Major League Baseball reached its nadir during the war years of 1944 and 1945, especially in the American League, where the acute shortage of players dragged the entire circuit down to the level of the St. Louis Browns. Perennial doormats that finished at or near the bottom of the A.L. standings in nine of the previous 10 seasons, the Browns captured their first and only league championship in 1944. St. Louis finished the campaign with a record of 89-65, just one game ahead of the second-place Detroit Tigers. The New York Yankees came in third, six games off the pace.
Relatively untouched by the military draft, the 1944 St. Louis Browns featured an all-4F infield, nine players age 34 or older, and a motley collection of notorious characters such as Tex Shirley and Mike Kreevich. Fourth starter Sig Jakucki won 13 games after he previously retired in 1936 with a major league record of 0-3. The Browns rediscovered him pitching for a Houston industrial-league team. Nels Potter and Jack Kramer were the team’s big winners, posting win totals of 19 and 17, respectively. Meanwhile, 23-year-old shortstop Vern Stephens paced the St. Louis offense, batting .293, scoring 91 runs, placing second in the league with 20 home runs, and topping the circuit with 109 runs batted in.
After opening the season with nine consecutive victories, the Browns continued to surprise the baseball world by remaining in contention the rest of the year. With St. Louis, Detroit, and New York involved in a close three-team pennant race down the stretch, the Browns laid claim to the league championship by defeating the Yankees five times during the season’s final week. They clinched the pennant with a come-from-behind 5-2 victory over New York on two home runs by Chet Laabs, and another by Vern Stephens.
The Browns subsequently faced the Cardinals in a World Series played entirely within the confines of Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. The Cardinals emerged victorious in the Fall Classic that came to be known as the “Streetcar Series,” defeating their American League counterparts in six games.
Although St. Louis edged out Detroit for the A.L. title by one game, the Tigers featured the circuit’s top two pitchers. Dizzy Trout and Hal Newhouser dominated the league statistical categories for pitchers, finishing first and second in virtually every department. Newhouser led the league with 29 wins and 187 strikeouts, and he finished second to his teammate with a 2.22 ERA, 25 complete games, 312 innings pitched, and six shutouts. Trout placed second to Newhouser with 27 victories and 144 strikeouts, while also leading all A.L. hurlers with a 2.12 ERA, 33 complete games, 352 innings pitched, and seven shutouts. The two Detroit aces also finished first and second in the league MVP voting, with Newhouser edging out Trout for the honor by a mere four points.
Other notable events from around the league and players who distinguished themselves over the course of the season included:
• George McQuinn of the Browns led all 1944 World Series players with a .438 batting average and five runs batted in.
• Cleveland's Lou Boudreau won the American League batting title with a mark of .327.
• New York’s Snuffy Stirnweiss, a .219 hitter in 1943, batted .319 and led the American League with 205 hits, 125 runs scored, 16 triples, and 55 stolen bases.
• Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis died. Immediately after his passing, the members of the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee voted him into Cooperstown.
• Elmer Gedeon became the first former major leaguer to be killed in action in World War II.
• Boston’s Bob Johnson led the American League with a .431 on-base percentage and finished third in the batting race with a mark of .324.
• Red Sox teammate Bobby Doerr led the American League with a .528 slugging percentage and finished second in the circuit with a .325 batting average.
• Detroit’s Dick Wakefield almost led his team to the pennant after he returned from the armed forces by batting .355 over the season’s final 78 games.
• Detroit’s Rudy York finished among the league leaders with 18 home runs and 98 runs batted in.
• New York’s Nick Etten batted .293, knocked in 91 runs, and led the league with 22 home runs.
• Stan Spence hit 18 of Washington's 33 home runs.
- 1944 World Series, American League, Bob Johnson, Bobby Doerr, Chet Laabs, Dick Wakefield, Dizzy Trout, Elmer Gedeon, George McQuinn, Hal Newhouser, Jack Kramer, Kenesaw Landis, Lou Boudreau, Mike Kreevich, Nels Potter, Nick Etten, Rudy York, Sig Jakucki, Snuffy Stirnweiss, Spud Chandler, St. Louis Browns, St. Louis Cardinals, Stan Spence, Tex Shirley, Vern Stephens