Newhouser and Trout in 1944: 56 Wins and a Near Miss

This article was written by Larry Amman

This article was published in 1983 Baseball Research Journal

Harold Newhouser and Paul Trout had come to the major leagues through very different routes. Newhouser was a schoolboy sensation in Detroit and was signed by the Tigers in the summer of 1938. A little over a year later he was in the majors to stay. Paul Trout, on the other hand, had begun his minor league career in 1935 and didn’t make the majors until four years later.

Entering the 1944 season Trout was coming off a 20-12 year, his first winning season. Newhouser was still looking for his first year above .500. In 1943 Hal had started well and pitched in the All-Star Game. Afterwards, he lost nine straight games, ending up with an 8-17 record. Observers still wondered when he would live up to his great promise. His big problem was too many walks.

The two men were opposites in many ways. Southpaw Newhouser was reserved and dignified. Righty Trout was loquacious and fun-loving. “Call me Dizzy” Trout said in spring training of 1937, “because I talk as much as Dean.” Later he became known for pulling a large red bandana from his back pocket during a game and mopping his brow. Both Tigers were known for having a temper which they could lose sometimes on the mound.

The Tigers opened the season with the St. Louis Browns and lost three straight. Trout and Newhouser each dropped one. This was considered a very bad omen for the season. Although they had played respectable baseball in 1943, the Browns were still a symbol of ineptitude on the diamond. In the crazy world of wartime baseball, anything could happen. This year St. Louis won its first nine games to shock the whole country.

On May 2 the Tigers began a series in St. Louis. Newhouser pitched a complete game victory, 4-3. This made Hal’s record 3-1. It was the first loss of the year for the Browns at home. The next day Trout lost to St. Louis 7-4. Dizzy’s record was 1-3.

When the Detroiters opened a series in New York on May 10 they had lost five straight and were in eighth place. Newhouser and Trout each won a game against the defending World Champions. A sweep of a doubleheader in Boston on May 14 got the Tigers out of the cellar. Trout won the first game to make his record 3-3. John Gorsica won the second.

In Philadelphia the colorful Diz locked up in a great duel with the equally colorful Buck Newsom. Trout emerged the winner 2-1. Offensively the two pitchers either scored or drove in all three runs.

Back in Detroit on May 27, the Tigers won a ten-inning game 2-1 behind Newhouser. In this unusual season the Bengals had lost 12 of their first 13 games at home.

The Yankees came to the Motor City for a twinbill on Memorial Day. In front of 37,000 fans Dizzy Trout broke a 1-1 tie with a home run in the last of the ninth to win the first game. Newhouser won the nightcap with a seven-hitter. After an extra-inning win on the 31st, the Bengals made it four straight over New York on June 1. The game lasted 16 innings. Trout pitched 2/3 of an inning in relief, and Newhouser pitched the last six innings to get the win. This marked the first of four games in 1944 when both twirlers were used in relief.

June proved an undistinguished month for both pitchers and for the Detroit team. Things looked up a bit on the 18th when the Bengals swept a doubleheader from the first-place Browns at Briggs Stadium. Detroit had lost seven of eight to St. Louis previously. Newhouser went the route in the first game for his tenth win. This was a personal high for Hal, and he was the first American League hurler to reach the mark in 1944. Trout won the second game in relief of Rufus Gentry. A two-run homer by Rudy York provided the margin of victory. The Tigers slumped the rest of the month, losing four straight in St. Louis. It took a win on July 1 in Philadelphia by Stubby Overmire, a forgotten member of the Detroit staff, to keep the team out of the cellar.

Dizzy Trout won his tenth game of the year July 5 in Boston. Both pitchers were selected for the All-Star Game. Newhouser worked 1 .2 innings and gave up three runs in a 7-1 NL victory at Pittsburgh.

The Detroit team got some good news at this mid-point of the season. Dick Wakefield had been released by the Navy and was free to re-join the team. In 1943 this rookie outfielder had collected 200 hits for a .3 16 average. He, Rudy York, and Mike Higgins would give the Motor City team three solid hitters in the middle of the batting order, quite an asset at a time when most good hitters were in military service.

The team won regularly the rest of July. Wakefield hit well right from the time he put on his uniform. Newhouser won number 15 on July 22 against the A’s on a Rudy York home run. It was the Tigers’ sixth straight win. Two days later Trout bested Buck Newsom again in a great pitchers’ duel. A Rudy York double drove in the only run of the game. Dizzy won his 15th on the 29th against the Yankees. He pitched 1.1 innings in relief of Gentry and drove in the winning run on a sacrifice fly. The spectacled right-hander came back two days later with a complete game victory over New York.

August was Dizzy Trout’s month. He won games against six different teams. He pitched three shutouts. He won games with his arm, his bat, and his glove. He won games as a starter and as a reliever. On the sixth he beat the White Sox 3-1, driving in two runs with a homer and a double. On the 20th Dizzy won his 20th in dramatic fashion. His two-run homer in the eighth gave him the win over the Yankees. On the 29th he shut out the White Sox and added a home run, double, and single for five RBIs. He closed the month with a win in relief over St. Louis, still in first place. It was Diz himself who scored the winning run.

Prince Hal had a good month also. On August 9 he scored two runs on three hits to defeat Washington 4-2. On August 18 he won his 20th game.

No matter how many times these two men worked they could not comprise an entire pitching staff. In August, Stubby Overmire, the “Lilliputian Lefthander from Grand Rapids,” won five straight. These three men, plus righthanders Gentry and Gorsica, comprised the pitching staff. Joe Orrell and Walter “Boom-Boom” Beck were used only as mop-up men or when the other five were exhausted. Catching these pitchers was the 35-year-old Paul Richards. This Texan had come to the Tigers as a coach the previous year after a number of seasons as a successful minor league manager and went behind the plate only when a regular catcher had been injured Richards looked strange behind the plate because he had to squat with his right leg extended due to a knee injury. His judicious calling of pitches and his careful handling of the high-strung Hal and Dizzy were credited as important reasons for their fine seasons.

As September began the Tigers were ready for a run at the pennant. Newhouser’s 22nd win on September 2 tied Detroit for second with New York, two games behind the Browns. Trout’s shutout of the Indians on the seventh for his 24th win put the Tigers one game behind New York in first. The Bengals finally went into first on September 17 when they swept a doubleheader from Cleveland behind Overmire and Gentry. Detroit now had pennant fever. When Hal and Dizzy beat the Yankees in Detroit on September 19 and 20, the Bengals moved 2-1/2 games in front of New York, which had dropped behind the Browns into third. St. Louis was winning almost every day now, and the Tigers had to win to keep pace.

Detroit took four straight from Boston giving them nine out of ten wins, but the Browns stayed close. When Detroit lost on September 24, the two teams were in a tie for the top, First Paul and then Hal shut out the A’s. It was the 27th win for Trout and the 28th for Newhouser. Washington came to town for four games to end the season. On Friday the Tigers split a doubleheader while the Browns won two from New York. Again the Browns were tied with the Tigers. Both teams won on Saturday as Newhouser won his 29th. On Sunday, the overworked Trout lost to Washington for the second time in the series as Dutch Leonard pitched his heart out. Later in the day the Tigers heard that St. Louis had beaten New York on a dramatic home run by former Tiger Chet Laabs. The St. Louis Browns had won their first and only pennant, and the 56 wins of Newhouser and Trout, a really tremendous effort, proved not quite enough.

The year 1944 was unique in Detroit Tiger history. This was the only time a Detroit pitching staff finished first in Earned Run Average. In individual pitching categories Hal and Dizzy dominated. Trout and Newhouser finished first and second respectively in ERA, complete games, innings, and shutouts. Newhouser finished first and Trout second in wins and strikeouts. They were both very stingy in giving up home runs, Hal being reached for six and Dizzy for nine. The two men were the league’s only 20-game winners. Their combined total of 56 wins was the most by two men on a team in the junior circuit since 1908. The 352 innings pitched by Trout was the most by an AL hurler since Walter Johnson worked 371 in 1916.

After the season Hal Newhouser was elected the American League’s Most Valuable Player. Many observers then and since have said Trout deserved the honor more because he bested Hal in almost every category except wins and strikeouts and he won games with his bat and glove also. Dizzy led all pitchers in assists and double-plays, as well as hits (36), home runs (5) and RBIs (24). This is a good argument but not necessarily decisive. The breakdown of the wins month-by-month and against each team shows Newhouser with a steadier season and a more balanced record. What really lost the MVP award for Trout was his 4-5 record after September 1, and the fact that he dropped his last two starts, even though they were pitched just two days apart.

While Newhouser would remain the league’s top southpaw for the rest of the decade, Trout never again reached the 20-win level. Dizzy would remark wistfully that he was good against “4-Fers” but not the good hitters away at the war. Certainly his fine season in 1944 deserves more recognition.

Here are the pitching records of Newhouser and Trout in 1944.