The 1946 campaign was very much a year of transition for the Yankees. With most of the team’s best players returning to the States after spending time in the military during World War II, the club’s roster changed dramatically. Yet, returning stars such as Joe DiMaggio and Joe Gordon still needed to knock off some of the rust they acquired while being away from the game for such an extended period of time. Longtime Yankees Red Ruffing and Bill Dickey donned the pinstripes for the last time as active players. Newcomers Yogi Berra and Vic Raschi made their first appearances in a Yankee uniform. Yankee Stadium hosted the first night game in its history and drew a record 2,265,512 paying customers through its turnstiles. And manager Joe McCarthy resigned after piloting the club to eight pennants and seven world championships in his 16 years with the team.
After failing to capture the American League pennant in either of the previous two seasons, the Yankees hoped the return of many of their best players might help to change the team’s fortunes in 1946. However, veterans such as Joe DiMaggio and Joe Gordon had a difficult time their first year back performing as well as they did before entering the service. DiMaggio hit only 25 home runs, drove in just 95 runs, scored only 81 others, and batted just .290, failing to reach the .300-mark for the first time in his career. Meanwhile, Gordon hit only 11 homers, knocked in just 47 runs, and batted only .210. Tommy Henrich had a less difficult time making the necessary adjustments, hitting 19 home runs, driving in 83 runs, and scoring 92 others. Nevertheless, he posted a batting average of only .251. New York’s best player was unquestionably Charlie Keller, who had the advantage of returning to the team for the final two months of the 1945 season. Keller batted .275 and led the Yankees with 30 home runs, 101 runs batted in, 98 runs scored, 113 walks, and a .405 on-base percentage. With DiMaggio and Gordon struggling as much as they did, the Yankees found themselves unable to pose much of a threat to the pennant-winning Red Sox, who finished 12 games ahead of the second-place Detroit Tigers. New York came in third, 17 games behind Boston, with a record of 87-67.
Although they failed to advance to the World Series for the third straight year, the Yankees made history on May 28th, when they hosted the first night game ever played at Yankee Stadium. A crowd of 49,917 fans watched the Yankees lose a 2-1 decision to the Washington Senators.
While most of the Yankees’ returning veterans displayed significant signs of rust, one player who seemed totally unaffected by his time away from the game was Spud Chandler. The 38-year-old right-hander nearly matched his MVP performance of three years earlier, finishing the campaign with a record of 20-8, a 2.10 ERA, and 20 complete games. Bill Bevens also pitched effectively for the team, winning 16 games, compiling a 2.23 ERA, and throwing 18 complete games.
However, none of the other starters pitched particularly well, prompting New York to summon rookie right-hander Vic Raschi from the minor leagues in late September. The 27-year-old Raschi won both his starts, throwing two complete games in the process. The Yankees also called up for the first time 21-year-old catcher Yogi Berra, who collected eight hits in 22 times at-bat, for a .364 batting average, with two home runs and four runs batted in.
Just as Raschi and Berra arrived in the Bronx, two future Hall of Famers bid their farewell to the pinstripes. The Yankees released Red Ruffing on September 20th, even though the 41-year-old right-hander compiled a record of 5-1 and an ERA of 1.77 in his eight starts for the team. Ruffing ended his time in New York with more victories than any other pitcher in club history at the time, with a mark of 231-124. Bill Dickey also played his last game for the team, announcing his retirement at season’s end.
Before Dickey retired, though, he assumed New York’s vacated managerial post for the remainder of the year after Joe McCarthy resigned 35 games into the campaign. McCarthy didn’t have the same rapport with his new boss Larry MacPhail that he enjoyed with Ed Barrow, causing him to leave the club on May 24th, after compiling a record of 22-13 to that point.By Bob_Cohen
- Bill Bevens, Bill Dickey, Billy Johnson, Charlie Keller, Ed Barrow, George McQuinn, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon, Joe McCarthy, New York Yankees, Phil Rizzuto, Red Ruffing, Snuffy Stirnweiss, Spud Chandler, Tommy Henrich, Vic Raschi, Yankee Stadium, Yogi Berra