If not for a slump at the start of September by Stan Musial in his best big-league season, the Cardinals, not the Braves, might have been the National League champions that opposed the Indians in the 1948 World Series.
The Indians, American League champions in 2016, are trying to earn a World Series title for the first time since winning four of six games versus the Braves in the 1948 World Series.
The 1948 Indians finished first in the AL at 97-58, one game ahead of the Red Sox. The Braves won the NL pennant with a 91-62 record, 6.5 games ahead of the second-place Cardinals (85-69).
St. Louis had gotten within a game of the first-place Braves on Aug. 21, 1948.
Led by Musial’s torrid hitting, the Cardinals entered September at 68-57, two games out of first place.
Musial, the Cardinals’ all-time greatest player, was at his peak in 1948. At 27, he would win his third NL Most Valuable Player Award that season and lead the league in runs (135), hits (230), doubles (46), triples (18), RBI (131), batting average (.376), on-base percentage (.450), slugging percentage (.702) and total bases (429).
Musial was the first NL hitter to achieve a .700 slugging percentage in a season since Hack Wilson of the 1930 Cubs. His total bases were only 21 behind the league mark of 450 established by Rogers Hornsby of the 1922 Cardinals. No big-league player since 1948 has achieved as many total bases in a season as Musial did that year.
The 1948 Cardinals also received a stellar season from pitcher Harry Brecheen, who led the NL in shutouts (7), strikeouts (149) and ERA (2.24) and was second in wins (20) and complete games (21).
Many thought the Cardinals were poised to pass the Braves in the standings in September 1948 and win their fifth pennant of the decade.
Under manager Billy Southworth, the Cardinals had won three pennants and two World Series titles from 1942-44. When Southworth left the Cardinals after the 1945 season and accepted a more lucrative offer from the Braves, Eddie Dyer replaced him and led St. Louis to a pennant and World Series crown in 1946.
Entering September 1948, Southworth had the Braves in first place and Dyer was the manager who had the Cardinals in hot pursuit.
On the skids
Musial, however, went into his only slump of the season at the start of September. Entering the month with a batting average of .378, Musial produced just three hits in his first 24 at-bats in September. The Cardinals lost five of those seven games and fell into fourth place at 70-62, 5.5 games behind the front-running Braves.
In The Sporting News, Bob Broeg wrote, “It was Musial’s first man-sized slump during the first week of September that caused the Cardinals to lose all but a thread-slender flag chance.”
The height of frustration for the Cardinals during that stretch occurred in a three-game series against the Pirates at Pittsburgh.
In a Labor Day doubleheader on Sept. 6, the Cardinals hit into eight double plays _ six in the opener and two in the second game _ and lost both games to the Pirates by scores of 2-1 and 4-1.
The next night, in the series finale on Sept. 7, the Cardinals threatened in the first inning against Pirates starter Fritz Ostermueller. Red Schoendienst led off with a walk and Marty Marion singled, bringing Musial to the plate.
Musial ripped a line drive that was snared by shortstop Stan Rojek, who stepped on second to double up Schoendienst and fired a throw to first baseman Johnny Hopp before Marion could get back to the bag, completing a triple play. The Pirates rolled to a 6-2 triumph. Boxscore
Said a defiant Dyer: “That series was a body blow, but we’re still in the race.”
Indeed, the Braves wouldn’t clinch the pennant until Sept. 26. The Cardinals finished strong, winning seven of their last 10 to edge the defending champion Dodgers for second place. After their 2-5 start to September, the Cardinals won 15 of their last 22 games.
Dyer pointed to injuries that limited Schoendienst to 95 starts at second base and Whitey Kurowski to 62 starts at third base as difference makers in the pennant race.
“Except for our infield injuries, I believe we would be out in front,” Dyer said. “Too often we missed that potential punch and the ability to make the double play.”
Previously: How Stan Musial got his 4th 5-hit game of 1948