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  • High Flying Birds: The 1942 St Louis Cardinals
  • James E. Odenkirk
Mileur, Jerome K. High Flying Birds: The 1942 St Louis Cardinals. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2009. Pp. ix+274. $34.95 hc.

Of all American institutions, two fundamental entities of mass entertainment—Hollywood movies and Major League Baseball—probably changed the least during World War II. The content of movies shifted to reflect patriotic themes or total escapism. The induction of many top-flight players into the military service affected the caliber of Major League Baseball.

There was also a significant change in the major league standings during the war years. For six years prior to 1942 the New York Yankees dominated the baseball scene winning five pennants and a like number of World Series championships. 1942 was to be different. On January 15, 1942, barely a month after Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt sent baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis a letter urging Major League Baseball to proceed as usual. “Baseball provides a recreation which does not last over . . . two hours and a half [not true today] which can be got for very little cost.”

Jerome Mileur sets the stage for this wartime season. There were significant differences, large and small, from Major League Baseball of the twenty-first century. The game featured less specialization, less emphasis on power hitting, and of course, none of the players were black. Players left their gloves on the field after each inning. Only three umpires were assigned to a game. More night games were permitted, fourteen per club, except for the Washington Senators who scheduled twenty-one games, to accommodate wartime workers. There was no comparison with present-day salaries, mainly because players were not unionized. The highest paid St. Louis Cardinal player before being traded was pitcher Lon Warneke with a salary believed to be between $12,500 and $15,000.

The author enters the scene more directly at this point to provide literally a game-by-game account of this wartime pennant race. The young Cardinals battled the seasoned Brooklyn Dodgers who had won the National League championship the previous year. The Yankees were no match for the powerful Cardinals in the 1942 Fall Classic, losing four games to one. Mileur was just a kid from downstate Illinois, but he well remembers one regular season game from the left field grandstand of Sportsman’s Park. This park was owned by the American League St. Louis Browns and was used by both the Browns and Cardinals.

In Mileur’s judgment there had never been a championship team like the 1942 St. Louis Cardinals. The team was almost entirely home-grown. Led by Branch Rickey, the enterprising general manager of the Cardinals, his network of farm teams began to pay off. Whereas earlier championship Cardinal teams possessed key players purchased or traded from other teams, this youthful team had only one player over the age of thirty: pitcher Harry Gumbert, born November 5, 1909, was thirty-two in 1942. In Mileur’s view, the Cardinals were certainly the youngest World Champions. (Ages of contemporary players were more likely to be accurate than team members at the turn of the twentieth century.) [End Page 313]

The Redbirds, led by manager Billy Southworth, played an “old fashioned” game, emphasizing strong defense, good pitching, and tremendous speed on the bases and in the field. Familiar names included rookie Stan Musial, future Hall of Famer Eno Slaughter, and ace right-hander Mort Cooper—the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1942.

The author provides a detailed account of the season, capturing the ups and downs of one of the great Cardinal teams. It may be argued that Mileur dwells too much upon minute information on day-by-day game happenings. He might have been better served to blend his narrative to how the baseball crazed city of St. Louis was handling wartime conditions. As their National League representative moved toward a World Championship, the team’s second half rush outdid all of their previous regular season efforts. The Brooklyn Dodgers, their lineup intact from a 1941 league championship, won seventy of their first 100 games and had a ten- game lead in...


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pp. 313-314
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