Friday, June 29, 2012

1944 World Series: St. Louis Showdown

The Teams
National League: St. Louis Cardinals (105-49) - Eighth World Series (won in 1926, 1931, 1934, 1942)
American League: St. Louis Browns (89-65) - First World Series

What Happened
The mass exodus of players to World War II reached its peak in 1944, as nearly every Major League team was missing one or two star players. The lone exception was the St. Louis Cardinals, who kept virtually all their players, stars or not, and so cruised to their third straight National League pennant. Over in the American League, the lack of stars left the race wide open, and in the end, the Cardinals' landlords, the St. Louis Browns, ended up on top.

While the Cardinals were used to the World Series by this point, the Browns were not. The 1944 season was their first American League pennant; really, it was one of the only times they ever came close. And while they might not have been too happy to face their tenants in the World Series, both teams fans were beside themselves in excitement. And at least the teams didn't have to travel.

The Browns started their first series in style. They only got two hits off Cardinals ace Mort Cooper in Game 1, but they came in back-to-back at bats, and the second one was a home run by George McQuinn in the fourth inning. The two runs were enough for an opening win. After losing Game 2 in 11 innings, the Browns fought back to take Game 3, getting five straight singles in the third to put the game away early.

The Browns were on top of the world, leading the World Series 2 games to 1. Unfortunately, that was the high point of the franchise. Stan Musial killed any momentum the Browns might have had with a two-run home run in the top of the first in Game 4, and the Browns only scored two runs the rest of the series. The Cardinals won the series 4-2, and the Browns never got back there. They quickly plummeted back to the lower parts of the standings they were used to, and nine years later, they were playing in Baltimore.

Defining Game
After the Browns stunned the Cardinals in Game 1, the Cardinals were hoping to limit the damage by tying the series in Game 2. They scored a pair of unearned runs off Nels Potter to take a 2-0 lead before the Browns tied it with a pair in the seventh. After both teams failed to capitalize on threats in the 8th inning, there was little action until the 11th. McQuinn - who was by far the Browns best hitter all series - led off the top of the 11th with a double. When the Browns tried to sacrifice him over to third, Cardinals reliever Blix Donnelly fielded the bunt and fired to third to get the lead runner. That killed the Browns threat, and the Cardinals offense took it from there. Ray Sanders led off the bottom of the 11th with a single, and was on second after a successful sacrifice. Ken O'Dea then ended it with a single. The Cardinals' Game 2 win was huge, and it looked even bigger when the Browns won the next day.

McQuinn was the best player in the series, batting .438 with 5 of the Browns' 9 runs batted in, stats that look even more better considering the Cardinals walked him every opportunity they got. But his team lost, and Musial's team didn't. He led a balanced Cardinals attack with a .308 average and three extra base hits, and his Game 4 home run may have been the biggest hit of the series.

(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)

Stl Browns 2261 01
Stl Cardinals 13 (11)25 23

The List
I'm ranking all the World Series, from worst to best. Here are the ones I've done so far:

49. 1944 - St. Louis (N) def. St. Louis (A) 4-2
Numbers 50-59
Numbers 60-69
Numbers 70-79
Numbers 80-89
Numbers 90-99
Numbers 100-107

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