A friend was recently lamenting the sad performance of his beloved Baltimore Orioles. "After making it to the post-season playoffs in 1996 and 1997, they've had thirteen straight losing seasons!" he exclaimed.
I tried to cheer him up. "Look at the accomplishments the Orioles have achieved over the years", I said, "They won the American League pennant six times and they won three World Series (1966, 1970, and 1983)." "Yeah", he said, "but they haven't been to the World Series for twenty-seven years!"
"Look at me", I said, "I've been a Phillies' fan since I was a little kid. I had to wait thirty years after the 1950 pennant for them to finally win their first World Series in 1980. Then I had to wait 28 more years for them to win the World Series again in 2008! You don't have it so bad!"
He still seemed down in the dumps, so I then reminded him that the Orioles' predecessors were the St. Louis Browns. The Browns spent 52 seasons in the American League and won only one pennant in all that time. "Well", he concluded, "I guess the Orioles sure have done a whole lot better than the Browns did." And that ended the discussion.
Afterwards, I decided to do a little research on the St. Louis Browns and their only pennant-winning season. It was very intriguing...
The American League began its existence as the second "major" league in 1901. One of their teams was the Milwaukee Brewers, who had played in the "minor" Western League since 1894. This Brewer team finished last during the 1901 season, and the owners decided to move the franchise to St. Louis where the rival National League had a team known as the Cardinals. The National League's St. Louis Cardinals had previously been known as the "Browns". So the transplanted Milwaukee Brewers took the name "St. Louis Browns" and St. Louis now was home to two major league teams.
Although the Browns finished second in the American League standings in 1902, they usually had a losing record. Despite this, they managed to out-draw the Cardinals for their first two decades in St. Louis. The Browns rebuilt Sportsman's Park as a steel-and-concrete facility in 1909, making it one of only three "modern" stadiums in the majors. In 1920, the Cardinals sold their facility (Robison Field) and became tenants of the Browns, sharing Sportsman's Park.
The Browns enjoyed their greatest season record in 1922, winning 93 games and losing 61, for a percentage of .604. Unfortunately, the New York Yankees won the pennant that year with a record of 94-60. Even with future Hall-of-Famer George Sisler hitting an incredible .420 in 1922, the Browns came up one game short.
Alas, the Browns never again won so many games. In fact, they competed in the American League for a total of 52 seasons and they suffered losing records in 40 of those seasons, quite a poor showing. After 1922, the rival Cardinals built up their minor-league farm system and started bringing in some outstanding players. St. Louis fans began attending more Cardinal games and fewer Browns games.
The Browns sank into the doldrums. Beginning in 1930, the Browns suffered 13 losing seasons out of the next 14. At the beginning of the 1944 season, there was no reason to think that the Browns would do any better than to suffer through another losing season. The Cardinals, on the other hand, were perennial contenders. Beginning in 1926, they enjoyed 16 winning seasons - including seven pennants - and had only 2 losing seasons. They had won the pennant in both 1942 and 1943, and were highly favored to win it again in 1944.
By 1944, many major league players had been drafted into military service or had voluntarily enlisted. The Browns had several players who had been classified as "4-F" by their draft boards; that is, unfit for military service. The Browns' pitching staff consisted of several journeymen and an old-timer by the name of Sig Jakucki who decided to try out for the team after not pitching at all for six years. Jakucki had a lifetime major league record of 0-3 and had not appeared in the majors since 1936. The 35-year old somehow found some hidden magic in his arm as he became an all-purpose pitcher for the 1944 Browns. He made 24 starts, with 12 complete games and 4 shutouts. He also relieved in 11 games. He compiled a record of 13-9 with an ERA of 3.55.
The other starters for Manager Luke Sewell were Jack Kramer 17-13, 2.49; Nelson Potter 19-7, 2.83; Bob Muncrief 13-8, 3.08; and Denny Galehouse 9-10, 3.12. All four of these pitchers ended their careers with losing records, but during 1944 they enjoyed solid seasons.
As a team, the 1944 Browns batted only .252 which was seventh in the eight-team American League. But their hitting seemed to be timely, as they somehow scored a total of 684 runs which was second in the league. Their best hitters were the 36-year old Mike Kreevich who hit .301 (the only Brownie to reach .300) and their exciting young shortstop Junior Stephens who hit 20 homers and drove in 109 runs.
During the summer of 1944, as American soldiers invaded France and captured Pacific islands from the Japanese, three teams stayed in contention for the American League pennant. These were: the mighty New York Yankees, who had won the pennant 7 times in the past 8 seasons; the Detroit Tigers (who had won in 1940 and who were destined to win again in 1945), led by 29-game winner Hal Newhouser and 27-game winner Dizzy Trout; and - against all odds - the over-achieving St. Louis Browns.
On Tuesday, September 19, 1944, the Detroit Tigers were in first place, a game and a half ahead of the St. Louis Browns, and three games ahead of the New York Yankees. The Tigers had 13 games left to play, while the Browns had 12 games remaining. Tiger Manager Steve O' Neill calculated that his team could win the pennant if they could win at least 8 of the remaining games. As it turned out, the Tigers did even better than that - they won 9 and lost only 4.
So how did the St. Louis Browns win the 1944 pennant? Well they simply won 11 out of their last 12 games to win the pennant by 1 game. The last 4 in a row of the victories were against the defending World Champion New York Yankees! Here's a run-down of those last dozen games of the underdog St. Louis Browns of 1944:
September 20 - Jack Kramer pitched a complete game and defeated the Senators 5-2.
September 21 - Nelson Potter pitched a complete game and defeated the Senators 9-4.
September 22 - Bob Muncrief pitched six innings and defeated the Athletics 4-2; Sig Jakucki gave up no hits over the last three innings.
September 23 - Denny Galehouse pitched a complete game and defeated the Athletics 3-1.
September 24 - Jack Kramer pitched a complete game and defeated the Athletics 3-2; the Browns scored all 3 runs in the ninth inning.
September 25 - Nelson Potter pitched a complete game shutout and defeated the Red Sox 3-0.
September 26 - Sig Jakucki pitched a complete game shutout and defeated the Red Sox 1-0.
September 27 - Denny Galehouse lost to the Red Sox 1-4.
September 29, Game 1 - Jack Kramer pitched a complete game and defeated the Yankees 4-1.
September 29, Game 2 - Nelson Potter pitched a complete game shutout and defeated the Yankees 1-0.
September 30 - Denny Galehouse pitched a complete game shutout and defeated the Yankees 2-0.
October 1 - Sig Jakucki pitched a complete game and defeated the Yankees 5-2; only 1 of the Yankee runs was earned.
Notice that the games were very close; the Browns didn't score many runs, but their pitchers didn't give up many runs either. The Browns, against all logic, had somehow squeaked through to their only first place finish with a record of 89-65, just one game ahead of the Tigers.
The entire World Series of 1944 was played in Sportsman's Park. The mighty Cardinals had breezed to their third straight National League pennant, with a brilliant record of 105-49. Led by Stan Musial (.347), they led the National League with a team batting average of .272.
Their pitching staff included Mort Cooper 22-7, 2.46; Max Lanier 17-12, 2.65; Ted Wilks 17-4, 2.64; Harry (The Cat) Brecheen 16-5, 2.85; and Red Munger 11-3, 1.34.
On paper it looked like a tremendous mismatch. Yes, the Cardinals did prevail, 4 games to 2, but the World Series was very closely contested.
The Browns' pitching staff held the Cardinals to just 16 runs in six games - an average of less than 3 runs per game. The Cardinals' pitchers held the Browns to just 12 runs - an average of only 2 runs per game. The Browns held their own.
For one magical season, the collection of old guys, journeymen, and one good young shortstop made the St. Louis Browns click in 1944. The Browns finished a respectable third in 1945, but by 1946 all the baseball stars who served in World War II were coming back to their teams. The Browns fell into the second division, never again to see a winning season. When they became the Baltimore Orioles in 1954, they gradually improved and became contenders by the 1960's.
Yes, the Baltimore Orioles of 2010 have a losing record. But they will have to keep on losing for a long, long time before they will come close to being as bad as the old St. Louis Browns were. Don't lose heart, Oriole fans! Remember the 1944 St. Louis Browns! Every dog has his day! Keep the faith!
Copyright: Robert T. Miller October 29, 2010