With World War II taking a sizeable chunk out of the personnel for nearly every major league baseball team, teams had to scramble around to fill their lineups. As a result, teams were playing rookies who were too young to be drafted, veteran players who were told old to be drafted or players with medical conditions that kept them out of the service. A pair of patchwork lineups from the Chicago Cubs and New York Giants met at the Polo Grounds on a hot Wednesday afternoon and the Giants, on the strength of a pair of home run by Nap Reyes, beat the Cubs 8-5 before a crowd of 3,210.
Cubs manager Charlie Grimm, in his second of three tours of duty as manager with the team, started Claude Passeau, a 35-year old righthander, who has the distinction of being the last Cubs pitcher to win a World Series game. Giants player-manager, Mel Ott, picked 23-year old Frank Seward as his starter.
Eddie Stanky batted leadoff for the Cubs at shortstop, but the Cubs would soon send him off to Brooklyn (and later the Giants) where he would go on to have a great career. Future Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx, a very tired 36-year old who had been fighting injuries and alcohol, was starting his first game of the year at catcher. Foxx had broken in as catcher with the Philadelphia A's back as a 17-year old in 1925 and had done some emergency duty throughout his career behind the plate. And Grimm decided to give him a start this day.
Ott put himself in the lineup in right field. Regular left fielder Joe Medwick was given the day off and a 24-year old named Danny Gardella started. Gardella, would go on to greater fame (relatively speaking) for his off field activities, as he was one of the first players to challenge the Reserve Clause in court. Gardella might have won his suit, but he decided to take a settlement. (It's a much longer story and it's easy to find on the internet.)
The Cubs scored four times in the first off of Seward. Center fielder Andy Pafko singled home first baseman Phil Cavaretta for the first run of the game. Left fielder Dom Dallessandro hit a three run homer to make it 4-0 Cubs after just half an inning.
The Giants narrowed the gap in the fourth. Gardella led off the inning with a home run to right. First baseman Phil Weintraub singled and Reyes homered into the upper deck in left to pull the Giants to within 4-3. Reyes's homer chased Passeau from the game, and Bill Fleming came in to pitch. Fleming got the last two outs in the fourth, but in the fifth, he started off the inning with two walks and two wild pitches and Grimm brought in Dale Alderson as well as catcher Billy Holm to replace Foxx, who apparently had wilted in the heat. Foxx played in just 15 games in 1944 and went 1 for 20.
Alderson would walk the bases loaded and Reyes would score two runners on the lone hit of the inning. The Giants now were up 5-4.
In the seventh, Reyes would strike again with his second two run homer of the game, again driving in Weintraub. Catcher Gus Mancuso doubled and went to third on a single by Buddy Kerr. Seward would score Mancuso on a suicide squeeze to put the Giants up 8-4. Bill Nicholson would homer for the Cubs in the eighth to make the final score 8-5. Seward went the distance for the win with Fleming getting the loss.
The St. Louis Cardinals ran away with the NL pennant, going 105-49 and wining by 14 1/2 games. The Cubs finished in fourth place at 75-79, 30 games out. The Giants finished fifth at 67-87, 38 games out.
Nicholson would lead the NL in both home runs and RBI in 1944 at 33 and 122. Nicholson also led in runs scored with 116. In a game on July 23, 1944, Nicholson received one of baseball's highest compliments, a bases-loaded intentional walk. Ott was the manager who ordered it. Passeau had an excellent season for the Cubs, going 15-9 with a 2.89 ERA.
The Giants got big years on offense from Ott (OPS+ of 171) and Weintraub (162 OPS+), but otherwise had a lot of duds. Catcher Ernie Lombardi, who had been one of the NL's best hitters in his younger days, slid down to .255 and had an OBP of just .317. Medwick batted .337 in 128 games. The Giants pitchers, outside of Bill Voiselle (21-16, 3.02 ERA) were a collection of has beens and never weres brought together because of the war.
In 1945, with even more players missing because of the war, the Giants remained in fifth place, but improved to 78-74. The Cubs improved all the way to first place and a 98-56 record and a trip to the World Series, where they would lose in seven games to Detroit.
Sources: New York Times, Baseball-reference.com, Retrosheet