The 1944 baseball season in St. Louis was the same as it had been the last few years, and remarkably different at the same time. The Cardinals won 105 games for second straight year and captured the flag by a comfortable 14½ games. That the Browns were able to win the 1944 pennant — regardless of the circumstances — shocked the baseball world.1 The Browns won the AL crown on the season’s last day, beating the New York Yankees while the Detroit Tigers lost.
Manager Billy Southworth’s Cardinals were favorites to win the Series. “Those who dabble with figures set up the Cardinals as favorites. But there are in this World’s Series situation elements which cannot possibly be articulated in cold arithmetic” stated columnist Dan Daniel.2 The Redbirds, 91-30 after 121 games, at that point a record better than even the 1906 Chicago Cubs, slumped in September and lost 19 of their last 33 games entering the Series, but were 2-to-5 favorites to win back the Series title after falling to the Yankees the previous October.3
Browns skipper Luke Sewell was elated with his team, saying, “No veteran club could have held up better. I am proud of all my players. The boys were wonderful. And how they played when the checks were down.”4 Even though the teams shared a town and ballpark, they were unfamiliar with each other. “We didn’t know them much, and they didn’t know us, because when we were at home, they were on the road,” said Cardinals shortstop Marty Marion.5
Only the most loyal Browns supporter could have favored them over the juggernaut with which they shared Sportsman’s Park. The Cardinals won the “team triple crown” by leading the NL in batting average, home runs, and RBIs, as well as hits, doubles, and on-base and slugging percentage. The Cards also led the league in ERA, fewest runs allowed, and double plays. The Browns were led by their pitching, coming in second in the AL in ERA, but had struggled at the plate, finishing the season seventh in team batting average. The comparisons to the 1906 all-Chicago World Series were apt, with the Cardinals playing the role of the Chicago Cubs, winners of 116 games that season, against the “Hitless Wonder” White Sox.6 Browns fans were hoping for a similar result in the Series.
The momentum that carried the Browns to the pennant carried over into the first three games of the Series. Denny Galehouse scattered seven hits over nine innings as the Browns scraped by with a 2-1 victory in Game One. The Browns notched their runs and only hits in the fourth when George McQuinn homered after Gene Moore recorded their first hit with two outs. The Cardinals tied the Series the next day when Ken O’Dea’s walk-off single plated Ray Sanders for a 3-2 win in 11 innings. Game Three saw the Browns prevail, 6-2, thanks in part to a four-run third. Jack Kramer made the runs hold up, scattering seven hits and striking out 10.
The Browns were two games from glory, and if the Cardinals didn’t get themselves out of the funk that started in September, they would be on the wrong side of one of baseball’s biggest upsets. Cincinnati Reds general manager Warren Giles told NL President Ford Frick,“[I]f they played this kind of ball all season they wouldn’t have been in the Series.”7
No team since 1937 had lost Game Four of the World Series and gone on to win it. To turn around the Series, the Cardinals turned to left-hander Harry Brecheen, who was 16-5 during the season with a 2.85 ERA in 30 appearances (22 starts). Brecheen had the makeup to right the Cardinals’ floundering ship. “Deadpanned and apparently nerveless,” wrote the United Press’s Stan Mockler, “Brecheen has a reputation for having ice water in his veins.”8 The Browns would counter with Sigmund “Sig” Jakucki, 13-9 with a 3.55 ERA in his return to the majors after an eight-year absence. Jakucki was out of Organized Baseball from 1938 through 1943. He worked as a painter and paper hanger, as well as in the shipyards, and played semipro baseball.9 In March 1944 the 34-year-old Jakucki was surprised to receive a letter from Browns general manager Bill DeWitt inviting him to spring training. Praised for his “fast one,” Jakucki made the team.10 Prior to Game One, Jakucki complained of an abscessed tooth, but by the time he took the mound for Game Four he said there was no pain.11
The Browns were the home team for Game Four, and the largest crowd of the Series, 35,455, enjoyed a cool October day. Jakucki struck out leadoff hitter Danny Litwhiler, but then the real 1944 Cardinals showed up. Johnny Hopp singled, bringing up Stan Musial. Musial had hits in all three games of the Series so far and didn’t wait long to get his fourth, driving Jakucki’s first offering to the far edge of the right-field pavilion for what would be the only World Series home run of his career, giving the Cards a 2-0 advantage. After going down in order in the second, the Cards doubled their advantage in the third. Brecheen struck out to start the inning, and then Litwhiler singled to left for his first hit in the Series. After Hopp struck out, Musial reached on a slow grounder past the box that was scored a single. Walker Cooper then looped a single to left, scoring Litwhiler. Second baseman Don Gutteridge could not handle Ray Sanders’ hot smash, and Musial scored from second to give the Cardinals an unearned run and a 4-0 lead.
While the Cardinals appeared to have awakened, the Browns were frustrated at every turn. With one on and one out in the first, Gene Moore hit a long drive to right-center that Hopp turned into a spectacular grab. “Had that ball been a foot more to Hopp’s left, he never could have reached it, we’d have a run in, a man on second or third and one out, but he caught it and it certainly was a great catch, the Browns remarked” to W.J. McGoogan.12 The Associated Press’s W.F. Crawford described the catch as “first degree robbery.”13The Browns had another chance in the second, but with runners on first and third a broken-bat grounder from Red Hayworth turned into an around-the-horn double play, ending the threat.
The Browns had runners in each of the next three innings, but Brecheen’s resolve and the Cardinals’ glove work kept their lead at four runs. Brecheen’s excellent defense was on display in the fourth when he retired Vern Stephens, who tapped a slow roller up the middle, especially important since the next hitter, Chet Laabs, lined a single to center. Hayworth led off the fifth with a high pop foul outside first base that Sanders turned into a great catch — he appeared to overrun the ball but was able to reach back and make the play. After a groundout and a single, Brecheen made another fine play, grabbing a low line drive off the bat of Mike Kreevich.
The Cards scored their final run of the contest off Al Hollingsworth, who relieved Jakucki in the fourth. Sanders led off the inning with a single, and one out later NL Most Valuable Player Marion doubled to left-center to score Sanders and make it 5-0.
The Browns had another excellent chance in the sixth when Laabs doubled to left with two down and McQuinn followed with a walk, but Mark Christman hit into a fielder’s choice to end the inning. The Browns recorded their only run in the bottom of the eighth. Brecheen’s third walk of the game — to Moore — started the frame, and Vern Stephens’ single moved Moore to third. With the count one ball and two strikes on Laabs, Southworth went to the mound to talk to Brecheen after two foul balls. His advice paid off; Laabs hit a sharp grounder that Marion grabbed and turned into a 6-4-3 double play as Moore scored. Another grounder to Marion ended the inning. The Browns had one more chance in the ninth, but with two on and two out Kreevich grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the game.
Brecheen leveled his World Series record at 1-1 with the victory. His line was not impressive with nine hits and four walks, but timely pitching and the Cardinals defense was enough to square the Series. The Cardinals would go on to break the Browns’ hearts by winning the next two games to claim their second crown in three years, and would dominate the NL for the rest of the decade. The Browns finished third in the AL in 1945, but would never rise higher than sixth place until the team moved to Baltimore in 1954.
This article appears in “Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis: Home of the Browns and Cardinals at Grand and Dodier” (SABR, 2017), edited by Gregory H. Wolf. Click here to read more articles from this book online.
In addition to the sources noted in this game account, the author accessed Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, SABR’s BioProject via SABR.org, The Sporting News archive via Paper of Record, the Cincinnati Enquirer, Detroit Free Press, and St. Louis Post Dispatch via newspapers.com, and the Chicago Tribune archive.
1 Peter Golenbock, The Spirit of St. Louis — A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns, (New York: Harper Collins e-books, 2000), 305.
2 The Sporting News, October 5, 1944: 1.
3 St. Louis Post Dispatch, October 3, 1944: 15.
4 The Sporting News, October 5, 1944: 2.
5 Golenbock, 261.
6 The Sporting News, October 5, 1944: 2.
7 Cincinnati Enquirer, October 8, 1944: 34
9 Wolf, 94.
10 Wolf, 95.
11 David Allen Heller, As Good as It Got: The 1944 St. Louis Browns (Images of Baseball), (Charleston South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2003).
12 St. Louis Post Dispatch, October 8, 1944: 20.