1945 Washington Nationals
Manager: Ossie Bluege 3rd Season (3rd with Washington 235-226-2)
87 W 67 L 2 T 622 RS 562 RA 2nd AL 1.5 GB (Detroit 88-65-2)
3.99 RPG (AL = 3.90) 2.92 ERA (AL = 3.36)
.715 DER (2nd AL)
All Stars (3) George Case, Rick Ferrell, Dutch Leonard
Franchise (1901-1945) 3255-3516-91; 8-11 WS
1945 was a unique season in a lot of ways. Clark Griffith and Ossie Bluege almost led a team of replacement players, seemingly washed-up veterans, and old knuckleballers to the American League pennant. With Washington’s schedule finished, they trailed the Tigers by one game. Detroit had a double header to play in St. Louis, and needed just one win to clinch. Hank Greenberg’s ninth inning home run in game one rendered game two unnecessary, and the unlikely pennant run of the 1945 Nats came to an end.
Despite the ending, the season was not without its highlights. The Nats, with essentially the same group of players, improved by 23 games over their 1944 performance. Several players who seemed to be past their primes had career years. Catcher Rick Ferrell, though not a threat with the bat anymore, may have been the MVP. At the age of 39 he was the catcher for a staff that included four starting pitchers who primarily used the knuckleball. Dutch Leonard had one of his best seasons with Washington, and Roger Wolff seemingly came out of nowhere to dominate the league with his knuckler.
On August 4, pitching coach Bert Shepard entered the game against the Boston Red Sox. What was remarkable was not that Shepard pitched 5.3 innings of relief allowing just one run. Shepard had lost a leg when his plane crashed in the war. He trained himself to walk and pitch with an artificial leg while he was in a German POW camp. It was his only major league appearance.
Around the league, the first commissioner of baseball, Judge Landis, died following the 1944 season. Landis had been commissioner since he was named to clean up the game in the wake of the Black Sox scandal. Senator Happy Chandler of Kentucky was named to replace Landis. Chandler was known as a players commissioner, and during his short term (1945-1951) he oversaw the integration of major league baseball.
Bold = Player new to Washington in 1945
C Rick Ferrell .266/.366/.325 1 HR 1.0 BFW 11 WS 11 FRAR 2.3 WARP3
At age 39 Ferrell shared time behind the plate with Al Evans and Mike Guerra. Ferrell will catch 37 games for the Nats in 1947 at the age of 41, but for the most part 1945 marks the end of his career. Ferrell played in Washington for eight seasons, and compiled a .273/.374/.335 line over his career with a WARP3 of 20.5. In 1984, he was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee.
1B Joe Kuhel .285/.378/.400 2 HR 1.5 BFW 25 WS 14 FRAR 5.7 WARP3
Kuhel was also 39 years old, but he was able to have one of the best seasons of his career. Kuhel had a career high OPS+ of 134. Kuhel also passed the 2,000 hit milestone in 1945, and had the distinction of being the only Washington player to hit a home run at Griffith Stadium in 1945. He did it on September 7 when he hit an inside-the-park home run off of Bob Muncrief of the Browns. In the middle of 1946, the Nats sold Kuhel back to Chicago, where he would finish his career with the White Sox. Kuhel’s Washington career: 11 seasons, .288/.364/.412 56 HR, 35.5 WARP3.
2B George Myatt .296/.378/.365 1 HR 1.0 BFW 23 WS 12 FRAR 5.0 WARP3
Though Myatt had a career season in 1945 and was among the top second basemen in the league, Jerry Priddy’s return from war meant that Myatt would return to the backup role. He appeared in only 27 games after 1945 and was out of the majors by 1947.
SS Gil Torres .237/.264/.276 0 HR -4.7 BFW 7 WS 20 FRAR 0.0 WARP3
Torres’ solid defense came nowhere near making up for his horrible season at the plate. May have been one of the single worst performing position players in franchise history up to this time. A good comparison might be Nick Punto. Needless to say, Torres career didn’t last much longer.
3B Harlond Clift .211/.349/.307 8 HR 0.1 BFW 14 WS 10 FRAR 2.1 WARP3
Clift, one of the most underrated players in major league history, came to Washington in a late 1943 trade with the St. Louis Browns. For 10 seasons, Clift had the distinction of being one of the best players on a last place team. He was the top power-hitting third baseman in baseball history at the time, and could field his position as well. Immediately after the trade, Clift caught a particularly nasty case of the mumps. That and a shoulder injury he sustained while riding a horse limited his playing time until 1945, when he finally got a chance to be a regular on a winning team. Clift’s production took a sharp nosedive late in the season, and he spent much of September riding the bench. He retired after the season.
LF George Case .294/.360/.357 1 HR 1.5 BFW 21 WS 16 FRAR 4.4 WARP3
Case was traded to Cleveland after the season. Though he would be back for a handful of games in 1947, this was the last good season for the 29-year-old. In 10 total seasons with Washington, Case hit .288/.347/.365 and stole 321 bases while being caught only 98 times. He had a career 39.8 WARP3 in Washington.
CF George Binks .278/.324/.391 6 HR 0.8 BFW 20 WS 13 FRAR 3.5 WARP3
Binks got a chance at the age of 30 due to a player shortage, and made the most of it. 1945 was his best season, and it earned him a shot to play in the post-war years. His only other notable season came in 1947 with the Philadelphia A’s.
RF Buddy Lewis .333/.423/.465 2 HR 2.4 BFW 17 WS 6 FRAR 4.0 WARP3
Lewis returned from military service late in the season to take over the right field position that had been unsettled most of the season. He put up some very good numbers in just 69 games played.
SP Dutch Leonard 17-7 2.13 ERA 1.13 WHIP 2.5 PW 19 WS 5.8 WARP3
Fresh off a USO baseball tour in the off season, Leonard had his best season with Washington. Leonard posted a career low 2.13 ERA, and was among the league pitching leaders in most categories, including a 1.46 BB/9 rate, good for second in the AL.
SP Roger Wolff 20-10 2.12 ERA 1.01 WHIP 3.3 PW 24 WS 8.4 WARP3
After a poor showing in 1944, Wolff rebounded to be one of the league’s best pitchers in 1945. Like Leonard, Wolff was among the AL leaders in every pitching category, and won some big games down the stretch that kept the Nats in the race.
SP Mickey Haefner 16-14 3.47 ERA 1.24 WHIP -0.3 PW 14 WS 3.9 WARP3
Though Haefner’s 16 wins was a career high, he actually had one of his worst seasons pitching, posting an 89 ERA+.
SP Marino Pieretti 14-13 3.32 ERA 1.40 WHIP -0.9 PW 10 WS 1.8 WARP3
Pieretti’s rookie season was is best in the majors. He got his shot largely because of the players shortage, but hung on as a spot starter when the regulars returned from war.
SP Johnny Niggeling 7-12 3.16 ERA 1.33 WHIP -0.8 PW 7 WS 1.3 WARP3
At the age of 41 Niggeling still could fool batters with his knuckleball. He was released by Washington in July of 1946, and ended his career in the National League with Boston.
RP Alex Carrasquel 7-5 2.71 ERA 1.18 WHIP 0.5 PW 8 WS 2.5 WARP3
Carrasquel actually started seven games in 1945, one of them was a shut out on August 20, significant because it was the night cap of a double header in which Pieretti shut out the Indians in game one as well. Following the 1945 season, Carrasquel was sold to the White Sox. Rather than play in Chicago, the first Venezuelan to play major league ball fled to the Mexican League where he played for three years. Carrasquel finally came back and played a few games for Chicago in 1949 before he was farmed out.
RP Sandy Ullrich 3-3 4.54 ERA 1.54 WHIP -0.6 PW 2 WS 0.4 WARP3
Cuban-born Carlos Santiago Ullrich pitched three games for Washington in 1944, and didn’t play a single major league game after 1945.
1945 World Series
The Detroit Tigers defeated the Chicago Cubs in seven games. Hank Greenberg starred batting .304/.467/.696 in the series.