I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time detailing the players and the one playoff game that composed the three-year period that was the 1948-1950 Boston Red Sox. They finished second twice (’48 and ’49) then slipped to third in 1950. Look over the roster (including the manager) and you can’t help but wonder why they never took a pennant. This is a musing on some of the things that went wrong for the team.
The easiest, and most obvious, answer to what went wrong is that the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians were formidable teams also. New York won both the pennant and the World Series in 1949 and repeated again in 1950. Consider some of the names on the Yankees roster: Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Yogi Berra, Johnny Mize, Allie Reynolds, and in 1950 Whitey Ford. Earlier in 1948 it was Cleveland that took both the pennant and the World Series title. And now consider some of the names on the Indians roster: Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Joe Gordon, Lou Boudreau, Larry Doby, Ken Keltner. In ’48 the Red Sox had a winning record against every team except one (they were 14-8 against the Yanks): Cleveland. They finished the season 11-11 against Cleveland, then lost the one game playoff described below. For what it’s worth, Cleveland had a winning record against everyone except Boston and New York (10-12), but did better against the second division teams. In both 1949 and 1950 the Red Sox couldn’t beat the Yankees. In 1949 they finished one game back of New York but went 9-13 in head-to-head games. They also had a losing season against Cleveland (8-14). New York, on the other hand had a winning record against every team except Detroit, a team they played .500 ball against (11-11). In 1950 both Cleveland and New York handled the Red Sox, and this time Detroit joined the crowd with a 12-10 record against Boston.
In 1950 there was another problem in Boston. Ted Williams was hurt for much of the season (an elbow) and his replacement, Clyde Vollmer, was OK, but he wasn’t Ted Williams. The Bosox slipped to third in 1950.
Additionally, a look at the team statistics shows that the Red Sox pitching wasn’t all that great. Although the hitting consistently finished in the top two or three in most categories the hurlers tended to finish just slightly lower (3 to 4 in an 8 team league). It’s not that an individual pitcher, like a Mel Parnell, wasn’t good, but the overall quality of the staff didn’t hold up to Cleveland (Bob Feller and Bob Lemon) or to the Yanks. In 1949 Parnell finished second on the team (to Williams–who else?) in WAR and in 1950 he actually led the team (remember Williams was hurt). But the staff had a bad habit of putting a lot of men on base and too many of those men scored. In all three years an inordinate number of pitchers allowed more hits than they had innings pitched and walked more men than they struck out. Those aren’t recipes for winning pennants (especially if Cleveland has guys like Feller and Lemon).
It’s tough not to like this team. It was a genuinely terrific team, but at the same time you almost can’t help but feel sorry for it. It should have won more and it’s kind of a shame it didn’t.