With most of baseball’s best players returning to their respective teams prior to the start of the season, a sense of normalcy returned to the major leagues in 1946. After capturing their only American League pennant just two years earlier, the St. Louis Browns reverted to form, finishing seventh in the league, a full 38 games behind the pennant-winning Boston Red Sox. Buoyed by the return of Ted Williams from the military, the Red Sox claimed their first league championship in 28 years, finishing the campaign 12 games in front of the second-place Detroit Tigers, with a record of 104-50.
Showing no ill effects from his three full years away from the game, Williams placed among the league leaders in most offensive categories. The Splendid Splinter finished second in the league with 38 home runs, 123 runs batted in, and a .342 batting average, and he topped the circuit with 142 runs scored, 156 walks, 343 total bases, a .497 on-base percentage, and a .667 slugging percentage. Williams’ outstanding performance earned him the first of his two A.L. MVP trophies.
However, the Red Sox were more than just a one-man team. They combined solid pitching with the best offense in baseball to distance themselves from the rest of the league. Boston’s pitching staff finished fourth in the junior circuit with a team ERA of 3.38, and it featured one of the league’s top hurlers in Dave “Boo” Ferriss, who finished near the top of the league rankings with a record of 25-6, 26 complete games, and 274 innings pitched.
Meanwhile, Boston’s lineup posted the highest team batting average in the American League (.271), scored the most runs (792), and compiled the third-most home runs (109). Rudy York, who the Red Sox acquired from Detroit during the off-season, finished third in the league with 119 runs batted in. Dom DiMaggio placed among the leaders with a .316 batting average. Bobby Doerr hit 18 home runs, knocked in 116 runs, and scored 95 others. Johnny Pesky batted .335, scored 115 runs, and led the league with 208 hits.
Boston’s big bats were silenced in the World Series, though, as St. Louis pitching held the Red Sox to only 20 runs and a team batting average of .240 during the Cardinals’ seven-game victory. Ted Williams batted just .200, with no home runs and only one RBI in his lone trip to the Fall Classic. Harry Brecheen pitched particularly well for St. Louis, allowing the Red Sox just one run in 20 innings of work, en route to defeating them three times. The Cardinals took the decisive seventh contest by a final score of 4-3 when Enos Slaughter scored all the way from first base on a two-out single to left-center by Harry Walker in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Although the Red Sox dominated the American League in 1946 and Ted Williams clearly established himself as the circuit’s best player, Bob Feller and Hal Newhouser both pitched remarkably well for their respective teams. Feller posted a record of 26-15 for the sixth-place Cleveland Indians, compiled an exceptional 2.18 ERA, and led all major league hurlers with 348 strikeouts, 371 innings pitched, 36 complete games, and 10 shutouts. Meanwhile, pitching for the second-place Detroit Tigers, Newhouser tied Feller for the league-lead in victories by compiling a record of 26-9. He also led the league with a 1.94 ERA and placed second to Feller with 275 strikeouts, 292 innings pitched, 29 complete games, and six shutouts. Newhouser’s extraordinary performance earned him a close second-place finish in the league MVP balloting.
Other notable events from around the league and players who distinguished themselves over the course of the season included:
• April 30 – Bob Feller tossed the second no-hitter of his career in a 1-0 Cleveland Indians win over the New York Yankees.
• May 28 – The first night game was played at Yankee Stadium.
• June 24 – A bus carrying the Spokane Indians minor league baseball team crashed on Snoqualmie Pass in Washington State in the worst accident in the history of all of U.S. professional sports. Nine members of the 16-member team were killed and six were injured. Eight of those who died served in World War II.
• July 9 – At Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, the American League crushed the National League, 12–0, in the All-Star Game. Ted Williams homered twice for the victorious American League squad.
• July 14 – Player-manager Lou Boudreau of the Cleveland Indians hit four doubles and one home run, but Ted Williams hit three homers and drove in eight runs, as the Red Sox defeated the Indians in the first game of a doubleheader by a score of 11-10. Boudreau subsequently invented the famous Boudreau Shift in the nightcap, aligning all his players, except the third baseman and left fielder, on the right side of the diamond in an effort to stop Williams.
• Bob Feller's 36 complete games were the most by a major league pitcher since the end of the Dead-ball Era. Meanwhile, his 348 strikeouts were the highest total compiled since 1904.
• Washington's Mickey Vernon led the American League with a .353 batting average and 51 doubles. He also finished second with 207 hits.
• Detroit's Hank Greenberg led the A.L. with 44 home runs and 127 runs batted in, and he finished second with a .604 slugging percentage.
• The newly-formed Mexican League lured several major league stars by offering them significant pay increases.
• The New York Yankees named Larry MacPhail their new general manager.
• On July 27, Rudy York of the Red Sox hit two grand slams.
• Boston’s Joe Cronin became the first manager to lead two different American League teams to the league championship.
• Bill Veeck served his first full season as owner of the Indians.
• Walter Johnson died.
• Cleveland traded Allie Reynolds to the Yankees for Joe Gordon and Eddie Bockman.
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- 1946 World Series, Allie Reynolds, American League, Bill Veeck, Bob Feller, Bobby Doerr, Boo Ferriss, Boston Red Sox, Dom DiMaggio, Enos Slaughter, Hal Newhouser, Hank Greenberg, Harry Brecheen, Harry Walker, Joe Cronin, Joe Gordon, Johnny Pesky, Larry MacPhail, Lou Boudreau, Mickey Vernon, Rudy York, Ted Williams, Walter Johnson