The Century Mark: 1946 Red Sox

Well, a lot happened between the previous time the Red Sox won 100 games and the last time they accomplished the feat. In 1915, the Sox had won their second World Series in four years. They would win two in the next three only to be dismantled in spectacular fashion, plummet to the basement and stay there through a succession of horrendous owners.

Tom Yawkey for all his flaws made an effort to change that. He didn't really know how to do it effectively; he essentially threw money at the problem, set the organization back for decades with his racist policies, and micromanaged the team before giving up on it when it failed to win the Series like a child frustrated with a broken toy.

But at least he tried. And in 1946, none of the rest of that had come into play yet. The Red Sox were back together again after World War II. The four Teammates were there. They had last played together in 1942, when 23-year-old Ted Williams followed up his .406 campaign by posting an OPS+ of just 216. Bobby Doerr (24 years old) and Dom DiMaggio (25) each had an OPS+ over 120, and rookie shortstop Johnny Pesky (22) posted a 119. It was an outstanding young core, one of the best the franchise has ever seen. As a result, the '42 Sox finished second in runs and first in OPS.


The pitching was solid, too: Tex Hughson was in his first full season as a starter, leading the league in strikeouts and posting a 144 ERA+ in 281 innings. Charlie Wagner and Joe Dobson were both solid, and the back end of the rotation mostly held its own, as did the bullpen. The Sox finished third in ERA. 

Despite the formidable lineup and solid pitching, the Sox finished a distant second to the Yankees, nine games behind a squad powered by Joe DiMaggio, Charlie Keller, Joe Gordon, Tiny Bonham, Spud Chandler and Hank Borowy. Six pitchers started at least 19 games for the Yankees that year, and all of them had an ERA+ over 105.

The war intervened then. Doerr stayed behind and continued producing solid numbers (his 1944 campaign against inferior wartime competition is one of the best ever by a Sox second baseman), but Pesky, DiMaggio and Williams went to fight. The Sox slipped to seventh in runs in 1943 before spectacular seasons from Doerr and Bob Johnson pushed them back to the top of the pile. Doerr left for the front in 1945, leaving just Johnson and shortstop Eddie Lake to carry the offense.

Hughson also stayed behind until 1945, throwing 266 innings in 1943 while posting a 126 ERA+. The rest of the staff, however, was mediocre, and would remain so. Hughson was excellent in 1944, with a 152 ERA+ in 203 innings, but the team was eighth in ERA. With Hughson gone in 1945, 23-year-old rookie Dave "Boo" Ferriss took the mound for the first time, posting a 115 ERA+ in 265 innings, winning 21 games on the strength of 26 complete games in his first season. No one else on the pitching staff was worth mentioning.

So 1946 in most ways was a sequel of the 1942 season. The Teammates were joined by first baseman Rudy York, acquired via trade, to anchor the starting lineup, while Hughson and Ferriss promised to be a formidable one-two punch at the top of the rotation. Dobson also returned to be the team's No. 3 starter.

The Yankees, meanwhile, were in a time of transition. Gordon and DiMaggio were on the wrong side of 30, and Gordon in particular had a bad season, while DiMaggio simply was no longer otherworldly. Tiny Bonham turned back into a pumpkin, leaving just the ancient Chandler and Bill Bevens to carry the pitching staff.

Without the Yankees to sap wins away from the Sox, the season wasn't very competitive. Boston was out of first just once the entire season, after a loss to the Yankees in the ninth game dropped them to 6-3, one back of New York. The Sox then won their next 15 games, which remains the longest winning streak in club history. That was followed a month later by a 12-0-1 streak.

They were six games up in May and 10 games ahead in June. By August, the Red Sox were ahead by as many as 14.5 games and peaked in early September with a 16.5-game advantage before finishing ahead of second-place Detroit by 12 games. The club had 96 wins by Sept. 5, but then lost six straight. On Sept. 21, however, the Sox took home win No. 100on their way to a final record of 104-50.

The story of the season remained Ted Williams, who posted an unreal line of .342/.497/.667, a 215 OPS+ at age 27. He walked an astounding 156 times, more than once per game.

This was the third of his record-setting four consecutive seasons with a 200 OPS+ or better. He posted 11.8 WAR on the strength of 90 batting runs, more than the rest of the team combined. For reference, Albert Pujols' career high is 10.9 WAR and 82 batting runs in 2003, and he's never crossed the 10-WAR or 70-run thresholds since. Williams hit 11 WAR/80 batting runs four times in a row, two seasons each bracketing the three lost war seasons. If only…

Apart from Williams, the other guys in the lineup weren't bad either. York, Doerr, Pesky and DiMaggio were all well above average with the bat, and with the exception of York (who was merely average) they were all excellent defenders, as well.

On the mound, Hughson and Ferriss were everything the fans had hoped. In 278 innings, Hughson posted a 134 ERA+, leading the league in K/BB ratio and finishing second in WHIP. He completed 21 of his 35 starts, winning 20 games for the second time in his career. Ferris, meanwhile, won an astounding 25 games on the strength of his 113 ERA+. He tied Wes Ferrell's live-ball record for wins by a Red Sox starter, a total that remains unbeaten (though tied once more, by Mel Parnell in 1949) and remains the only pitcher since the advent of the live ball to win at least 20 games in each of his first two seasons. Ferriss completed 26 of his 35 starts, spinning six shutouts and tossing 274 innings. Dobson was also superb, contributing a 114 ERA+ in 167 innings. Mickey Harris and Jim Bagby contributed league-average innings at the end of the rotation. 

Of course, win 104 was arguably the club's high point. To keep the team fresh, manager Joe Cronin made the terrible decision to play scrimmages while the club waited for the World Series. Williams was hit in the elbow with a pitch and struggled through the seven-game championship series. Given his regular-season exploits, it seems clear his 5-for-25 line (with five walks and no homers) — including 0-for-4 in the decisive Game 7, decided by one run — was a difference-maker. To further emphasize the point, Williams didn't have a seven-game span all season with an OPS lower than .656 (and only twice did he have a seven-game span with an OPS below .800). In the World Series, his OPS was .533.

And things didn't get better from there. The practically criminal workloads under which Hughson and Ferriss labored led to shoulder injuries for both pitchers in 1947; their careers would both be over by the end of the decade, Ferris pitching his last game at age 28, Hughson at age 33. As a result, the Sox slumped to third as a follow up to their last 100-win season.

There are no guarantees, but by 1948 the Red Sox had another pair of aces in Parnell and Ellis Kinder. With more sensible workloads, it's another what-if game to think of a rotation with Parnell and Kinder joined by even a reasonably effective Hughson and Ferriss. Such a rotation certainly wouldn't have needed a 163rd game to try to take the pennant in 1948, and it likely wouldn't have needed to win any games against the Yankees in the final weekend of 1949. In those two years, Hughson and Ferriss combined for 219 innings and a 5.22 ERA.

Ferriss had one more appearance left in him. He pitched the ninth of a blowout loss against the Yankees in April of 1950, giving up two runs. And, just like that, the only live-ball pitcher ever to win 20 games in each of his first two big-league seasons was out of baseball just five years after his debut.

0 comments… add one

Leave a Comment