Monday, April 29, 2013

Forgotten Stars of the 1940s

Baseball experienced a dramatic thinning of the talent pool during the 1940's with the advent of WWII. Between 1942 and 1946, the game would be forced to carry on without many of its brightest stars as hundreds of established players joined the armed forces. In his famous "Green Light letter," President FDR referred to the game as a welcome diversion and stated unequivocally that "it would be best for the country to keep baseball going."Despite a dramatic dip in 1943, attendance remained relatively stable throughout the war.

The Yankees continued their dominance of the American League, capturing 5 pennants during the decade while the Cardinals figured heavily into numerous NL pennant races, appearing in 4 World Series. After the war was over, the first crop of talented black players appeared, among them Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby and Monte Irvin. With mainstays like Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Stan Musial around, it was tough for lesser known stars to earn the credit they deserved. I'd like to begin my next series of blogs with another top ten list of forgotten greats from the war years.

10. Claude Passeau
By the time the '40's rolled around, Passeau had already established himself as a talented hurler, gathering 36 victories for the dreadful Phillies between '36 and '38. He accomplished this while playing in the hitter-friendly Baker Bowl--a venue that had been the downfall of countless hurlers. Traded to the Cubs in May of '39, Passeau's fortunes changed dramatically as he would win no fewer than 15 games in 5 of the next 6 seasons. 1940 was arguably his best year as he won 20 games and posted a stellar 2.50 ERA. In all, the right-hander made 4 All-Star appearances during the 1940's and received MVP consideration three times. He was a star in the 1945 World Series, spinning a one-hitter over the Tigers in Game 3. In addition to his pitching success, Passeau is known for his fascination with the number 13. "That's my lucky number,"he once declared. Not only did he wear the number on his back but his name was 13 letters long and he played in the majors for 13 seasons. Additionally, he lived on 113 London Street and claimed that his auto tag and life insurance policy also bore the number.  

9. Tommy Henrich
Henrich's accomplishments were overshadowed by his high profile Yankee teammates. He was a vital cog on 6 World Series winning clubs. Playing alongside a gaggle of Hall of Famers, including Bill Dickey, Phil Rizzuto and Joe DiMaggio, he earned the nickname "Old Reliable" for his clutch hitting. Henrich reached a career-high of 31 homers in '41 before losing 3 full years to military service in the Coast Guard during WWII. He picked up right where he had left off, averaging 90 ribbies per year between '46-'49. He led the AL in runs scored during the '48 campaign and paced the circuit in triples twice ('47/'48). Henrich was a reliable fielder as well, posting the highest fielding percentage among right fielders on two occasions. During his 11 years in the majors, he was named to five All-Star teams. A lifetime .262 hitter in World Series play, he collected 4 homers, 8 RBI's and 13 runs scored. His autobiography, Five O'Clock Lightning, was released in 1992.  

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