World War II bisected eras in the national pasttime. The height of per-integration baseball came in 1941 when DiMaggio and Williams thrilled fans across the country. That magical summer gave way to Pearl Habor and war. The conflict depleted baseball’s talent pool for several seasons. Finally, the men returned home and baseball returned to its prewar status. The game entered its “golden age” in 1947 when Jackie Robinson integrated baseball and New York became the game’s capitol. The following are the top ten moments in baseball during the 1940s.
Bob Feller’s opening day no hitter (April 16, 1940): What a way to start a decade. Feller threw his first no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox on Opening Day 1940. He walked 5 and struck out 8 in the effort. The Indians won the game 1-0 and it is the only no-hitter to occur on an Opening Day. Feller would throw two more no-hit games in his career. He finished 1940 with the Triple Crown. He led the league with 27 wins, 2.61 ERA,261 strikeouts, 31 complete games, 320.1 innings, and 1.133 WHIP. Amazingly, Feller finished second in the MVP race to Detroit’s Hank Greenberg.
Joe DiMaggio hits in 56 consecutive games (1941): On July 1, 1941, Joe DiMaggio surpassed Wee Willie Keeler’s record 44 game hit streak and kept going. The Yankee Clipper hit safely in 56 straight games before two great plays by
Cleveland third baseman Ken Keltner ended the run. The next day, DiMaggio began a 16 game streak. In the end, he hit safely in 72 of 73 games. During the 56 game streak, DiMaggio hit .408 with 15 home runs and 55 RBI. The Yankees went 42-14 during the stretch, which led to DiMaggio’s MVP award.
Ted Williams wins the All Star Game (July 8, 1941): The American League trailed the National League 5-3 in the 9th inning of the 1941 All Star Game in Detroit. Claude Passeau looked to end the game and save the NL victory. With one
out, Ken Keltner and Joe Gordon each singled. Next, Cecil Travis drew a walk to load the bases. Joe DiMaggio scorched a ball that the NL failed to turn into a double play. Keltner scored to bring the AL within one run. Ted Williams then
blasted a fastball into the upper deck at Briggs Stadium for a dramatic 7-5 victory.
Ted Williams goes 6-for-8 to hit .406 (1941): Ted Williams could do no wrong in 1941. He was hitting .406 by the All Star break, hit the game winning walk off home run to propel the American League to victory, and hit everything in
sight in the second half. Williams’ average stood at .413 in mid-September, but then began to drop. On the final game of the season, his average stood at .3995. Williams could have sat out a double header and finished at .400, but thought
that was wrong. He did not want to “back into” .400. In the end, the Red Sox great went 6-for-8 against the A’s to finish at .406.
Owens passed ball (1941): Game 4 decided the 1941 World Series. New York led the series 2 games to 1 and Brooklyn looked to even the series. The Dodgers led the game 4-3 in the 9th inning when Yankee magic struck. With two out and nobody on base, Tommy Henrich was the Yankees last hope. Hugh Casey got ahead of the batter with two quick strikes. Henrich swung and missed on the third pitch, but Dodger catcher Mickey Owen muffed the play. The ball got passed Owen allowing Henrich to reach first. Next, DiMaggio singled, Charlie Keller doubled in both runners, Bill Dickey walked, and Joe Gordon doubled in two more. New York won the game 7-4 to take a 3-1 series lead. They closed out the Dodgers in Game 5 to win the World Series.
Whitey Kurowski’s home run (1942): Whitey Kurowski was a five time All Star and three time World Series champion. He batted .286 for his career and .253 in the Fall Classic. His two-run home run in Game 5 clinched the 1942 World Series for the Cardinals. He faced Red Ruffing with the score tied at 2 and St. Louis up 3 games to 1 in the series. Kurowski deposited a Ruffing pitch deep down the left field line to give the Cards a 4-2 lead and world title.
Greenberg’s Grand Slam (1945): Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg was the first major star to leave for World War II. Greenberg returned to the Detroit Tigers in July 1945. Despite missing four and a half seasons, the Tiger great still hit .311 with a .948 OPS in the season’s final 78 games. On the season’s final day, darkness loomed over the Tigers and Browns at Sportsman’s Park. The umpire was ready to call the game, but Greenberg advised that he could see “just fine.” Detroit needed a win to avoid a pennant playoff against Washington. Greenberg made sure that did not happen. He hit a grand slam to win the game, and the pennant, for the Tigers. Detroit did not see a home run that dramatic again until 2006.
Slaughter’s Mad Dash (1946): Big leaguers returned from the war in force for the 1946 season. The Red Sox managed to win their first pennant since 1918 and faced the perennial National League champions from St. Louis. Harry Walker batted for the Cardinals with the score tied in the 8th inning of Game 7. Walker lashed a hit to the outfield. Slaughter ran with the pitch and dashed for home. Shocked, Boston’s shortstop Johnny Pesky delayed on the relay throw, but it probably did not make a difference. Slaughter scored to give the Cardinals the lead. The Curse of the Bambino had begun.
Jackie Robinson (1947): On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson integrated 20th century baseball. Robinson faced intense resentment and racism. In fact, many members of his own team threatened mutiny rather than play with an African-American. Manager Leo Durocher told his team that Robinson was going to stay and he did not care what he looked like if he helped the Dodgers win. Baseball Commissioner Happy Chandler warned players against striking in protest. Opposing players, managers, and fans hurled virulent racial slurs at Robinson. He also had to contend with collisions, spikes, and hard tags. On the other hand, many fans and teammates supported Robinson. Hank Greenberg and Pee Wee Reese were particularly supportive.
George Kell denies Ted Williams the Triple Crown (1949): George Kell and Ted Williams jockeyed for the batting title in 1949. On the season’s final day, Williams went 0-for-2 while Kell enjoyed a 2-for-3 day. In the end, Kell won the title .3429 to .3427. Officially, the Tiger is credited with hitting .343 in 1949. On the other hand, Williams is also credited with .343, but not the batting crown. The Boston legend led the league in runs (150), doubles (39), home runs (43), RBI (159), walks (162), OBP (.490), slugging (.650), OPS (1.141), and total bases (368). In the end, Williams fell just short of the batting title and Triple Crown, but did win the MVP.