Whitey Kurowski’s game-winning homer lifts Cardinals to the 1942 World Series title

On October 5, 1942, third baseman Whitey Kurowski struck the deciding blow in Game 5 of the World Series to beat the New York Yankees and begin a five-year run of dominance in which the St. Louis Cardinals won three world championships.

The heavily favored Yankees entered the 1942 Fall Classic as the defending world champions and winners of five of the past six World Series. Led by Joe Gordon, Charlie Keller, and Joe DiMaggio, they easily won the American League pennant that season, winning 103 games and outpacing the second-place Boston Red Sox by nine games.

The Cardinals had not had nearly as easy a time in winning the National League flag. As late as August 5 they trailed the Brooklyn Dodgers by 10 games. It wasn’t until they swept a two-game series against the Dodgers on September 11 and 12 that they moved into a tie for the league lead. The following day, after dropping the first game of a doubleheader against the Phillies, St. Louis began a six-game win streak that gave them the lead for good. They finished with 106 wins, two games ahead of the Dodgers, to win their sixth National League pennant.

Though the Cardinals started National League MVP Mort Cooper in Game 1, they committed four errors and lost the opener, 7-4. From that point forward, however, the World Series belonged to the Cardinals.

After winning Game 2 at Sportsman’s Park, 4-3, the Cardinals went to Yankee Stadium and picked up 2-0 and 9-6 wins. As a result, Game 5 presented the opportunity to conclude the series and hoist the championship.

The Cardinals started 24-year-old right-hander Johnny Beazley, who had gone 21-6 with a 2.13 ERA during the regular season. Beazley had been the winning pitcher in Game 2, scattering 10 Yankees hits and allowing three runs in a complete-game effort.

To oppose Beazley, the Cardinals sent 37-year-old Red Ruffing to the mound. A 19-season major-league veteran, Ruffing was a six-time all-star who had received American League MVP votes in four of the previous five seasons. He went 14-7 with a 3.21 ERA in the regular season and was the winning pitcher in Game 1 of the World Series, allowing four runs over 8 2/3 innings.

Ruffing opened Game 5 with a scoreless first inning before Phil Rizzuto gave him a one-run lead with a solo home run to lead off the bottom of the inning. Ruffing held that lead until the top of the fourth, when Enos Slaughter hit a solo home run to right field.

The Yankees regained the lead in the bottom of the fourth when Red Rolfe laid down a bunt single and advanced to second on a throwing error by Beazley. After Rolfe advanced to third on a fly ball, DiMaggio drove him home with a single to left.

New York threatened again in the fifth as Ruffing singled and the Cardinals committed two more errors. With the bases loaded, DiMaggio grounded out to Kurowski at third base to end the inning.

The Cardinals carried that momentum into their next at-bat, as Terry Moore and Slaughter opened the inning with singles. With runners on first and third, Walker Cooper hit a sacrifice fly to right field that tied the game once more.

Neither side threatened again until the top of the ninth, when Walker Cooper hit a leadoff single up the middle. After Johnny Hopp laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance Walker Cooper to second, Ruffing faced off with Kurowski, who had struck out three times against Rudding in Game 1 and was 0-for-3 with three fly balls heading into the ninth inning of Game 5.

As a 7-year-old in Reading, Pennsylvania, Kurowski had climbed a fence and fallen, landing in broken glass. When the injury turned into osteomyelitis, an infection of the bone, doctors removed four inches of his ulna, one of two bones in the forearm.

On this occasion, however, neither Kurowski’s misshapen right arm nor Rudding’s previous success against him made any difference. His fly ball sailed over the left-field wall to give the Cardinals a 4-2 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth.

The Yankees made things tense in the final frame when Joe Gordon led off with a single and Bill Dickey reached on the Cardinals’ fourth error of the game. However, Walker Cooper picked Gordon off second base and Beazley got pinch-hitter Jerry Priddy to pop up for the second out. The Yankees called upon George Selkirk to bat in place of Rudding, but Selkirk grounded out to second baseman Jimmy Brown to end the game and the series.

For the fourth time in franchise history, the Cardinals were world champions. Bookmakers and scalpers who expected the powerhouse Yankees to win the series reportedly lost up to $100,000.[1] It was the first World Series the Yankees had lost in seven trips since 1926, when Rogers Hornsby’s Cardinals won the first championship in franchise history.

“Baseball’s domination by the New York Yankees folded up and passed out of existence before 69,052 spectators here this afternoon as the St. Louis National League Cardinals, fighting uphill in the vast Yankee Stadium, became the new world champions of the green diamond,” wrote St. Louis Globe-Democrat sports editor Martin J. Haley.[2]

“Any time you can beat a ball club like the Yanks … well, I just feel wonderful,” Cardinals manager Billy Southworth said. “If I felt any better I wouldn’t be able to stand it.”[3]

For bringing the championship back home to St. Louis, each player received a $6,192.50 share of the World Series purse.[4] For many of the Cardinals, that doubled their salary for the season.

“Gosh, I can buy that farm now,” pitcher Howie Krist said. “It’s 150 acres and it’s a good producing piece of land. Money may shrink, but 150 acres will be 150 acres five years from now, just as it is today.”[5]

Kurowski, who was down to his last bat after breaking all of his others during the season, kept it nearby throughout the postgame celebration, showing it to teammates, visitors, and anyone who showed interest.

“I hope my brother Ray was listening on the radio,” Kurowski said. “He’s a Marine down in Parris Island, South Carolina. I got a letter from him this afternoon congratulating me on getting into the World Series, but telling me I made him look silly by fanning my first three times at bat. I got even with him today.”[6]

After the 1942 season, Kurowski made five consecutive all-star appearances. In 1945, he hit .323 with 21 homers and 102 RBIs and placed fifth in the National League MVP voting. In 1947, he again finished in the top 10 in the MVP vote after batting .310 with a career-high 27 homers and 104 RBIs. Shortly thereafter, arm injuries ended his career and he went on to become a minor-league coach and manager for 18 seasons.

After his breakout 1942 season, Beazley’s career was interrupted by World War II. Before the World Series, he had announced his intention to return home to Nashville, Tennessee, and enlist in the Marine Corps. After he beat the Yankees in Game 5, the Marines recruiting office sent him a telegram: “If you can toss hand grenades like you pitch for them Cards, hurry up.”[7]

After three years of military service, Beazley finally returned in 1946 and went 7-5 with a 4.46 ERA. Ahead of the 1947 season, the Cardinals sold him to the Boston Braves, where he won just two games the remainder of his career.

Beazley’s counterpart in Game 5, Ruffing, missed the next two seasons due to military service, returning in 1945 at age 40. He pitched three more seasons in the majors, making his final appearance with the White Sox in 1947.

The 1942 championship marked the beginning of a five-year stretch in which the Cardinals made four World Series appearances and won three. In 1943, the Yankees returned the favor, beating St. Louis in a five-game World Series, but the Cardinals bounced back and won the 1944 title over the cross-town Browns. In 1946, the Cardinals won the World Series again, this time defeating the Red Sox in seven games.

Enjoy this post? Find similar stories listed by decade or by player.

[1] “Scalpers, Books Lost $100,000,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, October 6, 1942.

[2] Martin J. Haley, “Cards Win World Series,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, October 6, 1942.

[3] Charles Dunkley, “Kurowski Loses His Pands During Cards’ Victory Celebration,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 6, 1942.

[4] Martin J. Haley, “Cards Win World Series,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, October 6, 1942.

[5] J. Roy Stockton, “Speed the Deciding Factor in Cardinals’ World Series Triumph; Beazley and Kurowski Stars of Final Victory,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 6, 1942.

[6] Charles Dunkley, “Kurowski Loses His Pands During Cards’ Victory Celebration,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 6, 1942.

[7] “Beazley Will Be Welcomed by the U.S. Marines,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 6, 1942.

2 thoughts on “Whitey Kurowski’s game-winning homer lifts Cardinals to the 1942 World Series title”

  1. Pingback: October 9, 1944: Cardinals clinch World Series victory over the Browns in the Trolley Car Series | STLRedbirds.com

  2. Pingback: October 11, 1964: Ken Boyer’s grand slam wins Game 4 of the World Series

Comments are closed.