There was joy about the country as millions of brave soldiers came back to America to try and pick up their lives, where they had left it off. The same could be said of the national pastime. Just about every major star was back and the Pirates welcomed back their heroes, such as Elbie Fletcher, Johnny Lanning, Maurice Van Robays, Fritz Ostermueller and Billy Cox. Add to the mix war star Bob Elliott and a strapping young rookie from New Mexico who made his way out east to debut for the Pirates in 1946 by the name of Ralph Kiner.
With all the pieces put together on the heels of 3 consecutive first division campaigns, the city of Pittsburgh were licking their chops for a potential run at the National League pennant.
With Fletcher back, the Pirates were able to sell Babe Dahlgren to the St Louis Browns in April as Pittsburgh began its quest of the crown. Unfortunately for the Pirates, things would quickly go downhill with a series of sub-par seasons In fact, two of the few positive performances was that of rookie Ralph Kiner who won his first home run title with 23 and shortstop Billy Cox, who finally got his chance to man the starting shortstop spot and responded well with a .290 average although he led the circuit with 39 errors. Veteran backstop Al Lopez was also off to a wonderful.307 start when he broke a bone in his hand.
Fletcher was ineffective, hitting .256 with only 66 RBI’s, while Van Robays slumped to .212. Rip Sewell had a poor 8-12 record as he added insult to injury by tossing the infamous eephus pitch to Ted Williams in the all-star game with Williams smacking the ball out of the park for a homer. With the disappointing performances in hand, the Pirates put the collective nails in their coffins to their season as well as that of manager Frankie Frisch, who was relieved of his job with 3 games left in favor of former catcher Spud Davis who finished up with a 1-2 mark.
One of the key moments in the season had nothing to do with their play on the field as the team was involved in an attempt to form a players union, one of the first attempt in years as all others in the past were met with failure. Robert Murphy, a Boston Attorney who tried to form a players union called the American Baseball Guild, was interested in getting the following proposals passed, splitting the proceeds of the sale of a player 50-50 between the club and the said player, a $7,500 minimum salary and using the arbitration process in the case of all salary disputes. Baseball refused to negotiate with Murphy, so he chose a team, the Pirates, in which 23 of the players belonged to the guild, to hopefully throw the first bomb and walk out on a game.
Murphy needed, 3/4 of the team to vote yes in order to walk out of a scheduled game against the Giants on June 8th. The team voted 20-16 to walk, as Rip Sewell and Jimmy Brown, the only two players not to join, tried to talk the players into going out and perform. It didn’t have the 3/4 majority so they ended up playing the Giants as they went out and beat New York 10-5. Some of the Players, who did not walk, credited their respect of owner Bill Benswanger for one of the reasons they chose to play. A frustrated Murphy protested with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming the team brass was using unfair practices in preventing the team from striking. The NLRB denied the appeal and the union was a dead deal,……….. for the time being.
As for Sewell and Brown, the two players that did not join the union, Sewell was presented with a wristwatch from commissioner Happy Chandler for siding with management during the altercation a move, which was eventually resented by his teammates. Brown got it a little worse when he was reportedly beat up by some unknown thugs after a ball game at Forbes Field.
One other memorable moment was the Dreyfuss family finally giving up the team they proudly owned since 1899 as the family sold to a group that included singer Bing Crosby, Fred McKinney, Tom Johnson and John Galbreath for $2.5 million. The Dreyfuss clan had been in charge through many good and bad times, but it was now time to turn the reigns over. Crosby, Johnson and Galbreath of course would see better times later on as they dug out of the doldrums of the 40’s and 50’s to win world championships in 1960 and 1971 (and of course the Galbreath family and Johnson were there for the one in 1979).
Unlike the Dreyfuss family, the new regime had other business interests than baseball and hired, what was in essence, the first General Manager the club had in Roy Hamey, the former chief of the American Association, to run the baseball end of the Pirates.
The season was a total bust, for the union as well as all involved. It was even a poor one for their best player Bob Elliott who moved back to right field and hit only .263 with 68 RBI’s. It would prompt the club to make one of the worst moves in the franchises history when it sent their 29-year old marquis player the day after the season ended to the Braves for 36-year old Billy Herman who was coming off a .306 season in limited play. Herman, who told the Bucco brass when he came, that they overpaid for him in giving up Elliott, hit only .213 in 47 at bats in 1947 while taking over the reigns of the club unsuccessfully in 1947 for not even one full season. Elliott rebounded with his greatest season ever winning the MVP award in ’47 with a 22-113-.317 campaign before leading the club to the National League crown the following year. It was the beginning of the end for the team, which was about to embark on its darkest period in the history of the team.By Pirates Encyclopedia
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- Al Lopez, Babe Dahlgren, Bill Benswanger, Billy Cox, Billy Herman, Bing Crosby, Bob Elliott, Elbie Fletcher, Fritz Ostermueller, Happy Chandler, John Galbreath, Johnny Lanning, Maurice Van Robays, Ralph Kiner, Rip Sewell, Tom Johnson