1945, the end of a war, the initiation of a hex, and a misunderstood star
1945, as baseball enthusiasts will remind you, was the last year that the Chicago Cubs appeared in the World Series, losing to the Tigers in a seven game Fall Classic. Baseball lore runs through the 1945 season, as the Year of the billy-goat curse, famously begun when the Cubs refused admittance to a Series game to Billy Sianis and his pet goat.
The goat, named Murphy, was somewhat of a mascot for the team thay season, a good luck charm as it was, and the namesake for Sianis' "Billy Goat Tavern" in Chicago, made even more famous by John Belushi and Bill Murray and their "Cheeburger, Cheeburger" sketches on Saturday Night Live in the mid-seventies.
As a part of the oral tradition of the game, this story gets re-hashed every few years, but the fact is, they were good enough in 1945 to make it to the Series, and to take the Series to seven games.
True, the franchise does appear to be snake-bitten since, when you look at the black cat in 1969, the non-fan interference in 2003, and the principle that held true for forty years, where the adage was a team with 2 or more ex-Cubs could never win a World Series, oral tradition and fate have not been kind to the Cubbies.
The Cubs were able to acquire pitcher Hank Borowy from the Yankees in mid-season. The former Fordham University Ram had won 56 games for the Bronx Bombers in 3 and a half years, but the Yanks let him go to the
for a very handsome $96,000 purchase
price. Second City
Borowy went 11-2 for the Cubs helping propel them past the Cardinals by 3 games at the end of the season. Between Borowy, Claude Passeau and Phil Cavaretta (the league's MVP), the Cubs won 98 games that year.
Over in the American league, the war effort was still having an impact on the pennant races. The Tigers benefitted from the conclusion of Hank Greenburg's service. The first baseman hit in 78 games upon his return from the campaign in
Europe, and helped Hal Newhouser and the
rest of the Tigers to an 88 win season, besting the Washington Senators by a
game and a half.
The Cubs won 2 of the 3 games played at
Briggs Stadium, including Hank Borowy's 9-0 victory in Game 1 over MVP Hal
Newhouser, and Claude Passeau's one-hit complete game shutout over Stubby
Overmire in Game 3.
The Tigers won 3 of the next 4 played at Wrigley Field, Newhouser besting Borowy in games 5 and 7.
There were many sportswriters at the time that consider this Series one of the worst ever played, owing to the lack of true star power because of the war effort. Hank Greenburg hit the only 2 homers for the Tigers in the Series.
In an interesting piece of trivia, Hank Borowy is the last pitcher to win a World Series game for the Cubs, getting the win in a twelve inning Game 6, at Wrigley.
So in analyzing the regular season performances, the overall pitching rankings, which coincide in rankings to their performance compared to the rest of the league were:
Hal Newhouser DET Harry Brecheen STL
Roger Wolff WAS Hank Wyse CHI
Dutch Leonard WAS Red Barrett STL
Steve Gromek CLE Claude Passeau CHI
Al Benton DET Nick Strincevich PIT
(For comparison, Borowy in 15 games with the Cubs, would be at the top of the NL list)
And in comparing against the rest of their team, the rankings are:
Boo Ferriss BOS Bucky Walters CIN
Russ Christopher PHI Andy Karl PHI
Hal Newhouser DET Nick Strincevich PIT
Steve Gromek CLE Harry Brecheen STL
(Borowy would place third in the NL if he qualified)
And finally combining the league and team performances, the total number rankings for the pitchers are:
Hal Newhouser DET Harry Brecheen STL
Roger Wolff WAS Bucky Walters CIN
Boo Ferriss BOS Nick Strincevich PIT
Steve Gromek CLE Red Barrett STL
(Borowy would place first in the NL, with the highest overall score. He finished 11-2 with a 2.13 ERA with the Cubs.
Looking at the offensive side of the numbers, the overall numbers, and league numbers also match, so the rankings are as follows:
Tommy Holmes BOS Etten NY
Phil Cavaretta CHI Stirnweiss NY
Roy Cullenbine DET Dixie
Jeff Heath CLE Luis Olmo BKL
Vern Stephens STL Augie Galan BKL
(Hank Greenburg would have placed 1st in the
if he had enough qualifying at bats)
And versus their team's average:
Jeff Heath CLE Frank McCormick CIN
Vern Stephens STL Dain Clay CIN
Roy Cullenbine DET Al Libke CIN
Bobby Estalella PHI Eddie Miller CIN
Lou Boudreau CLE Steve Mesner CIN
(Greenburg would place first on this list as well)
And the final combination numbers are:
Jeff Heath CLE Tommy Holmes BOS
Roy Cullenbine DET Phil Cavaretta CHI
Vern Stephens STL Frank McCormick CIN
Etten NY Dixie Walker BKL
Whitey Kurowski STL Stirnweiss NY
(And Greenburg would be the top in the
The abundance of Reds on the offensive side plays out, since the Reds had the second most potent offense, and the second worse pitching staff in the league.
So, combining the overall rankings into one, with pitchers and hitters together, this is the way a theoretical vote for post season honors would be from me...
Hal Newhouser DET Tommy Holmes BOS
Jeff Heath CLE Phil Cavaretta CHI
Roy Cullenbine DET Harry Brecheen STL
Vern Stephens STL Bucky Walters CIN
Boo Ferriss BOS Frank McCormick CIN
Newhouser was the AL MVP, going 25-9 with a 1.81 ERA in 313 1/3 innings. He got a decision on 34 of the 40 games he pitched in, 36 starts in all, with 29 complete games.
Phil Cavaretta was the NL MVP had a slash line of 6/97/.355 with 94 runs scored. Tommy Holmes finished with a 28/117/.352 and 125 runs scored, for a Boston Braves team that finished in seventh place.
Cavaretta was responsible for creating 1.40 runs per game, while Holmes was at 1.39. Dixie Walker led the league with a 1.42 runs created per game. Cavaretta won the award, but I would have given Holmes the nod. Of course, it's 70 years worth of 20/20 hindsight makes it easy to say, and I have tried my best to prove it.
The misunderstood star referenced in the title concerns Canadian Jeff Heath, of the Cleveland Indians. Heath's slash lines were 15/61/.305 with 60 runs in 103 games played. This is the second reference to Mr. Heath made in this blog, as he had a underrated year in 1941 as well, far overshadowed by Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. His production was hampered by a holdout until early June.
Misunderstood inasmuch as he was blamed for the Indian team 'uprising' in 1940, his second full season in the major leagues. In 1939, his rookie season, he went 12/112/.343 with 104 runs scored, one of the more impressive debuts of that era. His production dropped in 1940, following his first holdout, he rebounded in 1941 to hit 24/120/.340 with 89 runs scored. In fact, he was the first American League player to hit 20 or more doubles, triples and home runs in the same season that year.
He was by accounts moody, and quirky, and prone to bursts of violent temper. He had the markings of a Hall of Famer early in his career, but wasn't able to provide the consistency that would keep him in the upper echelon of the baseball elites.
He rebounded (and matured) in 1948 when at age 33, he hit 20/76/.319 and almost made it to the World Series that year, only to badly break his ankle during the last week of the season.
He retired with a very respectable .293 batting average, with 194 career homers.
But oh, what might have been.