The Worst Years In American Baseball

Posted

World War II was raging in the early 1940’s and as America's resources were being diverted overseas, baseball's greatest assets were no exception.

Celebrated sluggers like Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Hank Greenberg were just a few of the hundreds of major leaguers who traded their team jerseys for military uniforms.

The effect on the sport was profound as talent-sapped teams filled their rosters with military rejects, quasi-professionals and hopeful amateurs.

Not surprisingly, the profession suffered as the game diminished in quality and fans dropped off in droves. Ball park attendance hit a low of 7 ½ million in 1943, down from almost 10 million before Pearl Harbor.

In June of 1944, the Cincinnati Reds briefly filled the mound with a 15-year old ninth grader, Joe Nuxhall, whose left handed fast balls were good enough in a player-depleted year.

Trailing against the Cardinals, the Reds brought out Nuxhall in the 9th inning. The 6’2” high schooler retired his first batter but wrapped up his debut with 5 walks, two hits, one wild pitch and five runs.

Later years saw Nuxhall join the Reds and become a 2x All-Star in 1955-56. He remains the youngest person to ever play in major league baseball.

The following season, the St. Louis Browns signed into contract a one-armed outfielder, Pete Gray, who scooped up ground balls into the air and then dropped his mitt to grab and throw with remarkable speed.

The Pennsylvania native played 77 games with the Browns in 1945, batting an average of .218 and producing 51 hits, 6 doubles and 2 triples. Though, he never earned the respect from his team mates who were convinced he was hired just to raise gate receipts from curious spectators.

Travel restrictions also forced clubs to stay regional for spring training and do with frost on the field, or seek enclosures like aircraft hangars and horse barns for their practice. For a time, material rations even took the natural rubber out of baseballs and turned them into duds.

Under these conditions, club owners became skeptical about the sport’s continued viability but President Roosevelt kept the game going as a morale booster for the country.

In his famous “Green Light Letter” to baseball commissioner Kenesaw Landis, the war-time President expounded on the importance of baseball at the time and even suggested extending night games.

One solution was not even explored. Black players continued to be shut out from MLB and the obvious need for top athletes did not push owners towards integration.

Future Hall of Famer Satchel Paige spent the war years playing in the Negro League, while white players of considerably less talent were signed up to the majors.

Paige was a 42-year old “rookie” pitching for the Cleveland Indians when he was finally allowed into MLB in 1948.

But America's favorite pastime returned with a vengeance. The game’s caliber was back after the war ended in 1945 and two years later the color barrier was also broken.

That year, nearly 20 million fans went out to the ballparks to see their favorite teams, double the attendance of prewar levels.

American baseball entered a new era.

Comments

2 comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment
Sven

i thought .281 was a bit high for a one armed OF, Pete Gray hit .218 in his only season and was a D fielder with A range

Sunday, April 8, 2018
Gill

Sven, thanks for pointing out. It was a typo and .218 is the correct batting record.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Shop For Our Books & DVD's

WEEKLY SPORTS PUZZLE

View larger Puzzle archive


THIS WEEK

10 years ago

MOTOR RACING November 1, 2009  British car racer Jensen Button wins his first and last Formula One World Championship title after finishing 3rd at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the final race of the calendar year. Button clinched 6 GPs that season, including Monte Carlo, accumulating the most points at 95, or 11 ahead of runner-up Sebastian Vettel.

20 years ago

RUGBY November 6, 1999  Australia wins the 4th quadrennial Rugby World Cup championship after defeating France 35-12 in the Final. Wales was the official host to the tournament, which saw 65 national teams qualify for 20 spots at the 37-day event. The U.S. lost all 3 of its group matches, including a 53-8 crushing against Ireland, and was dispatched early.

30 years ago

BASEBALL November 3, 1989  Lou Piniella replaces Pete Rose as Manager of the Cincinnati Reds. It was Rose’s last year in professional baseball after being banned for life due to gambling activities in MLB games. Piniella stayed on for three seasons, leading the Reds to a World Series victory in just his first year as Manager with the mid-west franchise.

40 years ago

BASKETBALL October 30, 1979  The Los Angeles Lakers defeat the Chicago Bulls 111-105, winning a fifth straight game and posting an early season record of 7-2. In the first NBA season to implement the 3-point shot, they would go on to clinch the national Championship against the Philadelphia 76ers. Rookie Magic Johnson took home the MVP award.