A new era began on January 25, 1945, when Daniel Topping, Del Webb, and Larry MacPhail purchased the Yankees for $2.8 million from the estate of the late Jacob Ruppert.
The 54-year-old MacPhail was a former lawyer who had previously served as chief executive of the Cincinnati Reds and president of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Considered to be one of the sport’s great innovators, MacPhail is credited with introducing night baseball, regular game televising, and air travel to the major leagues.
A lifelong baseball fan, the 45-year-old Webb was a construction magnate and real estate developer who, along with the 33-year-old Topping, ended up buying out MacPhail in October 1947. The two men remained owners of the Yankees until they sold controlling interest in the club to CBS in 1964. Topping also served as team president during that time, continuing to function in that capacity until 1966, when he sold his remaining stake in the team.
The team’s new ownership arrangement did not sit particularly well with Ed Barrow, who had served as New York’s general manager since 1921. Also having functioned as club president since 1939, Barrow had his role changed to chairman of the board by Topping, who assumed the role of president himself. Considered to be the man most responsible for the incredible success the Yankees experienced from 1921 to 1945, Barrow wasn’t happy in his new role. He much preferred organizing and developing the team’s farm system and building the major league roster through trades and outright purchases to sitting behind a desk and holding meetings. As a result, Barrow retired two years later, ending a 27-year association with the ball club. The Yankees showed their appreciation to Barrow on April 15, 1954, dedicating a plaque to him that initially hung on the center field wall at Yankee Stadium, near the flagpole and the monuments to Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Miller Huggins, and, later, in the Stadium’s Monument Park. The plaque referred to Barrow as a “Molder of tradition of victory.”
Meanwhile, with World War II slowly beginning to draw to a close as the 1945 season progressed, major league players gradually began returning to their teams. Hank Greenberg rejoined Detroit on July 1, after serving 45 months in the United States Army Air Forces, to lead the Tigers to the American League pennant. Detroit edged out the second-place Washington Senators by 1 ½ games. The Yankees finished fourth in the league, 6 ½ games back, with a record of 81-71.
Several Yankee players returned from Europe or the Pacific during the latter stages of the season to try to help the team make it back to the World Series. Charlie Keller and Spud Chandler both rejoined the squad during the season’s final two months. Even 40-year-old Red Ruffing tried to lend a helping hand, compiling a record of 7-3 and a 2.89 ERA in his 11 starts. But, with most of the team’s best players still serving in the military, the Yankees found themselves unable to mount a serious challenge to the Tigers and Senators for the American League flag.
Nevertheless, a few members of the team distinguished themselves over the course of the season with their outstanding play. Nick Etten supplied much of the power to an offense that led the junior circuit with 93 home runs and 676 runs scored. In addition to batting .285 and compiling a .387 on-base percentage, the first baseman hit 18 home runs and knocked in a league-leading 111 runs. George Stirnweiss had another outstanding year, leading the league with 107 runs scored, 195 hits, 22 triples, 33 stolen bases, 301 total bases, a .309 batting average, and a .476 slugging percentage, en route to earning a third-place finish in the A.L. MVP voting.
Second-year right-hander Bill Bevens led the pitching staff with 13 victories and 14 complete games. Joe Page won six games coming out of the bullpen, while compiling an ERA of 2.82.
However, the contributions of Etten, Stirnweiss, Bevens, and Page simply weren’t enough. The lineup sorely missed the big bats of DiMaggio, Gordon, Henrich, and Keller. The pitching staff similarly missed the arms of Chandler and Murphy. The absence of those players resulted in New York failing to advance to the World Series for the second straight year.By Bob_Cohen
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- Atley Donald, Bill Bevens, Billy Johnson, Charlie Keller, Dan Topping, Del Webb, Ed Barrow, Hank Borowy, Jacob Ruppert, Joe Page, Johnny Lindell, Larry MacPhail, New York Yankees, Nick Etten, Red Ruffing, Snuffy Stirnweiss, Spud Chandler