that this doesn't have anything to do with 1948, Charlie Maxwell had a reputation during the 1950s for hitting home runs on Sunday,64 even being nicknamed "the Sabbath Smasher" (although I can't imagine anyone ever actually calling him that). But was Sunday his best day for round-trippers? Here is his career breakdown by the day of the week:
Day G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO AVG OBP SLG Sunday 260 774 118 216 32 10 40 144 93 131 .279 .357 .501 Monday 78 237 34 58 11 2 7 36 36 42 .245 .341 .397 Tuesday 156 441 57 103 12 3 21 61 73 77 .234 .345 .417 Wednesday 158 474 67 125 8 2 19 77 63 88 .264 .354 .409 Thursday 139 379 63 85 13 4 13 56 65 67 .224 .341 .383 Friday 166 457 73 124 14 2 22 71 80 76 .271 .380 .455 Saturday 176 483 68 145 20 3 26 87 74 66 .300 .392 .516
So he actually hit home runs at a higher rate on Saturday. Which, of course, is also a Sabbath.
I mentioned earlier that the Indians had the best pitching staff in the majors in 1948. From August 15th to the 21st that year, they had a scoreless streak that reached 47 innings. The next longer one was 53 1/3 innings by the St. Louis Cardinal pitchers in 1962 and 1963 The Indians' pitchers threw four shutouts during the streak, including a 1-0 win by Satchel Paige, the legendary (and seemingly ageless) black pitcher signed by Bill Veeck in early July. The signing was greeted by a scathing editorial in The Sporting News: "To sign a hurler of Paige's age is to demean the standard of baseball in the big circuits," they wrote.65 Six weeks later, after Paige had pitched that shutout to bring his record to 5-1 and lower his ERA to 1.33, The Sporting News ran another editorial that said, in part:
"The Sporting News would make no change in its original editorial, except to express its admiration for any pitcher - white or colored - who at Paige's age can gain credit for five victories over a period of six weeks in any league, major or minor. But it cannot express any admiration for the present-day standard of major league ball that makes such a showing possible. Why not build up these standards, instead of demeaning them further?"66
I guess no matter what happened, the editors of The Sporting News had it covered. Of course, they weren't above using Paige's success to sell a few extra copies of their newspaper; three weeks later they started a feature on Paige with a front-page blurb that read, "'Life in Majors With Paige' - Start the Story This Week!"67
While no one knew it at the time, when Bob Feller struck out eleven Senator batters on September 17th, it would be the last double-digit strike-out performance of his career. He would pitch another 226 games, spread across eight more season, but would only strike out as many as nine twice more, two starts later, on September 26th, as well as the following August 4th.
And finally, an era came to an end on August 16th, when Babe Ruth died at the age of 53 after a long illness.
After spending his entire managerial career in the second division of the National League, Casey Stengel came to New York in 1949, the somewhat suprising choice to succeed Bucky Harris as the manager of the Yankees, and was immediately thrown into a close pennant race. For much of the season, it must have looked like The Fates were against him. First, Joe DiMaggio went down with a bone spur in his heel and was lost until the end of June. Bob Porterfield, a young right-hander who had won a combined twenty games the year before in Newark and New York, pitched a one-hitter68 and a no-hitter69 in spring training and then tore a muscle in his throwing arm before the season began.70 Despite DiMaggio's absence, the Yankees were in first place when he made his first appearance of the year, hitting four homers in a three-game sweep at Fenway Park. After winning both ends of a July 4th double-header against the Red Sox at the Stadium, New York was twelve games ahead of the fading Sox and it looked like the pennant race might be over.
It wasn't. For one thing, the injury hex wasn't done with the Yankees. On August 7th, Yogi Berra, who had blossomed into an every day catcher under Stengel, broke his thumb in a 20-2 victory and was lost for a month.71 Next, in a double-header against the White Sox on August 28th, both Tommy Henrich and Johnny Mize were hurt.72 Even with the injuries, New York continued to play well, but the Red Sox were playing better. That sweep on July 4th had left them with a losing record, but they won the next day, beginning a 37-10 stretch that would bring them to within two and a half games of first place. Eleven straight wins in September would close that gap and then some, giving them a one-game lead over the Yankees heading into the final weekend. One win in the remaining two games and the pennant would be theirs.
The Red Sox entered those final games having gone 61-20 since their July 4th losses. The leaders on the team during that period were Ted Williams (.368 average, 1.210 OPS, 24 HRs, 78 RBIs), Bobby Doerr (.363 average, 1.025 OPS, 11 HRs, 72 RBIs), Vern Stephens (.283 average, .927 OPS, 20 HRs, 79 RBIs), Ellis Kinder (16-1 record and a 2.43 ERA) and Mel Parnell (15-2 record and a 2.22 ERA).
Unlike the year before, Joe McCarthy was not going to be creative in his choice of starting pitchers for those crucial final games. A rested Parnell started the Saturday game, but could not hold a 4-0 lead and left in the fifth inning with the score tied. At that point, it became a battle of the bullpens and Joe Page's brilliant relief pitching, coupled with Johnny Lindell's eighth inning home run, set up a winner-take-all game on Sunday. Again, McCarthy started the obvious pitcher, Ellis Kinder, and he squared off against Vic Raschi in a pitcher's duel. Kinder and the Red Sox were losing 1-0 in the top of the eighth when McCarthy removed him for a pinch-hitter and sent out Mel Parnell, whom the Yankees had hit so freely only the day before, to keep his team close in the bottom of the eighth. It didn't work. Parnell gave up a homer and a single to the first (and only) batters he faced, and before the inning was over Jerry Coleman had hit a bases-clearing double off of Tex Hughson, giving the Yankees a lead large enough to withstand a last gasp Red Sox rally in the final inning.
The year before the Yankees had lost the final two games to the Red Sox and Bucky Harris had been fired. In 1949, they won their last two games and Stengel was named Manager of the Year, on his way to a twelve-year run with the Yankees that would land him in the Hall of Fame. For McCarthy, it was another bitter disappointment. For all his accomplishments as a manager, his teams never won a close pennant race. Mostly, this was because his great teams had usually beaten the league into submission by Labor Day, and the closest he came to being in a real pennant race before his arrival in Boston were with his third-place Yankee teams in 1940 and 1944. He would step down as manager the following June with the team in fourth place.
Not to be outdone, the National League race also went down to the wire, the first time since 1908 that both league's champions had been decided on the final day. The Cards, behind Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter and Howie Pollet, had the upper hand over the Dodgers much of the last month, but when Brooklyn took the last two games of their series on Septmber 21st and 22nd, the last by a score of 19-6, St. Louis' lead was down to half a game. Three straight losses to second-division teams heading into the last weekend put St. Louis a game behind Brooklyn with two left to play. Both teams lost on Saturday before the Dodgers, behind the scoreless relief pitching of Jack Banta, clinched their second pennant in three years with a 9-7 extra-inning win over the Phillies.
The Dodgers were led by league MVP Jackie Robinson, All-Star catcher Roy Campanella and Rookie of the Year pitcher Don Newcombe, who between them comprised three of the five black players on major league rosters at the end of that June (Cleveland's Larry Doby and Satchel Paige were the others). Of those five, only Paige would fail to play in that year's All-Star game, a fact not lost on the stuggling Giants, who added Hank Thompson (integrating his second team) and Monte Irvin in early July.
Brooklyn was also helped by Carl Furillo's furious stretch run. He struggled into early August before turning into the team's best hitter the rest of the way. Here are his stats before and after the game on August 8th:
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO AVG OBP SLG Before 96 368 54 99 14 7 8 61 28 23 .269 .326 .410 After 46 181 41 78 13 3 10 45 9 6 .431 .458 .702
The World Series was sort of anti-climatic, as the Yankees disposed of the Dodgers in five games. The teams split the first two, both by 1-0, scores, before the Yankees swept the next three games at Ebbets Field, behind a two-run pinch-single by Johnny Mize in game three and sterling relief pitching by Allie Reynolds and Joe Page in games four and five. Despite losing the opening game on Tommy Henrich's ninth-inning home run, Don Newcombe was brilliant that day in what would be the only good World Series game he would ever pitch.
During the regular season, Ralph Kiner once again set home runs records. He hit sixteen homers in September, breaking the league mark of fourteen that he had previously set in both June and August of 1947. This record would be broken by Willie Mays when he hit his seventeenth home run of August on August 29, 1965. Kiner was in the broadcast booth that day, announcing that game for the Mets. In 1949, he also became the first National League player to hit fifty or more home runs twice (a record tied by Mays in 1965), and he set an NL mark by leading the league in homers for four consecutive years, a streak that would reach seven before ending in 1953.
Dom DiMaggio had the longest hitting streak in Red Sox history when he hit safely in 34 consecutive games that year. There would not be a longer hitting streak in the major leagues until Pete Rose hit in 44 straight games in 1978. Reds catcher Walker Cooper had only been with his new team less than a month when he had one of biggest games in franchise history, hitting three homers and three singles, good for ten RBIs in Cincinnati's 23-4 rout over the Cubs on July 6th. He tied franchise marks for the most hits and home runs in a game, and set the Reds' record with his ten RBIs, topping the previous mark of eight set by Alex Kampouris in 1937. He also tied the modern NL record for the most total bases in a nine-inning game, last accomplished by Les Bell in a losing cause in 1928. The record would be tied again the following June by Wes Westrum and then broken that August by Gil Hodges.
One of the oddest road records that year belonged to Dale Mitchell:
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO HBP SH SB CS AVG OBP SLG Home 75 318 37 96 10 8 2 27 25 4 0 2 5 1 .302 .353 .403 Away 74 322 44 107 6 15 1 29 18 7 0 0 5 2 .332 .368 .453
Those fifteen triples were the most hit on the road by any player since the deadball era.
The Phillies set a modern major league record for the most total bases in an inning when they hit a single, double, triple and five home runs in the eighth inning of their June 2nd game against the Reds. Those five homers also tied the major league mark, first set in 1939. On June 12th, the Dodgers scored twenty runs on only thirteen hits, Gil Hodges knocking in eight by himself. It's probably not too surprising that no one at the time realized it, but this game marked the first time in major league history that seven different pitchers on the same team gave up one or more runs in a game. And on September 30th, the Red Sox were able to maintain their slim lead over the Yankees by beating the Senators 11-9, despite being out-hit 18-5. The Red Sox were the recipients of fourteen walks and Senator starter (and loser) Mickey Harris gave up the first six before leaving the game with a no-hitter in the bottom of the second inning. No team during the Retrosheet Era had ever won a game when they were out-hit by that much. The last time a winning team had gotten twelve fewer hits than their opponent was in 1938. This obscure record would be broken in 1958, when the Red Sox would get five hits to the White Sox's nineteen and still come out ahead, 6-5.
In the American League, it was the year of the walk. Pitchers in the circuit set a record by giving out 5622 free passes, nearly 400 more than the previous record (set only the year before) and over 1800 more than were issued in the NL. Tommy Byrne led the way with 179, including thirteen in an extra-inning game on June 8th, but probably the worst offender was Washington's Dick Weik, who walked 103 batters in only 95 1/3 innings, including thirteen in one game and ten in another. He never did solve his control problems, finishing his career with more walks than innings pitched, resulting in a 5-22 record and a 5.90 ERA. On September 11th, the Yankees walked a major league record eleven times in the twelve-run third inning during their 20-5 win over the Senators. In the game, they walked a season-high seventeen times off four different pitchers (and Weik wasn't even one of them).
In some ways, Allie Reynolds was the first truly modern pitcher, winning seventeen games that year while completing only four of his 31 starts. Reynolds set a major league record for the most games started and taken out during a season. Yankees fireman Joe Page completed ten of Reynolds wins.
It wasn't his major league debut, that had occurred five days earlier, but it was nonetheless a spectacular introduction to the major leagues for Bobby Shantz on May 6th. He entered the game down 3-1 with no one out in the bottom of the fourth inning and proceeded to hold the Tigers hitless for the next nine innings. The Athletics tied the score in the eighth before a two-run homer in the top of the thirteenth by Wally Moses, his only circuit clout of the year, gave Shantz a lead. He weakened slightly in the bottom half, giving up two hits and his only run of the game, but held on for the first win of his career.
Carl Scheib gave up eight first-inning runs to the White Sox on July 22nd, but remained in the game. He shouldn't have been surprised. After all, his manager was Connie Mack, who believed that sometimes, a pitcher just needed to take a beating. Scheib turned it around for the most part, holding the Sox scoreless until another uprising in the eighth made the final tally 12-0. Scheib had debuted in 1943 at the age of sixteen, and by 1949 was a 22 year-old six-year veteran. That day, he would set career highs in hits, walks, runs and earned runs allowed.
On June 25th, Ralph Branca raised his record to 9-1 the hard way, outlasting the Pirates 17-10. Branca gave up a career high five home runs in the game, including a pair by Ralph Kiner, but these were more than offset by the batting of his teammates, which included Gil Hodges hitting for the cycle and four RBIs by Jackie Robinson.
Kent Peterson did not like throwing off an unfriendly mound, but on July 17th, he finally won a game on the road after eighteen straight losses. A little less than two years later, he would pick up his second road win. It would be his last major league decision and he would finish his career with a 2-24 record away from home. His splits:
G GS CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO W L ERA Home 77 21 4 1 214 209 110 103 105 107 11 14 4.33 Away 70 22 3 0 206.1 225 148 128 109 100 2 24 5.58
As a publicity stunt in the first game of their season-ending double-header with the White Sox, the Browns announced that they would use a different pitcher in each inning, ensuring that they would break the record for the most pitchers used by one team in a game (which had been eight). The weird thing is that the Browns only used one pinch-hitter. I'm not sure what manager Zach Taylor was thinking. I realize that if the game meant anything, they never would have resorted to the pitching parade in the first place, but they were still keeping score, weren't they? Was it really necessary to go out of the way to lose, to let (for example) Karl Drews hit for himself? It is true that Karl Drew had once gotten a single in a game, but that was more than two years earlier, and when he walked to the plate that afternoon, he was mired in an 0 for 85 slump.
In the second game that day. Ed Albrecht pitched a one-hitter in his major league debut, but it wasn't as impressive as it sounds. For one thing, the game only lasted five innings and Albrecht walked two men in front of the only hit he allowed, a two-run triple by Jim Baumer. He would only pitch two more games and finish his career with just that one victory. Baumer would not appear in a major league game again until 1961.
A host of people worked on making these boxscores available to baseball researchers. They include: Dave Lamoureaux, David Vincent, Bob Allen, Javier Anderson, Greg Antolick, Mark Armour, Chris Bates, Bob Boehme, Steve Bond, Jeff Bower, Tom Bradley, Rob Carron, Jim Clausing, Wade Coble, Clem Comly, Dennis Dagenhardt, Tom Davis, Richard Deegan, Larry Defillipo, Chris Dial, Jeff Eby, Mike Elliot, Steve Elsberry, Ken Fisher, Michael Fornabaio, David Foss, Jim Fraasch, Terry Frala, Jonathan Frankel, Gary Frownfelter, Mike Grahek, Aaron Greenberg, Brian Grinnell, Ed Hartig, Kathy Hartley, Chuck Hildebrandt, David Hoehns, Patrick Hourigan, Hugh Humphries, Howard Johnson, Ryan Jones, John Kalous, Christopher Kamka, David Kocher, Herm Krabbenhoft, Sean Lahman, Gary Lauher, Andre Leclerc, Walter LeConte, Dan Lee, John Lee, Bob LeMoine, Joel Luckhaupt, Trent McCotter, Bill McMahon, Sheldon Miller, Joe Murphy, Jack Myers, Dave Newman, Bill Nowlin, Paul Olubas, Charlie O'Reilly, Eric Orns, Ian Orr, Claude Paradis, Gary Pearce, Rob Pettapiece, Jonathan Pollak, J.G. Preston, Brad Ramirez, Denis Repp, Mike Round, Mark Ruckhaus, Ken Ruppert, Charles Saeger, Carl Schweisthal, Tasha Shaindlin, Stu Shea, Terry Small, Sean Smith, Matt Souders, Tom Stillman, Bob Strab, Tom Thress, Bob Timmermann, Dixie Tourangeau, Steve Vetere, Ron Wargo, Ed Washuta, Ron Weaver, Paul Wendt, Neil Williams, Mark Williamson, Rob Wood, Andrew Zager, Don Zminda and Pete Palmer.
1When I was growing up, I remember seeing a trivia question that asked what team had all of its players begin and finish a game with exactly the same batting average. The answer was supposed to be White Sox on the day of Feller's no-hitter, the thinking being that all of their players had an average of .000 both entering and leaving the game. But of course, this was nonsense. Stadium scoreboards might show a player with no at-bats as having a .000 batting average, but most mathematicians (at least the good ones) will disagree.
2"I'll Be Nice As I Can, Says Vitt of Tribe Truce," Ed McAuley, The Sporting News. June 20, 1940. Pages 1-2.
3"Group Protest by Indians Asks Discharge of Vitt as Manager." The New York Times. June 14, 1940. Page 27.
4"Vitt is Calm Under Blow of Player Revolt." Chicago Daily Tribune. June 15, 1940. Page 21.
5"Vitt Blue Over Players' 2d Demand." The Washington Post. June 16, 1940. Page SP3.
6"Players Withdraw Vitt Outster Demand." The New York Times. June 17, 1940. Page 21.
7"Naming of Trosky as Captain Viewed as Peace Move by Vitt," Ed McAuley. The Sporting News. July 18, 1940. Page 1.
8Matt Dahlgren, "Rumor In Town" (California, Woodlyn Lane, 2007), Pages 113-116.
9"Hershberger Suicide No Unpremeditated Act," Tom Swope. The Sporting News. August 8, 1940. Page 5.
10"Reds Win By 9-1, 3-1 And Equal Record." The New York Times. July 5, 1940. Page 17.
11"Red Sox Turn Back Athletics, 16-8, 4-3." The New York Times. September 25, 1940. Page 36.
12"Reds Tie Cards in 14 Innings, 8-8; Umpires Fail to Appear for Game." The New York Times. May 14, 1940. Page 30.
13"Gomez Subdues Washington, 6-2, In an Impressive Return to Action," by Louis Effrat. The New York Times. July 3, 1940. Page 21.
14"Run of 69 Games on Wilhoit's Hitting." Boston Daily Globe. August 21, 1919. Page 7.
15"DiMaggio's Streak Ended at 56 Games, but Yanks Down Indians Before 67,468," by John Drebinger. The New York Times. July 18, 1941. Page 12.
16"De Maggio's Hitting Streak Stopped," by Russell Newland. Los Angeles Times. July 27, 1933. Page A9.
17"Sets Batting Mark in Unbroken String." The Washington Post. July 14, 1915. Page 9.
18"DiMaggio Ties Record as Yanks Take Two Before 52,832," Arthur Daley. The New York Times. July 2, 1941. Page 25.
19Richard Goldstein, "Spartan Seasons" (New York, Macmillan Publishing Co. Inc., 1980), Page 7.
20Thanks to baseball researchers Jonathan Frankel and Trent McCotter for this one.
21"Now It's a Magic Dozen With Grove Latest and Maybe Last 300-Game Winner," Frederick G. Lieb. The Sporting News. July 31, 1941. Pages 1 and 14.
22"Paul's Sportsmanship," Howell Stevens. The Sporting News. June 25, 1942. Page 18.
23"Armstrong Ring Comeback Most Notable Of Year in Sports, Writers' Poll Shows." The New York Times. December 19, 1942. Page 25.
24"Commission For French." The New York Times. January 7, 1943. Page 26.
25"Russo Operation Called a Success," John Drebinger. The New York Times. January 19, 1946. Page 21.
26"Youthful War-Scrap Crowd Ruins Giants' Triumph at Polo Grounds," James P. Dawson. The New York Times. September 27, 1942. Page S3.
27"The Sporting News Baseball Guide and Record Book 1946" (St. Louis, Charles C. Spink & Son, 1946), Page 168.
28"Steve O'Neill Says New Ball Will Hurt Game." The Christian Science Monitor. April 22, 1943. Page 18.
29"Landis Will Act on Change in Ball." The New York Times. April 22, 1943. Page 23.
30"Big Leagues Promised Lively Ball in Two Weeks Following Wave of Protests," Roscoe McGowen. The New York Times. April 24, 1943. Page 19.
31"New Balata Ball Boon to Batsmen." The New York Times. May 10, 1943. Page 22.
32"The Sporting News Baseball Guide and Record Book 1944" (St. Louis, Charles C. Spink & Son, 1944), Page 88.
33"Seething Dodgers Rout Pirates, 23-6, After Brief Strike," Roscoe McGowen. The New York Times. July 11, 1943. Pages S1 and S3.
34"Dodgers Revolt Against Durocher, Then Play and Win Game," Roscoe McGowen. The New York Times. July 11, 1943. Pages 1 and 34.
35"Benton Breaks Leg As Tigers Lose, 7-2." The New York Times. May 25, 1945. Page 14.
36"Chipman, Passeau Top Giants, 6-2, 1-0," James P. Dawson. The New York Times. July 10, 1944. Page 10.
37"Yanks Halted, 8-4, After 4-2 Triumph," John Drebinger. The New York Times. July 14, 1944. Page 17.
38"Nats Divide Pair of 4-to-3 Tilts With A's," Shirley Povich. The Washington Post. September 24, 1945. Pages 1 and 10.
39"This Morning," Shirley Povich. The Washington Post. September 25, 1945. Page 12.
40"Nats Win 7th Straight, 4 to 0; Then Bow, 15-4," Shirley Povich. The Washington Post. August 5, 1945. Pages M1, M6.
41"President Roosevelt Again Give Baseball 'Green Light'," Walter Haight. The Washington Post. March 14, 1945. Page 12.
42"The Sporting News Baseball Guide and Record Book 1947" (St. Louis, Charles C. Spink & Son, 1947), Pages 195-196.
43"Ban on Major Leaguers Who Jumped to Mexico Lifted by Chandler." The New York Times. June 6, 1949. Page 24.
44"Red Sox Take Pair as Williams Stars." The New York Times. July 15, 1946. Page 17.
45"Yanks Top Giants, 3-2, On Run in Ninth," Louis Effrat. The New York Times. August 6, 1946. Page 33.
46"Joe Beggs of Reds Downs Giants, 4-1." The New York Times. September 14, 1946. Page 10.
47"Sain's One-Hitter Breaks Boston Orgy of Cheers for Williams - Temporarily," Jack Malaney. The Sporting News. July 24, 1946. Page 9.
48Arthur R. Ashe, Jr., "A Hard Road to Glory: Baseball" (New York: Amistad Press, Inc., 1993), Page 36.
49"Negro in O. B. Evolution, Not Revolution - B. R.," Arthur J. Flynn. The Sporting News. April 12, 1945. Pages 1-2.
50"MacPhail for Sound Plan to Qualify Negroes in O. B.," Col. Larry MacPhail. The Sporting News. October 4, 1945. Page 14.
51Donald Dewey and Nicholas Acocella, "The Biographical History of Baseball" (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1995), Page 282.
52"22,372 Daily See Robinson in West," Bill Roeder. The Sporting News. June 4, 1947. Page 11.
53"Bidding for Negro Stars Increasing - Rickey," Harold C. Burr. The Sporting News. July 2, 1947. Page 1.
54"Best Negro Players Already Taken - Veeck," Ed McAuley. The Sporting News. July 30, 1947. Page 1.
55"Gates Rusting, Browns Rush in 2 Negro Players," Frederick G. Lieb. The Sporting News. July 23, 1947. Page 8.
56"Release of Colored Pair by Browns Viewed as Halt for Negro Experiments in St. Louis," Frederick G, Leib. The Sporting News. September 3, 1947. Page 13.
57Craig Carter, editor, "Official 1980 Baseball Record Book" (St. Louis: The Sporting News Publishing Company, 1980), Page 134. And Seymour Siwoff, editor, "The Book of Baseball Records" (New York: Seymour Siwoff, 1981), Page 28.
58Rob Neyer, "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Legends" (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008), Pages 121-122.
59J.G Taylor Spink, "Official Baseball Guide - 1948" (St. Louis: Charles C. Spink & Son, 1948), Page 239.
60"Heath of Braves Breaks Left Leg as Dodgers Bow to Sain," Joseph M. Sheehan. The New York Times. September 30, 1948. Page 35.
61"Yanks Are Lucky in Tossing Coins." The New York Times. September 25, 1948. Page 12.
62"Indians Win for 2-Game Lead in Flag Race," Louis Effrat. The New York Times. September 29, 1948. Page 37.
63J.G Taylor Spink, "Official Baseball Guide - 1949" (St. Louis: Charles C. Spink & Son, 1949), Page 299.
64Donald Dewey and Nicholas Acocella, "The Biographical History of Baseball" (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1995), Pages 296-297.
65"Two Ill-Advised Moves," J.G. Taylor Spink. The Sporting News. July 14, 1948. Page 8.
66"Robinson vs. Paige - Rookies," J.G. Taylor Spink. The Sporting News. September 1, 1948. Page 4.
67"'Life in Majors With Paige' - Start the Story This Week!." The Sporting News. September 22, 1948. Page 1.
68"Yanks Top Reds on Porterfield 1-Hitter," James P. Dawson. The New York Times. April 5, 1949. Page 39.
69"Bomber Trounce Fort Worth, 10-0." The New York Times. April 13, 1949. Page 41.
70"Dodgers Triumph Over Yankees, 7-6, With 2 in Eighth," Joseph M. Sheehan. The New York Times. April 17, 1949. Page S1.
71"Bombers' 22 Blows Gain 20-2 Triumph," Louis Effrat. The New York Times. August 8, 1949. Page 18.
72"Henrich, Mize Hurt as Yanks Beat White Sox Twice," John Drebinger. The New York Times. August 29, 1949. Page 20.