Thursday, December 29, 2016

Red Sox Team of the Decade 1940-1949

The 1940's were a decade of promise for the Red Sox.  A number of young players were becoming stars all at the same time.  Unfortunately, World War II intervened and a lot of players spent significant time serving their country.  This led to some disappointing years from 1943 to 1945 when a lot of their young stars were gone.  They all came back to make 1946 a magical year.  The loaded Red Sox finished 104-50 and cruised to the pennant.  Boston lost the World Series in seven games to the Cardinals, hamstrung by an injury in a meaningless exhibition game to Ted Williams.  The team declined somewhat in 1947 but bounced back in 1948 to eventually meet (and lose to) Cleveland in a one-game playoff to decide the AL pennant.  Boston also had a chance in 1949 and pushed the Yankees to the last weekend before faltering.  For all the promise that the 1940's showed, it ended with a loss in the World Series, a loss in a one-game playoff, and bitter disappointment.

Catcher continued to be a mostly weak position for the Red Sox in the 1940's.  A number of players were decent, but there were very few stars.  Hal Wagner had an All Star season in 1946, but he had fairly weak offensive numbers.  Birdie Tebbetts takes the honor with two All Star seasons and some decent contact-hitting numbers.  Tebbetts never had a lot of power, but he could get on base and he was a well-regarded defensive catcher with a good relationship with his pitchers.  Tebbetts was acquired in a trade with the Indians in May of 1947 for the aforementioned Wagner.  Tebbetts hit .299 in 90 games with the Red Sox that season.  He was an All Star in 1948 and 1949.  For his time in Boston, Tebbetts hit .287/.367/.374 with 19 home runs and 189 RBIs.  He spent almost all his time in Boston in the 1940's, except for one of the best offensive seasons of his career in 1950.  Hal Wagner and Johnny Peacock are the runners-up.

A few players had decent seasons at first base for the Red Sox in the 1940's.  But there were no players who played more than a couple of seasons for them.  So it came down to Foxx for the second decade in a row, and it was a less-than-overwhelming vote.  Foxx did play from 1940 to 1942, but the results were widely varied.  He was terrific in 1940, hitting .297/.412/.581 with 36 home runs and 119 RBIs.  He was an All Star and finished sixth in the MVP vote.  In 1941, he declined somewhat but still had a good year, hitting .300/.412/.505 with 19 home runs and 105 RBIs.  1942 was the beginning of the end of his career and he hit just .270/.392/.460 with five home runs in 30 games before he was placed on waivers and claimed by the Cubs.  Rudy York is the runner-up with a very good 1946 season, but he only played a little more than one year in Boston, though he had a great World Series.  Billy Goodman was also considered.

Already a pretty good player, Bobby Doerr turned into a star in the 1940's.  He missed just one season in the decade, 1945 when he was in the service for World War II.  Doerr was an All Star seven times during the decade and was eventually a Hall of Famer who spent his entire career in Boston.  Doerr had the best season of his career in 1944 when he hit .325/.399/.528 with 15 home runs, 81 RBIs, and 95 runs.  He led the league in slugging percentage by contributing 30 doubles and ten triples.  Doerr turned into a much bigger power threat towards the end of the decade, hitting a career-high 27 home runs in 1948 and driving in over 100 runs five times in the decade.  Doerr was also a very talented defensive second-baseman.  This choice was overwhelming.  Doerr was the starter at second every season except 1945.  That season Dick Newsome played the position and was decent, but he was no Bobby Doerr.

This was a tough decision, but I found a way to make it work.  Two players with terrific, but significantly different careers, were considered.  And I had to disregard Joe Cronin, a Hall of Famer, who had a couple of good years in the 1940's, but he was the shortstop on the 1930's team.  Ultimately I chose Vern Stephens because he only played at short during the decade and he had a couple of huge seasons in 1948 and 1949.  Stephens was acquired in a big trade with the Browns prior to the 1948 season along with pitcher Jack Kramer for a number of role players.  In 1948, he was .269/.350/.471 with 29 home runs and 137 RBIs.  He had the best season of his career in 1949, hitting .290/.391/.539 with 39 home runs and tied for the league lead with a stunning 159 RBIs with teammate Ted Williams.  He also walked 101 times.  Stephens was a very rare power-hitting shortstop before there were such things.  Joe Cronin and Johnny Pesky were also considered.

This is how I made shortstop work.  Johnny Pesky was moved to third base to accommodate newly-acquired Vern Stephens in 1948.  He played two full seasons at the hot corner, and though his numbers were not quite as impressive at third as his seasons at shortstop, he was still one of the better third base options.  Pesky came up in 1942 as a shortstop and led the league in hits his first three full seasons, each of which came as a shortstop.  He had his best seasons at short, but he hit .281/.394/.365 in 1948 and .306/.408/.384 in 1949 as a third-baseman.  Pesky never had a lot of power, his career high in home runs was three in 1948 and 1951, but he was an excellent contact hitter who also played good defense.  He was a terrific table-setter and number two hitter who accepted his job was to get on base.  And he did a great job of that with a career OBP of .394.  Because of the difficulty in dealing with Pesky and Stephens, "Rawhide" Jim Tabor was left off of the team despite having six straight double digit seasons in home runs at third.

Right field was kind of underwhelming during the 1940's, particularly in light of the players in center and left field.  Lou Finney was one of a number of players Boston acquired from the Philadelphia Athletics and he was not really a star when he was picked up.  He had hit over .300 a couple of times while with the A's, but he really found Boston to his liking.  In 1939, he hit .325, albeit in just 95 games.  But he proved that was no fluke in 1940 when he hit .320/.360/.463 with five home runs and 73 RBIs.  He was named to his only All Star game that year and even received some down ballot MVP votes.  His average declined the next couple of seasons, but it was still a more than respectable .288 and .285.  Finney was also a decent right fielder.  He transitioned into the first-baseman as a result of Foxx's decline.  Finney spent the 1943 season in service but returned, in a lesser role, for the 1944 and 1945 seasons before being sold to the St. Louis Browns early in 1945.  Catfish Metkovich, Al Zarilla, and Sam Mele were all considered for the right field position.

Not much of a contest here as Dom DiMaggio is one of the best center fielders in team history and the 1940's were the best part of his career.  He also spent almost the entire decade in center.  He started the 1940 season in right due to the presence of Doc Cramer, but he moved over in 1941 and, other than three seasons in military service, played the rest of the decade there.  DiMaggio, Joe's little brother, was a terrific defensive center fielder, possibly even better than his more famous brother.  He was also a pretty good hitter, though he did not possess the power of Joe.  DiMaggio holds the Red Sox record for longest hitting streak with a 34 gamer in 1949.  DiMaggio was a seven-time All Star who hit .298/.383/.419 in his career, with 1,680 hits and 100 stolen bases.  He was difficult to strike out, whiffing just 571 times while walking 750 times in 6,478 plate appearances.  He was a borderline Hall of Famer whose career ultimately did not last long enough to make it in.  He missed three prime seasons for military service and ended up retiring somewhat early.  I did not consider anyone else for this position, DiMaggio was marked down automatically.

You were expecting anyone else?  Bob Johnson had two decent seasons during the war years, but Ted Williams is one of the greatest hitters of all time, if not THE greatest.  Williams moved to left field in 1940 full-time and did not change, as long as he was active.  Picking his greatest season of the 1940's is exceedingly difficult.  Is it 1941, when he hit .406?  1942 when he won the Triple Crown?  1946 when he was the MVP of the AL?  1947 when he won his second Triple Crown?  Or 1949 when he was again the MVP?  Williams was an incredible hitter who worked tirelessly at his craft.  He was stubborn enough to only swing at the pitches he wanted to hit, which led to remarkably high on-base percentages.  He is first all-time in on-base percentage.  Williams was at the top of his game in the 1940's and he is the runaway choice for this position.  He should have won five MVPs in the decade, instead of two, but that does not diminish his incredible numbers.

Joe Dobson was not the flashiest of pitchers, but he was incredibly consistent, probably the most consistent of the Red Sox starters in the 1940's.  Dobson was acquired from the Indians in December of 1940 and went on to record a 106-72 record over nine seasons with the Red Sox.  Dobson was 13-7 with a 3.24 ERA in the pennant-winning 1946 season and was 1-0 in three games in the World Series.  He struck out ten and walked three in 12.2 innings.  Dobson had his best season in 1947 when he was 18-8 with a 2.95 ERA and 110 strikeouts versus 73 walks in 228.2 innings.  He appeared in his only All Star Game in 1948 when he was 16-10 with a 3.56 ERA.  Dobson was a very good pitcher who was often overlooked because of the bigger stars in the rotation.

Boo Ferriss had two absolutely amazing seasons to start off his career, but faded almost as quickly.  Too many innings probably ultimately did him in.  Ferriss arrived in 1945, a war year, and was 21-10 with a 2.96 ERA.  He was fourth in the MVP vote and likely would have won the Rookie of the Year had the award existed in 1945.  There were some concerns about whether Ferriss's year was a fluke due to the weaker competition since a number of top players were still in service.  But he erased those doubts with a 25-6 record and a 3.25 ERA.  He struck out 106 while walking 71.  Ferriss picked up a win in two games in the World Series in 1946 and had a 2.03 ERA.  Unfortunately, he declined to 12-11 with a 4.04 ERA in 1947 and 7-3 in 1948.  He never won another Major League game.

Like Ferriss, Tex Hughson was a pitcher with a good nickname who came on strong at the beginning of his career but declined quickly due to injuries.  He pitched a little in the 1941 season but broke through in 1942 when he was an All Star and led the league in wins (22), complete games (22), innings (281), and strikeouts (113).  He finished sixth in the MVP vote.  Hughson followed that up with All Star seasons in 1943 and 1944.  He was terrific in 1944, going 18-5 with a 2.26 ERA.  He missed the 1945 season due to military service, but came back strong in 1946 when he was 20-11 with a 2.75 ERA and a career high 172 strikeouts.  He declined a little in 1947, but arm injuries caused him to break down early.  He lasted a while longer than Ferriss, but ultimately his career ended the same way.

I considered leaving Parnell to show up just in the 1950's, but that would have discounted the best season of his career, and Parnell was a huge part of the 1948 season as well.  He pitched in just 15 games in 1947, but was a major reason for the Red Sox pennant drive in each of the next two seasons.  In 1948, he was 15-8 with a 3.14 ERA.  He likely should have been the starting pitcher in the one-game playoff against the Indians, but manager Joe McCarthy played a hunch and started Denny Galehouse.  He had the best season of his career in 1949 when he was 25-7, leading the league in wins, ERA (2.77), complete games (27, wow), and innings (295.1).  He was an All Star for the first time and also finished fourth in the MVP vote.  Parnell had a few more good seasons in the 1950's but injuries eventually piled up.

Like Parnell, Ellis Kinder could not be ignored simply because of his role in the 1948 and 1949 stretch drives.  Kinder only has those two seasons to his credit in the 1940's, as he was acquired in a terrific trade for the Red Sox from the Browns before the 1948 season.  Kinder pitched a little in relief those two seasons, but became primarily a reliever in the 1950's.  He was 10-7 with a 3.74 ERA in 1948.  He had his best season as a starter in 1949 when he was 23-6 with a 3.36 ERA in 43 games.  He started 30 of those games and led the league in winning percentage and shutouts (6).  He struck out 138 and walked 99 in 252 innings.  Kinder was nicknamed "Old Folks" due to making his Major League debut at 31 years of age.  

A number of relievers, including Earl Johnson and Mace Brown were considered here, but it was Mike Ryba's longevity and consistency that led to his selection.  Ryba was with the team from 1941 through 1946 and was 36-25 with a 3.41 ERA during those seasons.  He was later credited with 16 saves for the Red Sox.  His best season was 1944 when he was 12-7 with a 3.33 ERA in 138 innings.  Ryba was reliable enough to get the occasional spot start, though he never started more than nine games any season in Boston.  It was as a reliever that he was the most valuable.  Even more impressive, Ryba was 38 when he first came to Boston.  It was unusual for the time period for a pitcher to keep going that long.

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