How the 1942 St. Louis Cardinals season almost never happened

UNSPECIFIED - UNDATED: St. Louis Cardinal Stan Musial featured on a 1950's baseball premium. (Sports Studio Photos/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - UNDATED: St. Louis Cardinal Stan Musial featured on a 1950's baseball premium. (Sports Studio Photos/Getty Images) /

2022 marks the 80th anniversary the best team in franchise history, the 1942 Cardinals. But the season almost never happened.

At the end of the 1941 major league season, the St. Louis Cardinals finished second behind the Brooklyn Dodgers for the National League pennant in manager Billy Southworth’s first full season with the team.

Hopes for contenting for the 1942 pennant were strong, given the talent Southworth and owner Sam Breadon had. Certain players of note were Enos Slaughter, Marty Marion, Terry Moore, and strong starting pitchers Ernie White, Mort Cooper, and Max Lanier.

There was also a young, 20-year-old outfielder named Stan Musial who appeared in twelve games that season.

And then everything changed on December 7, 1941. Four days later, German dictator Adolf Hitler declared war on the United States.

With the United States was fighting a two-front war, there was certain to be a decline of manpower. Baseball owners fretted that they would not have players to field teams.

Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis took it upon himself and wrote to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt asking him if baseball should continue for 1942:

"“The time is approaching when, in ordinary conditions, our teams would be heading for spring training camps. However, inasmuch as these are not ordinary times, I venture to ask what you have in mind as to whether professional baseball should continue to operate.”"

Roosevelt, an avid baseball fan himself, knew the United States needed the manpower to fight the Axis powers. However, Roosevelt also recognized that the country needed some form of recreation. Baseball was a way for Americans to relax and take comfort.

So Roosevelt, in essence, gave baseball “the green light” to Commissioner Landis:

"“I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going. There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before.”"

With those two sentences, the 1942 baseball season was able to continue during the war, which was great news for baseball fans.

And great news for the Cardinals.

Despite being down as much as nine games to the Brooklyn Dodgers during the 1942 season, the Cardinals took the pennant by winning 63(!!!) games in the second half to finish with a franchise record of 106 wins that still stands today.

Mort Cooper took home the 1942 NL MVP that year with a 22-7 record, a league-leading 1.78 ERA, and a .987 WHIP. Right behind him in the MVP race was Enos Slaughter, who lead the National League with 188 hits and placed second in batting average at .318.

That young outfielder, Stan Musial? Well, 1942 turned out to be the first of his many 100+ hit seasons and finished twelfth in the MVP race.

At the end of the season, the Cardinals met the Joe McCarthy-led New York Yankees, who were looking to win their sixth title in the last seven seasons. As with previous Yankee ballclubs, there was no shortage of pure talent.

The 1942 Yankees had AL MVP and future Hall of Famer second-baseman Joe Gordon, along with other future Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio, Lefty Gomez, Bill Dickey, Phil Rizzuto, and Red Ruffing.

The Cardinals would overcome a Game 1 defeat at Sportsman’s Park and win the next four games to clinch the 1942 World Series at Yankee Stadium. This victory would springboard the Cardinals to win three out of the next four National League pennants and two more World Series.

But what would (or could) have happened if Roosevelt said no to baseball?

Ponder these questions, from a Cardinals’ perspective:

  • Do fans see the careers of Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, or Terry Moore, just to name a few Cardinals ballplayers, blossom the way they did?
  • If baseball returned after the war, would the players listed above actually continue their careers with the Cardinals, let alone play?
  • Would the Cardinals’ franchise even be where it is today?

Next. Cardinals unlikely to talk extension with Jack Flaherty until after 2022. dark

The 1942 Cardinals set the standard high for the organization with 106-win season. Yet if Major League Baseball was to give an all-league MVP for the 1942 season, I could see FDR taking home the hardware.