Turning back the clock to National League baseball in Boston, Monday, July 5, 1937, Braves Field (or the Bee Hive). NY Giants the visitors, second game of a doubleheader, bottom of the 7th inning, and Boston Bee RF Gene Moore, decked out in yellow (cap, “B” on chest and socks), is congratulated by 2B Tony Cuccinello after blasting a 2-run HR off the first pitch from Giant reliever Hal Schumacher (who just entered the game) as C Harry Danning looks on. All would have career highs and lows, and all would be affected by a war, both positively and negatively, that didn’t really seem possible in 1937.
The NL Boston franchise was a little over a year into the “Bees” experiment (1936-1940), done to shake things up a bit for the underachieving franchise. Personally, I think it would have been interesting for this moniker to follow the club through their various relocations – Milwaukee Bees, even the Atlanta Bees – how about a queen bee buzzing around instead of Chief Noc-A-Homa? Food for thought. Anyway…
In 1937, Gene Moore himself had plenty to smile about, it seems. Interesting moniker aside, the Bees gave Gene Moore the chance he was hoping for. After slogging along as either a late season callup or early season failed experiment with the Reds and Cardinals for a few years, he played a full season for Boston upon his arrival in 1936, hitting .290 in 151 games. He would then go on to have his best season in 1937 as the Bees’ starting RF, along with the best numbers of his career overall (16 Hr, 70 RBI, .283 Avg), and making his only All Star appearance, which in fact would be right after the game above, the last before the break.
At the All-Star Game on Wednesday, July 7 at Griffith Stadium, he would have the only All-Star AB of his career, pinch-hitting for the pitcher in the 8th inning, hitting into a force play as the third out and quickly retreating back to the dugout, and as it would turn out, largely back into the ranks of the average ballplayer.
The 1938 campaign started well enough, but a severe leg injury in Cincinnati in July ended his season, and he was traded to Brooklyn in the offseason. 1939 was worse, as he started the season 0-for-23, and didn’t get over .200 until June and ended up at .225, with only 3 HRs. With his power now largely gone and largely a platoon player, he was traded back to Boston, then to Washington, and finally to the lowly Browns, where he would have one more shining moment – in a war-depleted league he would be a key contributor to their surprising pennant-winning drive in 1944, and was their starting RF in the 1944 World Series. While he hit well in the first 3 games, he went 0-for-10 in the last 3, as the Browns dropped those 3 to lose the Series to the Cardinals in 6 games. He had another decent year in 1945, but after the season, with the war finally ended and young able-bodied ballplayers returning from overseas, he retired at the age of 35, never to return to baseball in any capacity. The war had giveth, and the war had taken away.
Tony Cuccinello would have a better taste of stardom. Discovered playing semi-pro ball in NYC, with both defensive and offensive prowess, he was signed to a minor league contract as a teenager, and once he caught the eye of Branch Rickey (then with the Cardinals), he quickly rose through the ranks, and the Reds eventually purchased him for the 1930 campaign. He would have superb years in 1930 and 1931, batting .312 and .315, and set the Reds 2B mark with 93 RBIs in 1931, not broken until Joe Morgan over 40 years later. After holding out for a better contract, he was shipped to Brooklyn in 1932, and although he dropped to .285, had another strong year with 77 RBIs , playing every Dodgers game that year at second base. For his efforts he was selected to the very first NL squad for the inaugural All-Star Game at Comiskey Park in 1933, and Cuccinello just made it in, batting for Carl Hubbell with 2 outs in the top of the 9th and striking out to end it, the AL taking it 4-2. And like Moore, he would exit stage right from the bright spotlight for a time.
He had more fine years for Brooklyn, but after a career low 102 games in 1935, was shipped off to Boston, where he was again an everyday 2B, and he responded with a .308 season with 86 RBIs, helping the then Braves to rebound from their historically dismal .248 mark in 1935. He would continue to start at 2B for Boston throughout the late ’30’s, helping Boston to their only winning season in the decade (1937, above), and making one last trip to the All-Star game at Crosley Field in 1938; unfortunately, this time, he did not make an appearance.
Unfortunately, also like Moore, the injury bug would hit, this time in 1939, a runner’s slide ruining his knee in the middle of another fine season. After the knee was slow to heal in 1940, he was shipped to the Giants, and frustrated, retired to manage the IL Jersey City Giants in 1941. But he would reach for the stars one more time as well, and again, WWII’s depletion of able ballplayers would again play a part.
Set to manage Jersey City again in 1942, Casey Stengel, now with the Braves, came calling for Tony as a player/coach. He was used primarily as a coach and pinch-hitter through mid-1943, when he was released to sign with the White Sox desperately short of players in the war years. A reserve infielder for Chicago, he was to retire after 1944, but the Southsiders asked him to re-up for one more season.
And what a season – Cuccinello said he felt the best he had in years, and exploded out of the gate, going 8-for-21 in April, eventually batting over .400 in May. While at age 37, he couldn’t keep up that torrid pace, and couldn’t play every day, he kept his league-leading average throughout the year, along the way earning himself one final All-Star selection (albeit through the AP and Sporting News), but he didn’t have a game appearance here either, as the actual 1945 game was cancelled due to wartime travel restrictions. Undaunted, he entered the final day of the season neck and neck in the batting race with Snuffy Stirnweiss of the Yankees, Tony at .308, Snuffy at .306. Alas, it was not to be, for as the rains came to wash out a White Sox doubleheader, Stirnweiss went 3-5 in the Bronx against the Red Sox to win what remains the closest batting race in MLB history, .30854 to .30845, helped in no small part to the Yanks’ official scorer, who reversed an error call after the game had ended, and after the White Sox’s double rainout was confirmed.
But, as with Moore, with young men returning from war to enter the baseball ranks, the near-batting champ was no longer needed, and Cuccinello retired after the season. He did go on to be a long-time coach in the majors, achieving more success than that as a player, with AL pennants in Cleveland in 1954, Chicago in 1959, and the ultimate prize, a World Series ring as a Detroit in 1968, whereupon he retired for good.
Harry Danning had the brightest of all the careers here – primarily due to his stellar defense, the catcher spent his entire career with the Giants, first as a reserve catcher (above) behind Gus Mancuso (since coming up for good in 1933), but when the All-Star catcher broke his finger just a few days after the All-Star break in 1937 (about a week after the photo above), Danning impressed so much that the two shared catching duties for the rest of the season, as the Giants won their second pennant in a row. Danning would also replace Mancuso (who had gone hitless in the first two games) in the 1937 World Series, and played the rest of the way, batting .250 with 2 RBIs, although the Giants again fell to the Yankees. Danning then moved to a full time role in 1938, and would become a legitimate All-Star in his own right, batting over .300 from 1938-1940, was even in the Top 10 in MVP voting in 1939 and 1940, and was elected to the NL All-Star roster for 4 years running, although his power numbers slipped precipitously in 1941. Although his average improved, his power continued to decline in 1942, although he was still the Giants’ primary catcher at 30.
With 1943, Danning put aside his Giant cleats and joined the Army to help in the war effort. As luck would have it, he was stationed in Long Beach, CA, as part of the Army Air Force 6th Ferrying Group, and would continue to play baseball during the war. However, whether he would be playing for New York or Uncle Sam, his knees started to wear from years of catching; he was advised to retire from playing baseball at all in spring 1945, and would not return to the Giants or dreams of any future glory.
But way back in 1937, no one was thinking of war on a sunny July day in Boston. Moore’s clout would put the Bees up 8-6, the eventual final score. Boston would take that nightcap to split the day, and push the Giants 2 games back of the Cubs. Boston would finish at a respectable .520, their best record as Bees, and best season until the mid-1940’s, but the Giants and Danning would take the aforementioned pennant that year, the only crown for all three.
And all three had their moments in the sun, some sunnier than others, and all had lives greatly affected and altered by World War II, just like in all other walks of life in America. And all, in various ways, did contribute to the war effort, albeit on the “front lines” at home.
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