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Managers, Sidebars

Did Billy Southworth have it easy during the war?

Welcome to the HoME, Billy.

In Evaluating Baseball’s Managers, Chris Jaffe tells us that Billy Southworth “was a great manager, but World War II exaggerated his capabilities.” The war, Jaffe explains, favored Southworth because his team had the deepest farm system in the game, and his stars were drafted later than sooner. Southworth may have benefited from both. With Southworth near the head of the pack vying for the final managerial plaques in the Hall of Miller and Eric, I thought I’d better look into Jaffe’s claim. If true, then it might push Southworth down the rankings.

There’s little doubt that Jaffe is right about the Cards’ farm system. As he notes, during the war, it graduated Stan Musial, Whitey Kurowski, and Walker Cooper to the big leagues. There were other, lesser known players as well. While their cross-town rivals were digging up the Pete Grays of the world, the Cards had enough talent in the pipeline to withstand a lot of losses.

But what about the losses themselves? How much adversity did Southworth actually manage through? To test that, I studied each year of the war (1941–1945) and estimated how many Wins Above Replacement each team in the big leagues lost. My method was to use Tangotiger’s Marcel system to create simple playing time projections and WAR projections for all the time missed by players due to war. For each season, you’ll find a chart that displays the team’s previous year winning percentage and finish, its winning percentage and finish in the year in question, how many WAR I estimate it lost, and what players it missed that year. Those in bold departed in the year in question.

       1940  1940  1941  1941  LOST  BIG
BOS   .532   T4   .545    2     0
CHW   .532   T4   .500    3     0
CLE   .578    2   .487    4     0
DET   .584    1   .487    5     5    GREEENBERG
NYY   .571    3   .656    1     0
PHA   .351    8   .416    8     0
SLB   .435    6   .455   T6     0
WAS   .416    7   .455   T6     0
BRK   .575    2   .649    1     0
BSN   .428    7   .403    7     0
CHC   .487    5   .455    6     0
CIN   .654    1   .571    3     0
NYG   .474    6   .484    5     0
PHI   .327    8   .279    8     2
PIT   .506    4   .526    4     0
STL   .549    3   .634    2     0

There’s little to say here except that obviously the Tigers would have liked to have Hank Greenberg around all year. His presence probably keeps them in the hunt, though that’s not a given since Charlie Gehringer collapsed and most of the pitching staff struggled. Southworth’s Cards lost no one.

       1941  1941  1942  1942  LOST  BIG
BOS   .545    2   .612    2     4
CHW   .500    3   .446    6     3
CLE   .487    4   .487    4     7    FELLER
DET   .487    5   .474    5     7    GREENBERG
NYY   .656    1   .669    1    -0
PHA   .416    8   .357    8     5    CHAPMAN
SLB   .455   T6   .543    3     4
WAS   .455   T6   .411    7     8    TRAVIS, LEWIS
BRK   .649    1   .675    2     2
BSN   .403    7   .399    7     3
CHC   .455    6   .442    6     0
CIN   .571    3   .500    4     0
NYG   .484    5   .559    3     0
PHI   .279    8   .278    8     4
PIT   .526    4   .449    5     0
STL   .634    2   .688    1     0

1942 was just a trickle of players. The NL lost a lot fewer guys and no big stars. Brooklyn finished two back after they lost Cookie Lavagetto (who represented 2.1 WAR), but they replaced him with Arky Vaughan’s 2.3 WAR, so I’m not seeing a major thing there. Again, Southworth lost no one, but most of the NL was in the same position.

       1942  1942  1943  1943  LOST  BIG
BOS   .612    2   .447    7    25    WILLIAMS, DIMAGGIO, PESKY
CHW   .446    6   .532    4     9    LYONS
CLE   .487    4   .536    3    15    FELLER
DET   .474    5   .506    5    17    GEHRINGER, MCCOSKY, GREENBERG
NYY   .669    1   .636    1    19    SELKIRK, DIMAGGIO, RIZZUTO, RUFFING
PHA   .357    8   .318    8    11    CHAPMAN
SLB   .543    3   .474    6    11    JUDNICH
WAS   .411    7   .549    2    12    TRAVIS, LEWIS
BRK   .675    2   .529    3    16    REESE, RESIER, FRENCH
BSN   .399    7   .444    6    11
CHC   .442    6   .484    5     5
CIN   .500    4   .565    2     4
NYG   .559    3   .359    8    19    DANNING, MIZE, SCHUMACHER
PHI   .278    8   .416    7     8
PIT   .449    5   .519    4     3
STL   .688    1   .682    1    15    SLAUGHTER, MOORE

The Giants’ big drop off certainly looks like it was due in large part to the loss of several top players. Not listed are several second-rank above-average regulars. Same for Brooklyn who shed only 150 points of winning percentage instead of 200 like the Gothams. The Red Sox are in that same boat, and even the top-ranked Yankees lost a lot of winning percentage. Meanwhile, the Pirates, Cubs, WhiteSox, A’s, and Reds all improved their records after losing the fewest players. The surprises are Washington (surging) and the Brownines (falling). Southworth and the Cardinals were middle of the pack in terms of what they lost.

       1943  1943  1944  1944  LOST  BIG
BOS   .447    7   .500    4    28    DOERR, HUGHSON, WILLIAMS, DIMAGGIO, PESKY
CHW   .532    4   .461    7    15    APPLING, LYONS
CLE   .536    3   .468   T5    19    FELLER
DET   .506    5   .571    2    26    TRUCKS, BRIDGES, GEHRINGER, MCCOSKY, GREENBERG
PHA   .318    8   .468   T5    12    CHAPMAN
SLB   .474    6   .578    1    12    GALEHOUSE, JUDNICH
WAS   .549    2   .416    8    22    VERNON, WYNN, TRAVIS, LEWIS
BRK   .529    3   .409    7    22    HERMAN, REESE, RESIER, FRENCH
BSN   .444    6   .422    6    14
CHC   .484    5   .487    4    14    WARNEKE
CIN   .565    2   .578    3    13    FREY, VANDERMEER
NYG   .359    8   .435    5    23    GORDON, BARTELL, DANNING, MIZE, SCHUMACHER
PHI   .416    7   .399    8    18    MAY, ROWE
PIT   .519    4   .588    2    12    FLETCHER
STL   .682    1   .682    1    30    WALKER, KLEIN, SLAUGHTER, MOORE

The entire AL tightened up considerably. Every team that had stars was now missing a bunch of them, and as the Yankees’ total of missing WAR shows, the losses had a major impact on the pennant race. Of course, the Browns had the fewest missing stars, and Vern Stephens had a great year, and despite the field coming back to them, the Tigers’ losing Trucks and Bridges was too much to overcome. In the NL, teams finally started to lose some players, but we can see how few they were losing relative to the junior circuit. The Birds’ talent base and minor league system was so deep that it simply kept pushing ready major leaguers to the top club. And Stan Musial was still stateside. Look at poor Brooklyn, dumping another 120 points of winning percentage. I strongly suspect that the Pirates, a team floating around .500 for several seasons made a strong run simply because they lost so few WAR and most of it was concentrated in just a couple-three guys, so they could paper over things quickly. They lost only two regular hitters during the whole war (Elbie Fletcher, an All-Star level player, and Maurice Van Robays…not so much).

       1944  1944  1945  1945  LOST  BIG
BOS   .500    4   .461    7    40 DOERR, HUGHSON, WILLIAMS, DIMAGGIO, PESKY
CHW   .461    7   .476    6    21 APPLING, LYONS
CLE   .468   T5   .503    5    20 KELTNER, FELLER
PHA   .468   T5   .347    8    15 CHAPMAN
SLB   .578    1   .536    3    15 GALEHOUSE, JUDNICH
WAS   .416    8   .565    2    27 SPENCE, VERNON, WYNN, TRAVIS, LEWIS
BRK   .409    7   .565    3    27 HERMAN, REESE, RESIER, FRENCH
BSN   .422    6   .441    6    14
CHC   .487    4   .636    1    14 WARNEKE
CIN   .578    3   .396    7    21 FREY, VANDERMEER
NYG   .435    5   .513    5    23 GORDON, BARTELL, DANNING, MIZE, SCHUMACHER
PHI   .399    8   .299    8    24 NORTHEY, RAFFESNBERGER, MAY, ROWE
PIT   .588    2   .532    4    12 FLETCHER

Finally, the war caught up to the Cardinals. It took losing Stan Musial to dethrone them. With so many guys in the service, for some teams a dozen or more in 1945, it’s hard to say much other than this: Stan Hack, Bill Nicholson, Phil Cavarreta, Andy Pafko, Claude Passeau, and Paul Derringer were all Cubs throughout 1945. That’s a lot of legit MLB players going against a league mostly decimated by the draft. Similarly, the Nats almost won a war of attrition in the AL with Kuhel, Myatt, Case, Clift, Ferrell, Leonard, and half a season of a returning Buddy Lewis. Detroit won thanks to Newhouser, Trout, a great half season from returning Hank Greenberg, and a big year from Roy Cullenbine.

Now turning to our backlog candidates and already elected HoME managers. If we look solely at how much value Billy Southworth probably lost, he had the toughest job in the NL because the war cost him 92 WAR by this rough estimation. The next toughest luck in the NL was Brooklyn and New York with about 67 each. He also had the easiest job because his replacements were pretty good. Danny Litwiler, Lou Klein, Al Brazle, and Harry Walker among them. He also kept hold of Ray Sanders, Marty Marion, Mort Cooper, and Whitey Kurowski throughout the war plus Harry Brecheen and Stan Musial for most of it. Southworth lost massive value every year from 1943 through 1945. But he also had higher-value replacements than anyone else. His chief rival of the early 1940s, the Leo Durocher Dodgers, didn’t fare well because they lacked the player-development machine of the Redbirds. It’s hard to knock Southworth down too much, and his expert handling of the Braves after the war suggests that it wasn’t just Branch Rickey’s talent pipeline that won the day. Sometimes we recognize those who play a good hand well.

Joe McCarthy looks like the AL version of Southworth, but with a tougher job. His teams got absolutely gutted, taking essentially all of his starting nine plus much of starting rotation. He nonetheless won three pennants and never dropped below .500. He got two primo replacements in Snuffy Stirnweiss and Nick Etten but didn’t have nearly the supporting cast of veterans that Southworth did. I don’t really know how he managed to play .533 ball in 1945 with a team of absolute nobodies. This is impressive and cements in my mind why McCarthy is The Greatest Manager Ever.

Bill McKechnie is a mixed bag. On one hand, he lost hardly anyone during the war and just 38 estimated war for the entire conflict. Which is less than what the Yanks and Cards each lost in 1945 alone. But he also didn’t have as high a talent base as they did. He was squeezing good seasons out of pitching and defense. He had Bucky Walters and his most significant losses were Johnny VanderMeer and Lonnie Frey. The team cratered in 1945, stayed that way in 1946, when he left before season’s end.

Which brings us to Leo Durocher. He had great teams in 1941 and 1942 before he lost anyone of significance. Fine. He started losing players en masse in 1943 and dropped to 3rd. More left in 1944, he dropped to 7th. He rebounded impressively in 1945. His big holdovers were Dixie Walker, Curt Davis, and Augie Galan. But Branch Rickey did go get Eddie Stanky for him in 1944, and a full year of The Brat in 1945 made a big difference. Durocher brought along Hal Gregg and got a good year out of him in 1945, gave a young kid named Vic Lombardi a chance and got even better work from him, gave a 19-year old Ralph Branca a shot in 1945, which panned out nicely. Replacement centerfielder Luis Olmo did a great job for Leo in 1945 as did journeyman Goody Rosen. The sum of it was a really nice bounceback season. I’m not sure exactly what to make of this except that he had less to work with than Southworth, a little more than McKechnie, and in the worst of in 1945, he did well. On the other hand, he did lousy in 1944 when losing Billy Herman broke the camel’s back.

Bucky Harris didn’t really manage in the teeth of the war. In 1942, his Washington Senators lost their two best players (Travis and Lewis), released 40 points of winning percentage, and went from tied for sixth to seventh. He managed 94 games with the woeful 1943 Phillies. The year before the team was a .278 squad. Harris got them to play .424 ball. Immediately after he left, they worsened, finishing at .416. The next year they dropped to .399 then plummeted back under .300 in 1945. Harris was -4 on pypthagenpat. This might not have been Harris’ skillful managing, however. It looks to me like Ron Northey’s sudden emergence, nice comeback years by a couple of old pitchers (Schoolboy Rowe and Red Barrett), and career years from two journeymen (Babe Dahlgren and Coaker Triplett) did the number.

Casey Stengel only really managed one tough war year, 1943. The Braves lost nine regular players and pitchers to the war that year in addition to two who had departed in 1942. Casey was canned. He was +7 against pythagenpat that season.

Connie Mack was in the basement to start the war, which is where he finished it. In an odd little postscript, Mack’s teams improved dramatically after the war for three seasons (1947-1949). Here’s why: In the 12 months before the 1947 season started, they added OBP machines Ferris Fain, Barney McCosky, and Eddie Joost plus Hank Majeski to accompany Elmer Valo. They became a league average or better OBP squad after finishing near the bottom previously. They didn’t improve at all in SLG. Mack was finished after 1950 at age 732, and I don’t know whether it was his plan or not. But it was interesting.

So, Jaffe is accurate and slightly in accurate. On the whole, it might well be that Southworth’s reputation and statistical profile convey the Cardinal system’s dominance, but we also need to give him credit for the seamless integration of numerous young players in the most unpredictable and trying of times.



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