Monday, October 13, 2014

MVPs We Hardly Know (The WWII Era)

Bucky Walters (1939 NL MVP)
Walters began his career as a two-way player, splitting time on the mound and at third base. He served primarily as an infielder until 1936, when he made 33 starts for Philadelphia. The Phillies lost 100 games that year and Walters led the league in that category. On the bright side, he paced the circuit with 4 shutouts. In those days, the Phillies played their home games in a dilapidated old bandbox known as the Baker Bowl, which was an offensive paradise. Walters' earned run averages suffered every year. Traded to Cincinnati in June of 1938, he completely turned his career around. In 1939, he was the best pitcher in the majors, claiming a triple crown with 27 wins, 137 strikeouts and a 2.29 ERA. His performance not only helped the Reds to a World Series berth, but it earned him NL MVP honors. During the war years, Walters was among the most successful pitchers in the majors. From 1939-1944, he posted a 121-73 record with a 2.67 ERA. Extremely durable, he logged no fewer than 246 innings per season. When the war ended, he steadily lost his effectiveness, retiring after the 1950 slate.

Frank McCormick (1940 NL MVP)
Considered tall for the era at six-foot-four, McCormick was one of the most productive first basemen in the majors during WWII. Spending most of his career with the Reds, he led the league in hits from 1938-1940. Though he captured MVP honors in 1940, he actually had a better all around offensive campaign in '39, hitting .332 with 128 RBIs and 99 runs scored. His average "slipped" to .309 during his MVP year though he did pace the NL with 44 doubles. McCormick rarely struck out, averaging just one whiff per 30 at-bats during his career. He was also extremely reliable, playing in 652 consecutive games at one point. Exceptionally skilled with a glove, he won four fielding titles at first base. During his thirteen years in the big leagues, he was named to eight All-Star teams. After retiring in 1948, he managed in the minors, guiding the Quebec Braves to a league championship in 1949. He also coached for the Reds in '56 and '57.

Dolph Camilli (1941 NL MVP)
The left-handed Camilli was a free swinger who led the league in strikeouts four times. But he also drew a fair share of walks, topping the 100 mark in that category on four occasions. He began his career with the Cubs in 1933 then spent portions of fours seasons at first base with the Phillies. Traded to Brooklyn in 1938, he became one of the most productive players on the club. Appearing most often as a clean-up man, he hit .345 with the bases loaded during his career and .285 with runners in scoring position. He earned his only All-Star selection in 1941--the same year he claimed the NL MVP Award with a league-best 34 homers and 120 RBIs. Camilli had one more great season left in him after that, slamming 26 long balls while driving in 109 runs during the '42 campaign. Traded to the Giants in 1943, he refused to report, retiring to his cattle ranch in California. He returned for a curtain call with the Red Sox in 1945. When his playing days were over, he coached and managed in the minors. He later scouted for the Yankees and Angels.

Mort Cooper (1942 NL MVP)
Cooper kicked around the Cardinals' minor league system for portions of six seasons, finally earning a call-up in 1938. Before the U.S. entered World War II, the big right-hander compiled a 38-28 record with a 3.56 ERA. As many of the game's most talented players were called to military duty, Cooper emerged as one of the most dominant pitchers in the National League. From 1942-'44, he won no fewer than 20 games per year while leading the league in shutouts twice. His finest effort came in 1942, when he notched a 22-7 record with a 1.78 earned run average. He led the Cardinals to three pennants and two world championships in a three-year span. Cooper pitched with bone chips in his elbow for years. He once told a reporter that he performed better when he was in pain. The condition finally took its toll in 1947, when his record fell to 3-10 with the Giants and Braves. He finished his career with the Cubs in 1949.

Spud Chandler (1943 AL MVP)
With a lifetime mark of .717, Chandler is baseball's all time winning percentage leader. It certainly didn't hurt that he played for the most successful club in the majors. During his eleven-year career, spent entirely with the Yankees, the Bombers won seven pennants and six World Series (including a run of four straight championships that began a year before Chandler's major league debut). Chandler lost portions of several seasons during the 1930s with a balky right elbow. When he was healthy, he was a fiery competitor and an intimidating presence on the mound. He finished among the top ten in hit batsmen three times, leading the league in 1940. His best season came in 1943, when he led the league with 20 wins and a 1.64 ERA. Additionally, he paced the loop in complete games and shutouts. The performance earned him MVP honors. After serving in the Army from April of '44 through September of '45, he was a bit rusty when he returned. He regained his form the following year with a 20-8 record and a 2.10 ERA (second best in the AL). In his final big league season of 1947, he made 17 appearances and led the American League with a 2.46 earned run average. He served as A's coach for two seasons and later scouted for the Indians and Twins.

Marty Marion (1944 NL MVP)
Marion received a fair amount of Hall of Fame consideration, peaking at forty percent of the vote in 1970. An MVP in 1944, he finished among the top ten in balloting two other times. Marion spent his prime years with the Cardinals, earning wide acclaim for his defensive excellence. With his long arms and wide range, he picked up the nickname of "The Octopus." He led the league in fielding percentage three times and finished among the top five in putouts and assists for ten straight seasons. A childhood accident left him with a right leg that was shorter than the other along with a trick knee that could be easily dislocated. The affliction kept him out of World War II. Marion was named to seven All-Star teams during his career. A competent but not exceptional hitter, he compiled a .267 batting average with a personal-best 63 RBIs during his MVP year. When his playing days were over, he served as manager of the Cardinals, Browns and White Sox. He later owned the Houston Buffs of the American Association.  

Phil Cavarretta (1945 NL MVP)
A quietly consistent performer, Cavarretta remained with the Cubs for twenty seasons and served as player/manager for three of those campaigns. He lost his job during spring training of 1954, when he told owner Philip K. Wrigley that the club would finish near the bottom of the pack that year. Fired for his "defeatist attitude," he moved across town to close out his career with the White Sox. Cavarretta helped the Cubs to three pennants and hit .317 in 17 World Series games. He enjoyed his finest season in 1945, when he led the league with a .355 batting average and a .449 on-base percentage. On the strength of those numbers, he was named NL MVP. Cavarretta was a steady hitter throughout his career, maintaining an average of .270 or better in nineteen of his twenty-two major league seasons. Following his retirement in 1955, he coached for the Tigers and Yankees. He also worked as a hitting instructor for the Mets.  

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