The period following VJ Day in August 1945 represented not only the end of World War II but also the close of a 16-year siege that included the Great Depression. America was ready to celebrate long and hard, and baseball was just one of the institutions to which veterans returned with gusto and a renewed sense of purpose.
The Red Sox - though rescued from the Depression in 1933 by Tom Yawkey - had been hit particularly hard by the war, losing half their team to military service, with stars such as Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, Dom DiMaggio, and Earl Johnson exchanging baseball flannels for olive drabs. For most of the war years, Fenway Park served as a halfway house for Triple A talent that also featured a revolving door of washed-up veterans such as outfielder ``Indian'' Bob Johnson, and former Dodger star Dolf Camilli, whom they lured away from a Defense Plant assembly line.
By the start of spring training in 1946, not only had most of Yawkey's stars returned but it soon appeared as though the $4 million that the New York-based timber/chemical heir had invested in the team might pay major dividends.
Following an incredible springtime blitz in which Boston won 33 of its first 42 games, fans started mailing World Series ticket requests to Jersey Street in June. In a year that Hollywood produced both ``It's a Wonderful Life'' and ``The Best Years of Our Lives,'' Boston fans were living their own ``feel-good'' story as they eagerly anticipated the first Boston pennant in 28 years.
By Labor Day it appeared as though the Red Sox would not only eclipse the franchise record of 105 wins by the 1912 world champions but also pose a threat to top the 110 victories by the vaunted '27 Yankees. Anticipating their title, Red Sox officials announced that World Series tickets - sold traditionally in three-game strips - would only be sold on a single-game, two-ticket-per-customer basis in order to satisfy fans who had nearly doubled the team single-season attendance record. The result - more than 530,000 checks and money orders flooded the Fenway Park ticket office.
Despite the good feelings off the field, the '46 Red Sox entered September with high hopes but gradually lost all of the momentum gained over the previous five months as they finished with a 13-10 record for the month. In retrospect, it seems appropriate that they finally clinched the pennant on Friday, Sept. 13, with a 1-0 win over Cleveland as the result of brilliant pitching by Tex Hughson and the sole career inside-the-park home run by Williams. It remained the season highlight for both men.
The 1946 Red Sox finished the season as one of the biggest favorites in World Series history. The bookies had them at 20-7 and all the team needed to do was remain healthy as the Cardinals and Dodgers battled it out for the National League pennant.
When the NL race came down to a three-game playoff, Red Sox management made one of the most monumental errors in team history. Figuring that an extended layoff could hurt their team, manager Joe Cronin and general manager Eddie Collins invited a team of American League All-Stars featuring the likes of Joe DiMaggio, Luke Appling, Cecil Travis, and Hank Greenberg to play the Red Sox in three exhibition games prior to the start of the World Series.
It proved to be both an economic and competitive farce as fewer than 2,000 fans attended any of the games and disaster hit the team in the fifth inning of Game 1. It was then that Washington Senator pitcher Mickey Haefner hit Williams on the right elbow with an errant pitch. The team announced that while Williams's elbow wasn't fractured, he was receiving heat treatment and would sit out the rest of the exhibition series.
The last pre-television World Series started with a bang for Boston as first baseman Rudy York socked a 10th-inning home run into the left-field stands at Sportsman's Park and reliever Earl Johnson set the Cardinals down for the 3-2 victory.
In Game 2, the Cardinals returned to their pre-playoff rotation as ace lefthander Harry ``The Cat'' Brecheen wove an assortment of curves, screwballs, and an occasional fastball to set down the Red Sox, 3-0. Not only did Brecheen pitch a four-hit masterpiece but he also drove in the winning run with a third-inning single.
Back in Boston, scalpers were getting $10 for bleacher tickets with a face value of $1.20 as celebrities such as boxing champ Joe Louis, actor George Raft, and buddies Joe DiMaggio, Leo Durocher, and Toots Shor filed into Fenway Park for Game 3. Fans laughed at the pregame antics of ballplayer/comedian Al Schact as he traded hats with Williams as newsreel cameras whirred.
Boston smiles only got bigger as York once again homered, this time a three-run shot off Murry Dickson, as Dave ``Boo'' Ferriss pitched a complete game for a four-hit shutout. In the third inning, smiles turned to laughter as Williams foiled Cardinal manager Eddie Dyer's shift with a bunt hit to the wide-open space near third.
A Boston win in Game 4 should have all but finished the series, but the club again displayed the weariness that marked its September stagger. Cronin pitched Hughson on three days' rest and the righthander and the five relievers who followed him got rocked for 12 runs as St. Louis tied the series at two games apiece with a 12-3 win. Following the game the Red Sox learned that second baseman Bobby Doerr, who left the game with a migraine, was seeing double and would miss Game 5. This was a major blow as only Doerr and York among Boston regulars were hitting consistently.
In Game 5, Joe Dobson, Boston's fourth starter, pitched the game of his life as he allowed only four hits in a 6-3 win that gave the Sox a 3-2 series lead heading back to St. Louis. An American Airlines charter awaited the team at Logan Airport as Yawkey and company sought every advantage toward gaining their final win of the season.
On the precipice of victory, the team made another fatal mistake as Cronin decided to forgo using either Hughson or Ferriss as starters in Game 6 and instead went with journeyman Mickey Harris. Dyer countered with Brecheen, who was nearly removed from the game in the second inning until Doerr was thrown out at third on a controversial green light given by manager Cronin, who also coached third. Brecheen remained and pitched a complete-game seven-hitter for the 4-1 Cardinal win.
Following an off day that allowed the Cardinals to sell their remaining Game 7 tickets, the teams repeated their Game 3 pitching matchups with Dickson facing Ferriss. For the third game in a row, the Red Sox nearly salted away the game with a first-inning surge in which Wally Moses and Johnny Pesky hit back-to-back singles, with Moses scoring on a flyout by DiMaggio. Williams then sent a liner to center that was grabbed by Terry Moore and York popped to second as the rally died.
The Cardinals tied the game in the third and took a 3-1 lead in the fifth as Dickson doubled home Harry Walker and Red Schoendienst singled home Dickson in the fifth as Ferriss was replaced by Dobson.
Still trailing by two in the eighth, the Red Sox rallied, getting a Rip Russell single and a double by Catfish Metkovich. That's when Dyer made a bold move, bringing in Brecheen.
After striking out Wally Moses and getting Pesky to line out to Enos Slaughter, Brecheen surrendered a game-tying double to DiMaggio, who pulled a muscle sprinting to second. With the go-ahead run at second, Williams - in the most important at-bat of his career, popped up.
In the bottom of the inning, even though two lefthanded hitters were due up, Cronin passed over veteran lefthanded reliever Earl Johnson for righthander Bob Klinger.
Slaughter greeted Klinger with a single, only to be left at first as Whitey Kurowski's sacrifice attempt was caught by Klinger and Del Rice flied out to Williams. With two outs, up stepped Walker, who was hitting .375 in the Series (6 for 16). Klinger, pitching from the stretch, failed to hold Slaughter, who'd been given a steal sign from Dyer. Walker then dumped a soft hit behind shortstop that dropped in front of center fielder Leon Culberson, who then lofted a rainbow throw to cutoff man Pesky.
In a play that has been misrepresented for generations, Slaughter completed his ``mad dash'' for home in a play that speaks more to the greatness of the Cardinal Hall of Fame outfielder than to the fault of Pesky. By the time Pesky received the throw from Culberson, Slaughter was nearly home, and even a perfect throw wouldn't have nailed him. It was a play for the ages.
In the aftermath of the Series, ``goat horns'' were unfairly affixed to Pesky, and the bizarre series of executive and managerial moves by Boston were barely mentioned. True to his reputation, Williams refused to blame his injury for his .200 Series average and tried to shift the blame from Pesky.
Richard A. Johnson serves as curator of The Sports Museum at the FleetCenter and is author of 12 books including ``Red Sox Century'' and ``Yankees Century'' both with Glenn Stout.