Tuesday, June 17, 2014

June 17, 1944: Kurowski Plays The Hero With His Bat; Munger Plays The Hero With His Arm

     On June 17, 1944,  a solo shot in the bottom of the sixth off the bat of Whitey Kurowski proved to be the difference maker in a 2-1 Cardinals win over Pittsburgh Pirates in St. Louis. While Kurowski's bat made the difference on the offensive side, it was the arm of Red Munger that made the difference for the Cardinals from the mound.

     18,145 fans packed the stands at Sportsman's Park that day, and they witnessed quite the pitching duel that featured Preacher Roe and Nick Strincevich for the Buccos, while Billy Southworth called on his 25-year-old Red Munger. Roe gave up a run in the second by surrendering an RBI triple to second baseman Emil Verban. Although, he did put that fire out quickly and Verban was left stranded, as the man they called Preacher settled down quickly. Munger's only hiccup came in the top of the sixth, as he watched the Pirates centerfielder Johnny Barrett knock in his teammate Lee Handley with a game tying RBI single.

     It looked to be a whole new ballgame, but not for long, as Kurowski put one in the seats during the bottom half of the sixth. A familiar name in Frankie Frisch was the skipper for the Pirates, and after Roe got out of the inning he ended his day by sending in a pinch hitter to bat for him the seventh. Roe had respectable numbers. He had give six hits, and six strikeouts through six, but he, nor his team could get anything going against Munger, who went the distance, and struck out nine.

     It was the eighth win of the season for Munger, and he only had one loss on the wrong side of the stat column. At the time he was being called the hottest pitcher in the National League, and he was not about to cool off. It was his third win in a row, and he won two more, before being saddled with a loss. That loss was 1-0, 10 inning heartbreaker, that came on June 29th against the Phillies. Still yet, the performance that Munger turned in on that day is a testament as to how well he was pitching at the time.

     The Cardinals like every team in the ranks of Major League Baseball had seen players be called to serve their country, and it would end up being the fate of Munger as well. He was informed that he would need to report to Jefferson Barracks for active duty on July 12th, but before that happened he had one more gem in his arm, which came on July 5th as he went the distance for the club during a 4-1 win over the New York Giants in St. Louis. Two days later he came in relief against the Brooklyn Dodgers, and ended up being charged with a loss, which moved his record to 11-3. It would be his last appearance in the big leagues as Uncle Sam called his name. Munger's 11-3 record is even more impressive when you look at his earned run average that sat at 1.34 after his final outing  in '44.

     Munger's entire '45 season went to the wayside while he served, and most of  '46 would be taken away as well. However, the hurler returned late to club in late August, went 2-2, with two complete games, and would end up pitching a complete game in a Game 4 win over the Browns in the Fall Classic. Five days later the Cardinals were World Champions. Munger pitched for the Cardinals during nine different seasons, and posted a 74-49 record with the Birds on the Bat across his chest. His best season came in '47, when he posted a 16-5 record.

     Kurowski was key piece to all three of the clubs that won Championship Titles in the forties. He could not be called into service because of a childhood injury that caused an infection,which led to some bone removal to combat it. The surgery ended up causing his right arm to be four inches shorter than his left. It was simply an obstacle that would he would overcome, as he could not be told that he could not play the game he loved. While many scouts could not get past the disfigured throwing arm. Kurowski finally got a shot with a Class D club in the Northeast Arkansas League. Little did he know it at the time, but it would end up being the first leg of a trip to the big leagues. He rose through the ranks, and in 1942 he joined another young rookie by the name of Stan Musial on a big league diamond in St. Louis. Kurowski not only won three Championship Titles with the club, he was also selected to four All Star games while wearing a Cardinals uniform, and it would have been five had the midsummer classic not been cancelled in 1945 because of the War.

     Both Kurowski and Munger were participants in what was Golden Era in Cardinal Baseball. If we look at the '44 season alone, they both made great contributions to the club who would be featured in the only all St. Louis World Series  the city has ever seen. While Munger had to leave in July, Kurowski led the club with 20 home runs on the year, and was able to celebrate the Championship run. In the case of Munger we can only wonder where his final numbers would have rested if he had been able to pitch the entire season. He clearly had everything working when he was called into service, but fate took his life in another direction.

Check out the box score here: http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/SLN/SLN194406170.shtml

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