The 1945 baseball season brought with it hope and the return of some of baseball's biggest stars from the war. As in 1944, the Yankees, Senators, Browns, and Tigers were all still alive in the pennant race as summer turned to fall. The balance of power shifted when Bob Feller returned to Cleveland, and Charlie Keller rejoined New York; but the player with the biggest impact on the '45 race was Detroit's Hank Greenberg.
The Tigers had been barely hanging on by the efforts of MVP Hal Newhouser, who went 25-9 with a 1.81 ERA to lead the league in wins and ERA, and fellow moundsmen Dizzy Trout and Al Benton, who was runner-up in ERA at 2.02. Greenberg homered in his first game and went on to swat 13 homers, score 47 runs, and drive in 60 in only 270 at-bats. He also batted .311 to lead his team into first place with two games to go in the season. Detroit needed one more victory against the Browns to clinch the flag.
Hal Newhouser signed
with the Detroit Tigers
in 1939 as an amateur
Young Virgil Trucks, three days out of the Navy, pitched for the Tigers, and ace Nels Potter for St. Louis. It was 3-2 Browns in the ninth, when Potter walked the bases loaded to try for the double play with Greenberg. The 34-year-old slugger clouted his 11th career grand slam and Detroit finished at 88-65, 1-1/2 games up on Washington, 6 ahead of St. Louis, and 6-1/2 over the Yanks.
Despite the return of several big-name players, baseball 1945-style was still a ragged affair. Yankees second baseman Snuffy Stirnweiss took the batting title at .309, the lowest figure to lead either league since Elmer Flick did it with a .308 mark in 1905. St. Louis played a one-armed outfielder, Pete Gray, who hit .218 with six doubles in 77 games.
Gray was no publicity stunt; he had been named Southern Association MVP in 1944 when he batted .333 with 68 stolen bases. Perhaps even more amazing than Gray was Senators pitcher Bert Shepard, who pitched five innings of one-run all in 1945 after having lost his right leg in a wartime plane crash. American League great Jimmie Foxx retired 89 games into the 1945 season with a .325 lifetime batting average. Foxx still ranks among the all-time leaders in home runs with 534 and RBI with 1,922, and he holds one of the highest slugging averages ever at .609.
The Chicago Cubs took the National League flag by 3 games over St. Louis, with lost Stan Musial to the Army for the entire season. The Cubs boasted MVP Phil Cavarretta, who hit a league-leading .355, scored 94 runs, and knocked in 97, as well as Stan Hack, who batted .323 and scored 110 times. The key to the Cubs' success was a pitching staff comprised of Ray Prim, Claude Passeau, and 22-10 Hank Wyse, who were first, second, and fifth in ERA. Right-hander Hank Borowy came via trade from the Yankees and went 11-2 with a 2.14 ERA in 14 starts.
As the teams prepared for the 1945 World Series, fans speculated on its outcome. When asked for his prediction, Chicago sportswriter Warren Brown said, "I don't think either of them can win."
As it turned out, the Cubs pitching failed them in a close, seven-game World Series loss to Detroit. Tigers ace Newhouser went 2-1 with an ugly 6.10 ERA in his three starts, but Prim and Wyse were even worse for Chicago, going 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA and 0-1 with a 7.04 mark. Borowy won the opener 9-0 over Newhouser, but slumped to a 2-2 overall record and an ERA of 4.00 in his three starts and one relief outing. Greenberg was the Tigers' hitting hero, batting .304 with two homers and seven runs batted in.
The next page provides headlines and summaries for some of the top stories of the 1945 baseball season.
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