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I just recently finished reading the book "Even the Browns – Baseball During World War II," written by William B. Mead and printed in 1978 by Contemporary Books and printed again in this Dover edition.
The book tells of how major league baseball was affected by World War II, and also chronicles how teams were affected by so many players being drafted during the war.
It is written mostly from the perspective of the St. Louis Browns, but it also details how other teams were affected when they lost some of their best players.
There is much background about how the St. Louis Browns were formed in 1902 after being the Milwaukee Brewers in the inaugural 1901 season for the American League.
The Browns finished second in their first season, but wouldn’t finish second again till 1922. They only finished higher than third place in 1944, when they won the AL pennant and lost the World Series four games to two.
Fred Haney, who would later manage the Milwaukee Braves to a world championship in the 1957 World Series, managed the Browns from 1939-1941. The 1939 Browns posted the worst record of any Browns team when they won 43 games while losing 111 games.
I was expecting more than the 30 pages about the 1944 season and the World Series that year. There was extensive coverage of the rationing that was enforced so vigorously during the war.
One of the problems baseball had to deal with was the perspective that too many baseball players were being classifed 4-F and not subject to being drafted. Some players like Stan Musial weren’t drafted until late in the war, while others like Ted Williams and Bob Feller missed a lot of seasons during the peak of their careers.
The 1944 Browns had an excellent pitching staff headlined by Jack Kramer and Nelson Potter, and also had a character named Sid Jakucki who pitched well for them that season. Jackucki had once dangled an umpire by his feet over a river after a semi-pro game, but he settled down enough with the Browns to win 13 games.
Vern Stephens was the best hitter during the 1944 season for the Browns, hitting 20 home runs and driving in 109 runs.
After reading the book, it is safe to say the Browns would never have been the 1944 AL champions if not for the war.
The war really hurt the New York Yankees, who lost all their starters and probably would have won even more AL pennants if not for the war.
The Yankees who had won the AL pennant in 1941, 1942 and 1943 with 101, 103 and 98 wins in those seasons, suddenly won only 83 games in 1944 and finished in third place.
In the history of the St. Louis Browns from 1902-1953, the team only had one pennant and two second place finishes.
The book has a large portion of the book devoted to more about the wartime sacrifices the American public was making and the rationing rules in place than baseball, but still it is a book worth reading.
It is an excellent book to read for baseball fans who like to read about baseball history and are intrigued about a team that is as well known for Bill Veeck using Eddie Gaedel in a game, and the one armed outfielder Pete Gray used during the 1945 season. The book covers Pete Gray well, and it doesn’t portray Gray in the best light and says that he was not well liked by his teammates.
The 241 page book will keep your attention and will take the reader back to a time when baseball had to adjust to having hundreds of baseball players drafted which changed the history of the game while they were gone and gave teams like the St. Louis Browns a chance to be in the spotlight.