Posts Tagged ‘Chet Laabs’

A Dozen Things You Should Know About Chet Laabs

May 8, 2019

Chet Laabs

Here’s a quick look at 1930s and 1940s outfielder Chet Laabs:

1. Chester Peter Laabs was born 330 April 1912 in Milwaukee. His father ran a tavern.

2. At 15 he joined a semi-pro team in Milwaukee. In 1934 he joined the Milwaukee Brewers, a minor league team at the time. By 1936 he was a hot property and was sold to the Detroit Tigers.

3. The Tigers sent him back to Milwaukee and asked he be made into an outfielder (he’d played second base for most of the 1934 and 1935 seasons). His play helped the Brewers to the “Little World Series,” a series of games between the pennant winners of the International League and the American Association (the Brewers were AA champs) minor league teams. The Brewers won in five games.

4. In 1937 Laabs began play in the big leagues with Detroit. He hit .240 in 72 games with eight home runs and 31 runs scored.

5. In 1938, Chet Laabs was sent back to the minors (he was hitting .237). He returned to Detroit in 1939, but was traded early in the season to the St. Louis Browns. He hit .300 with 10 homers and 52 runs scored with St. Louis.

6. In July 1941 he set an American League record with 13 total bases in a regular season games (9 innings).

7. In 1942 he had 27 home runs, good for second in the American League behind Ted Williams.

8. By 1944 he was involved in a war work-ball playing situation. He worked in the day at a plant that built pipes for the war and played ball at nights and on weekends. He hit all of .234, but he hit two home runs on the last day of the season to clinch the Browns only American League pennant.

9. He hit .200 in the World Series with six strikeouts, a double, a triple, two walks, and he scored the last run the Browns ever scored in the Series in game six. The Browns lost to the Cardinals in six games.

10. He remained with the Browns through 1946, then played one last season for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1947. He retired with a triple slash line of 262/346/452/798, 813 hits, 467 runs scored, 117 home runs, 509 RBIs, and OPS+ of 113, and 10.8 WAR.

11. He played minor league ball through 1950, then worked for a Detroit paper and a trophy company.

12. Chet Laabs died of a heart attack in January 1983. He is buried in St. Clement cemetery in Center Line, Michigan.

Laabs grave from Find a Grave

Missouri Waltz: the 1944 World Series

June 24, 2013
MissHarry Truman in one of the most famous of all political pictures

Missouri’s favorite son, Harry Truman in one of the most famous of all political pictures

It was a heck of a year for Missouri. U.S. Senator Harry Truman from Independence was leading a major committee that was instrumental in helping the war effort. In baseball with both St. Louis teams winning Major League Baseball pennants, the World Series would be an all-St. Louis affair in 1944. All games would be played in town with the Cardinals being the home team in games one, two, six, and seven. The Browns got games three, four, and five. All games were played in Sportsman’s Park, a stadium the two teams shared. The Cards were big favorites.

With the Browns having needed the last day of the season to clinch the pennant, they sent Denny Galehouse to the mound. Galehouse was 9-10 over 24 games (19 starts) over the season. With Chet Laabs back from war work, they were also able to start the man who was supposed to be their regular left fielder. The Cards countered with their regular lineup and ace Mort Cooper (22-7 over 34 games). After three scoreless innings, the Browns got to Cooper when, with two outs, Gene Moore singled and George McQuinn hit a two-run home run. They were the only two hits Cooper gave up. The scored held into the bottom of the ninth when Marty Marion doubled, went to third on a ground out then came home on Ken O’Dea’s sacrifice fly. Galehouse then got Johnny Hopp to fly to center to end the game. The underdog Browns were up 1-0.

That lasted exactly one day. The second game saw the Browns send Nels Potter to the mound to oppose Max Lanier. The Cards scored first in the bottom of the third on an Emil Verban single, a Lanier bunt that Potter threw away, sending Verban to third. Augie Bergamo then grounded out to second scoring Verban. The Cards added another run in the fourth when Ray Sanders singled, went to second on another single, took third on an error by the third baseman (Mark Christman), then scored on a sacrifice fly by Verban. The Browns tied the game in the seventh when Moore singled, scored on a double by Red Hayworth, and Frank Mancuso (pinch-hitting for Potter) singled to score Hayworth. That completed the scoring through the ninth. The game went eleven innings and ended when Sanders singled, went to second on a bunt, and came home on O’Dea’s single.  Reliever Blix Donnelly got the win and fellow reliever Bob Muncrief took the loss.

Game three saw the Browns take over as home team. With no need to travel, the game was played the next day. The Cards started Ted Wilks while the Browns answered with ace Jack Kramer. The Cardinals got an early run in the first when, with one out, Hopp reached second on an error by shortstop Vern Stephens, then after another out, scored on a single by Walker Cooper. The run held up into the third when the Browns exploded for the Series’ first big inning. Moore and Stephens both singled, then consecutive singles by McQuinn, Al Zarilla, and Christman plated three runs. After an intentional walk and a wild pitch to hurler Kramer, Zarilla scored the fourth run. After the Cards tacked on an unearned run in the top of the seventh, the Browns responded with two more runs to win 6-2. Kramer got the win with a complete game and Wilks the loss pitching only 2.2 innings. After three games, the underdog Browns were actually ahead 2 games to 1.

Game four was played on Saturday 7 October. The Cards sent Harry Breechen to the mound to oppose Sig Jakucki. With one out in the top of the first, Stan Musial popped a home run scoring himself and Hopp to put the Cardinals ahead. It was all Breechen needed. He gave up nine hits, walked four, struck out the same number, but only allowed a single run (in the eighth on a double play ball), while his teammates tacked on three more runs, two in the third on a couple of singles and an error, and one more in the sixth on a Marion double. The game tied the Series at 2 each, turning the playoff into a best of three.

Game five on Sunday saw a repeat of the game one matchup. This time the results were different. Galehouse gave up single runs in the sixth (a Sanders home run) and eighth (a Danny Litwhiler home run), while Mort Cooper threw a complete game shutout on seven hits and two walks while striking out 12.

That brought the World Series to game six, a Lanier, Potter rematch. It also sent the Cardinals to the home dugout. The Browns broke on top in the second with a Laabs triple followed by a McQuinn single. The run held up into the bottom of the fourth. With one out, Walker Cooper walked, went to third on a Sanders single, and scored to tie the game when Stephens threw away a grounder from Whitey Kurowski. After a second out, Verban and Lanier both singled to drive in two more runs and put the Cards up 3-1 with five innings left. Lanier got through the fifth, ran into trouble in the sixth, and was lifted for Wilks, who got out of a base runners at second and third situation without a run scoring. Wilks set the Browns down in order in both the seventh and eighth. In the ninth, McQuinn fouled out, pinch hitter Milt Byrnes struck out, and a second pinch hitter, Mike Chartak also struck out to end the game, the Series, and the Browns postseason experience. The Cardinals had won in six games.

It was a good, but not great Series. For the Browns there were lots of reasons they lost. They had 10 errors, at least one in every game but game one (by contrast, the Cards had one total error). They led to seven unearned runs (the Cards scored 16 total runs). Among starting hitters only McQuinn hit above .250 (he hit .438 and had the only Browns home run). As a team they hit a buck eighty-three. The pitchers (other than Jakucki who was  shelled) did well. The team ERA was 1.49 and the staff struck out 43 while walking only 19 and giving up 49 hits.

But the Cardinals staff was as good. Their ERA was higher at 1.96, and they walked 23, but they struck out 49 and allowed only 36 hits. There was no real hitting star for the Cards. Five men had two RBIs, no one had more. Verban hit .412, but both Musial and Walker Cooper were over .300 and Sanders hit in the .280s. There were three home runs, all by different players (Musial, Litwhiler, and Sanders), and Verban, Walker Cooper, and Musial all led the team with seven hits. It was a true team effort.

For the Cardinals it was the third in a series of four pennants in five years. So there was one more opportunity (1946) for the Redbirds, but for the Browns it was the high point of their existence. It was the only time they would win a pennant (until after they moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles). For St. Louis it was the city’s greatest baseball season. And for Missouri it was also a good year. That Senator from Independence named Truman went on to be elected Vice President of the United States and became President the next year.

“The Greatest Day of My Life”

March 21, 2012

Chet Laabs, a Browns stalwart

I actually knew a St. Louis Browns fan. My wife’s grandfather was born in the 1890s in the St. Louis area. He was just reaching an age when sports becomes important to a kid when the American League dropped a team in St. Louis to rival the Cardinals. He told me he became a Browns fan because they were new, and because he knew the Cardinals were terrible at the time. Unfortunately for him, the Cards got better and the Browns were traditionally awful. But in 1944 they won a pennant. The day they clinched the title he call “the greatest day of my life.” Then he looked around sheepishly to make sure no one else, especially his wife, had heard that claim. I made a promise that I would never tell either his wife or his daughter (my mother-in-law) he said that.

From the beginning the Browns were bad. They finished second in 1902 (OK, they weren’t bad the first season, but just wait), which is apparently what caught the attention of my wife’s grandfather. It was downhill from there. In 1908 they got back to the first division (4th), then stayed in the second division until 1920. They had decent runs in the 1920s, finishing as high as second (1922), third in 1921, 25, and 28. They finally found a handful of quality players. George Sisler was at first, hit .400, stole some bases, had no power. Ken Williams, Baby Doll Jacobson (they don’t make nicknames like that anymore, do they?), and Jack Tobin patrolled the outfield, and Urban Shocker was a better than average pitcher who went on to play for the 1927 Yankees.

It didn’t last. The 1930s were dismal. They finished as high as fifth once and the best they could do for an All Star was Harland Clift, a good ballplayer, but not a true star. Things got better in the 1940s. They finished third in 1942, the first war year, then won their first (and only) American League pennant in 1944. That year produced the above mentioned “greatest day of my life” moment for my wife’s grandfather. So in his honor, let’s take a moment and celebrate the stars of the only Browns pennant winner. The catcher was Red Hayworth, who hit .222 with an OPS just barely over .500. The infield consisted of  (from first around to third) George McQuinn, Don Gutteridge, Vern Stephens, and Mark Christman. If you’re lucky, you’ve probably heard of Stephens; and if so, it’s probably in conjunction with his stint with the Red Sox. The outfield had Gene Moore, Mike Kreevich, and Milt Byrnes. Chet Laabs was supposed to be the regular left fielder, but was off at war work for much of the season. He got back in time to play in the Series. The staff consisted of such household names as Denny Galehouse, Jack Kramer, Sig Jakucki, Bob Muncrief, and Nels Potter. All were right-handed and none went on to greatness. The main man off the bench was Al Zarilla, of “Zarilla slud into third” fame.  They lost to the Cardinals in six games.

“Zarilla slud into third” is a good way to look at the problem of the Browns. Their most famous member was up in the broadcast booth. Dizzy Dean became the Browns radio announcer and his mangling of the English language, but obvious baseball knowledge, made him a national figure. It’s tough to take the team seriously when the announcer is their most famous member. And for those interested, Dean pitched his last game, a four inning affair in 1947, with the Browns. It gave him 10 years in the Majors and a ticket to Cooperstown.

The 1944 season was the highlight for the Browns. By 1945 they slid back to third, despite getting 77 games out of Pete Gray (whose story is worthy of telling sometime). By 1946 they were seventh, moved to sixth in ’47, then never finished above seventh the rest of their time in St. Louis. Meanwhile the Cardinals were becoming among the best teams in baseball, and attendance, never very good, was falling at Browns games. In 1947 they brought Hank Thompson to the big leagues, becoming the third team to integrate. Thompson was a poor choice, the first ex-Negro Leaguer to be a failure, and the Browns were unable to profit from their foray into black baseball.

By the end of the 1953 season the Browns were in terrible shape. But in 1953 the Boston Braves had taken a flier and moved to Milwaukee. It worked. Their attendance was up, they went from seventh to second in the National League. Browns ownership decided to move. They picked Baltimore, jettisoned the Browns name and became the Orioles. Although they did well in attendance, the team was still miserable. By 1960 they were climbing up the standings, culminating in an initial World Series victory in 1966, giving them something that St. Louis never saw, a Browns winner.

And my wife’s grandfather? Well, he continued to follow the Browns after they moved to Baltimore. He told me he liked a number of the players and stayed with the team until those retired or were traded. By 1966, although gratified that the Orioles won, he’d switched his allegiance to the Cardinals, a team he remained loyal to until his death. And I kept my promise and never told either his wife or his daughter about his “greatest day.”