This article was written by Michael Hamel
On Sunday morning, September 29, 1946, Boston Red Sox general manager Eddie Collins and owner Tom Yawkey worried that their American League champs might have to wait several days before playing in their first World Series since 1918. The Brooklyn Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals were tied atop the National League standings with one game remaining, so a three-game playoff to settle the pennant was a distinct possibility. The playoff, if needed, would begin on Tuesday in St. Louis, with an off-day scheduled on Wednesday for the teams to travel by train to Brooklyn. As a result, the start of the World Series would be pushed back from Wednesday until the following weekend.
Red Sox manager Joe Cronin had been worried about keeping his team sharp ever since they had clinched the pennant on September 13 with 11 games left. The following week, Cronin took advantage of a light schedule in which the Red Sox played just two games in a five-day stretch; Cronin and most of his starters returned to Boston to watch the Cardinals play the Braves before rejoining the club in Washington. “When I won the pennant in Washington [in 1933, as player-manager] I didn’t play my regulars very much during the last week of the season,” Cronin told reporters, concluding that “[w]hen the Series came around, they weren’t properly attuned for it. I’m not going to do it this year.”1 He claimed that resting the players now, and then playing them down the stretch would put them “in a groove for the series.”2 However, a comparison of box scores from 1933 and 1946 shows that Cronin took the same approach, using his regular lineup in every game while pulling a handful of players after two or three at-bats.3
As the final day of the season began, Collins and Yawkey spoke with Cronin about scheduling three exhibition games in parallel with the National League playoff. Collins knew that the idea was not unprecedented. In 1910, Collins was the second baseman for the Philadelphia Athletics; when the first-place A’s completed their regular season, the Chicago Cubs, who had already clinched the National League pennant, still had eight games left to play. While the Cubs wrapped up their schedule, the A’s played five exhibition games against an all-star team organized by Senators manager Jimmy McAleer.4 “They gave us an awful drubbing,” Collins recalled in 1946, referring to the superstar cast that included Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, and Walter Johnson that won four of the contests, “but they left us so sharp we went on to win the World Series with ease.”5 A year later, the A’s followed the same formula, playing four exhibitions against a similar squad before winning the Series again.6 Cronin agreed that an exhibition series would also benefit the Red Sox now.
When the Dodgers and Cardinals both lost their final regular season games, the playoff became official, and American League president Will Harridge began calling players around the country to build an all-star squad to take on the Red Sox. Yawkey had already agreed to give the visiting players the profits from the games, while paying his own players the equivalent of three game checks out of his pocket, which provided enough of a financial incentive that more players initially volunteered than were needed.7 While some of the league’s top players had already committed to play on Bob Feller’s barnstorming team that fall, the final roster included five members of the American League team that had won the All-Star Game at Fenway Park in July (Appling, DiMaggio, Newhouser, Spence, and Stirnweiss) and was strong enough to provide genuine competition for the Red Sox:8
|Jake Early||C||Washington Senators|
|Birdie Tebbetts||C||Detroit Tigers|
|Hank Greenberg||1B||Detroit Tigers|
|Snuffy Stirnweiss||2B||New York Yankees|
|Luke Appling||SS||Chicago White Sox|
|Cecil Travis||3B||Washington Senators|
|Stan Spence||LF||Washington Senators|
|Joe DiMaggio||CF||New York Yankees|
|Joe Grace||RF||Washington Senators|
|Mickey Haefner||LHP||Washington Senators|
|Eddie Lopat||LHP||Chicago White Sox|
|Phil Marchildon||RHP||Philadelphia Athletics|
|Hal Newhouser||LHP||Detroit Tigers|
|Stubby Overmire||LHP||Detroit Tigers|
|Joe Page||LHP||New York Yankees|
|Dizzy Trout||RHP||Detroit Tigers|
|Steve O’Neill||Manager||Detroit Tigers|
|Frank Shellenback||Coach||Detroit Tigers|
The first game began on Tuesday at 2:00 P.M. Temperatures were in the mid-fifties after a cold front that had brought an inch of rain to Boston the day before ended a spell of 70-degree weather.9 When manager Steve O’Neill received a telegram from Hank Greenberg stating that the slugger would miss the series opener due to personal business,10 O’Neill was forced to ask White Sox pitcher Eddie Lopat, who had played first base in high school and briefly in the minor leagues, to take Greenberg’s spot at first.11 O’Neill also shifted Senators center fielder Stan Spence to left field in deference to Joe DiMaggio, who took the field wearing a Red Sox road uniform because he had forgotten to pack his Yankees traveling grays.12
Deterred either by the relative cold or the regular season ticket prices being charged for a meaningless game,13 only 1,996 spectators showed up to see the Red Sox win the opener, 2-0. The All-Stars were disappointed by the small crowd; Snuffy Stirnweiss remarked after the game that “I wish now I’d made my wife pay to get in.”14 While Tex Hughson, Joe Dobson, and Bill Zuber shut down the All-Stars’ bats, Boston scored both of its runs in the second inning off Mickey Haefner. Haefner walked Ted Williams to begin the frame, then surrendered a double to the left-field corner by Bobby Doerr. After Rudy York drew a walk to load the bases, Pinky Higgins hit a ground ball to third. Cecil Travis fielded it, forced Doerr at third, but threw wildly to first, allowing both Williams and York to score.15
Then in the fifth, Haefner hit Williams on the right elbow with a curve ball, forcing Williams from the game and giving Red Sox supporters a scare. “I saw it spinning half-way to the plate. I laid back waiting for it to curve,” Williams later told reporters. “But as it came on me, I saw it was just spinning and wasn’t going to curve. I tried pulling away from it but it hit me in the elbow.”16 Red Sox team physician Ralph McCarthy took Williams for X-rays as a precaution, but they came back negative, so Williams returned to the park and soaked his sore elbow in a 108-degree whirlpool tub for 20 minutes.17 McCarthy declared Williams out for the rest of the exhibition series, but believed he would be able to play in the World Series: “Ted will be able to start the series, but he won’t have the proper use of his elbow for at least another week. It’s going to hurt him every time he swings.”18
The injury did, however, affect the starting date for the World Series. The Red Sox initially wanted the Series to begin as soon as possible after the National League playoff was completed. Commissioner Happy Chandler agreed, but the National League wanted an additional day off. After Williams’ injury, the Red Sox reversed course and dropped their objection.19
Boston split the remaining two games of the series. Hank Greenberg collected two hits as the All-Stars took the second game, 4-2.20 In the finale, Rudy York’s two-run homer off Hal Newhouser provided the winning margin in a 4-1 Red Sox victory.21 Meanwhile, the Cardinals swept the Dodgers to take the pennant.
St. Louis’s subsequent defeat of Boston in seven games was due in part to holding the ailing Williams to just five hits, all singles. While his elbow had forced him to skip batting practice for a couple of days,22 Williams was having trouble driving the ball even before the injury; other than an inside the park home run in Cleveland that helped clinch the pennant, Williams failed to hit a home run in his last 38 regular season plate appearances.23
The 1946 exhibition series was the last of its kind. Despite calls from the American League to change to a single-game playoff, the National League continued to use its three-game format until divisional play began in 1969. Playoffs would be required in 1951, 1959, and 1962, but began the day after the season ended with no extra days reserved for travel (a change facilitated in part by a shift from using trains to airplanes).24 Since there were usually two scheduled off days between the end of the regular season and the start of the World Series, the tighter playoff schedule delayed the start of these World Series by only a day. As a result, the six-day gap between the end of the 1946 season and that year’s World Series would not be repeated, and there was no need for the American League pennant winner to schedule exhibition games while waiting for its National League opponent.
1 Hy Hurwitz, “York Only Sox Regular to Play Out Schedule,” Boston Daily Globe, September 15, 1946.
4 “Bosoxers Trim All-Star Club,” The Sporting News, October 9, 1946. Box scores of the 1910 A’s series are included in The Sporting News, October 20, 1910 (p4). McAleer’s involvement is mentioned in his SABR biography (http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/e6db627f) and in William Weart, “Mad for Tickets,” The Sporting News, October 13, 1910.
5 Wire story, “Red Sox to Keep Fit by Playing A.L. All-Stars,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 30, 1946.
6 Box scores of the 1911 A’s series can be found in The Sporting News, October 12, 1911 (p5) and October 19, 1911 (p8).
7 Hy Hurwitz, “Sox to Play Series With All-Star Club,” Boston Daily Globe, September 30, 1946; Harold Kaese, “N.L. Playoff Plan Based on $$ Hunger, Desire to Cool Sox,” Boston Daily Globe, September 30, 1946.
8 Roster taken from Hy Hurwitz, “Sox to Play Series With All-Star Club,” along with the box scores of the three games in the Globe and a team photograph on page 8 of the October 9, 1946 edition of The Sporting News. Hy Hurwitz, “Hughson Hurls As Sox Blank All-Stars, 2-0,” Boston Daily Globe, October 2, 1946 mentions that Greenberg, along with Joe Page, Tommy Henrich, and Billy Johnson, did not appear for the series opener. Only Greenberg would play in the series, and only Greenberg and Page were pictured in The Sporting News. The Globe also listed Buddy Lewis on the original roster, but Lewis is omitted in “Red Sox Will Keep in Trim; Play All-Stars,” Chicago Tribune, September 30, 1946 and in The Sporting News.
9 Weather reports in Boston Daily Globe, September 29 through October 4, 1946.
10 Hy Hurwitz, “Hughson Hurls As Sox Blank All-Stars, 2-0.”
11 Biography of Eddie Lopat on SABR http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/e3a049be; minor league statistics at http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=lopat-001edm.
12 Hy Hurwitz, “Yanks’ DiMaggio ‘Sure Looked Good’ in Sox Uniform,” Boston Daily Globe, October 2, 1946. DiMaggio had a Yankees uniform shipped to him for the next day, in time for the team photo in The Sporting News; Hy Hurwitz, “All-Stars Even Series Against Red Sox, 4 to 2,” Boston Daily Globe, October 3, 1946.
13 Ticket prices mentioned in ads for the games in the Boston Daily Globe.
14 Harold Kaese, “Are Sox Vulnerable to Lefties?” Boston Daily Globe, October 2, 1946.
15 Hy Hurwitz, “Hughson Hurls As Sox Blank All-Stars, 2-0.”
16 Hy Hurwitz, “Williams Hit on Arm, Hopes to Be Ready For First Series Game,” Boston Daily Globe, October 2, 1946.
18 Hy Hurwitz, “Injured Elbow Will Handicap Williams in Opener; Sox Head West,” Boston Daily Globe, October 4, 1946.
19 Hy Hurwitz, “Series to Start Sunday, Red Sox Waive Objection,” Boston Daily Globe, October 3, 1946.
20 Hy Hurwitz, “All-Stars Even Series Against Red Sox, 4 to 2.”
21 Jack Barry, “York Homers, Sox Slap Down All-Stars, 4-1,” Boston Daily Globe, October 4, 1946.
22 Jerry Nason, “Ted Belts Three Homers in Drill,” Boston Sunday Globe, October 6, 1946.
23 During the 1946 season Williams averaged one home run per 17.68 plate appearances.
24 Wire story, “Bums, Giants Tie for Flag; Playoff Today,” Milwaukee Sentinel, October 1, 1951. The 1951 playoff was a subway series between the Giants and Dodgers; by 1959 when the transplanted Los Angeles Dodgers faced the Braves, teams were regularly flying to the West Coast.
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