While in most seasons a 15 game drop in the win column would be most concerning, in 1942, there were more pressing issues world wide as the country was waist deep in World War II and in baseball terms, the front office concern were more based on which players would be lost to Uncle Sam in the draft and not necessarily how to correct the 15 game deficiency.
One move that the team did make that ended up backfiring was the trading of Hall of Fame shortstop Arky Vaughan, five days after Pearl Harbor. Vaughn was dealt to the Dodgers for Pete Coscarart, Jimmy Wasdell, Luke Hamlin, and Babe Phelps. Although it was stated at the time the Pirates dealt Arky while he still had some value as they didn’t want to get into a situation they did with Paul Waner, when they felt they waited to long to trade him and ended up with nothing. In reality, probably the main reason Vaughan was dealt was that he didn’t get along with manager Frankie Frisch. Of the players they got in return, only Phelps enjoyed a solid season, hitting .284 as he split time with Al Lopez behind the plate. Unfortunately he retired at the end of the season, as Coscarart was the only player for the club who ended up on a Pittsburgh roster past 1942. As for Vaughn, he slumped to .277 in ’42 before rebounding with a .305 mark the following season.
Vaughan would be the last of the four 1930 Hall of Famers to play with the club, the Waners and Pie Traynor being the other three. One of them, Paul Waner, would come back to haunt the team later in the year as he collected his 3,000 major league hit in a Braves uniform, as he smacked a single on June 19th against Rip Sewell in Boston. He actually had gotten a disputed hit two days earlier, but signaled to the scorekeeper to call it an error since it hit off a fielders glove and he didn’t want the mark under tainted circumstances.
Along with everybody else, the Bucs lost starting third baseman Lee Handley, not only for the 1942 campaign, but 1943 also. Handley, who led the league in stolen bases in 1939 and hit .288 in 1941, was thrown through the canvas roof of a convertible in a severe auto accident in Illinois at the beginning of December. Jeep, as Handley was known, went to spring training, but was unable to throw a ball across the diamond. He was sent to Los Angeles for an evaluation, but was unable to return to the team.
Probably the biggest loss the team suffered to the military during the campaign was that of shortstop Billy Cox. Cox, who would go on to star with the Dodgers later in the decade, was a rookie who was penciled in as the starting shortstop replacing Vaughan. Instead he would be drafted into the military and Coscarart took over the position, hitting only .228 compared to Arky’s 1941 .318 average.
One thing that could have made the franchise much better now and in the future is when they worked out Negro league stars Roy Campanella and Sammy Hughes in late July. Owner Benny Benswanger of course didn’t sign the duo, which would be the second time in recent seasons that the Pirates had a chance to break the color barrier with players that could have changed the fortunes of the franchise.
Overall the team dropped in runs scored for the third straight year, going from 809 in 1940 to 585 this season, which was probably the main culprit in the teams disappointing finish. With it all, it was only a drop in the bucket to what the nation was going through and the worst part was, times were about to worsen, both for the war effort and the national pastime.By Pirates Encyclopedia
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- Arky Vaughan, Babe Phelps, Billy Cox, Jimmy Wasdell, Lee Handley, Luke Hamlin, Paul Waner, Pete Coscarart, Pie Traynor, Roy Campanella