1946 NL Pennant? It’s in the Cards

Sunday, August 25, 1946, Sportsman’s Park, St. Louis, first game of a doubleheader between the St Louis Cardinals and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Enos Slaughter and the batboy at right come to congratulate Stan Musial after he just clouted a solo homer in the 4th inning, off young Ralph Branca, to go ahead of the Brooks 2-1. The dejected catcher is rookie Bruce Edwards.

This was a big day for Cardinal baseball in 1946, and a virtual sellout, as the Brooklyn Dodgers came into town for a first place showdown – after the Cardinals were behind Brooklyn as much as 7 1/2 games earlier in the season, they heated up after the All-Star break, and both were now tied atop the NL as the day began. And Stan The Man was certainly up to the task – after a year off for military service, he was ready to again dominant the NL, and was flying high in ’46, eventually winning the MVP by leading the league in most offensive categories (except, ironically, HRs and RBIs). And the Cards sure liked their chances in Game 1 – Branca, only a spot-starter in ’46, was facing the Cardinals All-Star ace lefty Howie Pollet, who would eventually pace the NL in wins and ERA. Fortunately for Brooklyn, the wily Branca held his own, and although he was lifted in the 6th after the Cards tied it at 2-2, a parade of relievers deftly held the Redbirds scoreless from there; and as pinch-hitter Cookie Lavagetto broke the stalemate to single in the go-ahead run in the 9th off Pollet, who went all the way in the loss, the Dodgers prevailed 3-2, moving up a full game on the locals.

However, the Cardinals and Musial weren’t about to let Brooklyn gain any more ground in their home park, and busted out early in the second game, knocking Joe Hatten out of the box with none retired in the first, and didn’t stop there, building a 10-0 lead after 6 innings, with MVP Stan going 4 for 5 to highlight the Redbirds’ attack. The Dodgers did storm back, scoring 4 in the 7th and 4 more in the 8th to get to within 11-8, but they were running out of time – darkness was approaching, and although Sportsman’s Park had had lights installed in 1940, the rules of the day did not allow for a day game to be continued into night with the aid of lighting – so when the Cardinals decided to score 3 more runs in the bottom of the 8th, the last vestige of daylight was exhausted, and the game was called after 8 innings due to darkness – and the Cardinals regained a first place tie with the visitors, thanks to at least a little help from Mother Nature. So after 6 hours of NL titans doing battle in front of a full house of rabid Cardinal fans, one more or less a pitching duel, the other a slugfest, the result was a No Decision, or as the NY Times put it, “Condition unchanged, patient still feverish”. The Dodgers had two more games in St. Louis in the series, and split those, leaving town still tied for first.

It turned out that each game did matter from here on in, as the Dodgers and Cardinals continued to battle down the stretch, and they both ended the season in a flat-flooted tie, surprisingly, for the first time in baseball history. There would be a 3-game playoff to decide the pennant, which oddly enough, had many parallels to that August stalemate doubleheader.

The first playoff game was held in St. Louis. The pitching matchup? Ralph Branca vs Howie Pollet. Lady luck had spun the same combination as back in August, and would the stars again line up for the Dodgers against the Cardinals’ ace? As it turned out, Pollet again allowed 2 runs in the middle innings, but didn’t give up that 3rd run in the 9th, and went on to notch his 21st win of the season (the first time being able to go beyond the usual amount of games to add to one’s season totals), and Branca didn’t get out of the 3rd inning, ironically suffering his first loss of the entire season, and the Cardinals took the first game 4-2.

The second game moved to Brooklyn, and, pitching for the Dodgers: Joe Hatten, the Game 2 goat back on that summer’s day in St. Louis. Hatten did make it out of the first inning this time, but not much further, as the Cardinals had 5 runs by the 5th inning, and the pennant was more or less lost, although the Brooks had the bases loaded in the 9th down 8-4, but Howie Schultz struck out to give the title to the Redbirds.

Ironically, although the Dodgers lost a tough pennant battle in the campaign of 1946, that year set the stage for the future, and young stars such as Branca, Reese, and rookie Carl Furillo (not to mention the addition of Jackie Robinson in 1947) would lead Brooklyn to many years of success in the late ’40’s and ’50’s, including the pennant in 1947 and 6 within the next 10 years, while for the Cardinals, although Stan Musial was one of the best players in the league in the late ’40’s and ’50’s, 1946 was the last hurrah for the Redbirds until the 1960’s.


Whitey Kurowski, Enos Slaughter, Marty Marion and Stan Musial

Ironically, Howie Pollet would lose Game 1 of the ’46 World Series, and was removed due to injury in Game 5, although the Cardinals did win the World Championship in 7 games over the Red Sox – who would not win a title until almost a half century later.

Joe Hatten, who actually had a pretty good year in 1946, would rebound to go 17-8 for the pennant winners in 1947 and continue to be an effective starter for Brooklyn, although did poorly in the spotlight of both the 1947 and 1949 World Series.

An interesting footnote regards Brooklyn catcher Bruce Edwards; he had just been called up in June, but became the Dodgers starting catcher right away, and for the rest of the season. He would go on to play a career high 130 games as the Brooklyn catcher in 1947 (one of his backups would be none other than rookie Gil Hodges, who thankfully moved to first the following year), but the breaking of the color line relegated him to part-time status in 1948 with the emergence of Roy Campanella. He would remain Campy’s backup through mid-1951, when he was traded to the Cubs. He remained a part-timer for the rest of his career.

And one final note: The next time the National League ended in a tie, necessitating a playoff, was in 1951, with one Ralph Branca also involved. Let’s just say Branca winning playoff games was never in the cards.

Veeck – as in wrecked?

I’ve already had an earlier post about the crazy genius Bill Veeck in this blog’s youth, and I expect to have a few more. This was probably one of his better promotions, which seemed to get a little crazier as he got older.

Veeck made the Cleveland Indians a quick success after becoming owner of the club in 1946 (first AL black player, Larry Doby, in 1947, and a championship in 1948), but it would be short-lived; after getting divorced in 1949, he had to sell the Tribe to fund the settlement, but wouldn’t stay on the sidelines for long.

Veeck remarried in 1951, and then promptly purchased 80% ownership in the St. Louis Browns. The Browns would be a tough test for the budding marketing whiz, as the Cardinals shared the same park, and were far more popular. His first moves were to hire legendary Cardinals Rogers Hornsby (as manager) and Dizzy Dean (as an announcer), although Veeck fired Hornsby by June.

Thinking of more ideas to get fans into the ballpark, Veeck held a “Drink On The House” Night at Sportsman’s, July 1951. In a press photo below, Veeck is seen himself passing out free brews to the surprised Browns’ faithful. Somehow, I can’t imagine Fred Wilpon coming down the aisle at Citi Field to hand me a free Brooklyn Lager any time soon.

It was actually a good way to get the word out about one of the local beer sponsors, Falstaff, St. Louis’ own. The label below is the same as on the beers above, and below that, a Falstaff beer ad with ol’ Diz.

Either way, it seems to have worked out better than future Veeck promotions, which grew increasingly unusual. Only a month later was the famous Eddie Gaedel game, in which Veeck used the services of a “little person” to go up for an at-bat for the Browns (he walked).

Unfortunately, Veeck’s grandstanding would have little effect, and he himself would be largely responsible for the demise of the St. Louis Browns. When beer giant Anheuser-Busch purchased the Cardinals in 1952, with endless resources, Veeck knew the writing was on the wall, and looked to bidders to move the franchise. Milwaukee was the first choice, but the Boston Braves beat them to it, so the next choice was Baltimore – and Veeck planned on remaining majority owner, but the other owners were not very keen on it, and voted him down, so he sold the team anyway, and the Orioles were born.

Veeck would go on to bring success to the Chicago White Sox (during two tenures), but also more unusual ideas, both good and bad, including introducing the famous exploding scoreboard in Comiskey Park and putting players’ names on their uniforms for the first time, both in 1960, and later the infamous “shorts” uniform from the 1970’s, the beginning of Harry Caray (then White Sox announcer) singing Take Me Out To The Ball Game, and last but not least, Disco Demolition Night in 1979, in which disco records were blown up on the field, and resulted in a near riot and the forfeit of the second game of a doubleheader by the White Sox.

Veeck finally sold the White Sox in 1981 and retired from baseball, passing away in 1986. He is responsible for many of the craziest things that have happened on a baseball field, and I’d have to admit, baseball history would be a lot less interesting without him.

A Moment In Time – 8/17/47

Sunday, August 17, 1947, Forbes Field, Pittsburgh, PA. Pirates playing the Cardinals. Del Rice is catching for the Redbirds (rookie Jim Hearn on the mound, off camera), Whitey Kurowski at third, and slugger and future Hall Of Famer Hank Greenberg is coming up to bat in the bottom of the 7th inning, in the final year of his illustrious career.

Greenberg was a Detroit Tigers legend through the ’30’s and ’40’s, even after taking off 4 years for WWII service. But at the beginning of the 1947 season, he was mired in a salary dispute with ownership, and elected to retire instead of taking a cut in pay. Doing so, the Tigers sold his contract to the Pirates, and the Bucs’ owners (including Bing Crosby, who recorded a song, “Goodbye, Mr. Ball, Goodbye” with Groucho Marx and Greenberg [listen below!] to celebrate Greenberg’s arrival), offered him $80,000, the highest ever paid a baseball player to that point, to persuade him not to retire, and play one last season. The Pirates also reduced the size of Forbes’ left field by installing fencing and renaming the section “Greenberg Gardens” to accommodate Greenberg’s pull-hitting style. Playing for the Pirates also afforded him the opportunity to mentor a young Bucs slugger by the name of Ralph Kiner, and the “gardens” in left were changed to “Kiner’s Korner” after Hank’s departure.

Click photos for larger versions!

Greenberg walked in the above at-bat (Kiner was on second with a double), but he belted a homer in his next trip to the plate (his 330th) during the Bucs’ 4-run 8th inning, going 2-3 on the day (Hank would have only one more home run in his career, in September at Forbes). Despite that, Stan Musial’s 3-for-3 helped the Cards to a 6-5 win, allowing them to pull within 4.5 games of the Dodgers, but would never catch them for the ’47 pennant. As for the Pirates, they were already mired in the second division at this point, as Hank’s career was winding down, and would end the season tied for last place. Ralph Kiner would go on to have a Hall Of Fame career of his own, albeit shortened by injury. Hank himself entered the Hall in 1956.

Veeck – as in yech?

When baseball maverick Bill Veeck purchased the Cleveland Indians in mid-1946, he needed to appeal favorably to the Tribe’s fans, who hadn’t won anything since 1920, and by all accounts was very successful, improving the Indians’ fortunes greatly in 1947, including immediately getting all home games on radio, signing Larry Doby to break the AL color barrier, and then winning in all in 1948, still the Tribe’s last championship.

In purchasing the club, Veeck promptly published ads in the local Plain Dealer to assure the fans that they were committed to building a winner for Cleveland, two of which are shown below. Although painfully racist now (with mention of wigwams, papooses, and most offensive, injuns), the ads were good natured for the time and well received by the faithful. Definitely a time capsule from an age long gone.

(Click on photos for larger versions)

The “Rare” Rotunda

Anyone who’s been to Citi Field or have even heard about it are probably familiar with it’s rotunda, loosely based on the one from Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, and constantly a matter of debate regarding it’s homage to Jackie Robinson (“he never played for the Mets!” “Wilpon’s a Dodger shill” “Why not the Seaver rotunda?” etc.) – in any event, it’s been well publicized and well photographed, and any Google search will bring up a flood of Citi rotunda photos.

But what of the rotunda that inspired it? Surely among the millions of folks that streamed through the Ebbets Field rotunda gates, more than a few were toting a camera, and were able to snap a pic or two of the classic entrance to one of the legendary baseball parks of all time. Or so one would think.

In reality, interior photos of the classic parks are exceedingly rare. Unlike today, no one really had no interest in the largely dark, dank recesses of the old stadiums, and were more in a hurry to get into the sunlight to watch some actual baseball. Film wasn’t exactly cheap, and those who had the wherewithall to bring a camera back then weren’t about to waste it snapping a photo of some dimly lit corner or walkway, they were going to save it for Duke Snider, or at least a photo of the playing field.

So, the result is, there are only a select few photos of the Ebbets Field rotunda that are publicly known. In fact, I believe there are currently only three:

The first one is the most common, from 1949, and is the one that pops up in a typical online image search. It also has the clearest view of the unique “baseball” chandelier that hung from the ceiling. Also, the words EBBETS FIELD can be seen surrounding a printed baseball on the floor of the rotunda. Oddly enough, the other prominent item in the photo is a display for football games to be played that fall, at Yankee Stadium (the team played at Ebbets in earlier seasons, so perhaps they felt obliged to keep selling tickets for them)!

Here is a design for that chandelier that was printed in the Brooklyn Eagle when Ebbets was in the planning stages:

And, then, here are the other two – this one at least shows a few fans passing through the portals into the stadium itself.

The third was just recently discovered, and likely from an architectural digest or booklet of some sort. It allows us another view of that funky chandelier, and even a bonus shot of Ebbets Field offices as well.

There’s sort of a fourth, taken on Ebbets last day by the New York Times, but all we see is a plaque that supposedly was hanging in the rotunda. Entire article from the NYT shown (click on photo for link to larger pic of article).

We DO have a nice photo of the original plan of the rotunda, and yep, seems to match up with what was built:

Also, we have a rare views of the walls of the rotunda, from beyond the rotunda doors in the “bowels” of the stadium. From a LIFE magazine Charley Neal photo shoot from 1956 – see the curved walls to the right – the doors underneath the “Next Game Dodgers vs” sign lead into the rotunda, through where the fans are passing through in one of the previous photos.

So, as a classic ballparks fan, here is your assignment: To somehow find the elusive FOURTH photo of the Ebbets Field rotunda, in order to further our knowledge on this rarest of circular entries. As Ebbets was torn down over 50 years ago, folks who actually walked through it are getting older, and finding more photos may be our only hope!