Wax and Wane at Wrigley
CHICAGO – Baseball had found itself dragged into World War II after the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. It was then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt himself who gave baseball the green light to continue the game during wartime, as Commissioner Kenesaw M. Landis had considered shutting down the national pastime for the duration. Roosevelt felt that with Americans working longer and harder hours, the need for relaxation and distraction would be greater than ever, and certainly baseball would provide a proper morale boost for the people.
However, unlike in World War I, ballplayers were not guaranteed cushy defense jobs. The game’s best players – Bob Feller, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Greenberg among them – found themselves enlisting with the armed forces in order to contribute. Many players, such as Warren Spahn and Hank Bauer, would even see combat.
Left behind were the lame, the has-beens, and the never-would-bes. In the seasons between 1941 and 1945, fans would see the hapless St. Louis Browns win their first, and only pennant in 1944, and a year later, employ the services of a one-armed outfielder, Pete Gray. Joe Nuxhall would make history for the Cincinnati Reds, becoming the youngest pitcher to appear in a Major League game. Due to player shortages, the 15 year-old lefthander pitched 2/3s of an inning in June of 1944. That same year, 16 year old Tommy Brown filled up the hole at shortstop left by Pee Wee Reese in Brooklyn. That was not the only odd addition to the lineup for the Brooks, however. Babe Herman had been out of the major leagues since 1937, but the Dodgers were desperate enough for players to sign him to a contract in 1945. Paul Waner, well passed his prime, had managed to stay in the league because of the talent depletion, jumping from the Dodgers to the Braves, back to Brooklyn, and then to the rival Yanks. Needless to say, the brand of baseball most fans received in the war years was anything but first-rate.
In late July of 1945, United States President Harry Truman approved the order for using nuclear warfare against a foreign enemy. Weeks later, the bombing of the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki effectively ended the Pacific War, and thus, the Second World War. September 2nd of that same year would mark the official surrender of the Empire of Japan, accepted by Douglas MacArthur and Chester Nimitz aboard the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
August of that same year saw some of baseballs stars trickle back into the game. Bob Feller won five games down the stretch of the season. Hank Greenberg also returned in prime form. In 78 games, he batted .311 and hit 13 homeruns, the last of which was a grand slam in St. Louis, effectively winning the American League pennant for his Detroit Tigers on the final day of the regular season.
Facing the Tigers in the World Series was their old nemesis, the Chicago Cubs, one of the only teams not majorly affected by the loss of talent to the war. The teams had paired off against each other in both the 1907 and 1908 World Series, with the Chicagoans taking both titles. It would be more than two decades before either team would find themselves in serious contention again. In the late 1920s, and throughout the 30s, the Cubs found themselves with strong teams, backed by Gabby Hartnett, Hack Wilson, Charlie Grimm and Lon Warneke. These Cubs would reach the Series four times, only to be disappointed in each, one of which had already been at the hands of the Tigers, who themselves had come back into prominence in the early 1930s.
The 1945 World Series began in Detroit, with the Cubs routing the Tigers by a score of 9-0. The Chicago starter, Hank Borowy, fresh off of a 21-win season with both the Yankees and the Cubs, threw a six-hit shutout. The Tigers fought back in Game 2, with a three-run homer by Greenberg and nine strong innings from Virgil Trucks, who had just been discharged from the U.S. Navy less than a week prior to the start of the series.
Game 3 saw the teams stay in Detroit, as wartime travel restrictions stayed in effect despite the end of the war. The Cubs’ Claude Passeau continued the strong pitching performances in the series by allowing only one hit in a 3-0 victory. The right hander allowed only two base runners that afternoon, capping off one of the finest performances a pitcher ever had in the fall classic.
With the series now moving to Chicago, Tiger Dizzy Trout evened the series at 2-2 with a five-hit, one unearned run performance in Game 4, despite Ray Prim retiring the first ten Detroit batters of the game. Though Borowy would return in Game 5 in the hopes of duplicating his opening game dominance, he would face a determined Hal Newhouser, the pitcher who had been bombed by Chicago in Game 1. The score remained locked at 1-1 for the first five innings, until the Tigers exploded for four straight hits to open the sixth. Hank Greenberg proved to be the difference maker in the game, hitting 3 doubles and scoring just as many times.
Game 6 hinted at a low scoring game, with Passeau facing Virgil Trucks, both of whom had given up a combined eight hits in their last starts. Both pitchers relinquished a combined four hits until the bottom of the fifth, when the Cubbies exploded for 4 runs. Passeau left the game in the 7th, when Detroit put two runs on the board, bringing their tally to three. Though, it was Chicago again scoring another three runs, and seemingly poised for an easy victory. However they would relinquish their lead in the eighth inning, as the Tigers scored four runs on a series of hits, capped off by another Greenberg homer. For the first time in the series, the teams were forced into extra innings. With the score deadlocked by the pitching of Dizzy Trout and Hank Borowy, the tide did not turn towards anyone’s favor until the bottom of the 12th inning, when Chicago’s Stan Hack would drive in pinch-runner Billy Schuster from first base on a hit that bounced over Greenberg’s head in leftfield. With the hit ruled a double, the Cubs took the win to force a deciding Game 7.
Pictured is the scene outside of Wrigley Field, early that October 10th morning. Tickets for the 1:30 game had gone on sale at 8:30 AM, long after the crowd had gathered with the hopes of scoring tickets to the last game. With temperatures in the upper 40s, the Cubs took the field for the final contest of the series, hoping that the momentum from their dramatic win on Monday would carry them to their first title in almost 40 years. Returning from his 4-inning relief performance during Game 6, Hank Borowy was slated to start with less than 48 hours rest. After giving up three straight singles in the opening frame before recording an out however, manager Charlie Grimm pulled Hank, conceding that he had done all that he could for the Cubs that season. In replacing Borowy, Paul Derringer faired little better, giving up a bases-clearing double to catcher Paul Richards, bringing the Tiger run total to five in that first inning alone.
The Cubs would never catch up. Though Detroit’s Newhouser allowed ten hits and three runs, he would also strike out ten Chicago batters. Additionally, the Tigers would all but shut the door in the 7th and 8th innings, with a series of doubles and sacrifice flies, opening the last frame with a 9-3 lead. With two outs and one man on, Cubs second baseman Don Johnson would groundout to the shortstop, forcing Roy Hughes at second, and ending the game, the 1945 blue ribbon classic, and the Cubs dynasty of that era
They have not played in a World Series since.