If Boston was new at winning pennants, to St. Louis it was something like old hat. The Cards had picked up two pennants in the 1920s (one Series championship), three in the 1930s (two championships), and three in the 1940s (winning two championships). But the team underwent changes in the aftermath of World War II, including losing former MVP Mort Cooper to the Braves along with his brother Walker to the Giants. Long time manager (and Hall of Famer) Billy Southworth was gone. In his place was rookie manager Eddie Dyer. He managed to get the team to a 96-58 record and a tie with Brooklyn for first place. In the best of three playoff format of the era, the Cards won the first two games (4-2 and 8-4) to claim the pennant and advance to the 1946 World Series.
The Cardinals infield consisted of Hall of Famer and 1946 MVP Stan Musial at first (he also played 42 games in the outfield). It was a fairly typical Musial year leading the National League in runs, hits, doubles, triples, batting average, slugging, total bases. Throughout their 1940s pennant run, St. Louis had burned through a series of second basemen with names like Creepy Crespi and Emil Verban. In 1946 they finally decided to move a new outfielder named Red Schoendienst into second base. It worked. He hit .281, stole 12 bases (tied for the team lead), scored 94 runs, and eventually made the Hall of Fame. Marty Marion held down shortstop. He had his usual solid season in the field leading the NL in defensive WAR (Baseball Reference.com version), assists, putouts, and double plays. Unfortunately, he hit only .233. At third, Whitey Kurowski hit .301 with 14 home runs, and 89 RBIs.
The outfield was in transition. Musial spent more time at first and center field stalwart Terry Moore became the fourth outfielder for much of the year (although by the World Series he was doing most of the center field work). Hall of Fame right fielder Enos Slaughter had a good year hitting .300 with 18 home runs (which led the team), and driving in 130 runs (which also led the team). Harry “the Hat” Walker (Dixie Walker’s brother) took over the bulk of the center field work but hit only .237 (he’d win a batting title later). It got him sent into something like a platoon situation in left field by the time the World Series came around. He also had 12 stolen bases to tie Schoendienst for the team lead. Erv Dusak played left field more often than anyone else, but hit only .240 with nine home runs. Joe Garagiola, who went on to fame as a broadcaster (he won a spot at the Hall of Fame as both a broadcaster and humanitarian) was a 20-year-old catcher. He hit .237 with neither power nor speed. Del Rice did a lot of the backup catching.
For much of their history, the Cardinals have produced a slew of pitchers who were very good for a short period of time, then faded for whatever reason. The 1946 staff was right inline with that tradition. With former ace Max Lanier in Mexico (and banned from the Major Leagues for five years), the Cards relied to two right handers: Johnny Beazley and Ken Burkhart. Both gave up more hits than they had innings pitched and had more walks than strikeouts. From the left side Harry Brecheen (the old man of the lot at 30) and Howie Pollet had ERA’s under 2.50 and had more strikeouts than walks. They also had more innings pitched than hits allowed. Both Murry Dickson and Al Brazle split time between starting and the bullpen with Ted Wilks and Red Barrett working mostly out of the bullpen.
All in all the team was not as formidable as the 1942 version (which some people still insist is the best ever Cardinals team) but was solid. The stretch run and playoffs against the Dodgers helped make the team more seasoned than the Red Sox (who coasted to victory). For the World Series, they would have home field.
Tags: Al Brazle, Billy Southworth, Del Rice, Eddie Dyer, Enos Slaughter, Erv Dusak, Harry Brecheen, Harry Walker, Howie Pollet, Joe Garagiola, Johnny Beazley, Ken Burkhart, Marty Marion, Mort Cooper, Murry Dickson, Red Barrett, Stan Musial Red Schoendienst, Ted Wilks, Terry Moore, Walker Cooper, Whitey Kurowski