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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1945 Baseball Headlines
Skein Ends for Tommy Holmes
Braves outfielder Tommy Holmes went hitless against the Cubs at Wrigley Field on July 12, 1945. His then-modern National League record streak of 37 consecutive games in which he hit safely came to an end that day against Hank Wyse. The previous pitcher to cipher Holmes was also a Cub -- Claude Passeau, on June 2.
Hank Greenberg Leads the 1945 Detroit Tigers
Hank Greenberg's return from the army spelled a pennant for Detroit, as he racked up 13 home runs and 60 RBI in just 270 at-bats in 1945. The man who had been occupying Greenberg's left field post in the interim -- Jimmy Outlaw -- hit just 34 RBI in 446 at-bats.
Stan Musial Gone, the 1945 St. Louis Cardinals Endure
With Stan Musial gone in 1945, the Cardinals moved Johnny Hopp from center field to Musial's slot in right, stationed Buster Adams in center, and replaced the also-departed Danny Litwhiler in left with a rookie shortstop. The rookie was Red Schoendienst, who topped the National League in stolen bases in 1945 with 26. The following year, Red was moved to second base. Had Musial played in 1945, he probably would have tallied at least 170 hits. If so, he would have finished his career with more than 3,800 hits.
One-Armed Pete Gray Debuts, Hits .218
Pete Gray poses with his parents prior to a game in 1945. The one-armed outfielder was the Southern League's MVP in 1944, but could not cut it in the majors. He hit just .218 in his sole season in the bigs. Outfielders played him so shallow that many of his line drives and potential bloop hits were caught. When the stars returned from the armed forces in 1946, Gray was let go. Pete lost his arm in a truck accident as a child.
Charlie Keller Sparks the 1945 New York Yankees
After two years of war duty, Charlie Keller's late-season return to the Yankees was an instant tonic. He hit .301 in 163 at-bats to finish out the season.
Bert Shepard Pitches with One Leg
Bert Shepard was the only one-legged player in major league history. A pilot in World War II, he was outfitted with an artificial limb after losing his leg in combat. He allowed just one earned run in a five-and-one-third-inning relief stint for the Senators in 1945. It was the only major league game he ever pitched.
On the next page you'll find more highlights from the 1945 baseball season.
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More 1945 Baseball Season Headlines
Below are more headlines from the 1945 baseball season, including Hal Newhouser becoming the American League MVP and Jackie Robinson becoming the first black player to sign a major league contract.
Snuffy Stirnweiss Lakes American League Bat Title
Snuffy Stirnweiss won the 1945 American League batting crown by a single point over Tony Cuccinello of the White Sox (with a .309 average). Six points in back of Cuccinello was White Sox outfielder Johnny Dickshot, followed by Bobby Estalella of the A's and George Myatt of Washington. None of Stirnweiss's four closest pursuers ever again played enough in the majors to qualify for a batting title.
Hal Newhouser Takes the American League MVP
Before joining the Indians, Hal Newhouser toiled 15 seasons with the Tigers. Newhouser won his second straight MVP Award in 1945, going 25-9 and leading the American League in wins, complete games (29), innings (313), shutouts (eight), strikeouts (212), and ERA (1.81). He remains the only pitcher ever to win back-to-back MVP Awards.
Happy Chandler's Term Not Much Fun
Happy Chandler's term as commissioner of baseball (1945 to 1951) was marred by several player insurrections that club owners thought he mishandled. When his time was up, they replaced him with Ford Frick, a man who could be counted on to do as they wanted.
Dick Fowler Hurls a No-Hitter
Dick Fowler's gem was the first hitless game by an A's pitcher since 1916. A severe bursitis condition plagued him all during his career and caused his early exit from the majors. His no-hitter was his only victory in 1945.
Eddie Stanky Tallies 148 Walks
Eddie Stanky hit .258 in 1945, led all National League second basemen in errors, and accumulated just 39 RBI. Nevertheless, he got an MVP vote, and he should have gotten a bunch more. In 1945, he became the first major league leader in walks to total more bases on balls (148) than hits (143). He also paced the National League in runs (128).
Branch Rickey Signs Robinson
Branch Rickey, one of the most progressive executives baseball has ever seen, made his boldest move ever in 1945. Rickey, then with the Dodgers, signed the first black player, Robinson, to a major league contract. Rickey soon signed other black stars -- Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe among them -- who contributed to the Dodger dynasty.
The next page highlights key events and details from the 1945 baseball season.
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1945 Baseball Season Highlights
With baseball superstars such as Hank Greenberg and Bob Feller back in the game from the war, the 1945 baseball season was destined to be great. From Greenberg's pennant win for Detroit to Charlie Keller's late season (and explosive) return to the Yankees, the season was filled with plenty of unforgettable moments.
Below you will find major highlights from the 1945 baseball season:
- The Tigers win the American League flag by 1-1/2 games.
- The Cubs triumph in the National League.
- The Tigers take the 1945 World Series in seven games.
- Chicago's Phil Cavarretta leads all World Series hitters with .423 average.
- Hal Newhouser is knocked out of the box in the 1945 World Series opener, but comes back to win two games, including decisive game seven.
- Greenberg returns from service on July 1, hits grandslam on season's final day to clinch pennant for Detroit.
- Cavarretta is named National League MVP.
- Newhouser wins second straight American League MVP.
- Boston's Tommy Holmes hits in 37 consecutive games -- a new modern National League record.
- Holmes becomes the only player ever to lead a league in homers (28) and fewest batter Ks (nine).
- Yankee Snuffy Stirnweiss tops the American League in BA at just .309.
- One-armed outfielder Pete Gray plays the full season for Browns, hitting .218.
- Washington is second in the American League. The team loses a shot at the pennant when outfielder Bingo Binks loses fly ball in sun in season's final game.
- Brooklyn's Dixie Walker tops the majors with 124 RBI and 218 runs produced.
- Walker is the last RBI leader to hit fewer than ten homers.
- Stirnweiss tops the American League with .476 SA -- the lowest in American League history by a leader.
- Snuffy Stirnweiss leads the American League in runs (107), hits (195), and triples (22).
Albert Benjamin "Happy"
Chandler was baseball’s
- Hal Newhouser tops majors with 25 wins, 1.81 ERA, 212 Ks, and 29 CGs.
- Newhouser tops the American League in every major department for starting pitchers, and majors in all but win pct.
- Happy Chandler named new commissioner of baseball.
- The 1945 All-Star Game was not held due to World War II. This was the only cancellation in baseball history.
- On August 20, Dodgers shortstop Tommy Brown, age 17, became the youngest player in major league history to homer.
- Dick Fowler of the A's no-hits the Browns on Sept. 9, 1945.
- The Chicago Cubs beat Cincinnati 21 times.
- Brooklyn's Eddie Stanky sets new National League record for walks with 148.
- Bert Shepard, a one-legged pitcher, appears in game for Washington.
- Senators hit only one home run in their home park -- and that's an inside-the-park homer by Joe Kuhel.
- Boston's Boo Ferriss wins 21 games as a rookie, is second in the American League in innings (265) and CGs (26).
- Ferriss sets an American League record when he's unscored upon in his first 22 innings in the majors.
Take a look at the next section for more highlights from the 1945 baseball season.
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More 1945 Baseball Season Highlights
See below for more highlights of the 1945 baseball season, including the Chicago Cubs' triumphant 20 doubleheaders and the many inductions into the Baseball Hall of Fame:
- Philly's Andy Karl pitches 167 innings in relief to set a National League record that will last until 1974.
- Karl ties with the Giants' Ace Adams for the most saves in the major leagues (15).
- Jim Turner of the Yankees is the only American League player with more than five saves; he has ten.
- On July 21, the Tigers and A's play to 1-1 tie in 24 innings -- Les Mueller pitches 19 2/3 innings for Detroit.
- The Chicago Cubs sweep 20 doubleheaders to break their own year-old record.
- The St. Louis Cardinals lose Stan Musial and Walker Cooper to armed services prior to season, finish 3 games back of Cubs without them.
- Tommy Holmes tops the National League in hits (224), doubles (47), total bases (367), and SA (.577).
- The A's and the Phils both end war years as they began them in 1941 -- in last place.
- The American League hits just 430 homers -- 147 fewer than National League.
- Red Barrett, pitching for the Braves and Cardinals, leads the National League in wins with 23.
- Former major leaguer Harry O'Neill is killed in the Iwo Jima assault.
- The Baseball of Hall of Fame inducts Roger Bresnahan, Dan Brouthers, Fred Clarke, Jimmy Collins, Ed Delahanty, Hugh Duffy, and Hugh Jennings.
- Steve Gerkin of the A's, in his only season in the major leagues, sets an American League season record for losses without a win when he goes 0-12.
- The A's score just 494 runs on the year.
- A rule is put in that says a player must have 400 at-bats to qualify for a bat title.
- Phillie Vince DiMaggio leads the National League batters in Ks a record fourth straight year.
- Cincinnati's Eddie Miller leads the National League shortstops in FA for the fifth time to tie the National League record.
- On Sept. 17, Bill Nicholson makes a National League record ten putouts by a right fielder.
- Lon Warneke retires at end of the 1945 baseball season with a major league record skein of 163 errorless games by a pitcher.
- Cleveland plays only 147 games, the fewest in history by a team on a 154-game schedule.
- Early in the season, the Cards swap Mort Cooper to Braves for Barrett and $100,000.
- In July, the Cubs buy Hank Borowy from the Yankees for $97,000.
- Hank Borowy wins 21 games -- ten in the American League and 11 in the National League.
- In December, Cleveland sends Jeff Heath to Washington for George Case.
- Brooklyn has three of the four top run-scorers in the majors: Eddie Stanky (128), Goody Rosen (126), and Augie Galan (114).
- The Dodgers lead the major league in runs (795).
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