Monday, September 10, 2012

1946 World Series: The Mad Dash

The Teams
National League: St. Louis Cardinals (98-58) - Ninth World Series (Won in 1926, 1931, 1934, 1942, 1944)
American League: Boston Red Sox (104-50) - Sixth World Series (Won in 1903, 1912, 1915, 1916, 1918)

What Happened
Harry Walker ripped a liner to left center, and Enos Slaughter took off. Two outs, tie game, eighth inning, Game 7 - there was no reason for hesitation. Slaughter got a great jump and was already halfway to third base when the Boston outfielders were getting to the ball. Approaching third base, Slaughter snuck a peak over his right should to try to figure out how close Dom DiMaggio was to the ball, and ... wait, where the hell was DiMaggio?

That's right. On the bench. There were three DiMaggio brothers who played Major League baseball, and it was said that of the three, Joe was the best hitter, Dom was the best fielder, and Vince was the best singer. Dom could hit a little, too, as evidenced by his spot in the No. 3 hole in the Boston lineup, directly in front of the legendary Ted Williams. It was Dom's two-out, two-run double in the top of the eighth that put this Game 7 in a tie to begin with. But as he rounded first, he felt something pull in his leg; he made it to second, but that was it. He had to come out. He was replaced by Leon Culberson, who was no DiMaggio, either in the field or at the bat. Hopefully, as far as the Red Sox were concerned, it wouldn't matter.

It mattered. At least, to Enos Slaughter it mattered. With DiMaggio and his laser arm out in center field, Slaughter might have stopped at third base on that hit. But it was Culberson, and Slaughter kept going, running right through his coach's stop sign and accelerating toward home. Culberson retrieved the ball and threw to cutoff man Johnny Pesky, who ....

... wait, an aside here. For more than 50 years, most people who were at Game 7 claimed that Pesky hesitated when catching the throw from Culberson. The story went that Culberson threw in to Pesky, and Pesky, not expecting to have to throw the ball, turned around and paused to look for the runners, only throwing when he saw Slaughter running for home. It was a convenient story, a good place for Red Sox fans to look when trying to find a scapegoat for what would be their first World Series loss ever. But it wasn't true. Video unearthed many decades after the fact showed the play clearly, and it showed that Pesky didn't hesistate. He got the ball, he spun, and he fired, all in one motion. Maybe he was surprised, and because of that he didn't get everything he could have on his throw. But he didn't hesitate.

Back to the game, although the suspense is probably gone at this point. Slaughter slid home well ahead of the throw, giving St. Louis the lead. His run was praised as the ultimate example of hustle, and it is often said that he scored from first on a single, a compliment that leaves out the minor detail that Walker was (admittedly very generously) awarded a double on the hit. After Boston went down in order in the ninth, St. Louis had its third World Championship of the decade, while Boston was left scratching their heads.

Little did the Red Sox know that Slaughter's Mad Dash in 1946 was the beginning of the Curse of the Bambino. It had been a great series so far, with the teams alternating wins through the first six games. Game 1 had been the best so far, with Tom McBride rescuing the Red Sox from the dead with a game-tying single with two outs in the ninth. Rudy York then hit a go-ahead home run with two outs in the tenth - bouncing it off a concession stand in left field - to give the Red Sox the win. The main story line for the rest of the series was the struggles of Ted Williams, who hit only .200 with one run batted in in what turned out to be his only World Series. Despite that, the Red Sox were still up 3-games-to-2 when the series returned to St. Louis for Games 6 and 7. They never got that that fourth win. In fact, it took them until 2004 to get that fourth win.

Walker had better overall numbers, and got the series-winning hit, but Slaughter's mad dash was the defining moment of the series, and it capped a seven game where it seemed like Slaughter got every big hit for St. Louis.

(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)

Boston 3 (10)043 613
St. Louis230 12344

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

28. 1946 - St. Louis (N) def. Boston (A) 4-3
29. 1925 - Pittsburgh (N) def. Washington (A) 4-3
Numbers 30-39
Numbers 40-49
Numbers 50-59
Numbers 60-69
Numbers 70-79
Numbers 80-89
Numbers 90-99
Numbers 100-107

Game 7s
Simultaneously, I'll rank all the Game 7s. The ones that have appeared in my countdown so far:

7. 1946: St. Louis (N) 4, Boston (A) 3
9. 1925: Pittsburgh 9, Washington 7
12. 1979: Pittsburgh 4, Baltimore 1
13. 1955: Brooklyn 2, New York (A) 0
16. 1940: Cincinnati 2, Detroit 1
18. 1987: Minnesota 4, St. Louis 2
19. 1958: New York 6, Milwaukee 2
21. 1968: Detroit 4, St. Louis 1
22. 1931: St. Louis (N) 4, Philadelphia (A) 2
26. 1982: St. Louis 6, Milwaukee 3
28. 1965: Los Angeles (A) 2, Minnesota 0
29. 1964: St. Louis 7, New York (A) 5
30. 1957: Milwaukee 5, New York (A) 0
31. 1967: St. Louis 7, Boston 2
32. 1945: Detroit 9, Chicago (N) 3
33. 1909: Pittsburgh 8, Detroit 0
34. 1934: St. Louis (N) 11, Detroit 0 
36. 1985: Kansas City 11, St. Louis 0

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