This article was written by Roger A. Godin
This article was published in the Fall 2012 Baseball Research Journal
After the St. Louis Cardinals captured the sixth and clinching game of the 1944 World Series, Browns owner Don Barnes and general manager Bill Dewitt made their way to the victor’s offices to extend congratulations. As related in Bill Mead’s Even the Browns, they found Cardinals owner Sam Beardon, who responded boorishly: “If we’d lost this Series to the Browns. I’d have to leave town. It would have been a disgrace to lose to the Browns.”[fn]William B. Mead; Even The Browns: The Zany, True Story of Baseball in the Early Forties (Chicago: Contemporary Books, Inc., 1978) 186.[/fn]
The fact of the matter is that when the Browns and Cardinals went head-to-head in the annual City Series, the Browns came out on top. The St. Louis City Series originated in 1903 and was played 60 times with the Browns winning 26–13 over their rivals, with 21 ending in ties. The games were held most often in the spring before the beginning of the regular season, though some were held in the fall. Series between crosstown rivals were also held in other places, most notably Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia, cities where both major leagues had a team. The practice survives to this day through the Los Angeles-Los Angeles (Anaheim) and San Francisco-Oakland preseason series. (Editor’s note: For a history of other regional City Series, visit Retrosheet.org.)
As World War II wound down in Europe in the spring of 1945, American forces surged into Germany and were on the “Sands of Iwo Jima” in the Pacific. The Browns assembled for their second consecutive spring training at Cape Girardeau, Missouri, on March 12. The Cardinals would train in St. Louis, both teams restricted to Midwestern locations because of wartime travel constraints. As in the previous year, the Browns would be joined by their minor league affiliate, the Toledo Mud Hens. While weather conditions were not always desirable, other aspects were. Bill Mead described the scenario this way: “…[T]he Browns were blessed with a superb spring training camp. They used the gymnasium at Southeast Missouri State Teachers College; an arena built for horse shows, that had a dirt floor and thus could be used for infield practice; an outdoor baseball field; and a sandstone quarry, protected from the wind, with a running track.” He added, “Batting cages were set up in the arena with nets to stop batted balls. While some other clubs whiled away inclement days waiting for sunshine, the Browns trained hard.”[fn]Mead, op. cit. 131.[/fn]
The defending American League champions broke camp on the afternoon of April 6 after defeating their Toledo farmhands 7–6, finishing spring training with a 7–1–3 record. All of the exhibition games were against Toledo, as a three game series with the Cubs had to be cancelled because of travel restraints. Manager Luke Sewell was not totally pleased. As he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “…I’m a little disappointed the way things have gone in the last week or 10 days. I would like to have been able to play more games…. If we had played about five more games I would have been better satisfied.” As to his team, he added: “So far as physical condition is concerned, we are probably just as well off as we were this time last year, or perhaps a little better.”[fn]St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 6, 1945.[/fn]
The City Series would get underway on Saturday, April 7 and all eyes would be on the Browns’ new left fielder, the one-armed Pete Gray who had been named the Southern Association MVP while hitting .333 for Memphis in 1944. “The Browns will be a better box office attraction as champions of the league and in Pete Gray,” reported the Post-Dispatch. “They also will be able to present the league’s outstanding box office attraction…. He has made good as a ball player, not as an unusual figure in a uniform. But it will be something to see a big league ball player who has overcome the handicap of having only one arm and no doubt Pete will help no little to make the turnstiles click.”[fn]St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 7, 1945.[/fn]
The teams would alternate the home-team role in Sportsman’s Park with the Browns getting the honors in Game One. Sewell sent Sig Jakucki, who had started the fourth game of the 1944 World Series, to the mound against the Cardinals’ Blix Donnelly, who had won the second game in relief. A crowd of 7,649 was on hand to see Vern Stephens’ eighth inning home run win the game 3–2. The Browns had battled back from a 2–1 deficit to get runs in the fourth and sixth innings. The latter run came via a home run by rookie third baseman Len Schulte who never hit one in his brief major league career. Pete Gray went 0-for-4 with two putouts.
The largest crowd of the series, 15,300, came out for Game Two on Sunday and saw Jack Kramer, who had won the third game of the World Series, get pounded for ten hits and six runs in the first three innings. The Cardinals would get seven more hits off three other Browns pitchers en route to their 13–4 romp. When Mike Kreevich came up sick Sewell sent Pete Gray to center field, which he played flawlessly. From the Post-Dispatch: “In the Cardinal barrage there were many hits to center field; they were bouncing off the walls in both directions, but Pete handled each one faultlessly and his return throws got to the infield as quickly as any outfielder could have got them there.”[fn]St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 9, 1945.[/fn]
At the plate, Gray came up with a scratch single in four at bats. It was but one of five hits that the Browns collected off three separate Cardinals pitchers. Redbirds’ rookie outfielder “Red” Schoendienst went 3-for-6 while “Whitey” Kurowski and Johnny Hopp poled four baggers.
The teams took Monday off and resumed play on Tuesday, April 10 before 1,956 fans as Mike Kreevich returned to center field, going two-for-three with a home run. First baseman George McQuinn added a tworun homer as the Browns got 10 other hits en route to a 7–2 win. Gray went 0-for-5, but did get a stolen base when he and second baseman Don Gutteridge executed a double steal.
McQuinn, who had hit the Browns’ only home run in the World Series, got his second in a rain shortened six inning game the next day that the American Leaguers broke open with a six-run outburst in the top of the sixth. The Cardinals had taken an early 2–0 lead which the Browns had overcome in the fifth inning, in part through a Gutteridge home run that tied the score. Another run put them ahead and the subsequent six runs made the final 10–3. Sewell had started Nelson Potter, who had worked two World Series games with one loss, and he scattered seven hits in his four innings of work. There was good news on the Pete Gray front. According to the Post-Dispatch, “Pete Gray was another hero of the victory…. Pete, who indicated in previous games that he was nervous and perhaps pressing at the plate finally broke the ice with a line single to center in the fifth inning and he repeated in the sixth…Pete also made a tumbling catch of a fly in left-center, and everybody was happy about it. The small crowd (1,249) cheered lustily.”[fn]St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 12, 1945.[/fn]
Thursday, April 12 was “a day like all days, filled with those events which alter and illuminate our time,” as the old CBS-TV show You Are There used to intone. That afternoon, while the Browns clinched the series with solid seventh and eighth innings, President Franklin Roosevelt died at Warm Springs, Georgia. Out of respect for the late President, the team presidents, Don Barnes for the Browns and Sam Beardon for the Cardinals, then cancelled the sixth game slated for Saturday, but retained the Sunday finale.
After surrendering two unearned runs to the Cardinals in the first inning of game five, Sig Jakucki scattered six hits for the win as the Browns went ahead on Babe Martin’s pinch-hit three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh. They added five more in the eighth as Vern Stephens and catcher Frank Mancuso came up with the big hits. The final read 8–3 and the Browns had won the springtime “World Series” in convincing fashion. Gray went 2-for-5 and had started the eighth inning festivities with a solid single to rightcenter. A crowd of 1,389 was on hand.
Rain before the Sunday game held the crowd to 2,029, but they would see a contest equal to the competitiveness of the first game. The Browns took a first-inning 1–0 lead when, after Gray’s single sent Gutteridge to third, the latter scored on Stephens’ sacrifice fly. Sewell had decided to give three of his starters threeinning stints and Jack Kramer and Nelson Potter gave the Cardinals nothing. But in the eighth with Tex Shirley on the mound, Schoendienst doubled in Augie Bergamo and Johnny Hopp for the Cardinals’ 2–1 victory.
Reporting on Pete Gray’s play in the series, the Post-Dispatch, April 16, 1945, said, “Pete Gray…showed enough to warrant the belief that he will be a useful member of the club. He handled 14 putouts and one assist without an error and batted .240, getting six hits in 25 times at bat.”[fn]St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 16, 1945.[/fn]
It would actually be a somewhat better performance than his .218 average in 77 regular season games. The Browns would finish third, six games out of first, but there were those on the team that felt Gray had cost them the pennant. In Bill Mead’s Even The Browns, third baseman Mark Christman said, “[H]e cost us the pennant in 1945…There were an awful lot of ground balls hit to center field. When the kids who hit those balls were pretty good runners, they could keep on going and wind up at second base. I know that cost us eight or ten ball games. Because that took away the double play, or somebody would single and the runner would score, whereas if he had been on first it would take two hits to get him to score.”[fn]Mead, op. cit. 209–210.[/fn]
A contrasting view is presented by William Kashatus in his One-Armed Wonder: Pete Gray, Wartime Baseball, and the American Dream: “[T]he ’45 Browns finish had little to do with Pete Gray, who did not enjoy regular playing time during the final two months of the season, and everything to do with the dismal way the club performed that year…. The ’45 Browns were a mere shadow of their pennant-winning club of the previous year. The pitching staff slumped…(and) was mediocre at best.” Kashatus goes on to blame the offense. “[T]he Brownie offense left much to be desired… no regular (other than Vern Stephens) hit above .277 or collected more than seven home runs. The team batting average dipped to .249…(and) scored 87 fewer runs than they had in 1944. Under these circumstances, it was more than a bit presumptuous to claim…that Gray cost the club the AL pennant.”[fn]William C. Kashatus; One-Armed Wonder: Pete Gray, Wartime Baseball, and the American Dream (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1995) 118–119.[/fn]
The Cardinals would finish three games behind the Cubs in the National League and would follow that up with a pennant and World Series victory in 1946. Gray was gone the next year and so were the Browns after 1953. But for a brief week in April 1945 they could live up to a line in their fight song, “Onward and upward, St. Louis Browns.”
ROGER A. GODIN has been a SABR member since 1977. He is the author of “The 1922 St. Louis Browns: Best of the American League’s Worst” (McFarland, 1991) as well as other articles that have appeared in the Baseball Research Journal and The National Pastime. His article, “The 1924 Junior World Series: The St. Paul Saints’ Magnificent Comeback,” appeared in the 2008 issue of The National Pastime. He works for the NHL’s Minnesota Wild as team curator and lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Game One: April 7, 1945
Cardinals 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 – 2 9 0
Browns 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 1 x – 3 9 2
Donnelly, Creel (6) and W. Cooper, Rice.
Jakucki, Shirley (8) and Mancuso.
WP: Jakucki. LP: Creel. HR: Schulte, Stephens.
Game Two: April 8, 1945
Browns 1 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 0 – 4 5 2
Cardinals 2 2 2 3 0 2 2 0 x – 13 17 2
Kramer, LaMacchia (4), Jones (5) and Hayworth, Mancuso.
M. Cooper, Wilks (4), Byerly (7) and W. Cooper, Rice.
WP: M. Cooper. LP: Kramer. HR: Kurowski, Hopp.
Game Three: April 10, 1945
Cardinals 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 – 2 9 2
Browns 2 0 2 0 1 0 1 1 0 – 7 13 0
Burkhardt, Lanier (5), Trotter (8) and W. Cooper, Rice.
Hollingsworth, West (7) and Mancuso.
WP: Hollingsworth. LP: Burkhart. HR: McQuinn, Kreevich.
Game Four*: April 11, 1945
Browns 0 0 0 2 2 6 – 10 14 2
Cardinals 0 1 1 1 0 0 – 3 7 1
Potter, Zoldak (5) and Hayworth.
Byerly, Jurisich (6) and W. Cooper.
WP: Potter. LP: Byerly. HR: McQuinn, Gutteridge.
* Game shortened by rain
Game Five: April 12, 1945
Cardinals 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 – 3 8 1
Browns 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 5 x – 8 8 3
Donnelly, Partenheimer (6), Creel (8) and Rice, W. Cooper.
Jakucki, Caster (8) and Mancuso.
WP: Jakucki. LP: Partenheimer. HR: Martin.
Game Six: April 15, 1945
Cardinals 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 – 2 4 0
Browns 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 – 1 3 0
Burkhardt, Dockins (5), Jurisich (8) and O’Dea, Rice.
Kramer, Potter (4), Shirley (7) and Mancuso.
WP: Jurisich. LP: Shirley.
Borst, Bill; Last in the American League: An Informal History of the St. Louis Browns (St. Louis: Krank Press, 1978).
Cohen, Richard M; Neft, David S.; Johnson, Roland T.; Text by Jordan A. Deutsch; The World Series (New York: The Dial Press, 1976).
Kasthatus, William C., One-Armed Wonder: Pete Gray, Wartime Baseball, and the American Dream (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1995).
Mead, William B.; Even The Browns: The Zany, True Story of Baseball in the Early Forties (Chicago: Contemporary Books Inc., 1978).
Thorn, John; Palmer, Peter; Gershman, Michael; Total Baseball (Kingston, New York: Total Sports Publishing, 2001).
“Cards Win 2–1, in St. Louis Final; Browns Take Series, 4 Games to 2,” The New York Times, April 16, 1945. (No author cited)
W. J. McGoogan, “New Players to Get Tryouts in Browns-Cardinals Spring Opener,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 6, 1945.
J. Roy Stockton, “Jakucki and Donnelly to Pitch in Opener of Spring Series Today,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 7, 1945.
J. Roy Stockton, “Browns defeat Cardinals, 3-2, on homer by Stephens,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 8, 1945.
W. J. McGoogan, “Cardinals Exhibit Real Batting Punch in Drubbing Browns, 13 to 4,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 9, 1945.
“Triple Steal by 2 Runners,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 11, 1945. (No author cited)
J. Roy Stockton, “Borrowed Bat transforms Gutteridge into Slugger,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 12, 1945.
“Browns Win 8-3, Capture City Title, Tomorrow’s Game Called Off,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 13, 1945. (No author cited)
“Gray Hit to .240 Average in Six Games,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 16, 1945.
Articles from Journals
Kane, Bud, “Pete Gray and The City Series,” Echoes of Sportsman’s Park, 2003: 10–11.