Although many of the National League’s best players returned to their respective teams from the military prior to the start of the 1946 campaign, the senior circuit soon found itself competing with the newly-formed Mexican League for the services of some of its top performers. Offered huge increases in salary, Brooklyn’s Mickey Owen and Luis Olmo, and New York’s Danny Gardella and Sal Maglie were among the first to go.
After starting off the season 6-0 with a 1.93 ERA, Max Lanier of the Cardinals also elected to travel south of the border. The Cardinals nearly lost Stan Musial as well, although the league’s best player eventually decided to remain in St. Louis. Commissioner Happy Chandler attempted to discourage others from leaving by threatening the jumping players with five-year suspensions from the major leagues.
After the dust settled, the Cardinals and Dodgers found themselves engaged in a season-long battle for the top spot in the senior circuit. The Dodgers led by as much as 7 ½ games as late as July, but the Cardinals rallied to catch them by season’s end. The two teams finished tied for first place, setting the stage for a best-of-three playoff series between the two clubs – the first in National League history. The Cardinals won the playoff in two games, taking the opening contest by a score of 4-2, before claiming their fourth pennant in five years by winning Game Two by a score of 8-1. St. Louis finished the season with a record of 98-58, while Brooklyn ended the campaign with a mark of 96-60.
Easily the National League’s two best ball clubs, the Cardinals and Dodgers finished first and second in the senior circuit in both runs scored and fewest runs allowed, with St. Louis leading the league in both categories. Howie Pollet served as the ace of the Cardinals’ pitching staff, going 21-10 with a league-leading 2.10 ERA and 266 innings pitched. Meanwhile, Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter paced St. Louis on offense. Slaughter batted an even .300, hit 18 homers, scored 100 runs, and led the league with 130 runs batted in. Musial captured N.L. MVP honors for the second time by hitting 16 homers, driving in 103 runs, and topping the circuit with a .365 batting average, 124 runs scored, 228 hits, 20 triples, 50 doubles, 366 total bases, and a .587 slugging percentage.
Kirby Higbe was Brooklyn’s best pitcher, compiling a record of 17-8 and a 3.03 ERA during the regular season. Pete Reiser and Dixie Walker led the Dodgers’ offensive attack. Reiser batted .277 and stole a league-leading 34 bases. Walker led the club with a .319 batting average, 116 runs batted in, and 184 hits.
The Cardinals subsequently defeated the Boston Red Sox in a hard-fought seven-game World Series that ended up going right down to the wire. With the score tied 3-3 in the bottom of the eighth inning of Game Seven, Enos Slaughter scored the winning run all the way from first base on a two-out single to left-center by Harry Walker. Pitcher Harry “The Cat” Brecheen starred for St. Louis, winning three games and allowing Boston just one run in 20 innings of work. Meanwhile, both Ted Williams and Stan Musial struggled at the plate, posting batting averages of .200 and .222, respectively.
Other outstanding performers, notable events, and points of interest from around the league follow:
• April 18 – Jackie Robinson, signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers organization by owner Branch Rickey, made his first appearance with the Montreal Royals in the International League.
• Harry Walker led all 1946 World Series players with a .412 batting average and six runs batted in.
• Pittsburgh’s Ralph Kiner became the first rookie to lead the National League in homers (23).
• A four-man group, including John Galbreath and Bing Crosby, purchased the Pittsburgh Pirates.
• A group headed by Lou Perini bought the Boston Braves.
• Brooklyn's Pete Reiser stole home a National League record seven times in a season.
• Reiser broke his ankle with two weeks left in the season, possibly costing the Dodgers the pennant.
• Brooklyn’s Ed Head no-hit the Braves on April 23.
- 1946 World Series, Brooklyn Dodgers, Danny Gardella, Dixie Walker, Ed Head, Enos Slaughter, Happy Chandler, Harry Brecheen, Harry Walker, Howie Pollet, Jackie Robinson, Johnny Sain, Kirby Higbe, Luis Olmo, Max Lanier, Mickey Owen, Pete Reiser, Ralph Kiner, Sal Maglie, St. Louis Cardinals, Stan Musial, Warren Spahn