Year In Review : 1941 National League
Off the field...
The American decision to impose sanctions on Japan, in response to the Japanese invasion of Indo-China, convinced Japanese leaders that war with the United States was inevitable. While the Japanese government continued to project peace under the disguise of negotiations in Washington, plans went ahead for a surprise military action that would catch the U.S. completely off-guard. One major vulnerability proposed for an attack was the U.S. Fleet's Pearl Harbor base in Hawaii that was reachable by an aircraft carrier force. Taking advantage of this strategic "loop-hole" the Japanese Navy secretly sent a naval battle group across the Pacific with greater aerial striking power than had ever been seen on the World's oceans. After sneaking almost undetected past the military's radar, its planes hit the heart of the shipyard just before 8 a.m. killing over two-thousand four-hundred Americans and destroying five of eight battleships and most of the Hawaii-based combat planes.
The governments of American and Great Britain declared the "Atlantic Charter" in anticipation of the end of World War II. The joint agreement expressed certain common principles in their national policies to be followed in the postwar period. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill signed the announcement aboard a warship in the North Atlantic off the coast of Newfoundland. It stated that neither country sought any territorial, or any other, sovereign enhancement from the war. It also proclaimed the right of all people to choose their own form of government and not to have boundary changes imposed on them. In addition, the charter expressed the hope that all countries would be able to feel secure from aggression and recognized the principle of freedom of the seas, expressed the conviction that humanity must renounce the use of force in international relations, and affirmed the need for military disarmament after the anticipated victory by Allied forces.
In the American League...
Taft Wright, an outfielder with the Chicago White Sox, set an American League record on May 20th after driving in at least one run in thirteen consecutive games. During the streak, Wright recorded twenty-two runs batted in although in six of the games he knocked in a run without a hit.
On May 25th, Boston Red Sox icon Ted Williams raised his record-setting batting average to over .400 for the first time. Over the remainder of the season, his quest to outdo Bill Terry (1930) played leapfrog on sports pages around the country with the New York Yankees Joe DiMaggio who was working on a hitting streak of his own.
Joe DiMaggio's fifty-six game hitting streak finally ended on July 17th thanks to solid pitching by Cleveland Indians pitchers Al Smith and Jim Bagby. Despite stopping the "Yankee Clipper", the Tribe was unable to stop the rest of New York and lost 6-5 in front of 60,000 fans.
In the National League...
The Chicago Cubs became the first Major League Baseball franchise to install an organ for fan entertainment. It was one of the only innovations ever to be introduced at Wrigley Field, which later boasted a "backward" reputation as the last ballpark ever to install lights.
The New York Giants became the first team to use plastic batting helmets during a June 6th double header against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Although the batters appeared comfortable in their new headgear at the plate, they still went on to lose both games 5-4 and 4-3.
Frankie Frisch, manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, was ejected from the second game of an August 19th doubleheader after appearing on the field waving an umbrella to protest the playing conditions at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field. American artist Norman Rockwell later transformed the humorous argument into a famous oil painting titled "Bottom of the Sixth".
Around the league...
Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Hugh Mulcahy became the first Major Leaguer drafted into the Armed Forces for WW II. An All-Star in 1940, Mulcahy would pitch less than one-hundred innings after he returned from the war. Over the next two years over one-hundred major leaguers were drafted and two (Elmer Gedeon and Harry O'Neill) were killed in action.
In response to the notorious "bean ball wars" of the 1940 season, the Brooklyn Dodgers inserted protective liners into their caps as a safety precaution. The rising aggressions between pitchers and batters had resulted in the serious injury and hospitalization of Joe Medwick, Billy Jurges, and others. Although the thin liners were hardly noticeable, many players around the league criticized them as a distraction.
Thirty-seven year-old New York Yankee Lou Gehrig, also known as "The Iron Horse" died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (later renamed Lou Gehrig's Disease) on June 2nd. His legacy on the field included a lifetime batting average of .340, fifteenth all-time highest, and he amassed more than four-hundred total bases on five occasions. A player with few peers, Gehrig is still one of only seven players with more than one-hundred extra-base hits in one season. During his career he averaged one-hundred forty-seven RBIs a year and his one-hundred eighty-four RBIs in 1931 still remains the second highest single season total in American League history. Always at the top of his game, Gehrig won the Triple Crown in 1934, with a .363 average, forty-nine home runs, and one-hundred sixty-five RBIs, and was chosen Most Valuable player in both 1927 and 1936. Unbelievable for a man of his size, #4 stole home fifteen times, and he batted .361 in thirty-four World Series games with ten home runs, eight doubles, and thirty-five RBIs. He also holds the record for career grand slams with twenty-three. Gehrig hit seventy-three, three-run home runs, as well as one-hundred sixty-six two-run shots, giving him the highest average of RBIs (per homer) of any player with more than three-hundred home runs.