Ted Williams started the 1946 baseball season on fire, after coming off four years of military service, as the Red Sox built a huge lead before coasting to a 12-game lead over Detroit at the wire. Even though Williams's final stats look good (.342 average, 38 home runs, and 123 RBI ), the Red Sox MVP did most of his damage early.
Cleveland manager Lou Boudreau contributed to Williams's poor second half when he introduced the "Ted Williams overshift" in the second game of a July 14 doubleheader. Williams had homered three times in the opener, and when he came to bat in the second game, he faced a defense in which every man was stationed to the right of second base except the left fielder, who played deep short. Williams was laughing so hard that he had to step out of the batter's box to regain his composure.
The shift became less funny as the season wore on and other managers copied it -- though the Red Sox slugger did get a measure of revenge by clinching the American League flag for Boston with an opposite field, inside-the-park homer against Cleveland on September 13.
Many American League teams simply pitched around Williams, as evidenced by his 156 walks. Other Red Soxers picked up the slack. Johnny Pesky and Dom DiMaggio batted over .300 (.335 and .316, respectively); Rudy York and Bobby Doerr knocked in over 100 RBI (119, 116).
Washington's Mickey Vernon took the American League batting title at .353, and Detroit's Hank Greenberg led in homers with 44 and RBI with 127. The Tigers' Hal Newhouser won his second straight ERA title at 1.94, and Bob Feller struck out 348, the most in the majors since 1904.
The National League race was disrupted when several players from contending teams jumped to the Mexican League, where the Pasquel brothers were offering underpaid American major leaguers huge increases in salary. Brooklyn's Mickey Owen and Luis Olmo and Giants Danny Gardella and Sal Maglie were among the first to go.
The Cardinals lost pitcher Max Lanier, who started the 1946 season 6-0 with a 1.93 ERA, and came close to losing hitting star Stan Musial. Commissioner Happy Chandler discouraged others from leaving by threatening the jumping players with five-year suspensions from the majors. He later issued an amnesty in 1949.
The National League race came down to a season-long battle between St. Louis and Brooklyn. The Dodgers led by 7-1/2 in July, but again faded down the stretch. The two teams finished in a tie to set the stage for the first National League pennant playoff, a best-of-three affair.
MVP Musial and Enos Slaughter were the twin engines that powered the Cardinals' attack. Musial batted a league-leading .365, and also led in runs with 124, doubles with 50, and triples with 20; the .300-hitting Slaughter scored 100 runs and drove in a league-high 130. With Lanier gone, Howie Pollet became St. Louis' ace, going 21-10 with a National League-low 2.10 ERA.
The Dodgers were led by Pete Reiser, who stole a league-leading 34 bases; Dixie Walker, who had 116 RBI; and second baseman Eddie Stanky, who drew 137 walks to lead the National League in on-base average at .436. But it was all for naught. St. Louis won the playoff in two games on Pollet's 4-2 complete-game defeat of Ralph Branca in game one, and an 8-1 drubbing in game two.
In the bottom half, Slaughter singled and scored the winning run on a two-out single to left-center by Harry Walker.
The next page provides headlines and summaries for some of the top stories of the 1946 baseball season.
To learn more about baseball, see:
- 1945 Baseball Season
- 1947 Baseball Season
- Baseball History
- How Baseball Works
- How the Baseball Hall of Fame Works
- How Minor League Baseball Teams Work
- Babe Ruth