Much has been made recently of several Kansas City Royals players questionably leading All Star voting at their positions. As many as seven Royals could start in the July 14 game with talk of revising fan voting. All the same, this wouldn’t mark the first time deserving players have missed their All Star chance.
Seventy years ago, in the waning days of World War II, baseball cancelled its All Star Game for the first and thus far only time in its history. The cancellation came because of war-time travel restrictions, though there was brief talk of playing the game in front of American GI’s in Germany’s Nuremberg Nazi Party Stadium.
Ten obscure players selected as 1945 All Stars by the Associated Press never got another nod. Appropriately, since very few baseball cards were produced during World War II, one need look to pre and post-war sets to pay tribute to these men.
Red Barrett, pictured at left on 1949 Bowman: A change of scenery can work wonders. After Red Barrett began the 1945 season 2-3 with a 4.74 ERA for the lowly Boston Braves, the St. Louis Cardinals dealt past National League Most Valuable Player Mort Cooper for Barrett and $60,000.
As Barrett’s SABR bio notes, the trade was mostly about St. Louis selling off Cooper, with Barrett perceived as a 30-year-old journeyman. Nonetheless, Barrett proceeded to go 9-3 with a 2.14 ERA for the remainder of the first half, on his way to an NL-best 23 wins.
Hank Wyse, pictured at right on 1951 Bowman: Like a lot of war-time replacement players, Hank Wyse struggled to keep his place in the big leagues after better players returned from military service.
While he did alright in 1946, overall, Wyse went 30-37 with a 4.38 ERA the remainder of his career after 1945. But he held his own in 1945 as players gradually filtered back over the course of the season, with Wyse going 22-10 with a 2.68 ERA and helping lead the Chicago Cubs to the World Series.
Russ Christopher: By the time baseball card companies resumed putting out cards toward the end of the 1940s, the sublime first half of Russ Christopher’s 1945 season was a distant memory. Playing for a Philadelphia Athletics team that would finish last in the American League at 52-98, Christopher somehow went 11-5 with a 3.23 ERA over the first half of the season. His luck faded after the break, with Christopher going 2-8, albeit with a 3.09 ERA the rest of the season. His luck was worse in life, with Christopher dying in 1954 at age 37 of rheumatic heart disease.
Nick Etten, pictured at left on 1941 Double Play: Following Lou Gehrig’s retirement in 1939, the Yankees featured a string of forgettable first baseman over the next few years. Etten, acquired in a trade with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1943, represented the first vaguely comparable alternative to Gehrig. Etten averaged 18 homers and 103 RBIs from 1943 through 1945 with the Bombers, drawing MVP votes each year.
By Wins Above Replacement, his best season came in 1944, with 5.4 WAR. Sometimes, All Star nods represent delayed recognition and perhaps that’s what 1945 was. Otherwise, Etten’s first half in 1945 was nothing special for a first baseman, with him hitting .289 with five homers and 45 RBIs.
Oscar Grimes, pictured at right on a 1944 New York Yankees stamp: The 1945 Yankees may have been one of the least Yankee-looking teams ever, so stark a collection of no-names and has-beens that 42-year-old Paul Waner wound up in the outfield at one point. As Waner recounted in The Glory of Their Times, when a fan asked him why he was out there, the future Hall of Famer replied, “Because Joe DiMaggio’s in the army.”
New York took fourth in the American League at 81-71, its only finish below third place between 1925 and 1965. Journeyman third baseman Grimes ranked as one of the bright spots, leading the American League in double plays for third basemen and finishing second in assists at the position.
Steve Gromek, pictured at left on an Exhibit card: Due to his 17-season career and its years, 1941-57, Gromek is a rarity in that he does have a lot of cards in the marketplace (some players who were mostly active during WWII don’t appear to have any cards).
Gromek’s card career spans the late 1940s-early 1950s Exhibit cards through the Topps and Bowman card ‘wars’ and wraps up at the tail end of his career. He’s also known for embracing Larry Doby during the 1948 World Series, a signature moment during the integration of the major leagues.
Eddie Mayo, pictured at right on 1949 Bowman: It can be fun when purchasing old baseball cards, be it individually or in packs, to note the promotions being held at the time.
The back of Eddie Mayo’s 1949 card, four seasons after he earned an All Star nod while helping the Detroit Tigers to a world championship, tells of a plastic baseball game and bank available for 25 cents and five Bowman wrappers. The card notes, “Get this original exciting game. Complete with plastic players and directions. Lots of fun. Can be used as a bank. A swell ornament for the den.” As the back of Mayo’s card notes, the promotion expired December 31, 1949.
Mike Tresh, pictured at left on 1949 Bowman: Statistically, the father of future New York Yankees star Tom Tresh may rank among the worst players to get an All Star nod. A catcher and 12-year veteran, Mike Tresh stuck around long enough to do some damage, compiling -8.1 Wins Above Average for his career. Inexplicably, he had one season where he was thrown out 10 times attempting to steal. It’s unclear what Tresh was seen to be doing differently in the first half of 1945, as he offered a .249/.372/.267 slash line.
The accolades continued through the rest of the season as well, as Tresh finished 11th in voting for American League Most Valuable Player. Perhaps the 31-year-old was seen as a calming veteran presence for the Chicago White Sox, who hung surprisingly in contention for much of the first half. Or perhaps the American League was just hard up for catchers.
Ken O’Dea, pictured at right on 1940 Play Ball: With hundreds of major leaguers serving on USO teams or seeing combat during World War II, a number of other men who would otherwise have been confined to MLB benches or the minor leagues got their chance to shine. Such was the case with Ken O’Dea, mostly a backup catcher through 12 seasons between 1935 and 1946. O’Dea was old enough to have been photographed by Charles Conlon.
In his penultimate 1945 season, with Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter and other members of the St. Louis Cardinals in the service, O’Dea helped Barrett and others who remained to their 95-59 record and second place finish.
Goody Rosen, pictured at left on 1939 Play Ball: The only Goody in major league history (imagine that) hit .325 in 1945. Rosen looked especially sharp in the first half of the season, hitting .363, third-best in the National League behind Boston’s Tommy Holmes at .401 and Chicago’s Phil Cavarretta at .372. And this came while hitters faced a war-time dead ball, written of here, made of granulated cork and a rubber-like substance known as balata.
After one more big league season, Rosen’s big league career was over but he would live a long life and was able to call himself an All-Star for that one memorable season.