By BRIAN HARL
Pandemic baseball has brought a number of unexpected and unique aspects to the game in 2020. The absence of fans in the stands, numerous seven-inning doubleheaders, and a shortened 60-game season has ensured that this year’s season will have a distinct place in baseball history.
Another unique aspect of the 2020 season is the plan to play most postseason games at neutral sites. Division Series and League Championship Series are slated to be played in Southern California and Texas, and the World Series will be played at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. This means that for the first time in 76 years, all World Series games will be played at the same location.
Health and safety protocols led MLB to select a neutral site for the World Series this season, but what led to the scenario in 1944 is worth revisiting. Looking back at the World Series that year sheds light on a fascinating time.
My Bet is on St. Louis
The driver behind playing the entire 1944 World Series at the same location was the fact that the American League and National League teams that would be pitted against each other shared the same ballpark. The St. Louis Browns (AL) and St. Louis Cardinals (NL) both triumphed in their leagues and also called Sportsman’s Park their home, with the Browns as owners of the stadium and the Cardinals as tenants.
This type of scenario had only happened twice before when the New York Giants and the New York Yankees faced off in 1921 and 1922 at the Polo Grounds in New York City. The 1944 World Series was also unique in that it was one of just two World Series that featured two teams from the same city other than New York, the other being the 1906 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox. It was also the first World Series to take place entirely west of the Mississippi River. Another interesting aspect of the series was that there were no off-days since the teams were not required to travel.
Two Teams with Two Very Different Paths
The Browns were a dark horse to reach the World Series in 1944. They ended up posting a regular season record of 89-65, the worst ever by AL champion until Minnesota won the pennant in 1987 with an 85-77 record. The team batted a combined .252 on the season, the fourth-worst average in the MLB that year. Pitching was more reliable as the team had the 4th best ERA in the MLB at 3.17 and second-best strikeouts with 581, while Jack Kramer and Nels Potter led the squad with a combined 36 wins. The Browns road to the World Series was uncertain even heading into the final weeks of the season, but they turned on the gas at the right time and won 11 of their final 12 games - just enough to secure the pennant over the Detroit Tigers by one game on the final day of the regular season.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals were doing what they did best at the time, which was cruising to the NL pennant for the third straight year with an impressive 105 win season, 14.5 games ahead of the second-place Pittsburgh Pirates. Veteran Mort Cooper was the workhorse behind the pitching staff, going 22-7 with a 2.46 ERA and an MLB-leading 7 shutouts on the season. Their offense fired on all cylinders - all eight of their regular position players had over 125 hits each, seven of eight gathered over 60 RBIs, and three batted over .300.
Who’s on First?
Leading up to the World Series, the 1944 MLB season was also a victim of a tumultuous time in history, as the U.S. military draft was invigorated by World War II and left the MLB with a severely depleted talent pool. Legends such as Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller, Warren Spahn, and Ted Williams all missed the 1944 season due to serving in the military. Many players who were able to compete that season were those rejected from the military due to physical limitations that would impact their ability to perform their duties. Further, several players had to divide their time and effort between baseball and working in factories to support the war effort, with some only able to play in games that were scheduled on weekends.
Dealing with the limitations laid out before them, the Browns ended up fielding 35-year-old pitcher Sig Jakucki for the 1944 season, who had last played affiliated baseball in 1938. His performance was better than most could have expected, as he won 13 games for the team including the pennant-winner on the final day of the regular season. Of note, Stan Musial was able to participate in the 1944 season and definitely helped propel the Cardinals to the World Series by leading the NL in numerous offensive categories. He then enlisted in the Navy in 1945, missing that entire season.
St. Louis Wins the World Series
Despite being the clear underdog, the Browns actually took the first game of the series on October 5th by a score of 2 to 1. The Cardinals came back the next day to take game two, but the Browns would not go down without a fight and came out on top in game three. Sadly for Browns’ fans, that was the last victory the team would experience in 1944, as the Cardinals went on to win games four, five, and six to secure the championship. Of note, the Browns’ victory in game three was the last World Series win by the team until 1966 as the Baltimore Orioles.
Looking at the on-field performance during the series, pitching led the way. The Browns’ bats struggled mightily, posting a dismal .183 average, with George McQuinn being the lone bright spot hitting .438 with seven RBIs and tallying the Browns only home run of the entire series in game one. The Cardinals’ bats fared better, hitting .240 as a whole. The Browns also had several more defensive miscues, committing 10 errors in the series compared to only one by the Cardinals. Other stats are closer than one might expect, specifically in the pitching realm. The Browns’ pitching staff posted a 1.48 ERA with 43 strikeouts and 19 walks. Hurlers from the Cardinals ended with a 1.96 ERA, 49 strikeouts, and 23 walks.
What will stand out about the 2020 World Series at Globe Life Field? Unlike the 1944 series where both teams shared a home ballpark, this season neither team will be able to call the World Series location home. There is a lot up in the air about how it all will play out but one thing is for certain - home-field advantage will not be a factor.
Brian Harl is co-editor of Here’s the Pitch and a freelance baseball writer. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. You can follow him on Twitter @cubs_corner.