1945 Washington Senators
Runs Scored: 3rd (622)
Runs Allowed: 3rd (562)
Strengths: First base, right field, starting pitching
Weaknesses: starting pitching, shortstop
Key Players: Dutch Leonard, Roger Wolff, Joe Kuhel, Buddy Lewis, George Case
Pipeline: Gil Coan, Eddie Yost
In 1945 the Washington Senators finished with a record of 87-67, only 1.5 games behind the AL champion Detroit Tigers. Washington’s 87-win total was a 23-win improvement from their 1944 total of 63 wins. That year the Senators had finished dead last in the AL.
So unexpected was the Senators’ stunning turnaround in 1945, the Associated Press named it the fourth biggest sports surprise of 1945 in its annual poll behind Notre Dame’s 39-7 loss to Navy, Indiana’s Big 10 football championship and the Yankees’ selling of pitcher Hank Borowy (81).
The Senators began the 1945 season slowly. In fact Washington was below the .500 mark as of June 28 with a 28-29 record, seven games behind the Detroit Tigers. They then caught fire by going 10-1 in their next 11 games all on the road which included a grueling four doubleheaders in six days versus Cleveland, Chicago and St. Louis. In fact the Senators played in a total of 44 doubleheaders in 1945.
According to the press at the time, the reason for the frequent doubleheaders in the Senators’ schedule was due to Senators’ owner and president Clark Griffith wanting to rent out his home park, Griffith Stadium, to the National Football League’s Washington Redskins beginning that September. The frequent doubleheaders meant that the Senators would finish their regular season on September 23, a full week prior to the official end of the 1945 MLB regular season schedule, leaving Griffith Stadium to be used exclusively for football. Reportedly Griffith received “$80,000 for rental and concessions” for the six Redskin games to be played at Griffith Stadium in ’45 (82).
Due to the Senators finishing their season early, the team was idle for a week while the Detroit Tigers, who held a slim one game lead over the Senators at the time, played out the remainder of their schedule. The Tigers' four remaining games consisted of a doubleheader versus Cleveland on the 26th and two games versus the St. Louis Browns on the 29th and 30th of September. The Tigers ended up clinching the AL on the last day of the regular season while the Senators were limited to the status of by-standers.
Once the season concluded the press took issue with Griffith’s scheduling an excessive amount of doubleheaders. The media speculated at the time that the decision to schedule that amount of doubleheaders was made purely for financial reasons and for the “catering” of the Redskins. Griffith though fired back and claimed that the reason for the number of doubleheaders scheduled was to satisfy an edict set out by the Office of Defense Transportation (ODT) to all major league teams to reduce travel during the season. According to Griffith:
“Football had nothing to do with it. The ODT asked all major league teams to cut down on their travel last spring. We did it by scheduling a lot of double-headers, including twilight-night twin bills. The ODT, of course had no idea the war would end as quickly as it did when they put forth their edict last spring. Neither did we, but we took the lead in cooperating. Thus, our season was shortened….Under baseball league rules, it was permissible to allow football to come into the stadium. We had finished out our baseball string, so why not? If we had won the championship, we still had ten days to get ready for the World Series. In fact, during the last awful week of waiting, we re-conditioned the park while the team practiced or played exhibition games at Bainbridge (83).”
Griffith accused the press of making him the “fall guy” for the Senators coming up just short of winning the AL Pennant. Griffith may have had a point in that regard given that the Tigers only had four more games remaining in their schedule when the Senators’ season had concluded. Moreover, the Senators’ record in doubleheaders was actually similar to their overall record in ‘45. The Senators played 19 doubleheaders on the road. Their record in those games was 21-17 (.553). The Senators were 20-19 (.513) on the road excluding doubleheaders. In their 25 home doubleheaders the Senators were 28-21 with one tie (.571). Excluding home doubleheaders the Senators were 18-10 (.643) at Griffith Stadium. Overall the Senators were 49-38 (.563) in doubleheaders and 38-29 (.567) in non-doubleheader games.
According to Griffith, it wasn’t the doubleheaders that cost the Senators the AL Pennant in 1945; rather it was a blown call made by the umpires in Washington’s next to last game of the season versus the Philadelphia Athletics. Heading into that game Washington was just one and one-half games behind the league leading Tigers in the AL standings. The Senators were up 3-0 heading into the bottom of the eighth inning when Athletic right fielder Mayo Smith popped up to Senator right fielder Buddy Lewis. According to Griffith and Senators’ manager Ossie Bluege, Lewis caught the ball but had dropped it when he attempted to throw the ball back to the infield. However, home-plate umpire Eddie Rommel, yes the same Eddie Rommel who had pitched his entire 13 year career for the Philadelphia Athletics, ruled the play an error and awarded Smith a double. According to Rommel, Lewis did not make the catch.
The Athletics proceeded to score three runs that inning to tie the game. They eventually won the game thanks to Senator outfielder George “Bingo” Binks’ losing a fly-ball in the sun with two out in the 12th that extended the inning. The Athletics went on to win the game thanks to a George Kell single that plated the winning run and the result of Binks’ misplay. Of course Griffith and Bluege were furious with the call. “Rommel is an old Philadelphia pitcher,” Griffith was quoted as saying following the game. “When our manager, Ossie Bluege, asked him why he didn’t take the ‘A’ off his uniform, Rommel couldn’t take it (84).” Griffith filed an official protest with AL President Will Harridge but it was rejected.
Buddy Lewis, whose misplay may have cost the Senators the game and had prompted Griffith to file his protest with the league, was a key member of the 1945 Senators. Lewis who was serving in the military at the beginning of the '45 season, returned from the war and rejoined the Senators on July 27, 1945 after a three and a half year absence. With Lewis back in the line-up the Senators played an AL best .606 ball the rest of the season. Lewis’ return proved to be a jolt to the Washington offense. Lewis hit .333 with an OPS+ of 168 for the Senators in 1945. With Lewis back in the line-up the Senators offense improved from an average of 3.83 runs scored per game to an average of 4.28 runs scored per game. In his 69 games played Lewis accumulated a win probability added (WPA) total of 1.70 which at the time was the fifth highest in baseball history for a player to have played in 70 games or less in a season.
George Binks, whose misplay in extra innings directly led to Washington losing to the Athletics that day was also a key contributor in the Senator outfield. Binks, who was a 4-F player due to his being deaf in one ear, played all three outfield positions that season including starting 75 games in centerfield. Overall Binks hit a solid .278 with an OPS+ of 115. He drove in 81 runs. Despite his production, once the season concluded, Binks was being compared to the likes of Fred Merkle, Fred Snodgrass, Heinie Zimmerman and Mickey Owen- players who had “cost their respective clubs a chance at the World Series (85).” Nevertheless, Griffith rewarded his outfielder for his play with a bonus shortly after the conclusion of the World Series (86).
Other Washington players that played a significant role in the Senators’ return to relevancy in 1945 were first baseman Joe Kuhel and starting pitchers Roger Wolff and Dutch Leonard. Kuhel was a smooth fielding first baseman who was also the Senators’ starting first baseman back in 1933, the last time the Senators had won the AL Pennant. At the age of 39, Kuhel had his best season in terms of rWAR in 1945 with a total of 4.2.
Roger Wolff who was one of four knuckle-ball pitchers in the Washington rotation that year won 20 games with a 2.12 ERA and led the AL in WHIP. Dutch Leonard won 17 games with a 2.13 ERA. Kuhel, Wolff and Leonard all received MVP consideration. Senator second baseman George Myatt was also a key contributor in '45. Myatt finished fifth in MVP voting and hit .296 with an OPS+ of 125.
The successful Washington season earned Senators' manager Ossie Bluege a two-year contract reportedly at a salary of $20,000 per year (87). It was Bluege who had convinced Griffith to acquire more power for the 1946 season which led to the George Case for Jeff Heath trade with the Cleveland Indians despite Griffith’s preference for line-drive hitters. “In our park the line-drive hitter is more valuable. Those fellows that hit a long ball get them caught in our stadium. A fellow like Case is my type of player (88),” Griffith had once opined about Case. Griffith changed his tune somewhat after his club acquired the slugging Jeff Heath. Although Heath wasn’t Griffith’s type of hitter, the Senators’ president/owner felt that the acquisition of Heath would keep Washington in the hunt for the 1946 AL Pennant. “We’ll be able to match power with any of them (89),” Griffith commented once the trade was made public. “Our combination of punch at the plate and good pitching should put us in the pennant race all the way (90).”
Prior to acquiring Heath, the Senators were rumored to be interested in Yankees first baseman Nick Etten. Etten had led the AL in RBI in ’45 with 111. Reports had the Senators offering the aforementioned George Case and Dutch Leonard in exchange for Etten. Griffith was also rumored to be interested in an outright purchase of Etten from the Yankees (91).
Besides seeking power in the outfield and at first base, the Senators were also reportedly interested in acquiring a middle infielder, specifically the White Sox's 19 year-old shortstop Cass Michaels (92) or veteran Red Sox shortstop Eddie Lake (93). In both rumored trade scenarios the Senators were offering outfielder George Case in exchange for Michaels or Lake. Case was a speedy outfielder who could play all three outfield positions and a Griffith favorite. Griffith though was willing to part with the 29 year-old speedster given that he had the super outfield prospect Gil Coan ready to be promoted to the majors.
Gil Coan was one of the most talked about prospects in baseball heading into the 1946 season. Some in the media even touted Coan as being the “second coming of Ty Cobb (94).” Clarke Griffith compared Coan to Red Sox great Ted Williams. “Coan is six feet tall and slim- like Ted Williams- and, like Ted Williams, he has a long, powerful swing….He has a swing a lot like Ted Williams…They tell me Coan is the fastest runner that ever put on a shoe (95),” is the way Griffith described his top prospect that offseason. In 1945 Coan hit .373 at Chattanooga, collecting 201 hits including 40 doubles, 28 triples and 16 homeruns to go along with his 37 stolen bases. For his dominating season, Coan was named as the outstanding minor league baseball player in America by the Sporting News that year (96); a tremendous achievement given that Coan was missing most of his left thumb due to an infection he had suffered at the age of 10.
Naturally Coan’s minor league club, Chattanooga, had received offers for Coan during the 1945 offseason. The New York Giants had reportedly offered $50,000 for Coan (97). The Chicago Cubs had offered $75,000 to purchase Coan (98). However Clark Griffith and the Senators had first claim on Coan given that Chattanooga was affiliated with the Washington organization. Griffith refused to sell Coan. In fact it was the emergence of Coan in the minors that had made George Case expendable. With Case being dealt to Cleveland, Griffith needed Coan’s speed in the outfield and was counting on him to be an everyday player for the Senators in 1946. “We are going to make a place for Coan in the outfield. Everybody who has seen him play tells me he can’t miss. I’m inclined to believe them (99),” is what Griffith told the press in late 1945. The original plan was for Coan to play center with Jeff Heath and Stan Spence flanking Coan in left and right field (100) and moving Buddy Lewis to third base, the position Lewis played in the years 1938 thru 1941 (101).
With the plan to move Lewis to third base, the Senators’ projected infield was to be: veterans Mickey Vernon at first and Jake Early at catcher who were both returning from the war, George Myatt at second, Buddy Lewis at third and Cecil Travis at short (102). Like Lewis, Travis had returned from the war in 1945. Unlike Lewis, Travis had struggled after his return. Some had speculated that Travis’ struggles were the result of injuries to his feet and legs that he had suffered while serving in the military. According to Griffith, Travis’ health was the key factor as to whether or not the Senators would win the AL Pennant in 1946 (103). “We’ve got some power and speed with good pitching. If Cecil Travis gets in shape, we’ll have a good club. It ought to make a good showing (104),” is how Griffith assessed his club in January of ’46. Griffith believed his Senators would finish “one-two if ace shortstop, Cecil Travis, is as ever (105).”
Of course given Travis’ performance after returning from the war, Griffith had reason to be skeptical. That offseason Griffith expressed his concerns regarding players, specifically Cecil Travis, returning to baseball after serving in the military. “Take Greenberg for instance,” opined Griffith, “he was far from ready when he began playing with Detroit late this year. The reason? His legs. The same can be said of our own Cecil Travis, who found it difficult to run properly after his return (106).”
With Travis, Early and Vernon returning from the war and rookie Gil Coan slated to be a starter in ’46, the projected Washington line-up for the 1946 season was shaping up to be: Early, Vernon, Myatt, Lewis, Travis, Heath, Coan and Spence, an all left-handed hitting line-up. The press took issue with the all lefty line-up but Griffith did not seem concerned. Griffith’s thinking was that the AL only had three formidable opposing left-handed starting pitchers: Hal Newhouser (Tigers), Thornton Lee (White Sox) and Al Hollingsworth (Browns) (107).
So to review, Clark Griffith and his Senators were set to compete in 1946 after their unexpected fantastic 1945 season. Griffith and his manager Ossie Bluege sought power that offseason. The Senators had interest in Yankee first baseman Nick Etten. They eventually acquired power hitting left fielder Jeff Heath. The Senators also had an excess of outfielders heading into ’46 and had planned on moving right fielder Buddy Lewis to third base. Griffith’s concern was at shortstop. Could Cecil Travis return to the level he was at prior to his military service which cost him the last three years of his career? Reports had the Senators interested in acquiring shortstop Cass Michaels from the White Sox or veteran Eddie Lake from the Red Sox.
If Griffith and the Senators were seeking to add even more power to their line-up in ’46 by way of a Negro League draft, they did not have to look further than Luke Easter. In the mid to late 40’s Easter was touted as the “new Josh Gibson (108).” Former Tigers’ manager Del Baker’s assessment of Luke Easter was: “I’ve seen a lot of powerful hitters in my time but for sheer ability to knock a ball great distances, I’ve never seen anybody better than Easter- and I’m not excepting Babe Ruth (109).”
Easter began his pro career in 1937 with the St. Louis Titanium Giants as a first baseman/outfielder. One of his teammates was outfielder Sam Jethroe. The two played together in the years 1937 thru 1941. Like Jethroe, Easter’s date of birth was a question mark in 1945. Easter first claimed to be born in 1921. Official records though reveal that Easter was born on August 4, 1915 (110).
Easter did not play baseball in the years 1942, ’43 and ’44. At the end of the 1941 season, Easter was involved in a car accident and suffered a broken ankle as a result. The car was driven by Sam Jethroe. The ankle injury cost Easter the end of the 1941 season. In June of ’42 Easter was inducted into the military. He was discharged from the military due to his ankle injury the following summer in ’43. He then worked at a war chemical plant until the end of the war.
Prior to missing four seasons of baseball due to injury and the war, Easter had put up some impressive numbers in the Negro Leagues in the years 1937 thru 1941. His MLE numbers equate to: 2,450 PA, 6.4 WAA, 14.4 WAR for his first five seasons of professional baseball, ages 21 to 25. Easter’s MLE numbers are comparable to Kent Hrbek’s MLB numbers at a similar age with a similar amount of baseball experience. Hrbek’s numbers in his first five seasons in the majors at ages 21 to 25 were: 2,547 PA, 6.9 WAA and 15.1 rWAR.
Given Easter’s ankle injury and the time he missed because of the war, Griffith most likely would have bypassed Easter. Another power source available from the Negro Leagues was catcher Ray Noble. Noble was a right-handed hitting slugger, something the Senators lacked. He was born in Cuba in March of 1919 which would have made him 27 years-old heading into the 1946 season. Being born in Cuba, Noble would have fit in well with the Senators.
During the 1930’s and 40’s the Senators had signed plenty of Cuban born players. In fact, of the “51 players born in Cuba that made their major league debut in the years 1935 thru 1956, 32 (63 percent) did so with the Senators (111).” Prior to September 1935 and going back to 1871, there had been a total of only 19 Cuban born players in the majors. The 1944 Senators’ roster contained nine Cuban born players. Moreover, Senators chief scout Joe “Papa” Cambria is “credited with signing as many as 400 Cubans for Washington (112)” over the course of his lengthy career. By focusing on Cuban born players, Cambria was able to attain major league talent at “rock-bottom prices (113).” In fact in 1947 the Senators set-up a minor league club in Havana (the Havana Cubans) that played in the Class C Florida International League. The ’46 Senators scheduled seven spring training games to be played in Havana.
According to his SABR biography, Noble was regarded by some as being the best all-around catcher Cuba has ever produced. Noble began his baseball career in the late 30’s playing for various Cuban clubs. From ’42 thru ’44 Noble played for the Contramaestre Rifleros, a Cuban team located in a rural area of the country. In 1945 Noble was lured by the NNL’s New York Cuban Giants to play in the United States. There isn’t much in the way of statistics for Noble in his years prior to 1945. According to Seamheads and Baseball-Reference, Noble hit below .200 in ’45 but in only a handful of plate appearances. His stats improved with more data available in 1947 and 1948.
He was eventually acquired by the Giants in 1950 from Oakland of the PCL. In early 1952, commenting on Noble, then Giants’ manager Leo Durocher said, “Look at my guy Ray Noble…If I didn’t have Wes Westrum, he’d be my No. 1 man. He’s a good catcher and he has a lot of power. He’d be even better if he played every day. And he can do it. He’s a bull back there. He could catch 154 games (114).”
Along with acquiring Noble in ’50, the Giants had also acquired shortstop Artie Wilson in the same transaction. Wilson was born in October of 1920. His professional career is said to have begun in 1944 playing for the Birmingham Black Barons. Reported statistics for Wilson have him hitting .346 in ’44 and .374 in ’45, second to only Sam Jethroe in both years. Wilson’s MLE numbers for his 1944 and 1945 seasons at the ages of 23 and 24 are as follows: 870 PA, 3.4 WAA, 6.3 WAR. Those numbers are in line with Red Sox great Johnny Pesky’s 686 PA, 3.8 WAA and 5.5 WAR.
Like Pesky, Wilson was a left handed hitting shortstop that threw right-handed. Like Washington Senator Gil Coan, Wilson suffered a serious injury in his youth and lost a thumb but in Wilson’s case, the thumb was on his throwing hand. The injury didn’t impact Wilson’s throwing or fielding. In fact, Wilson was nicknamed the “Octopus” for his defensive skills and his “ability to cover so much ground (115).” Wilson was also a speedster on the base paths.
In terms of hitting, Wilson was much like Rod Carew in that he was a singles hitter. Wilson would frequently hit the ball to the opposite field in left. His Birmingham teammate Piper Davis considered Wilson to be, “the greatest singles hitter (116).” Wilson is credited with being the last player to hit .400 in a major league. He accomplished that feat in 1948 playing again with Birmingham of the NAL. From 1944 to 1948, Wilson played in four Negro League All-Star games.
Wilson was considered by many to be the best shortstop in the Negro Leagues during the 1940’s. Artie Wilson himself concurred. “I was the best shortstop. There isn’t nobody with intelligence who wouldn’t tell you something else (117),” declared Wilson in an interview with famed author Roger Kahn.
The Senators drafting Wilson in a fictional draft after the ’45 season would have made sense. Wilson had the speed that Griffith valued and while not a line-drive hitter, Wilson excelled at getting on base. Wilson would have eventually solidified the Washington infield as he surely would have taken over the starting shortstop role from Cecil Travis in ’46 which would have turned a Washington weakness into a definite strength.
1945 St. Louis Cardinals
Runs Scored: 2nd (756)
Runs Allowed: 2nd (582)
Strengths: starting pitching, relief pitching, third base, shortstop
Weaknesses: second base
Key Players: Whitey Kurowski, Red Barrett, Marty Marion, Harry Brecheen
Pipeline: Red Schoendienst, Dick Sisler, Joe Garagiola, Johnny Grodzicki,
Prior to 1945 the St. Louis Cardinals had won three consecutive NL Pennants in ’42, ’43, and ’44. In ’42 and ’44 the Cardinals also won the World Series. Like the rest of baseball, during those years the Cardinals had lost players due to the war, particularly pitchers. Cardinal pitchers lost due to military service were: Murry Dickson (’44, ’45), Johnny Beazley (’43, ’44, and ’45), Howie Krist (’44, ’45), Howie Pollett (’44, ’45) and Al Brazle (’44, ’45). Dickson was a swingman in ’43 who had won 11 games. Johnny Beazley was a 21-game winner prior to his service. Krist was 13-3 in ’42 working mainly out of the bullpen. All-Star youngster Howie Pollet led the NL in ERA in ’43 with a 1.75 mark. Al Brazle, who did not qualify for the ERA title in ’43, had an earned run average of 1.53 in 88 innings pitched that year.
In addition to the aforementioned pitchers the Cardinals had lost to the war, WW II had also cost the Cardinals their superstar outfielder Stan Musial, starting pitchers George “Red” Munger and Max Lanier as well as swingman Freddy Schmidt in 1945. Musial, Munger and Schmidt missed the entire '45 season. The loss of those players was significant. Musial was practically a 9.0 rWAR player in 1944. Red Munger was 11-3 with a 1.34 ERA in 121 innings pitched in '44 and Freddy Schmidt had won seven games with a 3.15 ERA that season.
Soon after the '45 season began, Max Lanier was called for duty. Lanier was 2-2 with a 1.73 ERA at the time. In 1944 Max Lanier was a 17-game winner. That year Lanier went on to gut out two starts in the '44 World Series after suffering from severe elbow pain and appendicitis late in the season. Lanier was the winning pitcher in the Cardinals' World Series clinching Game 6 win over the Browns. Like Lanier, catcher Walker Cooper was called for duty soon after the 1945 season had begun. In ’44 Cooper led all major league catchers in batting average (.317), slugging (.504) and OPS (.855). His 3.4 rWAR was second in the majors among catchers to the Reds’ Ray Meuller. Between Musial, Lanier and Cooper alone, the Cardinals lost approximately 11 wins above average in 1945 yet finished the season only three games behind the NL Pennant winning Cubs, a testament to the Cards’ exceptional organizational depth.
One star the Cardinals did not lose to the war that played a prominent role in St. Louis’ previous three consecutive NL Pennants was right-handed starting pitcher Mort Cooper, Walker’s brother. Mort Cooper was designated as 4-F in late ’43 and again in the winter of ’45, making him ineligible for military service. Cooper had three consecutive 20-game winning seasons in ’42, ’43 and ‘44, twice leading the NL in wins in ’42 and ’43 with 22 and 21 wins respectively. In 1942 Cooper was also voted the NL MVP. Cooper's 22 wins in '44 was just one win behind league leader Bucky Walters of the Cincinnati Reds.
In 1945 Cooper began the season 2-0 with a 1.52 ERA; however, after a start versus the New York Giants in May of that year, Cooper abruptly “quit” the Cardinals. Cooper had threatened to quit the Cardinals on at least two other occasions that spring including a threat made just days prior to St. Louis’ season opener versus the Chicago Cubs. On that occasion both Mort and his brother Walker, announced they would not be accompanying the rest of the team to Chicago. The reason for the Coopers’ threat was a salary dispute with Cardinals owner Sam Breadon (118).
During spring training of '45 both Cooper brothers signed $12,000 contracts for the 1945 season. The $12,000 salary was the “ceiling salary the Cardinals were able to pay (119),” according to Breadon. That ceiling was the result of the 1942 War Stabilization Act (WSA) which was imposed by the US government as a war time measure “to aid in preventing inflation, and for other purposes.” The act allowed for the President to “freeze wages and salaries for all the nation’s workers (120).” This included ball players to a lesser degree. Sam Breadon explained how the WSA impacted his ball club:
“The War Stabilization Act in the winter of 1943 froze all salaries and an exception was made in the case of baseball players permitting clubs to pay a salary equivalent to the highest salary paid by the club in the season of 1942. As far as the Cardinals were concerned this was $12,000. Since the act was passed no Cardinals’ player has received more than the ‘ceiling’ salary (121).”
However, in the spring of 1945 and about one week after signing the Coopers, Breadon signed 1944 NL MVP winning shortstop Marty Marion to a $13,500 contract. That spring Marion was involved in a salary dispute of his own. The defending NL MVP eventually signed his new contract in the last days of March and reported to the team. How was Breadon able to sign Marion above the $12,000 ceiling? According to Breadon, he offered the $13,500 contract to Marion after being granted approval by the Internal Revenue Department (122). Breadon issued the following statement regarding his signing of Marion as well as the Coopers:
“This spring both Coopers signed for the ‘ceiling’ and in conversation with Walker Cooper at the time we agreed to terms, I informed him that no player would receive more money than he would during the 1945 season. After the Coopers had signed, I negotiated with player Marty Marion. This player had received the ceiling salary in 1944. During the season, and especially during the World Series, Marion received much publicity and was voted the Most Valuable Player in the National League. Marion felt he was entitled to an increase, and I felt he was justified in his opinion, and asked him to sign a contract increasing his salary above the ceiling, conditional upon the approval of the Internal Revenue Department.”
Naturally the signing of Marion to a $13,500 contract meant that Breadon had a potential problem on his hands with the Cooper brothers. The Coopers had both signed $12,000 contracts just days prior. Again, according to Breadon, the Cardinals’ team owner had attempted to mitigate the situation:
“As I promised the Cooper brothers that no player would receive a larger salary than they did, I immediately called them to my office and told them I had increased Marion’s salary over the ceiling, subject to the approval of the Internal Revenue Board; and I offered them the same contract as Marion received. Their reply was that they signed for $12,000, and would play for $12,000 but they would not sign a new contract unless I made it $15,000. I felt the Club had been fair in offering an increase to the Cooper brothers after they had signed their contracts (123).”
The Coopers’ lawyer, Lee J. Havener, confirmed Breadon’s story with respect to the Coopers wanting to be paid $15,000. According to Havener, $13,500 is what the Coopers, particularly Mort, should have earned in ’44 which would have been a $1,500 raise from their 1943 salaries. Therefore in ’45 the Coopers felt they now deserved a $15,000 salary, to make up for the lack of a raise in ’44 and an additional $1,500 raise in 1945. “If it (salary) could be tilted to $13,500, it could also be tilted to $15,000 (124)” was what Walker Cooper told the press during negotiations. Breadon balked at the demand but negotiations between Breadon and Havener continued.
By May 1, Walker Cooper had been called to serve in the Navy which meant that Mort Cooper had lost some leverage in his negotiations with the Cardinals. Despite this loss of leverage, by the third week of May, Mort Cooper was demanding a three-year deal from the Cardinals. “I think I can pitch winning baseball for the next three years and I don’t want to have to go through a money wrangle every spring (125),” is what Cooper told the press after walking out on the Cardinals that May. Cooper continued, “I won’t put on a uniform until this thing is solved one way or the other but I don’t want to be traded. I’d rather play baseball for the Cards than anybody else (126).”
One day after his demands for a three year-deal were publicized by the media, Mort Cooper was traded to the Boston Braves for pitcher Charles “Red” Barrett and a reported $60,000, making Cooper the latest star Cardinals’ player to be traded/sold at the height of his career, joining the ranks of several other former St. Louis Cardinal star players including: Chick Hafey ($50,000), Joe Medwick ($125,000) and Johnny Mize ($50,000).
Indeed, the Cardinals under Breadon’s leadership were never hesitant to trade/sell their established veterans. “It has always been our policy to move up our young men (127),” was Breadon’s philosophy throughout his tenure as Cardinals owner and president. Hall of Famer Johnny Mize though was more cynical of Breadon and the Cardinals when he said, “When you hold out a couple of times against the Cardinals, you know you’re finished with the organization (128).” Mize made the statement after being traded to the Giants in December of ’41.
Mize had a point. The Cardinals trading of Hafey in ’32, Medwick in ’40 and Mize in ’41 all occurred after much publicized contract disputes. However, the Cardinals did well with these trades, not only in receiving large amounts of cash for their star players but in addition, receiving useful players in return. And more often than not, the Cardinals would then re-sell the players they had acquired, sometimes even back to the same team that had originally dealt them to the Cardinals to begin with. The Mort Cooper deal was no different. Soon after Cooper had made his demand for a three–year contract, the Cardinals shipped him to the Boston Braves for $60,000 and the aforementioned Red Barrett.
Barrett turned out to be a key member of the ’45 Cardinals. Barrett, who was 2-3 with a 4.74 ERA with the Braves prior to being traded to St. Louis went on to win 21 games for the Cardinals which included a one-hit complete game shutout versus the Cubs late in the season. In fact, Barrett was 4-1 with a 1.73 ERA in 41.2 innings pitched versus the eventual NL Pennant winning Cubs that year. Barrett’s 23 win total, 24 complete games and 284.2 innings pitched were tops in the NL in ‘45. The All-Star pitcher finished behind only Whitey Kurowski in rWAR amongst Cardinals’ players that year with a mark of 4.40. Interestingly it was later revealed that Barrett was considered to be only a throw-in the Cooper deal. After the conclusion of the season, a modest Sam Breadon described how the inclusion of Barrett in the Cooper deal materialized:
“You say that everyone is giving me the nod for obtaining Barrett? Well, I’ve held out for certain players in big deals of the past, gaining an edge in player strength every now and then, but I ‘stumbled into’ Barrett. That’s the truth.
When Mr. Perini (Boston Braves owner) informed me he’d go as high as $60,000 in cash for Cooper, I told him I thought we could make a deal. Then he added: “’Under one consideration. We’ll trade for only one pitcher on our club. Barrett’s the man (129).’”
Breadon then replied, “I don’t know how Southworth (Cardinals manager) feels about Barrett. There are some other pitchers on your staff more impressive than Barrett (130).”
Then again according to Breadon,
“Mr. Perini started showing signs of cooling off and challenged me with this do-or-don’t statement: ’It’s Barrett or nothing.’ At that moment Billy (Southworth) kicked me under the table. I caught his cue. He gave me a nod that flashed: ‘O.K. on Barrett. Don’t forget the $60,000 (131).”
At the time of the trade the Cardinals were 15-13 and 6.5 games out of first place. They proceeded to go 80-46 the rest of the season, second only in the majors to the Cubs’ 85-43 record during that span. Mort Cooper, the player the Cardinals sold/traded for Barrett was 7-4 with a 3.35 ERA after being acquired by the Braves. Cooper developed arm issues during that summer and won a total of 19 games the rest of his career. In December of 1946, the Cardinals sold Barrett back to the Braves for cash and a player to be named later. Reports were the transaction was worth approximately $20,000 (132). The $20,000 figure is an interesting one given that Breadon had estimated that $20,000 was the “figure that each young player brought up to the Cardinals had cost to ‘raise (133).’”
The Cardinals ended up using Barrett sparingly in 1946. With plenty of the Cardinal pitchers returning from the war that year, pitchers the Cardinals had in Breadon’s words, "raised," Barrett was only required to make nine starts for St. Louis in '46. Barrett, the NL leader in innings pitched in ’45, was limited to only 67 innings in 1946, an indication of the outstanding organizational depth the Cardinals had accumulated over the years and had in its possession heading into that season, particularly in the pitching department.
With the war being over, the Cardinals had 28 pitchers either on their active roster or on the National Defense list under their control. From the list of 28, most likely ten were to be placed on the Cardinals 1946 active roster. In the fall of 1945, the Cardinals had projected John Beazley, Al Brazle, George Munger, Max Lanier and Howie Pollet to be their top five starting pitchers for the 1946 season (134). That meant that Cardinals’ 1945 starters Harry Brecheen, Ken Burkhart, Bill Donnelly and Red Barrett, who were a combined 62-29 that year, were lined up for the bullpen in ’46.
Fortunately for the Cardinals that depth came in handy when word had come in January of 1946 that George Munger would be sent to Germany as part of an American occupation force (135) which meant his return to the majors would be delayed. The Cardinals pitching depth would be tested again in May of ‘46 when St.Louis' outstanding left-handed starter Max Lanier jumped to the Mexican League. Lanier had been 6-0 with a sparkling 1.93 ERA with the Cardinals before leaving for Mexico.
Besides pitching depth, the Cardinals also possessed depth in the outfield and at the catcher positions. In the outfield, the Cardinals had Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Harry Walker, Erv Dusak and Terry Moore set to return from the war for the 1946 season. Walker Cooper was slated to return in ’46 after his one-year stint in the military. Ken O’Dea and Del Rice were projected to be Cooper’s back-ups. The Cardinals also had a 20 year-old Joe Garagiola, whom they were extremely high on at their disposal for the 1946 season if necessary.
The Cardinals were so deep in talent in 1945 that later that year they announced that they would be expanding their farm system from six to 15 teams for the upcoming season (136). However, despite the Cardinals’ projection of approximately 60 players due in camp in the spring of ’46, Breadon made it clear that he wasn’t trading any players during the 1945 offseason. According to the St. Louis Star and Times, “Breadon is totally disinterested in trade queries received from other owners. He’s willing to stand pat, and await the arrivals (those arriving after serving in the military) (137).”
However, Breadon’s calculus changed somewhat after St. Louis manager Billy Southworth had left the Cardinals and signed on with the Boston Braves in November of ’45. Shortly thereafter, Breadon named Eddie Dyer as Cardinals manager. Dyer was a long-time minor league manager in the Cardinals organization. In 1936 Dyer was named president and manager of the Columbus (Georgia) Red Birds of the South Atlantic League, a class B league. In 1938 Dyer was selected to supervise all St. Louis Cardinal minor league teams in the south and southwest. From 1939 thru to 1941, Dyer managed another Cardinals' affiliate, the Houston Buffaloes, of the Texas League (138). Dyer left baseball in 1942. He spent the last three years working in the oil industry in his home city of Houston, Texas. Despite his recent time spent away from baseball, many current Cardinal players were very familiar with Dyer including catcher Walker Cooper.
Cooper was not a fan of Dyer's. Apparently, the relationship between the two had become strained sometime back in the late 30’s when Cooper was playing minor league ball. According to reports, once Eddie Dyer was named Cardinals' manager, Walker Cooper asked the Cardinals for his release (139). Cooper's request to be released accelerated trade rumors surrounding the St. Louis Cardinals. The rumors centered around three Cardinal players in particular: Marty Marion, Whitey Kurowski and the disgruntled Walker Cooper.
The teams involved in the Marty Marion trade rumors were mainly the Braves, Phillies and Cubs with the latter having the most rumors tied to it. Reports were that the Cubs had offered Breadon as much as $200,000 for the shortstop. When asked about the offer, Breadon wouldn’t provide any specifics; “I’ll not quote a definite price for Marion or any other member of our club (140)” was all the Cardinals’ owner had to say regarding the matter. The $200,000 figure seemed steep; however, it was in line with what the Cubs had paid for future Hall of Fame pitcher Dizzy Dean seven years prior. Back in ’38, the Cubs paid $185,000 and sent pitchers Curt Davis and Clyde Shoun as well as outfielder Tuck Stainback for the former NL MVP winning Dean.
Throughout the 1945 offseason though, Breadon was very clear when commenting on a possible sale/trade involving Marty Marion. When asked in October of 1945 of a possible sale or trade of Marion, Breadon replied, “Not a chance (141).” One month later Breadon again made it clear that Marion wasn’t going anywhere, “Marion is not for sale, and will not be sold this winter despite all stories printed to that effect. I regret to inform sports writers that Marion is not on the market (142).”
Eddie Dyer seconded Breadon’s sentiments regarding Marion’s importance to the Cardinals heading into 1946. In early December of 1945, in an interview given to the local press, Eddie Dyer revealed that he had inquired about Marion’s status with the St. Louis organization prior to accepting the Cardinals’ managerial job, “I’ll let you in on something; before I took this job, I wrote Breadon asking him if he was going to sell Marion. He said no. Y’know, the job wouldn’t have been nearly so attractive if he’d said ‘yes’ (143).”
There are several reasons as to why Breadon had turned down the reported $200,000 for Marion. First and foremost was the fact that the Cardinals, who were deep in pitching, catching and the outfield, were not as deep when it came to the infield, particularly at shortstop. Had Marion been sold, the Cardinals’ only possible viable option at short would have been rookie Red Schoendienst, who had played mainly left field in ’45. However Schoendienst had shoulder issues which meant that handing the full-time shortstop position to the young infielder (144) would have been a great risk. The Cardinals believed Schoendienst was a better fit at second base heading into the ’46 season.
Indeed, the selling of Marion without an adequate replacement would have surely weakened the Cardinals in 1946 which is something Breadon was adamant in not doing, “I’ll not weaken our chances for the 1946 pennant by disposing of a single player for cash who’ll help us (145),” is what Breadon told the press during the baseball Winter Meetings in December of ’45. Later that offseason Breadon reiterated, “We want to win the National League pennant, everything else, including the sale of any players for whatever amount is entirely secondary (146).”
In terms of importance to the Cardinals heading into ’46, the same could be said of third baseman Whitey Kurowski. Kurowski was the Cardinals’ best hitter in 1945 and finished fifth in NL MVP voting that year. There was a lot of interest in Kurowski during the ’45 offseason but Breadon did not sell his third baseman because again, the Cardinals did not have a replacement at third capable of producing at Kurowski’s level. In terms of possible replacements for Kurowski, the Cardinals were limited to Erv Dusak who was only a part-time third baseman as well as an outfielder and who had been serving in the military since ’42 and the 36 year-old Jimmy Brown who had served the previous two years in the military. Brown was eventually sold to the Pirates in January of ’46. Therefore Breadon, who had a history of selling players at their peak, drew the line when it came to both Marty Marion and Whitey Kurowski because of the lack of suitable replacements and Breadon’s desire to win the ’46 NL Pennant.
Catcher Walker Cooper though was in a different category. Cooper had been involved in a very bitter contract dispute with Breadon just the year prior that resulted in the trading of Cooper’s brother, Mort. Cooper had also demanded to be released once Eddie Dyer was named Cardinals’ manager which meant that re-signing the disgruntled catcher without avoiding a much publicized and bitter battle may have been next to impossible. “He (Cooper) simply didn’t want to play for us anymore (147),” is what Breadon told the press shortly after Cooper was sold to the Giants for $175,000 in January of ‘46. Unlike at shortstop and third base, Breadon at least had some options at catcher which meant that Cooper was somewhat expendable.
With Cooper sold, the Cardinals had the following options at catcher: Ken O’Dea, Del Rice and rookie Joe Garagiola. When asked by the press about his catching situation after the selling of Walker Cooper, Cards’ manager Eddie Dyer replied by saying, “Joe Garagiola would solve the problem. O’Dea is a good spring catcher and Garagiola may be back (from military duty) by that time. He’s a big kid and he can hit the ball a mile. He’ll make the fans forget Walker Cooper (148).”
At the same time, Dyer once again emphasized the importance of the 20 year-old Garagiola to the Cardinals’ chances in 1946: “When I took this job there were six players in service that I figured I needed to bolster our pennant chances- Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Johnny Beazley, George Munger, Joe Garagiola and Johnny Grodzicki (149).” Dyer placed Garagiola in a category with two future Hall of Famers in Musial and Slaughter, two key starting pitchers in Beazley and Munger and a big-time pitching prospect in Grodzicki who Dyer once described as “the best minor league pitcher I ever saw (150).” Indeed, Garagiola was held in high regard.
Grodzicki’s story is noteworthy. The young pitching phenom had been serving in the military since ’42. By August of ’44 Grodzicki had transferred to the paratroopers. In March of 1945, Grodzicki was part of a mission that dropped soldiers including Grodzicki, behind enemy lines. During the mission, Grodzicki was seriously wounded by shrapnel that cut into his right hip and leg, damaging his sciatic nerve. Doctors believed there was a chance that Gordzicki would never walk again. However the determined Grodzicki learned to maneuver and later walk with the aid of a cane and leg brace. In October of ’45 he received an honorable discharge and began his long road back to pitching. By the spring of 1946, Grodzicki had made it all the way back to the majors.
Given the St. Louis Cardinals' situation heading into the 1946 season, what would the organization be seeking in a Negro League draft? It is clear that the Cardinals had plenty of options in terms of pitching so right-hander Max Manning, who is still on the board, would not be an option for the Cardinals. The Cardinal outfield was also deep. The infield though was not; however, second baseman Red Schoendienst, third baseman Whitey Kurowski and shortstop Marty Marion were firmly in place for the ’46 season. That leaves first base.
In 1945, first base for the Cardinals was manned by Ray Sanders. Sanders, an exceptional defender at first, hit .276 with a respectable 109 OPS+ for the Cards in ‘45. However, that winter the Cardinals, specifically Eddie Dyer, decided that Dick Sisler, son of Hall of Famer George Sisler, would take over the first base duties in ’46. Prior to ’46, Sisler had never played a full year at first base in the minors. Surprisingly though, despite Sisler’s lack of experience, the Cardinals sold Ray Sanders to the Braves for a reported $60,000, which made the Cardinals even thinner at the cold corner. “Manager Eddie Dyer had decided on Dick Sisler for first base, so there was no point in keeping Sanders (151),” is how Breadon explained the deal to the press, “and as we’re forced to get down to the player limit, we had to make some deals (152).”
Given Dyer’s desire to hand the first baseman’s job to Sisler and given that the Cardinals were so confident in Sisler’s abilities at first base and/or the fact that the Cardinals were in a bind in terms of whittling down their active roster, first baseman/outfielder Luke Easter, who is also still on the board most likely would have been by-passed by the Cardinals.
That leaves catcher. Walker Cooper was set to return from the war sometime in 1946. However, since Cooper had been called for military service, the Cardinals had traded his brother Mort which undoubtedly further strained his relations with the Cardinal organization. Moreover, given the battle with Cooper the previous season, signing him to a contract in 1946 was going to be a very difficult task for Breadon and the Cardinals. The Cardinals did finally sell Cooper in January of ’46 which created a hole at catcher. Breadon and Dyer were prepared to replace Cooper with the 20 year-old Joe Garagiola. However, neither knew when Garagiola would be discharged from the military in the fall of 1945.
Drafting Ray Noble in the fall of 1945 though, would have settled the catcher position for the Cardinals should Cooper not return to St. Louis in 1946. Ray Noble, a power hitting catcher who was four years younger than Walker Cooper and about to enter his prime age years, would have been ideal in bridging the gap between Cooper and Garagiola. According to Garagiola’s SABR biography, the young 20 year-old catcher just wasn’t ready in 1946:
“Discharged in May 1946, he found the Cardinals eager to welcome him home. The 20-year-old later acknowledged he wasn’t ready for the majors, but the club was desperate for catching help. Owner Sam Breadon had sold the National League’s best catcher, Walker Cooper, and the designated successor, Ken O’Dea, went down with a bad back. Garagiola, a left-handed batter, won half of the regular job, platooning with 23-year-old Del Rice (153).”
Having Noble on the 1946 roster would have certainly improved the Cardinals’ chances in capturing the 1946 pennant. Moreover, the drafting of Noble would have potentially given Breadon another asset he could sell at a future date once Garagiola was truly ready for the majors. Therefore, with the 14th pick in the Negro League draft, the Cardinals select catcher Ray Noble.
1945 Detroit Tigers
Runs Scored: 2nd (633)
Runs Allowed: 4th (565)
Strengths: starting pitching, second base, right field
Weaknesses: third base, center field
Key Players: Hal Newhouser, Roy Cullenbine, Eddie Mayo, Hank Greenberg
Pipeline: Billy Pierce, Art Houtteman, Hoot Evers, Vic Wertz
In 1945 the Detroit Tigers won their third World Championship in franchise history by defeating the Chicago Cubs four games to three in the ‘45 World Series. The Tigers received a huge jolt to their lineup when first baseman and future Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg returned from the war in mid-season after missing almost four full years due to his service in the US Army. Greenberg, who had been one of the first major league players to have been drafted into the Army, was one of the first to be discharged. Greenberg’s discharge occurred on June 14, 1945. He returned to the Tigers line-up on July 1 and made an immediate impact.
On that day, playing at home and in front of a sold-out Briggs Stadium crowd, Greenberg hit a home run against the Philadelphia Athletics in what was the first game of a doubleheader versus the A’s. Greenberg ended the ’45 campaign with 13 home runs and 60 RBI in just 78 games and 312 plate appearances. He hit .311 with an OPS of .948 which equated to an OPS+ of 166. In the World Series Greenberg hit .304 with two home runs and seven runs batted in. Greenberg’s WPA for the World Series was 0.58 which led
all Tiger players.
Greenberg though wasn’t the only impact player the Tigers had gotten back from the war during the 1945 season. Pitcher Virgil Trucks, who had been serving in the military since February of ’44, was officially discharged in September of ’45 due to a leg injury. Trucks made his season debut on the next to last day of the regular season on September 30 in a key start versus the St. Louis Browns. On that day Trucks hurled 5.1 innings, allowing just one run on three hits before being relieved by Tigers’ ace Hal Newhouser. The Tigers went on to defeat the Browns 6-3 thanks to a ninth inning Hank Greenberg grand slam which clinched the American League Pennant for Detroit. Trucks went on to make two starts for the Tigers in the World Series. Trucks won his Game 2 start by firing a complete game and allowing only one earned run. In his second start in Game 6, Trucks did not fare as well. He couldn’t get out of the fifth inning as the Cubs roughed him up with four earned runs. The Tigers though were able to battle back but ultimately ended up losing the game in extra innings.
The Tigers had benefitted greatly from Greenberg’s return and to a lesser degree, Trucks’ return from the military. Detroit also benefitted from several key moves Tigers' general manager Jack Zeller had made during the ’45 season which solidified the Tigers’ hold on the AL that year. Of the key Zeller moves, perhaps the most important was the acquisition of outfielder Roy Cullenbine from the Cleveland Indians. Cullenbine, who originally broke in with Detroit back in 1938, was reacquired by the Tigers just one week into the season in exchange for infielders Dutch Meyer and Don Ross. The right fielder rewarded Zeller and the Tigers with perhaps his best season as a pro in 1945 by banging out 18 home runs and driving in 93 for the Tigers. The patient Cullenbine also led the AL in walks with 118 and had an OPS of .846 good for a 139 OPS+.
Later that summer in early August of ’45, with the Tigers facing a stretch of 13 games in eight days which included five doubleheaders, Zeller was able to pluck pitchers George Caster and Jim Tobin off of waivers. The 37-year-old Caster ended up stabilizing the Tiger bullpen. Overall Caster was 5-1 with a 3.86 ERA in 51.1 innings pitched out of the bullpen. Tobin made 14 appearances down the stretch and managed 4-5 record with a respectable 3.55 ERA in 58.1 innings pitched. Both were able to provide the Tigers with much needed pitching depth during a crucial part of the Tigers’ regular season schedule.
The return of Greenberg and Trucks along with Zeller's shrewd in-season acquisitions certainly helped the Tigers capture the World Series in what would end up being Zeller's last year in baseball. “I’m not tired of baseball, I’m just tired (155),” is what the 62-year-old Zellar told the press when he announced his retirement just after the World Series. His tenure with the Tigers was to officially end on January 1, 1946. Zeller had been in organized baseball for 42 years as a player, manager, scout, club owner and a general manager. Zeller had been with the Tigers since 1925 when he was hired as a scout. In 1937 Zeller was named director of the Tigers’ minor leagues. Approximately seven months later he became the Tigers’ GM (154).
Former Senators/Tigers player manager Bucky Harris had been rumored to be Zeller’s replacement (156). Harris had been the manager and general manager of a Tigers affiliate located in Buffalo for the last two years. However, those rumors were put to rest when Detroit owner Walter O. Briggs named George M. Trautman the next GM of the Tigers. The 55-year-old Trautman had previously been the president of the American Association, the position he had held since 1935. Prior to being president of the American Association, Trautman had been the assistant athletic director at the Ohio State University (157).
Once hired, Trautman’s first order of business was to sign Tigers’ manager Steve O’Neill to a new contract. That was done in relatively short order as O’Neill was signed about three weeks after Trautman was named GM. Of note, O’Neill, who had managed the Tigers since ’43, had also been mentioned as a possible candidate to replace Zeller (158). After re-signing O’Neill, Trautman then turned his attention to overhauling the Detroit Tiger farm system.
Unlike Trautman’s predecessor, Jack Zeller, who had opposed major league clubs owning minor league teams, Trautman embraced the idea:
“I believe we can build a better ball club in Detroit by owning clubs in the minor leagues. In fact, I’m so convinced that we already are working on a program whereby the Tigers plan to own and operate teams in every league classification from Class D up to the new Triple-A category (159).”
Previously under Zeller, the Tigers were one of the few major league teams that operated without a chain of “feeder clubs” (160). Instead the Tigers worked under what was known as “working agreements.” Under a working agreement a major league team did not have a say as to how the minor league club operated including having no say in the club’s personnel decisions, specifically the club’s managerial and coaching decisions.
At the time, the Tigers had working agreements in place with eight minor league teams located in states such as New York, Maryland and Texas. However, prior to the war the Tigers did own the Beaumont Explorers of the Texas League which was a Class A-1 minor league who incidentally was managed by Steve O’Neill in 1942. Besides the Tigers’ World Series manager O’Neill being a member of the team, the ’42 Beaumont Explorers also contained many of the young stars the Tigers were counting on in 1946. Trautman pointed out that fact when he discussed his plan for the Tigers to own their minor league clubs outright or at the very least, have a controlling interest in said clubs:
“Just look at the players out there we are counting on to help us win another pennant. Take Dick Wakefield, Hoot Evers, Anse Moore and half a dozen others. They all were developed at Beaumont. Now they are key men of the Tigers (161).”
While Trautman was focused on revamping the Tigers’ minor league system, Tigers’ manager Steve O’Neill was focused on overhauling the Tigers’ '46 active roster. Indeed, just prior to the baseball Winter Meetings in December of ’45, O’Neill proclaimed that every Detroit Tiger, except for six players, was available for trade. “We want new players,” O’Neill declared to the press in early December of ’45. O’Neill continued, “with the exception of a half-dozen men whom we definitely will keep, we will trade or sell any player on our club. One thing is certain. Many of the players who finished with us last year will not be with us at Lakeland (Florida) next spring (162).” The press speculated that the players that were not on the market included first baseman Hank Greenberg and pitchers Hal Newhouser, Dizzy Trout, Virgil Trucks and Stubby Overmire (163).
Heading into the winter meetings, O’Neill was confident the Tigers would be making deals, “We definitely expect to have deals done by the time we move to Chicago this weekend (164).” However, O’Neill’s hopes of the Tigers swinging a deal were dashed shortly after O’Neill and Jack Zeller arrived at the meetings. “No trades. Not even any nibbles (165),” is what O’Neill reported to the media after Day 1 of the winter meetings. Zeller expanded on O'Neill's comment by saying, “We know we have players that can benefit clubs. And we also know that several teams have players that will help us…we just haven’t been able to hit a common ground (166).”
During the entire '45 off-season and especially during the Winter Meetings, O’Neill and the Tigers had sought middle infielders. In early January of ’46 the Tigers finally landed one when they were able to trade first baseman Rudy York to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for shortstop Eddie Lake. Lake had rebounded in ‘45 after a subpar 1944 season by hitting .279 and leading the AL in OBP with a .412 mark. With the York/Lake trade the Tigers were able to accomplish two things: 1) they solidified the shortstop position and 2) the trade allowed for Greenberg to be moved back to his natural position at first base. Greenberg had moved from first to the outfield in 1940 in order to keep the poor fielding Rudy York's bat in the Detroit line-up. York was a below average fielding catcher but a very good hitter. To keep York’s potent bat in the line-up, the Tigers made him their full-time first baseman in 1940.
Up until the Lake acquisition, the shortstop position had been a major concern for the Tigers heading into ’46. The Tigers’ only viable option at short had been the 35-year-old Skeeter Webb who was a sub .200 hitter in 1945. With many pitchers returning from the war in ’46, Webb at short just wasn’t going to cut it for the Tigers.
Despite their efforts, the York/Lake deal was the only major trade the Tigers’ front office was able to swing that offseason. Late in the spring of ’46, Trautman revealed that the Tigers had tried to make “at least a dozen deals” during the offseason and that they hadn’t “stopped trying (167).” However, the Tigers were reluctant to trade any of their star players which was understandable given that Detroit was coming off a World Series win and had led the AL in attendance in each of the last two years. In fact, in 1945 the Tigers attendance was 1.28 million, almost 400,000 more than the New York Yankees.
The Tigers though were able to make one significant move on the amateur front. In December of ’46 Detroit landed the highly touted right-handed pitcher Lou Kretlow. The 25-year-old hurler had recently been discharged from the military. The Tigers secured Kretlow’s rights for $30,000 by outbidding the St. Louis Browns for the hurler’s services.
Pitching though wasn’t a concern for the Tigers heading into the 1946 season what with Hal Newhouser, Dizzy Trout and Virgil Trucks set to return. Moreover, the Tigers had Fred Hutchinson also set to return in ’46 after he had missed the last four full seasons due to the war. Adding in 1945 holdovers Al Benton and Stubby Overmire, the Tigers’ starting pitching staff was one of the best and deepest in baseball heading into 1946.
On the other hand the infield was a concern for the Tigers. Besides shortstop which they eventually addressed with the acquisition of Lake, the Tigers were also interested in an upgrade at second base. In 1945 Tigers’ second baseman Eddie Mayo had a terrific season. Mayo hit .285 and socked 10 home runs. His OPS+ was 112 which was third best in all of baseball among second basemen. Mayo actually finished second in AL MVP voting in ’45 by receiving seven first place votes, only two less than his teammate, the 1945 AL MVP winner Hal Newhouser. However, Mayo was going to be 36 years old in ’46 which meant that he probably wasn’t going to duplicate his 1945 season, given his advanced age and the number of quality pitchers that were set to return from the war. Moreover, Mayo had issues with his back which could easily flare up in the future. To upgrade their second base position, the Tigers did have talks with the Yankees about acquiring Snuffy Stirnweiss but nothing materialized.
The Tigers were also thin at third base. Their options at the hot corner for ’46 included a soon to be 37-year-old Pinky Higgins who had missed the ’45 season due to military service and as of mid-February of ’46, still hadn’t been discharged. Other options at third included 33-year-old veteran outfielder/third baseman Jimmy Outlaw and a 30-year-old Bob Maier, who was the Tigers’ third baseman in ’45 but was considered to be a below average fielder. Detroit also had as an option, 29-year-old Billy Hitchcock who hadn’t played major league ball since his rookie season in ’42 due to three years spent in the military. Despite the long layoff and Hitchcock’s inexperience, O’Neill viewed Hitchcock as having the inside track to the starting third baseman's job in the spring of ‘46 (168).
Another concern for the defending World Series champions heading into ‘46 was at catcher. Bob Swift and Paul Richards carried the load for the Tigers in ’45; however, collectively they hit .233 with 3 HRS and 27 extra base hits in 535 at-bats. Swift hit for an anemic 56 OPS+ while the 36-year-old Richards managed an OPS+ of 89. Birdie Tebbetts had been the Tigers’ catcher and an all-star prior to the war but had missed the last three major league seasons due to his military service. Tebbetts was discharged in February of ’46 but was heading into his age-33 season. There was no telling if Tebbetts could readjust after a three-year absence from baseball at such an advanced age for a catcher.
Despite the Tigers’ shortcomings at second and third base and the uncertainty at catcher, O’Neill seemed enthusiastic about his teams’ chances of repeating in ’46:
“Give us our rightful share of the breaks and we’ll concede to no one. We’ve got so many things we didn’t have last year…. speed, slugging power in the infield, all around ability in the outfield, stronger pitching and deeper catching (169).”
O’Neill was certainly correct in his assessment of the Tiger outfield. Returning from the war in time for spring training were Dick Wakefield, Barney McCosky, Pat Mullin and Walter “Hoot” Evers, all young capable outfielders that had great success prior to their enlistment. Wakefield had been an all-star in ’43 when at the age of 22 he led the AL in hits with 200 and in doubles with 38. In ’44 Wakefield hit .355 after returning in July of that year from a short stint in the Navy which began in November of ’43. Wakefield was recalled for military duty once again in November of ’44 which led to Wakefield missing the entire 1945 season.
Barney McCosky had missed the last three full seasons due to his service. Prior to that, in the years 1939 thru 1942, McCosky had averaged 100 runs scored and 182 hits. During that span McCosky hit .316 with an .829 OPS and 112 OPS+. In 1940 at the age of 23, McCosky led the AL in hits with 200 and triples with 19.
Pat Mullin was a late-season call-up for the Tigers in 1940. He managed just four pinch hitting plate appearances that season. In 1941 though, Mullin took over the centerfield duties for the Tigers when McCoskey was injured in mid-May. By the beginning of July of that season, the left-handed 23-year-old outfielder was hitting .345 with a .909 OPS and an OPS+ of 130 in 54 games played. However on July 2, in a game against the White Sox, Mullin broke a bone in his shoulder in a collision with Chicago pitcher Bill Dietrich (171) which cost Mullin the rest of the season. Mullin enlisted into the Army in early 1942 where he served until being discharged in time for the beginning of the 1946 season. Mullin missed the entire ’42, ’43, ’44 and ’45 seasons.
Hoot Evers had been a highly touted Tigers prospect when he made his big-league debut in 1941 at the age of 20. Just one year prior, Branch Rickey and the St. Louis Cardinals had offered Evers a bonus to sign with the Cards but Evers turned them down. In February of ‘41 Evers instead signed with the Tigers for $9,000 (170). Evers was enlisted into the Army in November of 1942. Prior to his enlistment, Evers had spent the entire 1942 season at Beaumont where he collected 179 hits and hit .322, third best in the Texas League that season. Evers’ service in the military had also cost him the last four full baseball seasons.
Indeed, O’Neill and the Tigers had a very strong outfield heading into the 1946 season. The same could be said of their pitching. Moreover, slugger Hank Greenberg was back at his natural position at first base and the shortstop situation was addressed with the acquisition of Eddie Lake from the Red Sox. At second, the Tigers still had Eddie Mayo at their disposal but Mayo was entering his late 30’s. At catcher the Tigers had former all-star Birdie Tebbetts slated to be the starter in '46 but he had missed the last three seasons due to the war. At third the Tigers’ options were a 37-year-old Pinky Higgins, part-time third baseman Jimmy Outlaw, the poor fielding Bob Maier and the untested and unproven Billy Hitchcock. If the Tigers were going to repeat as American League champions, they would have to address at the very least, their third base situation.
Ideally, if the Tigers could land a utility infielder that could play multiple positions including third base, they would be able to produce a makeshift infield, and then make adjustments as the season wore on. The two mainstays in the Tiger infield for ’46 were that kind of player. Shortstop Eddie Lake had played second base and third base in the past. Second baseman Eddie Mayo was also capable of playing third base. Either one could be moved around the infield if need be. Was there another such player available to the Tigers had a Negro League draft existed after the 1945 season who could play third or improve the middle infield situation? The answer is yes.
In 1945 Lorenzo “Piper” Davis was listed as being born on July 3, 1919 which meant that he was considered to be 26-years-old at the end of the ’45 season. Years later it was discovered that Davis’ year of birth was actually 1917. Davis was born in Piper Alabama, hence the nickname. Davis began playing some form of organized baseball in 1936 when he played for the all-black barnstorming Omaha Tigers. He spent two seasons with Omaha. In 1938 he played for the black semi-pro team Yakima (Washington) Browns. He spent one season with Yakima (172).
In 1939 Davis played for the American Cast Iron Pipe Company (ACIPCO). Davis had become a versatile ballplayer playing for ACIPCO. That year Davis played centerfield. In 1940 Davis switched to third base. In 1941 and 1942 Davis played second base but also occasionally filled in at catcher (173).
At the end of the 1942 season, Davis was signed by the Birmingham Black Barons of the NAL as a second baseman. He was signed by Black Barons’ manager Winfield Welch. Welch had also coaching the Harlem Globe Trotters at the time. Once Welch found out that Davis could also play basketball; he signed Davis to play for the Globetrotters as well as the Black Barons. Below is how Davis recalled the story of his signing years later:
I got the pen in my hand to sign for a certain figure, three hundred and fifty dollars, or something like that. Bob Williams, the owner of the Savoy Café, came by. He said, “Welch, that boy can play basketball too.
Welch said, “You can play basketball too?”
I said, “Yeah, played one year in college.”
He went back to the phone and called up Abe Saperstein (Globetrotters owner) and he said, “Abe, this boy can play basketball too. Yeah, Bob says he’s the best player. And Abe said, “Give him another fifty dollars and let him play for the Globetrotters (174).”
Actually the contract(s) Davis signed was to pay the two-sport star $350 per month to play baseball and $300 per month plus $2 per day to play for the Globe Trotters during the baseball off-season (175).
In 1943, in his first year with the Black Barons, Davis played shortstop. In ’44 the versatile Davis was moved to first base and then to second base in 1945 (176). He remained a second baseman until the end of 1949. During that span, Davis was named to two Negro League All-Star Games. Unfortunately there is a lot of missing data when it comes to Davis’ hitting statistics. Seamheads has Davis hitting .385 and slugging .513 in ’45. Davis’ MLE numbers equate to a WAR of 33.8 in 6,320 plate appearances but with approximately 32% of his data missing. Despite the missing data, Davis’ WAR and plate appearance numbers are similar to that of Indians’ third baseman Ken Keltner.
There isn’t much doubt that at the very least, Davis was considered to be a potential major league caliber ballplayer. In 1947 Tom Hayes, owner of the Black Barons, described Davis as a, “flashy fielder and a fine player” (177). Hayes’ comment came immediately after the announcement was made that Davis had signed a 30-day option contract with the St. Louis Browns in July of ‘47, along with infielder Hank Thompson and outfielder Willard Brown on the recommendation of Browns’ scout and former player Jack Fournier. At the time of his signing, Davis was hitting .371 for the Black Barons. Davis and the Browns though could not come to an agreement as to where Davis would play in 1947. Davis wanted to immediately play in the majors but the Browns wanted to send him to their farm team in Elmira, New York (178). Eventually the option on Davis expired and he was returned to the Black Barons.
Three years later with Davis now 32 years of age, the Boston Red Sox purchased his rights in March of 1950. In what was a record amount paid for the rights of a Negro League player, the Red Sox paid a $15,000 contract fee to the Black Barons, equal to the amount paid by the Dodgers for the rights of pitcher Dan Bankhead three years earlier (179). The agreement between the Red Sox and Hayes meant that the Red Sox would pay $7,500 ($6,000 to Hayes and $1,500 to Davis) and an additional $7,500 (split evenly between Hayes and Davis) if Davis stuck with the Red Sox past May 15, 1950 (180).
The Red Sox had plans to promote Davis, who was now a full-time first baseman soon after the 1950 season began. Unfortunately for Davis, Boston rookie first baseman Walt Dropo got off to a very hot start. By May 15, Dropo was hitting .400 and slugging .800. With no room on the Red Sox active roster, Boston declined to pay the second installment of the $15,000 contract fee and returned Davis to the Black Barons (181). Prior to being purchased by the Red Sox, Davis had been promoted by the Black Barons to player/manager. Davis was known for his superior baseball intellect.
With the Tigers’ pitching and outfield in place, the only glaring weakness on the defending World Champions’ roster was at third base; a weakness that could have been easily be filled by Piper Davis. The versatile Davis could have also filled in at second base, shortstop and first base if need be. With that being said, Lorenzo Piper Davis is the obvious choice for the Tigers with the fifteenth selection in the Negro League draft.
1945 Chicago Cubs
Runs Scored: 4th (735)
Runs Allowed: 1st (533)
Strengths: starting pitching, first base, third base, center field
Key Players: Hank Wyse, Phil Cavarretta, Stan Hack, Andy Pafko
Pipeline: Eddie Waitkus, Marv Rickert
In the years 1929 thru 1939 the Chicago Cubs won four National League Pennants, one more than both the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Giants. During that span the Cubs won a total of 987 games which was tops in the NL and second only to the New York Yankees in all of baseball. In 1940 the Cubs suffered their first losing season since 1925 by going 75-79 and finishing in fifth place, a distant 25 games behind the NL Pennant winning Cincinnati Reds.
The disappointing 1940 season led to Chicago Cubs’ owner Phil K. Wrigley’s decision to “rearrange” the front office. Wrigley had been running the Cubs since 1933. On November 14, 1940 Wrigley hired James T. Gallagher to be the Cubs’ new general manager. Wrigley also announced that team treasurer, Charles Weber, had resigned his position and had moved to the role of vice-president and advisor to Gallagher. William L. Veeck Jr. was to succeed Weber at treasurer (182).
At just 36 years of age, James T. Gallagher became the youngest executive in the majors despite having zero executive experience. Gallagher also had never previously worked in baseball. Prior to being named Cubs general manager, Gallagher was a newspaper reporter. Gallagher began his newspaper career as a police reporter and night editor for an Indiana newspaper. He then eventually became that paper’s sports editor. In 1928 Gallagher moved to Chicago and became a sports columnist for the Chicago Herald American. He was in that role up until his hiring by the Cubs in 1940 (183).
The idea of hiring a sports columnist as an executive wasn’t entirely a new concept for the Chicago Cubs. Back in 1918, Cubs owner William Wrigley Jr. (Phil K. Wrigley’s father) hired baseball columnist William L. Veeck Sr. as vice-president and second in command to Cubs’ president Fred Mitchell (184). Veeck Sr. was later elected Cubs president after Mitchell resigned his position in July of 1919 (185). Veeck Sr. served as president until his death in October of 1933. Prior to him being hired by the Cubs, Veeck Sr. was known to be highly critical of the team but his criticism was said to be “constructive (186).”
Like Veeck Sr., Gallagher too had been a critic of the Chicago Cubs. In fact, Gallagher was described as “one of the foremost critics of Cubs policies (187).” Gallagher was especially harsh of Cubs player/manager Gabby Hartnett. Hartnett had managed the Cubs in ’38, ’39 and ’40. His Cubs managerial record was 203-176 (.536). In ’38 Hartnett took over the Cubs in mid-July and was able to rally the team to a NL Pennant. Hartnett was relieved of his managerial duties just days before Gallagher had been hired. Replacing Hartnett was Gallagher’s first act as general manager. Gallagher predicted that he would, “definitely name a manager to succeed Hartnett before the minor league meetings in early December (188)” of 1940.
Just one day after making that statement, Gallagher hired Cincinnati player/coach Jimmy Wilson as the Cubs’ new manager. Wilson began his major league playing career in 1923 as a catcher with the Philadelphia Phillies. In 1928 Wilson was traded by the Phillies to the Cardinals. He was reacquired by the Phillies prior to the 1934 season and appointed player/manager. Wilson went on to manage the Phillies for five seasons. He spent the last two seasons playing sparingly for the Reds. Late into the 1940 season though, Wilson was called upon to replace Reds' starting catcher Ernie Lombardi, who was forced to miss the last two weeks of September due to a sprained ankle. The Reds ended up winning the NL Pennant that year; however, Lombardi’s ankle still had not fully healed by the time the 1940 World Series had begun. As a result, Wilson ended up starting six of the seven World Series games. The then 40-year-old Wilson hit .353 in his 17 World Series at-bats. Wilson's terrific World Series performance made the veteran catcher a hot commodity during that offseason, ultimately signing on with the Cubs.
With Wilson in place as Cubs manager, Gallagher then switched his focus to running the organization. Upon his hiring Gallagher had stated that his main goal as Cubs GM was to, “eliminate the confusion which seems to have marked Cub executive matters and to improve the team’s relations with the public (189).”
Despite the Chicago Cubs’ on-field success during the 1930’s, the club had difficulties turning a profit during the decade. The Cubs had lost money in six of its last ten seasons prior to Gallagher’s hiring in late ’40, including two of their four pennant-winning seasons, 1932 and 1938. Indeed the Cubs hadn’t turned a profit since 1937 (190).
In early January of 1941, Gallagher abolished the Cubs’ working agreement with the Moline Plowboys of the Three-I League. The minor league club had been in debt. Gallagher had given Moline a December 30th deadline to get its finances in order. When Moline had failed to pay off its debt by the end of 1940, Gallagher quickly terminated the agreement between the two organizations (191). Approximately one month later, Gallagher announced that the club had purchased a 49.5% stake in the Tulsa Oilers of the Texas League (192). The Cubs had working agreements with several other minor league clubs; however, Tulsa was the only club the Cubs organization had an ownership stake in. Of note- while it was true that Phil Wrigley owned both the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Angels of the PCL, both clubs “worked entirely independent of each other (193).”
If one were to conclude that the purchase of the Tulsa Oilers was an indication of Gallagher’s commitment to creating a robust Chicago Cubs farm system which would provide the money-losing Cubs with a steady influx of young affordable talent and thus save the organization the cost of acquiring said talent on the open market, one would be incorrect. In fact, once the purchase of the Tulsa Oilers was announced, Gallagher made it a point to stress that the purchase “was not to be construed as a move toward building a farm system (194).” Indeed Gallagher was dead set against the farm system. Years later, even after all of the success that the Cardinals and Dodgers, two clubs that were heavily invested in their respective farm systems, had experienced during the 40’s and early 50’s, Gallagher was still adamantly opposed to the idea as late as 1952. At that time Gallagher was embroiled in a public debate with Branch Rickey over the farm system.
Gallagher’s contention was that the farm system was “killing the game and should be exterminated forthwith (195).” Gallagher:
“You read that this club controls 300 players that club controls 200. A couple of years ago I read that, under Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn club had control over as many as 600 players. That sort of thing is murderous for the game. No club needs control over even the 40 players it is permitted to carry on its reserve list, because it never can play more than 25 of them between May 15 and September 1….Let us for heaven’s sake, and baseball’s sake, go back to independent operation. Let us adopt regulations stopping calling up of players from affiliates (196).”
Naturally Rickey disagreed: “Gallagher now wants to put baseball back into the hands of millionaires (197);”…Sure money can buy, but we learned through ‘blood, sweat and tears’ is how to accomplish results with good judgment (198).”
As early as January 1941, it was clear that Gallagher was content with having to purchase talent. That month Gallagher made his first significant player acquisitions when he paid up to a combined $150,000 for the rights to two Los Angeles Angels players, outfielder Lou Novikoff and second baseman Lou Stringer (199). Neither player ever amounted to much and both would end up causing headaches for Gallagher and the Cubs in future contract negotiations.
In May of 1941 Gallagher made his second significant transaction, this time on the trade front, when he dealt popular Cubs second baseman Billy Herman to the Brooklyn Dodgers in exchange for outfielder Charlie Gilbert and a reported $65,000 in cash (200). Gallagher then used $25,000 of the $65,000 to purchase Johnny Hudson, an infielder playing for Montreal in the International League.
Billy Herman had considered himself to be a candidate to replace ex-Cub manager Gabby Hartnett. However both Gallagher and Wrigley believed Hartnett’s replacement should come from outside of the organization (201) given that the last three Cubs managers: Rogers Hornsby, Charlie Grimm and Gabby Hartnett had come from “within the ranks” which led to the hiring of Wilson.
At the time of the trade Herman was hitting just .194 and slugging an anemic .250 which may have led the Cubs to conclude that Herman’s best playing days were behind him and/or the second baseman was bitter over not being selected to replace Hartnett as manager. Cubs’ manager Jimmy Wilson certainly made it clear as to why he was in favor of the deal; “If they won’t play ball for me, the other teams can have ‘em (202),” is what Wilson declared once the trade was announced. Herman was also deemed as expendable by Gallagher given the purchase of the aforementioned Lou Stringer who was seemingly ready to succeed Herman at second. Indeed Cubs manager Jimmy Wilson proclaimed Stringer “the best rookie I ever saw in spring training (203)” just one month prior to the Herman trade. Stringer actually came out of spring training as the Cubs’ starting shortstop; however, a four error game in the Cubs’ 1941 season opener versus the Pirates may have convinced Gallagher and the Cubs that Stringer was better suited at second base.
Only weeks after the Herman trade was made, many in the press had declared the Dodgers the winners of the deal. “Dodger Deal for Herman Called Best in Years” was the headline in a story appearing in the July 16, 1941 edition of the Times (204). By that time Herman had managed to raise his batting average to above .300 and had filled a major hole in the Dodger line-up, that being second base. About five weeks later the Dodgers would acquire another underachieving Chicago Cub veteran player.
On August 20, 1941 Gallagher traded away outfielder Augie Galan to the PCL’s Los Angeles Angels in exchange for 24-year-old pitcher Emil Kush. At that time, Galan like Herman had been struggling. He was barely hitting above .200 and was limited to pinch hitting duties. Galan though refused to report to the Angels. Four days later, the Dodgers ended up acquiring Galan from the Angels for veteran pitcher Mace Brown. Of note, prior to his being traded to the Angels, Mace Brown had already established a place in baseball history. Brown was the pitcher that surrendered Gabby Hartnett’s “Homer in the Gloamin” in 1938. Along with Brown the Angels also received cash in the deal.
While Galan did not make the same impact on the Dodgers as Herman had that summer due to a knee injury that he had suffered shortly after being acquired by Brooklyn, Galan did provide the Dodgers with veteran outfield depth. The Dodgers were in a fight with the Cardinals in a memorable pennant race in 1941 and the additions of Billy Herman and albeit to a lesser extent Augie Galan, had helped put the Dodgers over the top. The Dodgers won the NL Pennant that year while the Cubs struggled through a 70-84 season.
The following year in ’42, the Cubs finished with a 68-86 record. By the mid-summer of 1943 the patience of Cub fans with the Gallagher regime was wearing thin and they let it be known. Their outward displeasure began with the booing of Jimmy Wilson whenever the manager stepped onto the field. The constant booing of Wilson forced the Cubs manager to stop coaching third base, choosing instead to remain in the Cubs’ dugout. Then on June 27, in a doubleheader versus the St. Louis Cardinals and with the Cubs sitting with a record of 23-36 and one-half game out of the NL cellar, Cubs fans placed a banner over the left-field wall that read, “Wilson and Gallagher Stink.” Later that day another banner appeared over the same wall that read, “Oust the James Boys” (205), an obvious reference to Jimmy Wilson and James Gallagher.
Wilson certainly didn’t help himself when two weeks later he was asked what was wrong with his team; Wilson’s simple reply: “I dunno (206).” Wilson’s answer did not go over well with both Cubs fans and the press. To make matters worse for both Wilson and Gallagher, Chicago papers were posting the daily accomplishments of ex-Cubs Billy Herman and Augie Galan, both of which were having all-star seasons for the Dodgers that year (207). The Cubs ended the 1943 season with a record of 74-79, a franchise first fourth straight losing season. However, despite its fans’ disapproval of both Wilson and Gallagher and the team’s on-field performance, the Cubs still managed to finish third in NL attendance that year.
Surprisingly some in the media were optimistic about the Cubs’ chances in 1944. Chicago was actually considered a favorite to win the NL Pennant in some circles (207); reason being that although the ’44 version of the Cubs was light on pitching, the team would be able to outslug their opponents. However, the Cubs got off to a brutal 1-9 start to the season which led to the resignation of Jimmy Wilson as Cubs manager. “It was the only thing to do (208),” a despondent Wilson told the press after announcing his resignation. “We weren’t winning and when you’re not winning you’ve got to do something about it. It’s baseball, that’s all (209).”
Wilson was immediately replaced by former Cubs player/manager Charlie Grimm. Grimm had managed the Cubs for 6+ seasons in the years 1932 to 1938. Grimm had taken over the Cubs managerial duties in the middle of 1932 from Rogers Hornsby and had led Chicago to a NL Pennant that year. Grimm won his second NL Pennant as Cubs player/manager in 1935. Overall Grimm had a 534-369 (.591) managerial record as Cubs player/manager without a losing season including 1938, the year in which he was fired. That year the Cubs were 45-36 at the time Grimm was replaced but in third place and six games out of first. “Well Leo, I hope you can win the pennant too (210),” is what Grimm reportedly said to his replacement Gabby Hartnett at the time of Grimm’s firing. Under Hartnett the Cubs went 44-26 to capture the 1938 NL flag.
Gallagher had re-hired Grimm as a coach shortly after he had taken over the Cubs in 1940. Grimm though followed Cubs treasurer William L. Veeck Jr. aka Bill Veeck Jr. to Milwaukee immediately after Veeck had purchased the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association in July of ‘41. Grimm replaced Bill Killefer as Brewers’ manager.
Under Grimm the Cubs managed a 74-69 record and a fourth place finish in 1944, 30 games behind the World Series winning St. Louis Cardinals. The Cubs hitting, viewed as the team’s strength heading into that season, produced 701 runs good for third overall in the NL. In terms of run prevention though, the Cubs were league average, allowing 669 runs.
The same amount of optimism, if not more, regarding the Cubs chances in the spring of ’44 was once again present in the spring of 1945. In fact, prior to the Cubs’ season opener, Chicago officials had announced that opening day ticket sales were, “five times greater than last year” and that “demand is sensational (211).” Contributing to the optimism was influential United Press International (UPI) reporter Jack Cuddy’s prediction that the Cubs would win the NL Pennant. Cuddy had also picked the Tigers to win the AL Pennant. Cuddy’s main reasoning was that the Cubs had a minimal amount of roster disruption from ’44 to ’45 due to the war whereas the Cardinals, the Cubs’ main rival and the defending NL champions, had lost a significant amount of players that offseason including star outfielder Stan Musial (212). Cuddy was also high on the Cubs’ offense.
Predominant Chicago sports columnists John P. Carmichael and Francis J. Powers had also predicted the Cubs would win the ’45 NL Pennant if the team’s pitching held up (212). Charlie Grimm agreed with their assessments. “St. Louis and Pittsburgh will be tough but we should be in there fighting if our pitching holds up (213),” is what Grimm told the press on the eve of the opening of the 1945 season.
The Cubs offense that Chicago sportswriters were so high on heading into 1945 included first baseman Phil Caverretta who would go on to win the NL MVP Award that year, outfielder Bill Nicholson who had led the Cubs in rWAR in ’44 with a mark of 6.0 and veteran third baseman Stan Hack, all of which were acquired prior to the Gallagher regime. In fact only second baseman Don Johnson and infielder Roy Hughes, average players at best, were acquired during Gallagher’s, up until that point, four- year reign as GM. Indeed, promising young outfielder Andy Pafko was acquired by Gallagher and the Cubs in ’43; however, most of the credit in Chicago’s signing of Pafko, a native Wisconsin, should belong to Bill Veeck who had acquired the young outfielder in ’41 for his Milwaukee Brewers that fall. Veeck had purchased Pafko for a reporteded mere $1,000. Pafko was then optioned to Macon of the South Atlantic League for the 1942 season. Veeck then sold Pafko to the Los Angeles Angels for an undisclosed amount in February of ’43. Immediately after the conclusion of the 1943 PCL season in which Pafko eventually ended up being named league MVP, the Angels sold Pafko’s rights to the Cubs in September of ’43. Pafko debuted for the Cubs three days later.
The same could be said of the Cubs’ pitching- the major contributors to the Cubs’ pitching staff in ’44 were not acquired by the Gallagher regime. Veteran right-hander and 15-game-winner Claude Passeau had been with the Cubs since 1939. Hank Wyse, who had won 16 games in ’44 was acquired in 1940 i.e. prior to Gallagher’s hiring. Gallagher though would finally make his mark on the Chicago Cubs in a significant way in 1945 when two of his pitching acquisitions, one being one of the most publicized trades in baseball history and the other, a quiet move made at the end of the 1942 season, ended up being crucial pieces to the Cubs’ 1945 NL Pennant winning season.
Towards the end of the 1945 spring training season the Cubs were faced with the possibility of losing veteran starter Claude Passeau for a significant amount of time due to elbow soreness. As previously mentioned, the 36-year-old Passeau had won 15 games for the Cubs in 1944. Without Passeau, the Cubs would have only three proven starting pitchers in Paul Derringer, Hank Wyse and Bob Chipman to begin the ‘45 season. Fortunately for the Cubs, Passeau’s elbow problem was deemed not serious; however, the veteran right-hander was limited in his innings in the month of April.
Later in the summer, the Cubs were in danger of losing pitchers Hank Wyse and Bob Chipman to the military. On June 22, 1945 it was reported that Wyse had received notice from the Tulsa, Oklahoma draft board to report for induction and that Chipman had passed his Army physical and was also facing induction into the military (214). At that time Wyse was 7-5 with a 2.87 ERA in just over 97 innings pitched. Chipman was 2-3 with a 3.53 ERA in 47 innings pitched as a swingman. Approximately one week after receiving his draft board notice, Wyse had been “temporarily rejected for military service (215)” due to a back injury the pitcher had suffered the year before while working as an electrician in the off-season. Wyse though was instructed to report back to the draft board in 60 days.
The threat of losing Wyse and Chipman to the military prompted Gallagher to seek pitching help. “We had a shaky pitching staff,” Gallagher reflected years later in an interview with the Chicago Tribune, “Hank Wyse was in and out of the service. You (can) never have enough pitching (216).” Gallagher, who up to that point, had traded the likes of Billy Herman, Augie Galan, Eddie Stanky and Ken Raffensberger for virtually nothing, ended up pulling off one of the greatest Cub trades in the team’s history when he acquired pitcher Hank Borowy from the Yankees in late July of ‘45 for “$100,000 worth of Cub ball players and cash.” Once the deal was announced there was some question as to which players the Cubs would be giving up in exchange for Borowy; however, the deal ended up as being a straight sale of Borowy to the Cubs for the reported $100,000.
At the time the deal was made, the Cubs were sitting atop of the NL standings with a 55-33 record and a four game lead over the Cardinals. Borowy went on to post an 11-2 won/loss record and a 2.13 ERA in just over 122 innings pitched for the Cubs. As late as June 29th though, the Cubs were barely above .500 with a 30-27 record. On that day, in the first game of a double-header versus the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Cubs started 38-year-old Ray Prim. Prim, a left-handed screwball pitcher who had bounced around in the minors for more than 10 years since making his major league debut for the Washington Senators in 1933 with an occasional call-up to the majors in between, lasted just five innings before collapsing of heat exhaustion (217). Prim was hospitalized but later released.
Prim returned to the Cubs line-up on July 6. On that day Prim threw 6.1 innings of scoreless relief versus the Phillies to begin one of the most unlikely of pitching runs in baseball history. From that day and up until the end of the season, Prim, who had been quietly purchased by Gallagher and the Cubs from the Los Angeles Angels after the conclusion of the 1942 PCL season, went on to post an 11-4 record with two saves. His ERA during that span was a microscopic 1.27 in 113 innings pitched. Prim ended the season as the 1945 NL leader in: ERA, WHIP and SO/BB ratio. In the meantime the Cubs had surged with a major league best 59-28 record. No doubt both Prim and Borowy, pitchers acquired by James Gallagher, provided the stellar pitching the Cubs desperately needed to capture the 1945 NL Pennant.
Also not in doubt was the fact that the 1945 Chicago Cubs had beaten up on the weaker NL teams. The Cubs won/loss record versus the NL’s sub .500 teams, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Boston was 53-13 (.803) including a 22-1 record versus the Reds alone. Against their chief rival, the war depleted Cardinals however; the Cubs were 6-16. With many of their players set to return from the war, the Cardinals were surely to be stronger in 1946, whereas once again, the Cubs had pitching issues heading into the ’46 season.
Claude Passeau, who had won 17 games for the Cubs in ’45 and was extremely effective in the World Series (1-0, 2.70 ERA, 16.2 IP) was going to be 37-years-old in ’46 and still had a reoccurring elbow issue. The 38-year-old Paul Derringer who had won 16 games for the Cubs in ‘45 was not expected to repeat that performance in ’46, what with most major league hitters returning from the war. The Cubs ended up releasing Derringer prior to the ’46 season. Ray Prim was older than both Passeau and Derringer. With the exception of three brilliant months in 1945, Prim had been a below average pitcher for most of his career and an uncertainty in the upcoming year. That left the Cubs with Borowy and 22-game-winner Hank Wyse as the only 1945 starters that were assured to be in the rotation in 1946.
The Cubs though did have some young pitching in their system. The highly touted left-hander, Johnny Schmitz, had debuted for the Cubs at the age of 20 in 1941. In 20.2 innings pitched that year, Schmitz had an ERA of 1.31. In 1942, Schmitz appeared in 23 games and threw 86.2 innings. His ERA was 3.43. Schmitz though would go on to miss the next three seasons due to his service in the Navy. Schmitz was scheduled to return to the Cubs in time for the opening of the 1946 season.
Like Schmitz, Russ Meers was another young left-hander that had missed the last several years due to service in the military. He was purchased by the Cubs in August of 1941 after leading the Southern Association in wins with 16. Meers made his major league debut on the last day of the ’41 season in a start versus the St. Louis Cardinals. In that game Meers tossed eight innings and allowed only one earned run.
Yet another young lefty in the Cubs system was Vern Olsen. Olsen was purchased by the Cubs in July of ’39 from the Tulsa Oilers of the Texas League. He made his major league debut that September and pitched in a hand full of games that month. In 1940 and at the age of 22, Olsen led all NL rookie pitchers with 13 wins. Hampered by several injuries, Olsen only won a combined 16 games in ’41 and ’42. He enlisted in the Navy after the 1942 season. Olsen missed the entire ’43, ’44 and ’45 campaigns.
With three promising young lefties set to return from the military in 1946 in Schmitz, Meers and Olsen, and with Bob Chipman, yet another lefty in the fold, the Cubs were considered to be fortunate given the dearth of quality left-handed starters in the NL the previous season. Indeed, of the 24 NL pitchers who had double digit wins in 1945, only five were southpaws including the Cubs’ Ray Prim. “There’s a lot of power in our league hitting from the left side of the plate (218),” manager Grimm stressed during the spring of ’46, “Johnny Mize, Mel Ott, Tommy Holmes, Musial, Slaughter and several others. You need southpaw pitching to keep them from clubbing you to death (219).”
That spring Grimm was counting particularly on Schmitz and Meers to replace Paul Derringer and Ray Prim in the Cubs rotation (220). “I’m looking for a lot of help from a couple of young left-handers just out of the service, John Schmitz and Russ Meers (221),” is what Grimm told the press during spring training when asked about his rotation for the ‘46 season. Grimm considered Schmitz and Meers to be two of the three Cubs pitchers that were keys to the Cubs’ chances of repeating as NL champions in 1946. The third pitcher Grimm considered vital was 30-year-old right-hander Hi Bithorn, the first Puerto Rican born player in MLB history (222).
Bithorn made his major league debut in 1942. He was drafted by the Cubs from the PCL’s Hollywood Stars in November of 1941 (223). Interestingly, Bithorn had actually pitched against a major league club as far back as 1936. That year the Newark Eagles of the NNL had scheduled a series of games versus the Cincinnati Reds in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In preparing for their series against the Reds the Eagles had scheduled exhibition games against some of the San Juan local teams. Bithorn had pitched for one of those local teams against Eagles. The Eagles were impressed with Bithorn’s pitching so much so that when Eagles’ starter Leon Day was not available to make his start against the Reds, the club had invited Bithorn to make the start. The then 20-year-old Bithorn ended up throwing seven innings and allowing four runs (224). Soon thereafter, Bithorn was signed by Class B Norfolk of the Piedmont League. He spent six years in the minors before debuting for the Cubs in 1942 at the age of 26.
That year Bithorn won 9 and lost 14 with a 3.68 ERA in 171 innings pitched. In 1943 Bithorn was an 18 game-winner for the 74-79 Cubs. He had an ERA of 2.60 in just under 250 innings pitched and led the NL in complete game shutouts with seven. He was particularly effective against the Cardinals. Bithorn sported a 4-1 record and a 1.97 ERA versus the Cards in ’43, including four complete games and two shutouts against the eventual National League champions. In his 41.2 innings pitched against St. Louis Bithorn struck out only 11. Bithorn was considered to be “hard thrower” and possessing a “great curveball” and sinker that he threw from a “low three-quarter position (225)” but he wasn’t a strikeout pitcher. Instead Bithorn induced a lot of groundball outs.
In November of 1943, Bithorn was called to serve in the San Juan Naval Air Station. He was discharged in September of 1945 but did not appear in a major league game that season. Despite his missing two full seasons, Grimm was still high on Bithorn heading into 1946: “Bithorn was one of the best in the league before he went into the Navy. He couldn’t get back in shape when he rejoined us late last season but he is on top now after pitching all winter in Puerto Rico (226).”
The fact that the Cubs were pinning their hopes in 1946 on three pitchers who had missed the better part of the last three seasons due to time spent in the military is not to say that the Cubs hadn’t previously attempted to acquire more pitching for the ’46 season. The Cubs had made inquiries during the winter meetings but were repeatedly asked about the availability of their emerging young standout outfielder Andy Pafko, whom Gallagher had refused to trade (227).
Of course had drafting a player from the Negro Leagues been an option for the Cubs, the team would have almost assuredly considered selecting a pitcher. Granted, the Cubs reportedly did make inquiries regarding a possible purchase of St. Louis Cardinals’ shortstop Marty Marion during the ’45 offseason; however, they became quickly “discouraged” given the price to attain Marion (228). The Cubs were prepared to begin the ’46 season with Len Merullo at shortstop. Merullo, a defensive specialist that possessed a cannon arm and excellent range was the Cubs’ starting shortstop for most of the 1945 season. However, he was benched late in the season in favor of Roy Hughes. Hughes was the Cubs’ starting shortstop in six of the seven games of the ’45 World Series. The 34-year-old Hughes though was later sold by the Cubs to the Phillies in January of 1946. The Cubs’ fallback option at short for the ’46 season was the 26-year-old Bobby Sturgeon. Sturgeon had been purchased by the Cubs in December of 1939 from the Cardinals. Interestingly, according to Sturgeon’s SABR biography, the Cubs opted to purchase Sturgeon over Marty Marion. Apparently the Cardinals had given the Cubs a choice between the two shortstops.
With Jackie Robinson and Artie Wilson, clearly the two best shortstops available in the draft off the board, the next available option at short was Avelino Canizaries. Canizaries was a speedy shortstop who debuted for the Cleveland Buckeyes of the NAL in 1945 at the age of 25. That year Canizaries hit .314 and finished second in the league in triples (7) to Sam Jethroe. Prior to that Canizaries had played in the Cuban Winter League and the Mexican League. Canizaries was another player that promotor/scout Elwood Parsons had identified as “one of 20 or 25 Negro players that could make the grade in the big leagues (228).”
Max Manning though, the side-armed right-hander who was a consideration for the New York Yankees at the tenth pick is still on the board, having slipped all the way down to the final pick of the first round. Given Manning’s MLE numbers and given the Cubs’ uncertainties in the pitching department, Manning most likely would have been slated higher than Canizaries on the Cubs’ draft board. As stated in Manning’s original review, the righty’s MLE numbers for his age 19 thru 22 seasons are similar to that of Seattle Mariners great Felix Hernandez’ numbers at the same age. However, like the young pitchers the Cubs were counting on in 1946, Manning had also missed the previous three years due to the war, making him a somewhat risky pick.
The same could be said of John Ford Smith. He too had missed the last three seasons due to his service in the military. Smith, whose date of birth is listed as January 9, 1919 was approximately only two months younger than Manning. Unlike Manning though, Smith didn’t see as much action in his years in the Negro Leagues. The beginning of Smith’s baseball career can be traced back to 1936. At that time the Arizona born Smith was playing for the all-black semi-pro Phoenix Bronchos. With the Bronchos Smith starred as both a pitcher and a slugging first baseman (229). From there Smith pitched for the Ethiopian Clowns who were at the time based in Miami, Florida. Sources also have Smith pitching for the Indianapolis ABC’s and Chicago Americans in 1939 and 1940. Also in 1940 Smith reportedly returned to Arizona and pitched for the Arizona Compressors, another all-black semi-pro team (230).
Smith’s Negro League statistics begin in 1941 with the Kansas City Monarchs of the NAL at the age of 22. Smith was part of a Monarch pitching staff that included Hilton Smith, Frank Bradley, George Walker, Les Johnson and Lefty Bryant. Smith was used sparingly that year. He is credited with a 3-0 record and a 1.77 ERA in just over 20 innings pitched in his rookie season. Apparently Smith also barnstormed again with the Ethiopian Clowns that year from June to September for $150 plus a percentage of game revenues. Shortly thereafter, Smith was inducted into the military and served as Lieutenant in the Air Corps. He did not return to baseball until the 1946 season.
Once back from the war, Smith rejoined the Kansas City Monarchs. He was with the Monarchs from ’46 thru ’48 and part of pitching staffs that included young stars Jim LeMarque and Connie Johnson as well as legendary pitchers Satchell Paige and the aforementioned Hilton Smith. In January of 1949, along with outfielder Monte Irvin, John Ford Smith was signed by the New York Giants. At that time, Smith was coming off a reported 10-5 record with the Monarchs (231).
Smith was described as a “strong right-hander with a fast ball and a sharp breaking curve to augment his tantalizing change of pace (232).” Smith though did not break with the Giants that year. Instead he was optioned to the New Jersey Giants of the International League. One year later in the spring of 1950, Giants manager Leo Durocher was impressed with Smith and had considered using him in the Giants’ bullpen. “He was the best pitcher with my gang. I am going to holler good and hard to Horace Stoneham for Smith (233),” an excited Durocher declared to the press in late March of 1945. Unfortunately for Smith though, once again he did not break with the team and spent the entire 1950 season in Jersey City. In fact, Smith would never make it to the majors, apparently unable to fully overcome his lack of consistent control.
After spending a season playing in Canada in 1951, Smith returned to Arizona in 1952 to pitch for the Phoenix Senators of the Arizona-Texas League (AZTX). His final year in baseball was 1954 pitching for El Paso of the AZTX. In his post-baseball life Smith, like Manning worked in the education system. Smith eventually became the director of the Arizona Civil Rights Commission and vice president of the Civil Rights Department of the Arizona Bank.
Faced with a choice between Max Manning and John Ford Smith, the Chicago Cubs select the more established Max Manning with the last pick of the first round. The selection of Manning provides the NL Pennant defending Cubs with another starting pitching option at their disposal heading into the 1946 season.
PHN- Roy Campanella, catcher
PHA- Jackie Robinson, shortstop
CIN- Larry Doby, second base
BSN- Monte Irvin, outfielder
BOS- Sam Jethroe, outfielder
CWS- Don Newcombe, right-handed pitcher
CLE- Hank Thompson, utility infielder
NYG- Dan Bankhead, right-handed pitcher
PIT- Willard Brown, centerfielder
NYY- Jim LaMarque, left-handed pitcher
SLB- Connie Johnson, right-handed pitcher
BRO- John Wright, right-handed pitcher
WSH- Artie Wilson, shortstop
STL- Ray Noble, catcher
DET- Lorenzo Davis, utility infielder
CHC- Max Manning, right-handed pitcher