1943 World Series

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1943 press passes

As I posted over the weekend, I’m beginning a new series looking at every World Series starting with 1943. I promise future posts won’t be nearly this long. I’m going to try and vary my approach to these posts too – sometimes focusing on stats, other times stories, other times focusing on specific players.

I figured out the reason for MLB Films beginning in 1943. It was the first year they ever did a World Series highlight film, and thus the first footage that was comprehensive enough to tell the story well enough visually.

1943 World SeriesThe film was made for those fighting overseas during World War II so they wouldn’t miss the Fall Classic. Babe Ruth, 8 years into retirement, opened the highlight reel with a speech thanking the men and women for their service. This was especially important since many professional ballplayers from both teams were in active duty and not on the ball field.*

* – This year also marked the launch of the All American Girls Baseball League. In an effort to keep baseball alive in a time when so many stars were off at war. This 1943 season is told loosely in the film, A League of Their Own, which popularized the classic Tom Hanks line, “There’s no crying in baseball!”

The 1943 World Series featured the Cardinals and the Yankees – a rematch of the 1942 Series that the Cardinals won in 5 games – but because of so many players entering the military during the 1943 season, the rosters looked very different than the year before.

Take a look; players in italics left for the military before or during the ’43 season, and players with asterisks were their replacements.

Yankee Position Players – 1942/1943

C – Bill Dickey/Bill Dickey
1B – Buddy Hassett/Nick Etten*
2B – Joe Gordon/Joe Gordon
SS – Phil Rizzuto/Frankie Crosetti
3B – Frankie Crosetti/Billy Johnson*
OF – Charlie Keller/Charlie Keller
OF – Joe Dimaggio/Johnny Lindell*
OF – Tommy Henrich/Bud Metheny*

Cardinals Position Players – 1942/1943

C – Walker Cooper/Walker Cooper
1B – Johnny Hopp/Ray Sanders
2B – Jimmy Brown/Lou Klein*
SS – Marty Marion/Marty Marion
3B – Whitey Kurowski/Whitey Kurowski
OF – Stan Musial/Stan Musial
OF – Enos Slaughter/Harry Walker*
OF – Terry Moore/Danny Litwhiler*

The Yankees had 4 position players leave for the military, while the Cardinals had 3.* So New York, at a glance, lost way more than St. Louis to the war. So how did they both make it back here to defend their pennants?

* – I chose not to include Cardinals’ 2B, Creepy Crespi, who technically started the most games (93) there in 1942, but Jimmy Brown started more games overall as a utility infielder playing 145 games between 2B (82), 3B (66), & SS (12). Plus, Crespi’s 1942 WAR was -0.2, so technically the Cardinals gained something when Crespi left. Crespi would go on to break his leg playing a pickup game on an Army base, then would break it again in a wheelchair race, and later a nurse would accidentally administered 100 times the correct amount of boric acid to his injury leaving him with severe burns and a permanent limp. 

Well, first, it should be noted that every team lost players to the war, and not just the two defending pennant winners. But this is about the World Series and not the regular season. But in order to set up the Fall Classic, let’s quickly look at the comparative WAR between the starters in 1942 and their replacements during the 1943 season.

1942 Yankees: 15.9 WAR
Joe DiMaggio (5.7), Phil Rizzuto (5.7), Tommy Henrich (2.7), Buddy Hassett (1.4)
1943 Yankees: 8.0 WAR
Billy Johnson (3.8), Nick Etten (2.4), Johnny Lindell (1.0), Bud Metheny (0.8)

NYY Difference: -7.9 WAR

1942 Cardinals: 9.9 WAR
Enos Slaughter (6.2), Terry Moore (2.6), Jimmy Brown (1.1)
1943 Cardinals: 10.2 WAR
Lou Klein (5.8), Harry Walker (1.8), Danny Litwhiler (1.5)

STL Difference: -0.8 WAR

So while the Yankees, coming off their World Series loss, fielded a team with -7.9 WAR than the previous year, the Cardinals, coming off their World Series win, amazingly enough, fielded a nearly identically talented team in 1943 after shipping 3 of their starters overseas. They decreased by less than 1.0 WAR.

How did the Cardinals manage to maintain their level of production, and how did the Yankees overcome such massive losses?

For St. Louis, the answer is obvious: Stan Musial won his first MVP in 1943 and contributed more than enough to lead the Cardinals back to the World Series. His 9.4 WAR led the entire MLB.

The other major contributor was rookie Lou Klein. Klein, in his only worthwhile statistical year, played every single inning at 2B, and nearly matched Enos Slaughter’s WAR from the year before. Klein left for military duty in 1944, and came back playing second fiddle to future Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst.

Game1ofthe1943WorldSeries
Flyover prior to Game 1 at Yankee Stadium.

So here’s the real question: How did the Yankees lose such major pieces of their team and make a return to the World Series?

The answer: Spud Chandler, AL MVP.

Spud had one of the most historical pitching seasons in the history of baseball. In 30 starts, Chandler went 20-4 for the best Win & mark in baseball that year. He threw 20 complete games and his 1.68 ERA was the lowest of any starting pitcher between 1920 and 1967, and is still the Yankee record. His .992 WHIP was the lowest in 1943, and the only sub-1.000 of any pitcher that season.

So this series featured the face-off of the two league MVPs – Musial and Chandler – who had risen to the occasion and carried their teams back to the World Series for a rematch.  The Cardinals looking to defend and the Yankees looking to reclaim. And while the names on the front of the jerseys were the same, the names on the back were drastically different (that is, if they’d had names on their backs).

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Game 1

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Spud Chandler, Yankees Game 1 starting pitcher.

The Yankees sent Spud Chandler out to pitch Game 1, and the Cardinals countered with lefty Max Lanier.The Cardinals had home field advantage in 1943, but due to the costs of war, it was decided that the teams should play the away games first in New York and then finish with 4 straight games in St. Louis. The Yankees crowd was astonishingly huge in all 3 games in New York, averaging around 69,000 fans each game.

In the early innings, both teams tried their best to manufacture runs. A lot has been written about bunting in recent years. Today, sabermetrics suggest two things that make bunting a poor decision:

1. Outs are too precious to just give away for free. Even if it advances a runner, your team only gets 27 outs, so you’d be more likely to score more in the long run by just swinging away.

2. Odds are better that a run will score with a man on 1st and 0 outs than with a man on 2nd and 1 out. Typically, managers will simply intentionally walk the next batter anyway, and set up the double play scenario. Statistically, it doesn’t help much.*

* – However, I still believe strongly in the bunt in certain situations. Unlike some of my peers, I haven’t written off bunting entirely. Late innings. No outs. One run or tie game. Strikeout pitcher on the mound. Putting the ball in play is infinitely better than a strikeout. But never NEVER bunt a guy to second when your best hope is on deck. Automatic IBB.

However, this is not 2014. This was 1943, and bunting was extremely popular in those days. And if this World Series is any example, the fielding wasn’t nearly as good those days either (the teams combined for 15 errors over the 5 games of this Series), so maybe the advantage was greater simply to put the ball in play.

All that to say, both teams succeeded in plating their first run thanks to advancing the runner with a bunt. After Cardinals catcher Walker Cooper singled in the 2nd inning, Whitey Kurowski sacrificed him over to 2B with a bunt and he eventually scored on a Marty Marion double.

The Yankees’ SS, Frankie Crosetti, reached on an infield error by the pitcher in the 4th, stole second, and then Billy Johnson bunted for a single to set up 1st and 3rd with no outs. Charlie Keller hit into a double play, but Crosetti scored making it 1-1.

Then Joe Gordon hit a 420 foot bomb to make it 2-1. Which, after all the small ball the teams had played up until that point, makes a HR seem way too easy.

Gordon would give the Cardinals the run right back in the next half inning though after a poor throw let Sanders advance to 2B to start off the 5th. Sanders came around to score tying it back up at 2-2.

The Yankees next two runs would come thanks to a screwy play. After lacing together two leadoff singles, and with 1 out, a pitch from Lanier popped up off the front of the plate. Cooper, throwing off the mask and looking around frantically, had no idea where it was (it was sitting about 5 feet behind him on the grass). He searched long enough for the baserunners to advance two bags, scoring 1, the other coming across on a shallow fly to CF two batters later.

Even though both runs were considered earned to Lanier after the wild pitch, they were sloppier than they appear in the box score.

This game (and entire series) was a pitchers duel, but poor fielding led to a 4-2 finish in Game 1. Chandler went the distance, spreading out 7 hits over the complete game. Lanier pitched well too, but he was responsible for both errors.

Game 2

The Cardinals sent out Mort Cooper to start Game 2 in New York. Mort Cooper was the older brother of Cardinals catcher Walker Cooper, and the pitcher-catcher duo played together in St. Louis from 1940-1945.

Just hours before the beginning of Game 2, the Brothers received news that their father, Robert, had died. Suddenly, Mort was pitching to honor his father and his mentor.

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Cardinals’ Game 2 starter, Mort Cooper (right) and his brother and catcher Walker.

The Cooper brothers were from Atherton, MO, just East of Kansas City near Independence. Had this been the 70’s, the Cooper Bros. might have been Royals instead, but white baseball* wouldn’t be in Kansas City until Connie Mack moved the Philadelphia Athletics in 1955.

* – Of course, the Monarchs of the Negro Leagues were huge in KC from 1920-1965. Two years later, in 1945, Jackie Robinson would come back from the war and become a Monarch.

Ernest Edward Bonham, better known as Tiny, was on the mound for the Yankees, but the Cardinals offense came out strong. A solo homer from Marion in the 3rd that barely cleared the 301′ sign in LF put the Cards up early again. Unlike Game 1, this time they were able to increase their lead by posting 3 runs the next inning anchored by a 2-run homer by Sanders.

Mort Cooper was brilliant until the bottom of the 9th when he got into some trouble. Johnson doubled. Keller tripled. The next batter, Bill Dickey, lined a shot right at Lou Klein at second base. Who knows what the damage would have been had that screamer found grass. Instead, it was just a loud out.

Nick Etten grounded out to Klein to make the second out, but Keller scored from third to make it 4-3. And with 2 outs and nobody on, Gordon came to the plate.

And he popped out unceremoniously to the catcher in foul territory to end the game.

Mort Cooper threw a complete game giving up 3 runs on 6 hits, most coming in the final inning.

Game 3

The final game in Yankee Stadium of 1943 hosted a record crowd of 69,900 fans. The tie series put significant pressure on both teams to take Game 3 and head to St. Louis up 2-1.

The Cardinals had a big 2nd inning. Leadoff single from Stan the Man*, double by Kurowski, and an intentional walk to Sanders juiced the bases with 1 out. Litwhiler singled, plating Musial and Kurowski. Another intentional walk, this time to Marion, loaded the bases again for pitcher, Al Brazie, who fouled out to 1B. Lou Klein then grounded out to end the inning. The Yankees dodged some major damage,

* – Musial wasn’t much of The Man in his 4 World Series appearances, only batting .256/.347/.395 with 4 RBI in 99 plate appearances.

The Cardinals seemed on their way to taking a Series lead back home until the bottom of the 8th. With the score 2-1, suddenly Brazie got into some trouble. The Yankees put up 5 runs with a Billy Johnson triple off the 450 ft sign on the CF wall.

The Yankees took Game 3, 6-2, and more importantly held a 2-1 Series lead headed to Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis.

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Game 4

With the Yankees up in the Series, manager Joe McCarthy decided to hold Spud Chandler until Game 5. Instead they threw Marius Russo, who went 5-10 during the season in 24 appearances. He walked more guys than he struck out that year (45 BBs, 42 Ks). He hadn’t won a single game in August, going 0-5 in 4 starts and 1 relief appearance. Opponents hit nearly .300 against him that month, and his ERA was 5.11.

But September was a different story. In 6 games (5 starts), Russo posted a 1.53 ERA with a 2-1 record, and even got a save in his one relief appearance. Batters hit only .184 against Russo in September. He was a different guy altogether.

And his excellence in September spilled over into October. Going into the 7th, Russo had only allowed 3 singles and nobody had made it past 1B. The Yankees lad 1-0, and if Frankie Crosetti hadn’t dropped an easy 2-out pop fly in the 7th inning, the Cardinals never would’ve had a chance. Then two batters later, Johnson botched a grounder to third, and the Cardinals knotted the game a 1-1.

So Russo decided to bring his excellence to the offensive side of the ball too. The Cardinals brought in Harry Brecheen to take over for Lanier who had been pinch hit for the previous inning, and Russo lead off with a double – his second of the game. After being bunted over to third. A fly to CF plated him and the Yankees took the lead back 2-1.

And that’s the way the game would finish.

Russo’s run was unearned, so his line was 9 innings, 7 hits, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 Ks. He pretty much single handedly won Game 4 for New York and put the Cardinals up against the ropes for the Series.

Game 5

Finally, the matchup everyone wanted: Mort Cooper vs Spud Chandler.

Mort Cooper struck out the first 5 Yankee batters of the game, and held the Yankees in check until the 6th inning when Keller singled and Bill Dickey hit a homer to make it 2-0 New York.

And that’s all the help Spud Chandler would need.

He pitched another complete game, giving up 10 hits, but managed to pitch his way out of multiple jams. The Cardinals had runners in scoring position in 5 different innings, and couldn’t get the clutch hits when they needed them. Chandler kept the ball down and forced the Cardinal hitters into 16 ground ball outs on top of 7 strikeouts.

front page Daily News New York Yankees Book with Eastern PressThe Cardinals probably had the better offense, and were likely the better team overall, but the 1943 World Series was all about pitching. The Yankees – behind Chandler and Russo – were better and deeper in that department, and reclaimed the championship they’d lost in 1942.

But all was not lost for the Cardinals. As we will see in 2 of the next 3 Fall Classics. And maybe next time Stan Musial will actually live up to his regular season performance. We’ll see.

This was the 10th World Series championship for the Bronx Bombers, and the last appearance for manager Joe McCarthy who would stay with the club through the 1946 season, but would retire before the Yankees could get back to the World Series again in 1947.

-apc.

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