Billy Meyer was a little used catcher with the A’s and the White Sox’s during the late 1910’s and had been a manager in the Yankee farm system. The great Joe McCarthy had claimed, when Pittsburgh hired Meyer that he was certainly the best minor league manager out there and soon would be the best in the majors. When he was called upon to lead the Pirates out of the depths of the National League standings few others than McCarthy would have ever predicted, he would have immediate results. That’s exactly what happened as the Bucs won 21 more games than they did the season before, to vault back up to the first division only 8.5 games behind the surprising Boston Braves, led by former Pirate outfielder Billy Southworth, who managed his second different team to the senior circuit crown, leading Meyer to the Manager of the Year award.
It was an exciting year that saw the team in first place as late as June 16th when they beat the Giants 11-5. After a seven game winning streak in mid September, they would be in second only 2.5 games back which is as close as they got as the club finished the rest of the campaign 9-13, falling to 4th place.
One of the keys to the season was several moves that GM Roy Hamey made to bolster their anemic team. They acquired Stan Rojek, and Ed Stevens, (the first baseman that prompted the team to sell Elbie Fletcher to the Indians), from Brooklyn, who took over starting spots at short and third respectively, hitting .290 and .254. Pittsburgh then picked up an Irishman that not only took over the reigns at second, but also would be a key aspect in the franchises next two world championships, his name, Danny Murtaugh. The Pirates got Murtaugh, who had a strong season with a .290 average and 71 RBI’s, a career high, and Johnny Hopp, the first baseman, who took over eventually for Stevens and hit .278, from the Braves for Bill Salkeld, Al Lyons and Jim Russell, none of whom were effective for Boston.
With the good trades they also made a huge mistake by giving up Billy Cox and Preacher Roe to the Dodgers for Dixie Walker, Vic Lombardi and Hal Gregg. The trade was temporarily good for the Pirates as Walker, who was 37-years old at the time, hit .316 while manning right field for Pittsburgh in 1948, but was gone after the following season, while Lombardi went 10-9 with a decent 3.70 ERA before blowing up in ’49 and ’50. Gregg virtually did nothing for the club. Cox and Roe of course became integral members of the National League powerhouse Boys of Summer for the next few years.
Ralph Kiner had another solid season, leading the league for the third straight years in homers with 40, twice hitting three homers in a game, again tied with Johnny Mize. He was third in the senior circuit with 123 RBI’s. Replacing Greenberg as his power sidekick was centerfielder Wally Westlake, whom Kiner referred to as the most underrated player on the team.
On the mound, rookie Bob Chesnes led the way with a 14-6 mark and 3.57 ERA. Elmer Riddle, whom the Pirates purchased from the Reds in the off-season and was 12-10, in a season in which he went down with a leg injury and was never the same again, backed him up. Rip Sewell, the 41-year old vet, went 13-3, his best season in 4 years.
As great of a season as it was, controversy did rear its head on a couple of occasions as the team was fined $100, when a double header versus the Dodgers on May 9th, went over the seven o’clock curfew. The ump thought the Bucs were stalling with a 5-4 lead in a game they eventually won 10-8 on Kiner’s 3 shots. Pittsburgh was fined a second time when commissioner Happy Chandler levied a $2,000 one on them for tampering with the bonus baby rule as the club signed ML Lynch as a scout, then offered his son Danny a $6,000 contract. Chandler felt that the team was tampering and put the hammer down.
All in all a great surprising season that was the last winning year for a decade. The locusts were about to invade Forbes Field.By Pirates Encyclopedia
- Al Lyons, Bill Salkeld, Billy Cox, Billy Meyer, Billy Southworth, Bob Chesnes, Danny Murtaugh, Dixie Walker, Ed Stevens, Elbie Fletcher, Elmer Riddle, Hal Gregg, Hank Greenberg, Happy Chandler, Jim Russell, Joe McCarthy, Johnny Hopp, Johnny Mize, Preacher Roe, Ralph Kiner, Rip Sewell, Stan Rojek, Vic Lombardi, Wally Westlake