The New York Yankees in Wartime

This article was written by Marc Z. Aaron

This article was published in Essays from Who’s on First: Replacement Players in World War II

Who’s on First: Replacement Players in World War II, edited by Marc Z. Aaron and Bill Nowlin

The 1941 World Series champion New York Yankees, managed by Joe McCarthy, won 101 regular-season games.  The starting lineup (see below) for most of that season consisted of four future Hall of Famers, Joe DiMaggio, Bill Dickey, Joe Gordon, and Phil Rizzuto.  Charlie Keller in addition to DiMaggio and Gordon were 1941 All-Stars.  The pitching staff had two 1941 All-Stars, Red Ruffing and Marius Russo. Ruffing would go into the Hall of Fame as would a fellow member of the starting rotation, Lefty Gomez. The starting lineup also included past All-Star Red Rolfe and future All-Star Tommy Henrich. Three of the starters had won or would win Most Valuable Player awards; Joe DiMaggio three times (1939, 1941, 1947), Joe Gordon (1942) and Phil Rizzuto (1950). Starting pitchers Tiny Bonham and Spud Chandler would be future All-Stars.

The 1942 team suffered the loss of only one player to military service – first baseman Johnny Sturm, who played just the 1941 season in the major leagues.  He played in 124 games for the 1941 World Series champions and then was drafted in January 1942.  Sturm was replaced by Buddy Hassett.  Pitcher Tiny Bonham was 21-5 in 1941, posting an AL-best .808 winning percentage.  Hank Borowy made his major-league debut, going 15-4 with a 2.52 ERA.  The team won the 1942 American League pennant with 103 wins, but lost to St. Louis in five games in the World Series.

When the 1943 season arrived, Joe DiMaggio (Army Air Forces) and Tommy Henrich (Coast Guard) were off to the military and were replaced by Johnny Lindell and Bud Metheny.*  Phil Rizzuto was in the Navy, and Frank Crosetti and rookie Snuffy Stirnweiss shared time at shortstop. With pitcher Red Ruffing serving in the Army Air Forces (despite being 39 years old and missing four toes on his left foot), Butch Wensloff made his major-league debut and won 13 games for the pennant-winning Yankees, but he was to head to war himself in 1944 and 1945.  Second-year pitcher Borowy won 14 games.  The Yankees won 98 games without their star players and went on to beat the Cardinals in five games in the World Series.

In 1944 the roster losses were deeper. In addition to DiMaggio, Henrich, Rizzuto, and Ruffing, pitchers Spud Chandler and Marius Russo, catcher Bill Dickey, outfielder Charlie Keller, and second baseman Joe Gordon were called up. The Yankees finished in third place, winning 83 games.

With more of the same in 1945, the Yankees won 81 games and finished in fourth place.  The Opening Day lineup (see below) featured Don Savage and Mike Garbark,* both of whom debuted in 1944, and Joe Buzas,* who was making his major-league debut.   For the three players, it was their final season in the major leagues.

During the war years 1942-1945, the fans were treated to the debuts of 24 Yankees aged 22 to 29.  Five of them were catchers and 12 were pitchers.  By the start of the 1946 season, 13 of the 24 players were either out of baseball or traded away by the Yankees.

During the wartime years the Yankees’ minor-league affiliations shrank from 11 teams in 1941 to nine in 1942 to only five teams during the three years 1943-1945.  The teams in Newark and Kansas City were Double-A affiliates, the team in Binghamton Single A, the Norfolk team Class B, and the Wellsville team Class D.

Attendance at Yankee Stadium fell as well during the war.  The 1941 world champions brought 964,722 fans into the ballpark. The attendance in 1942 was down slightly, to 922,011, but then in 1943 only 618,330 came to watch the Yankees work their way toward another World Series title.  Attendance in 1944 climbed to 789,995 and in 1945 to 881,845.  Before the start of 1945 season, Dan Topping, Del Webb, and Larry MacPhail purchased the Yankees for $2,800,000.  The new owners made extensive improvements to Yankee Stadium, including the installation of lights.  The first night game in the Stadium took place on May 28, 1946.  With the war over, attendance rose to 2,265,512.  This set a major-league attendance record and marked the first time that any team exceeded 2 million.

Come 1946, the regulars – Gordon, Rizzuto, DiMaggio, Keller, and Henrich – were back. Bill Dickey, nearing the end of his career, took on a backup role.  Pitcher Spud Chandler returned to his old form, winning 20 games.  Eleven players made their major-league debuts with the Yankees that season, eight of them having delayed their debut due to military service. Yogi Berra and Vic Raschi were among those eight players.

MARC Z. AARON is a Certified Public Accountant and Certified Valuation Analyst with a tax practice in Randolph, Vermont. He is also an adjunct professor of economics at Vermont Technical College, the Anglo American University in Prague, and The University of New York in Prague. A born and bred Yankees fan, Marc has four sons, coached little league for six seasons, and like Tony La Russa, retired after his team (sadly named Red Sox) won the league championship. Marc, a tournament tennis player, has been a ranked singles player by the New England United States Tennis Association (USTA) and has captained several USTA league teams.

September 28, 1941 starting lineup:

  • Johnny Sturm
  • Red Rolfe
  • Tommy Henrich
  • Joe DiMaggio**
  • Charlie Keller
  • Bill Dickey**
  • Joe Gordon**
  • Phil Rizzuto**
  • Marv Breuer

** Hall of Fame

1945 Yankees Opening Day lineup:

  • Snuffy Stirnweiss
  • Hersh Martin – FINAL YEAR IN MLB
  • Russ Derry – SOLD AFTER 1945
  • Johnny Lindell
  • Nick Etten
  • Don Savage – FINAL SEASON
  • Mike Garbark – FINAL SEASON
  • Atley Donald – FINAL SEASON

Yankee player debuts, 1942-45:

  • 1942: Hank Borowy, Eddie Kearse, Mel Queen
  • 1943: Tommy Byrne, Billy Johnson, Bud  Metheny, Aaron Robinson, Ken Sears, Snuffy Stirnweiss, Butch Wensloff
  • 1944: Bill Bevens, Russ Derry, Bill Drescher, Monk Dubiel, Mike Garbark, Johnny Johnson, Al Lyons, Mike Milosevich, Joe Page, Steve Roser, Don Savage
  • 1945: Joe Buzas, Al Gettel, Ken Holcombe