The 1940’s
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The 1940’s

The majority of big-league players served in the military at some time during World War II, some serving only a year or two, others for the duration. Wartime baseball thus featured many players in their teens as well as many players in their late thirties or older. When the war ended most of the players returned (a few continued in the service through 1946), but baseball, like the rest of the world, had changed. For one thing, there was a second major league for the first time since 1892. When the All-America Baseball Conference opened its doors in 1946, the wide-spread availability of air travel allowed the upstart circuit to place teams in previously untapped markets such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Houston, Montreal, and Toronto, plus New York and Chicago. The AABC also aggressively pursued the stars of Negro League baseball, who had been effectively banned from the NBL since its inception. The NBL scurried to catch up, and was also fully integrated by Opening Day 1946, but the best African-American players had cast their lots with the upstarts, putting the AABC on a path to compete with the Senior Circuit at the box office and, within a few years, on the field.


1940

The Western Division experienced a good three-team race—won by Pittsburgh by five games over St. Louis and six over Chicago—while the Eastern Division’s two-team scuffle wasn’t decided until the final weekend, with Philadelphia edging New York by a game.

Winslow Beaver of Cincinnati won a second consecutive batting title, this time with a more modest average of .366, while John Oberg of Detroit repeated as the home run champion with 31; Mel Trench of Chicago won the RBI crown, knocking in 130. Pittsburgh’s Chuck Munson won the ERA title, posting a 2.48 mark, while Aart McDonald of Chicago topped the loop in victories with 23 and Toothbrush Terrigan of New York paced the circuit in strikeouts with 177.

The West broke a three-game losing streak in the All-Star Game, pounding the East 9-2 at Cincinnati.

Philadelphia’s Billy Garrett (18 HR, 119 RBI, .339) won the Most Valuable Player Award. Munson (23-8, 2.43, 162 K) was the unanimous choice for the Royal Ricketts Award.

Bill McGonagil of Boston passed Jason Wall to become the league’s all-time home run king. McGonagil hit 29 during the season to finish with 278, four more than Wall. 37 years-old but still productive, McGonagil would add to his total in the ensuing seasons.

Pittsburgh may have been hoping to get another shot at New York after being upset in the ’39 World Series, but this year their Fall Classic opponent would be the team from the other side of Pennsylvania. The Industrials shook off whatever initial disappointment might have resulted from that and took care of the Quakers in five games, led by lead-off man Larry Powers’ .429 average and seven runs scored. It was Pittsburgh’s seventh world championship.

Season statistics


1941

New York had the Eastern Division just about wrapped up by Memorial Day; after starting the season 0-2 the Knicks didn’t suffer their tenth loss until June 3rd, at which point they were 36-10. They wound up 115-43, 36 games ahead of Philadelphia. Chicago likewise had little difficulty winning the Western Division, finishing 108-50, 14 games in front of St. Louis.

Chicago’s Melbourne Trench won the batting Triple Crown, the second person in history to do so and the first since 1887. Trench hit .354 and drove in 143 runs, but his most celebrated accomplishment was his 39 home runs, a new single-season record. Unsurprisingly, he was the unanimous choice for the league’s Most Valuable Player Award. New York’s Bill Price was the ERA champion, posting a 1.78 mark, while teammate Toothbrush Terrigan paced the circuit in victories with 25. Pittsburgh’s Chuck Munson was the strikeout king with 184. The 36-year-old Terrigan (25-5, 2.18, 146 K) won the Royal Ricketts Award.

The West won the All-Star Game with an 8-0 shutout at New York, closing within one game (4-5) of the East in the all-time series.

Brock Rutherford announced his retirement after his 24th season in the league. Rutherford had set career marks in winning percentage (.751), shutouts (134), and strikeouts (4,387). His 544 wins were second only to Royal Ricketts, and his 1.91 career ERA ranked third all-time, just a hair behind Matthew Sullivan’s and Cookie Whaley’s 1.86. Rutherford pitched more innings in his career than Sullivan and Whaley combined.

Chicago had high hopes in the World Series after their strong season and indeed took Game One 5-4, but the Traders were just no match for a New York team that had led the league in runs scored and fewest runs allowed. The Knicks won the next four in a row to secure title number eleven.

Season statistics


1942

By Opening Day, 52 players who had been on 40-man rosters prior to America’s December 1941 entry in World War II had traded in their baseball uniforms for those of the soldier, sailor, or Marine. It was just the beginning; over 300 players who had or would later have big-league experience would serve their country before the war’s end in 1945.

President Roosevelt believed baseball was good for the country’s morale and encouraged the league to continue, so teams looked to the minor leagues and the amateur ranks to replace those who had joined the service.

The other notable replacement was the ball itself. The new ball was noticeably deader than the pre-war version, and home runs and batting averages began to drop. The league hit .250 in 1942, the lowest average since 1917.

In the face of all this change both New York and Chicago picked up from where they left off last season, the Knicks winning 113 games to finish 26 games ahead of Philadelphia and the Traders winning 101 to edge Pittsburgh by four.

Cincinnati’s Winslow Beaver hit .340 to win the batting title, while Melbourne Trench of Chicago repeated as the home run and RBI champ with 34 and 115 respectively. Chicago Rookie Joe Shannon made quite a debut, posting a league-low 1.02 ERA, the second-lowest single-season mark of all time, while tying Pittsburgh’s Chuck Munson for the strikeout title with 205.  Hugh Zipp of Philadelphia was the league’s top winner with 27 victories. The Quakers’ Alan Weston (25 HR, 101 RBI, .330) was the Most Valuable Player; Shannon, who went 26-7, won the Royal Ricketts Award.

The West won its third straight All-Star Game, 6-3. The divisions now had five wins apiece in the all-time series.

Chicago was an underdog in the World Series, but the series would not be a repeat of 1941; it was, instead, a mirror image of the previous Fall Classic. New York took Game One but the Traders stormed back to win the next four, bringing the championship to the Windy City for the first time since 1932. It was Chicago’s tenth title.

Season statistics


1943

The war continued to deplete the league’s rosters, and the teams continued to restock with minor league veterans and teenagers. New York seemed unfazed by the turmoil and racked up 98 wins to beat Philadelphia by five games to take a third consecutive Eastern Division title. Chicago’s quest to to duplicate the Knicks’ three-in-row feat met a strong challenge from St. Louis, and at season’s end the Traders found themselves one game short of their goal.

Pittsburgh’s Frank Patterson hit .333 to earn the batting championship, while his rookie teammate, 21-year-old Harry Osborn, won the home run title with 25. On the opposite end of the rookie spectrum was RBI champ Emil Nagel, who at the tender age of 35 took full advantage of his first big-league opportunity and knocked in 116 runs for Chicago. The Traders’ Joe Shannon won a second-consecutive ERA title with a 1.55 mark and also paced the loop in strikeouts with 194. Chuck Munson of Pittsburgh amassed a won-lost record that looked like a typo—33-2. When the league’s statisticians went back to the box scores to verify Munson’s unlikely-sounding ledger they found he had indeed become the first pitcher to win 30 games in a season since Brock Rutherford in 1926. His rare feat wasn’t enough to get his name etched onto the Royal Ricketts Award, however; Shannon was the unanimous choice. Hark Farley (9/88/.328) of Chicago, a 31-year-old rookie, won a close vote for Most Valuable Player.

The East snapped a three-game losing streak in the All-Star Game, winning 3-1 to take a 6-5 edge in the all-time series. It was the final East vs. West matchup. After the season the league voted to keep the the three-day break in the middle of the season but cancelled the inter-league exhibition for the duration of the war; as it turned out, the next All-Star game didn’t occur until after a second major league had entered the picture.

New York and St. Louis matched up in the World Series for the ninth time. The Explorers had won the last two meetings (1937-1938) but the Knicks took their cue from their 1920’s edition that won four championships over St. Louis in five years, eking out a hard-fought victory in seven games, their 12th title overall.

Season statistics


1944

New York was again the class of the league; the Knickerbockers won 101 games and proved conclusively that their old men and teenagers were better than anyone else’s old men and teenagers.  The Western Division was a donnybrook, as everyone but Pittsburgh spent time in first place or got very close to it. Chicago and Cleveland were tied going into their final games of the regular season, in which the Traders beat St. Louis and the Bobcats lost to Cincinnati. The final standings showed Chicago one game ahead of Cleveland, two ahead of Detroit, seven ahead of Cincinnati and nine ahead of St. Louis.

24-year-old Dave Currier of Brooklyn won the batting title in his first season in the league, hitting .334. Tom Dowding of St. Louis, a two-year NBL veteran at age 35, led the league in home runs with 26 and runs batted in with 98. Chicago’s Aart McDonald was one of four qualifying pitchers to post a sub-2.00 ERA; his 1.85 mark edged that of Chicago’s Albert English, who finished at 1.87. The strikeout title went to Brooklyn’s Doc Bertram, who fanned 161 (while simultaneously leading the league in losses with 18). McDonald was a near-unanimous choice for the Royal Ricketts Award, while New York’s 35-year-old first baseman Corky Leonard (25, 76, .323) swept the voting for Most Valuable Player.

Second baseman Gene Cummings hit .458 and drove in eight runs to lead New York to a World Series victory over Chicago in six games. It was the Knicks’ 13th world title.

Season statistics


1945

Television was just beginning to claim its ubiquitous spot in American living rooms, and the nation’s baseball fans were already getting sick of reruns. The final season of the WWII era produced a repeat Western Division Champion, a repeat Eastern Division champion, a repeat Most Valuable Player, a repeat Royal Ricketts Award winner, and a repeat league champion. Radical developments that would reshape the game were just around the corner, but few could have predicted them in 1945.

Neither division produced much of a race. Chicago finished nine games ahead of Cleveland, and New York finished 13 games ahead of Brooklyn. The batting title went to Babe Hall of St. Louis, who hit .345. Chuck Hayes of Brooklyn led the league in home runs with 18 and runs batted in with 93. A 20-year-old rookie, Rufe Hashman of Brooklyn, logged just enough innings (159.2) to qualify for the ERA crown, which he won with a stingy 1.35 mark. Chicago’s Aart McDonald was the top winner with 21 victories while Pittsburgh’s Chuck Munson won the strikeout title with 154. Corky Leonard (.320, 17, 80) of New York was the Most Valuable Player while McDonald (21-11, 1.75, 121 K) won the Royal Ricketts Award.

Chicago won the first game of the World Series but New York won the next four to earn the Knicks their third consecutive league crown and 14th overall.

The Hall of Fame inducted its inaugural class: pitchers Royal Ricketts and Matthew Sullivan; second baseman Tom Guthrie; third basemen Edmund Godfrey and Fennimore McCaffree; and shortstop Jason Wall.

Season statistics


1946

World War II ended in 1945 but the following year baseball had a war of its own. It was bloodless and mercifully short but hotly contested nevertheless. The long-established NBL was challenged by a new rival, the All-America Baseball Conference (AABC). The upstarts placed six teams in untapped markets on the West Coast, Texas, and Canada, plus Chicago and New York, and filled their rosters with NBL castoffs, minor leaguers, and most significantly, the top stars of the Negro Leagues.

Publicly, at least, the AABC considered itself not so much a challenger but a companion, proposing a revamped All-Star Game that pitted the stars of both leagues against one another and a postseason championship series for the “true” world title. The NBL initially scoffed at both suggestions, initiated lawsuits against the AABC’s Chicago and New York entries over territorial rights, and generally promoted the idea that the AABC was somewhere between a minor league and a criminal enterprise. The Senior Circuit did, however, follow the upstarts’ lead and begin to sign the best of the remaining Negro League players.

The All-Star Game never materialized this year, but with attendance booming in AABC parks, by August the established order began to recognize the commercial potential of an interleague championship series. The lawsuits were dropped and by early September both leagues announced a peaceful settlement and a NBL/AABC World Series to be played after each league’s championship was settled.

Both leagues featured one almost-down-to-the-wire race and one that was all but academic with a few weeks to go. Pittsburgh outlasted Cleveland in an NBL West race that went down to the final weekend while in the East Philadelphia blew past Brooklyn in June and never looked back. In the AABC New York edged Chicago by four games in the East while out West San Francisco went 100-60 to beat a competitive Seattle team by ten games.

Winslow Beaver of Cincinnati and Melbourne Trench “repeated” as batting champion and home run champion, respectively; they had won titles in their last seasons prior to military service. Beaver hit .326 and Trench hit 30 home runs. The RBI champion was Joe Campbell of Boston, who knocked in 111. Philadelphia’s Eddie Myers was the ERA champ with a 2.18 mark, while teammate Hugh Zipp paced the loop in victories with 27. Joe Shannon of Chicago led the league with 165 strikeouts.

In the AABC many of the former Negro League stars took the young circuit by storm, dominating the leaderboards. Paul Burke of San Francisco set a new record for ERA—a microscopic 0.79—but that wasn’t even his most head-shaking accomplishment. He also led the league in wins but it was his losses—or lack of them—that caused his ledger look like a typographical error: his final regular season record was 27-0. Percell Russell of Los Angeles was the league’s top strikeout artist, fanning 312, the most in a big-league campaign since 1903.  Robert Bolen of San Francisco carried a .400 average into his last at-bat of the campaign, but popped up and settled for a league-leading .399. Montreal’s Mitchell Decker set a big-league record for RBI with 144 and missed Trench’s single-season home run mark by two, finishing with 37.

Philadelphia dispatched Pittsburgh in five games to take the NBL pennant while New York took San Francisco to seven games (defeating Burke for the only time all year) before bowing to the Seagulls. The Quakers asserted the Senior Circuit’s dominance by defeating San Francisco four games to two in the first bi-coastal World Series.

In both leagues the postseason awards went to teammates on pennant winners. Burke (27-0, 0.79, 298 K) won the AABC’s Royal Ricketts Award; Bolen (.399, 22 HR, 118 RBI) took home the loop’s first Most Valuable Player trophy. Zipp (27-12, 2.28, 143 K) was the NBL Ricketts Award winner, while Billy Garrett (.305, 12 HR, 49 RBI) won the MVP award.

The Hall of Fame doubled its membership, inducting pitchers Clay Easton, Jacob Norwood, Brock Rutherford, and Eli Taylor; second baseman Doc Moore; and shortstop Jason Saal.

NBL Season statistics

AABC Season statistics

Weekly standings


1947

Good pennant races and a vibrant post-war economy combined to spur dramatic attendance gains throughout both leagues. The All-Star Game was revived, and 29,750 packed tiny Sam Houston Field to watch the NBL All-Stars shut out the AABC All-Stars 3-0.

Chicago fought off a fierce challenge from Cincinnati to win the NBL West by four games; New York flew by Philadelphia in mid-September to claim the NBL East. In the AABC the races were even tighter. Chicago, Montreal, and New York rotated as the front-runner in the East for most of the season until the Hawks faded in late September; the Empires beat the Habitants 4-2 in 10 innings on the final day of the season to win the flag by a game. In the West, Houston stayed close to San Francisco all year but finished two games back.

Montreal’s Mitchell Decker added a new record—most home runs in a single season—to his resume, blasting 43 to break Mel Trench’s six-year-old mark. He also led the Junior Circuit in RBI for the second year running with 133. San Francisco’s Robert Bolen repeated as the batting champion, hitting .382. Dave Currier of New York took the NBL batting title with a .329 clip, as Philadelphia’s Fred Crumley paced the loop with 35 home runs and New York’s Joe Costello drove in 138 to lead the Senior Circuit in RBI.

The pitching Triple Crown was achieved in both circuits. Chicago’s Joe Shannon posted a 1.93 ERA, 26 victories, and 157 strikeouts to pace the NBL, and New York’s Tom Green led the AABC with a 1.46 ERA, 26 wins, and 285 strikeouts. Paul Burke of San Francisco also won 26 games. Shannon and Green were easy Royal Ricketts Award choices; the Most Valuable Player awards went to Decker (43 HR/133 RBI/.336 AVG.) in the AABC and Cincinnati’s Bert Carter (32 HR/105 RBI/.323 AVG.) in the NBL.

The Traders shocked the Knicks in the NBL Championship Series, dispatching them in four straight, while the Empires knocked off the Seagulls in six in the AABC. The World Series was a thriller, won by Chicago in seven. Appropriately enough the two Triple Crown winners faced each other twice in the Fall Classic; Shannon won all three of his starts, throwing two shutouts including a 4-0 decision in Game Seven. It was Chicago’s 11th world title.

The Hall of Fame added pitchers George Stonge and Edgar Blaney, shortstop Arnold Church, catcher Monroe Jamison, and outfielder Mort Gardner.

NBL Season statistics

AABC Season statistics

Weekly standings