Posts Tagged ‘Harry Breechen’

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.

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Missouri Waltz: the 1944 Cardinals

June 18, 2013
Johnny Hopp and Stan Musial

Johnny Hopp and Stan Musial

The 1944 season was completely different. Many quality players were off to war. A lot of diamond geezers were suddenly young again. A whole bunch of never-was types were playing in the Major Leagues. And the World Series came to St. Louis and stayed. For the only time prior to 1974, both pennant winners were from west of the Mississippi River. To top it off, Senator Harry S Truman of Missouri was nominated and later elected Vice President of the United States. It was quite a year for Missouri.

The Cardinals were returning National League champions having won pennants in both 1942 and 1943 (and picking up the win in the 1942 World Series). So they were expected to contend for a third consecutive pennant. Manager Billy Southworth’s team was much the same team that had swept to victory the two previous seasons. But there were changes that impacted the team. On the staff, Mort Cooper was still the ace and Max Lanier remained the number two man, but the remainder of the staff underwent significant overhaul. Harry Breechen went from 13 to 22 starts and settled in as the second lefty (behind Lanier) while rookie Ted Wilks led the NL in winning percentage.

Mort Cooper’s brother Walker was the regular catcher. His batting average dropped a couple of points, and his RBIs dropped by 10, but he went from nine to thirteen homers and saw his OPS+ jump to 136 (third on the team). In the field he managed to cut down on both his errors and passed balls. He was never going to be the best catcher of his era, but he was improving.

The infield was much the same. Ray Sanders held down first both seasons, Whitey Kurowski was at third, and Marty Marion (who would win the 1944 National League MVP) was at short. Both Sanders and Kurowski had double figure home runs (12 and 20) with Kurowski leading the team. There was a new second baseman. Second was a problem for the Cards through the entire first half of the 1940s with only Creepy Crespi spending more than one season (he got two) as the primary second sacker. The 1944 version featured Emil Verban. he managed to hit in the .270s for his career but had only one homer ever (and it wasn’t in 1944). He was a decent middle infielder but hit eighth for a  reason. The Cards would finally solve the problem when they brought up Red Schoendienst in 1945 and installed him at second the next year.

The outfield, unlike the infield, had seen great turnover. Gone to war were veteran center fielder (and one of the great undervalued Cardinals) Terry Moore and Hall of Fame right fielder Enos Slaughter. In their place were Danny Litwhiler in right. He’d replaced Slaughter in 1943 and hung around the next season. He was second on the team with 15 home runs. The new center fielder was Johnny Hopp. Hopp had been around St. Louis since 1939 splitting time between first and the outfield. He was fast (leading the team with 15 stolen bases) and a capable fielder. So although both were relatively new as starters, they’d been around the team for a while. Of course the other outfielder was Stan Musial. He hit .347, had an OPS of .990 (OPS+ of 174–the team high), and had 12 home runs to go with 14 triples and 197 hits.

During the war years, benches tended to suffer. The Cardinals bench was, at best, indifferent. Backup catcher Ken O’Dea was 31 and hit .249. Debs Garms was 37, did much of the backup work in the outfield and at third and hit all of .201. Pepper Martin, out of retirement, was even older. At 40 he got into 40 games and hit .279 and ended up with an OPS+ of 118 one point higher than the other backup outfielder, Augie Bergamo.

The Cards won 105 games, the same as the year before, finishing 14.5 games ahead of Pittsburgh. As mentioned above, Marion brought home the MVP with Musial finishing fourth and the Cooper brothers finishing eighth (Walker) and ninth (Mort). Sanders, Hopp, Wilks, and Kurowski also picked up a handful of MVP votes.

They would go into the World Series heavily favored. Not only were they defending NL champions, but their opponent had never won a pennant before. They were going to face their crosstown rival Browns.