October 9, 1944: Cardinals clinch World Series victory over the Browns in the Trolley Car Series

On October 9, 1944, the St. Louis Cardinals clinched their second World Series championship in three years, defeating the crosstown rival Browns 3-1 and establishing themselves as baseball’s dominant wartime franchise.

With America at war in Europe, players from every team either volunteered for or were drafted into the war effort. Though Cardinals stars Enos Slaughter and Terry Moore were still out of action after missing 1943 due to military service, the Redbirds felt the impact of World War II far less than other teams throughout the league.

Star outfielder Stan Musial was able to continue playing because he provided financial support for his father, who had contracted a lung disease working in the mines of Pennsylvania, and worked in a war plant during the winter. Those factors pushed him down the draft list, though he would miss the 1945 season.

Marty Marion, who won the National League MVP Award that season, had an old back injury, while Walker Cooper and Danny Litwhiler had leg injuries. Third baseman Whitey Kurowski had osteomyelitis from falling off a fence and onto broken glass as a child.

“Picked in March … as the outstanding club in baseball, the only group of athletes comparable to the pre-war squads, the Cardinals ran away with the championship of their circuit and in the world series, after a faltering start, they finally swung into their best stride,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s J. Roy Stockton wrote after the Cardinals clinched the championship in Game 6.

Though the Cardinals entered the World Series as heavy favorites over the upstart Browns, it was St. Louis’s American League club that took early command of the series, winning the opener 2-1 and bouncing back from a 3-2, 11-inning loss in Game 2 to take the third game, 6-2.

In the next two games, however, the Cardinals’ dominant pitching staff silenced the Browns lineup. Harry Brecheen, who had gone 16-5 with a 2.85 ERA during the regular season, held the Browns to just one run in a 5-1 Cardinals victory in Game 4. The following day, Mort Cooper, who led the Cardinals with a 22-7 mark during the season, shut out the Browns in a 2-0 win.

That victory put the Cardinals one game away from winning the Trolley Car Series. With the opportunity to clinch the franchise’s fifth World Series championship on the line in Game 6, manager Billy Southworth turned to Max Lanier, a 28-year-old left-hander from Denton, North Carolina.

Lanier had just completed his second consecutive all-star season, compiling a career-high 17 wins with a 2.65 ERA. In Game 2 of the World Series, he held the Browns to two runs over seven innings before Blix Donnelly won the game in relief.

The Browns countered with Nels Potter, a 32-year-old right-hander from Mount Morris, Illinois. Potter was coming off the best season of his career after going 19-7 with a 2.83 ERA over 232 innings. Potter had matched up against Lanier in Game 2 as well, allowing two unearned runs over six innings.

Potter’s teammates gave him an early lead in the second inning when Chet Laabs tripled and George McQuinn followed with an RBI single up the middle.

“Most of the crowd at the series seemed to be eager for the underdog Browns to upset the Cardinals and there was happy cheering when Chet Laabs tripled to center in the second inning and quickly scored on McQuinn’s single,” reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.[1]

Musial noticed the fans’ support for the Browns as well.

“The funny thing about that World Series, the fans were rooting for the Browns, and it kind of surprised me because we drew more fans than the Browns during the season,” he said. “The fans were rooting for the underdog, and I was surprised about that, but after you analyze the situation in St. Louis, the Browns in the old days had good clubs. They had great players like George Sisler and Kenny Williams, and the fans who were there were older fans, older men, old-time Brownie fans.”[2]

The Cardinals answered with three runs on three hits in the fourth inning. Kurowski, whose two-run, ninth-inning home run in Game 5 of the 1942 World Series proved to be the decisive blow, pushed the Cardinals’ first run across the plate on a fielder’s choice. With two outs, Emil Verban added an RBI single and Lanier helped his own cause with a ground-ball single to center field to score Kurowski.

That three-run rally proved to be all the offense the Cardinals needed. In the sixth, Lanier walked Laabs and McQuinn. After he threw a wild pitch that sent runners to second and third, Southworth turned to Ted Wilks out of the bullpen.

Wilks, a 28-year-old rookie from Fulton, New York, had pitched well during the season, going 17-4 with a 2.64 ERA. In starting Game 3 of the World Series, however, he struggled, as the Browns scored four runs in just 2 2/3 innings. Southworth, however, knew he would need Wilks again before the series was out.

“He didn’t do so well the first time he faced the Browns, but I said on the bench loud enough for him to hear, ‘You don’t have to do anything here but pitch low to the high-ball hitters and high to the low-ball hitters,’” Southworth said. “I wanted to leave him with that thought and when he walked out there you saw what he did.”[3]

With one out, the Browns’ Mark Christman hit a ground ball to Kurowski at third base. Kurowski fired home to catch Laabs as he tried to cross the plate standing up. Wilks then retired Red Hayworth with a fly ball to center field to end the inning.

The Browns never threatened again as Wilks retired all 11 batters he faced to seal the 3-1 victory.

“That’s the fifth world championship we have won, but it’s the greatest,” Cardinals president Sam Breadon said. When asked why, he said, “Because it was local. Boy, if we had lost that one we’d have had to leave town.”[4]

The Browns finished with just three hits for the game, matching the total of the Cardinals’ No. 8 hitter, Verban.

Verban, who was replaced by a pinch-hitter in each of the first three games of the series, had approached Browns owner Don Barnes after Game 3 to tell him that his wife’s complimentary seats were obstructed and to ask if she could be moved.

As Litwhiler recalled, Barnes laughed at Verban and said, “The way you’re playing, you ought to be sitting behind a post.” Barnes’ friends laughed as an enraged Verban stalked away.[5]

With three hits and an RBI in Game 6, Verban got his revenge.

“As soon as the game was over, as soon as we won, Emil went over to Barnes’ box and told him, ‘Now you go sit behind the pole,’ and we were kind of happy he did,” Litwhiler said.[6]

Shortstop Marty Marion, who won the National League MVP Award that season, also recalled Verban’s reaction after the game.

“I can see Emil running right now,” he said. “After the final out, he didn’t go into the dugout. He ran right over to Don Barnes’ box and he told him off. Emil was a feisty little devil, and he gave Don hell after the series was over. He said, ‘That will teach you to put my wife back of a post!’”[7]

For winning the World Series, each of the Cardinals received approximately $4,334, while the Browns each received approximately $2,842. It was the smallest World Series player pool since 1933.[8]

“Winning the World Series was a great feeling, one you’ll never forget,” Litwhiler said. “If you think about it, there are so many really great ballplayers who never won a World Series. Coming from the Phillies and winning a World Series, for me that was really special.”[9]


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[1] “Crowd Was for the Underdog, But Had Little to Cheer About,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 10, 1944.

[2] Peter Golenbock (2011), The Spirit of St. Louis: A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns, HarperCollins Ebooks, Page 262.

[3] W.J. McGoogan, “‘Donnelly’s Peg to Third and Hopp’s Catch Best Series Plays’ – Southworth,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 10, 1944.

[4] W.J. McGoogan, “‘Donnelly’s Peg to Third and Hopp’s Catch Best Series Plays’ – Southworth,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 10, 1944.

[5] Peter Golenbock (2011), The Spirit of St. Louis: A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns, HarperCollins Ebooks, Page 263.

[6] Peter Golenbock (2011), The Spirit of St. Louis: A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns, HarperCollins Ebooks, Page 264.

[7] Peter Golenbock (2011), The Spirit of St. Louis: A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns, HarperCollins Ebooks, Page 264.

[8] “Player Pool $309,590, Smallest Since ’33,” New York Daily News, October 10, 1944.

[9] Peter Golenbock (2011), The Spirit of St. Louis: A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns, HarperCollins Ebooks, Page 264.