1944 Washington Nationals
Manager: Ossie Bluege 2nd Season (2nd with Washington 148-159)
64 W 90 L 592 RS 664 RA 8th AL 25.0 GB (St. Louis 89-65)
3.84 RPG (AL = 4.09) 3.49 ERA (AL = 3.43)
.964 DER (8th AL)
All Stars (4) George Case, Rick Ferrell, Dutch Leonard, Stan Spence
Franchise (1901-1944) 3168-3449-89; 8-11 WS
Going into 1944, it appeared that the year in baseball would be characterized by a lack of star power. With most big name players away for military service, it appeared that baseball would take a hit. In some ways it did, but the real story of the 1944 season was the St. Louis Browns’ quest for the first pennant in franchise history. By the end of the season, the last team of the original eight the American League to win a pennant had theirs, and St. Louis was the center of the baseball world as both the Cardinals and the Browns made it to the World Series.
The season had a different story in Washington, however. Baseball was likely an afterthought because of the war to most people in Washington, and it appeared to be an afterthought to the team as well. Despite a decent performance by the pitching staff, the Washington offense was pretty much non-existent through the entire year. A string in which the Nats won only one game out of 10 in late May and early June dug them a bigger hole than they could overcome, and for the first time since 1909 the Nats finished dead last in the American League.
Bold = Player new to Washington in 1944
C Rick Ferrell .277/.364/.316 0 HR 1.0 BFW 12 WS 14 FRAR 3.1 WARP3
In the spring of 1944, Ferrell came back to Washington after spending three seasons with the St. Louis Browns. To get Ferrell, Griffith initially traded Tony Giuliani, a 30-year-old backup catcher who had started his career in St. Louis. Giuliani refused to report to the Browns, however, so Griffith was forced to send veteran outfielder Gene Moore to complete the deal. At age 38, Ferrell was still regarded as one of the better catchers in the league, and had a decent season both at the plate and behind it. Ferrell was particularly valuable to the team defensively, as he would spend the next two years catching a starting staff made up primarily of knuckleballers.
1B Joe Kuhel .278/.364/.378 4 HR 0.6 BFW 17 WS 3 FRAR 4.1 WARP3
Another name familiar to Washington fans, Kuhel was purchased from the White Sox and returned to the Nats after a six-year absence. After having a career worst season in 1943, the 38-year-old Kuhel rebounded with his original club and had a couple of decent years in Washington.
2B George Myatt .284/.357/.342 0 HR -0.6 BFW 17 WS 7 FRAR 4.0 WARP3
Myatt was plucked out of the Cardinals’ system in the 1942 Rule V draft. He had played some with the Giants in the late 1930’s, but 1944 was his first season as a major league regular. Known mostly for his speed (earning him the nickname “Mercury”), Myatt had a six-hit game on May 1, 1944 against the Red Sox.
SS John Sullivan .251/.325/.280 0 HR -1.5 BFW 10 WS 17 FRAR 2.2 WARP3
Sullivan was off to war after the 1944 season, his last as an every day player.
3B Gil Torres .267/.297/.328 0 HR -0.5 BFW 10 WS 30 FRAR 3.7 WARP3
Torres was originally a knuckleballer, but the team had enough of those so he was converted to a third baseman and was a regular in his first full season in 1944. A bit of a legacy in Washington, his father Ricardo caught 22 games for the Nats from 1920-1922.
LF George Case .250/.326/.302 2 HR -1.1 BFW 10 WS 8 FRAR 2.5 WARP3
For the first time in six years Case did not lead the AL in stolen bases. His 49 was good enough for second behind Snuffy Stirnweiss of the Yankees who had 55 swipes.
CF Stan Spence .316/.391/.486 18 HR 5.4 BFW 33 WS 19 FRAR 9.3 WARP3
In a down year for just about every other Nat, Stan Spence might have had a career year. His 18 home runs was more than the rest of the team combined. The lack of other threats in the lineup meant that Spence was walked intentionally quite often in ’44, including three times in the same game on July 8. He still managed to get his, including a 6-for-6 game that came exactly a month after Myatt did the same.
RF Roberto Ortiz .253/.312/.361 5 HR -1.0 BFW 8 WS 1 FRAR 1.1 WARP3
RF Jake Powell .240/.272/.278 1 HR -2.7 BFW 3 WS 5 FRAR 0.3 WARP3
The Cuban Ortiz had been with Washington since 1941, but did not play much until 1944. He jumped to the Mexican League after the war, but eventually came back for two more major league seasons. Ortiz is probably most famous for his part in one of the most violent incidents in Cuban baseball when he attacked a home plate umpire and knocked him unconscious in a 1945 game. Ortiz shared time in right with veteran Jake Powell.
SP Dutch Leonard 14-14 3.06 ERA 1.13 WHIP 0.9 PW 13 WS 5.1 WARP3
After a couple of disappointing seasons, Leonard was back with a good effort in 1944. Though he threw the unpredictable knuckleball, Leonard had exceptional control, and was once again among the AL’s best in walk ratio (1.45 per nine innings).
SP Mickey Haefner 12-15 3.04 ERA 1.28 WHIP 0.7 PW 12 WS 5.2 WARP3
In his second full season in the majors, Haefner was used primarily as a starter. He performed well, and his losing record was more a function of a poor offense and bad luck.
SP Early Wynn 8-17 3.38 ERA 1.39 WHIP -0.3 PW 8 WS 3.2 WARP3
Wynn and his blazing fastball were a nice compliment to a group of knuckleballers. Despite a bad record, he really didn’t pitch all that poorly in 1944. He missed the 1945 season due to military service, but would return in 1946.
SP Johnny Niggeling 10-8 2.32 ERA 1.22 WHIP 1.7 PW 15 WS 5.9 WARP3
Niggeling came to the Nats in a late season trade with the Browns in 1943. Though he was 40 years old, his knuckleball was still effective, and 1944 may have been Niggleing’s best season.
SP Roger Wolff 4-15 4.99 ERA 1.59 WHIP -3.4 PW 0 WS -0.7 WARP3
Wolff came in an offseason trade that sent journeyman Bobo Newsom to Philadelphia. The move gave Washington to corner on knuckleballers, as Wolff was the fifth on the roster. Unlike a lot of Washington pitchers, Wolff earned his poor record in 1944, but he would rebound in a big way in 1945.
RP Alex Carrasquel 8-7 3.43 ERA 1.44 WHIP -0.3 PW 6 WS 1.8 WARP3
After a short spike in ERA for the 1943 season, Carrasquel was back to his traditional 3.43 ERA.
RP Bill Lefebvre 2-4 4.52 ERA 1.54 WHIP -0.5 PW 2 WS 0.0 WARP3
Though Lefebvre had three major league seasons under his belt prior to 1944, he had never appeared in more than six games in a season. After 24 appearances in 1944, the 28 year old was out of the majors.
RP Milo Candini 6-7 4.11 ERA 1.54 WHIP -0.6 PW 4 WS 1.6 WARP3
After being used primarily as a starter in his rookie season, Candini became a bullpen regular for Washington, a role he would resume after returning from the military in 1946.
1944 World Series
In the first and only all St. Louis World Series, the Cardinals defeated the Browns four games to two. Stan Musial hit .304/.360/.522 in the Series and Mort Cooper allowed just two earned runs in 16 innings pitched.