Baseball was the most popular professional sport in the United States during the 1940s, per USA Today. Like many other things, it was negatively impacted by the onset of World War II, when, according to the American Veterans Center, hundreds of major league players (and around 2,000 athletes from the minor leagues) left their baseball careers behind to join the U.S. armed forces.
Nonetheless, the 1940s witnessed some groundbreaking achievements in the sport. For instance, per the Ohio Historical Society, Ted Williams finished the season with a batting average above .400 in 1941; no major league player has accomplished that feat since. And, in 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to play in the major leagues when he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Here are some of the best MLB players from the 1940s. All of the information comes from The Baseball Page unless otherwise noted.
Left Field: Ted Williams (1940-1942, 1946-1949)
As his official website notes, Ted Williams interrupted his baseball career to enlist with the U.S. Navy during World War II. Even given the hiatus, he was arguably one of the best baseball players of the 1940s. Williams, who played for the Boston Red Sox, averaged .340 or better every season, and, in 1941, he became the last player to hit over .400 (finishing the season with a .406 average). He won two Triple Crowns (led the American League in home runs, batting average, and runs batted in) and two league MVP awards during the 1940s.
Right Field: Stan Musial (1941-1944, 1946-1949)
Stan Musial may have spent more time at first base or in left field than in right field; however, he did play the position on occasion, and he is too good to leave off of this list. Musial played for the St. Louis Cardinals and was an excellent hitter. His season-ending batting average never dipped below .300 during the 1940s. More impressively, he won the league MVP Award in 1943, 1946, and 1948. Musial did not play in 1945 because he was serving with the U.S. armed forces.
Center Field: Joe DiMaggio (1940-1942, 1946-1949)
Joe DiMaggio played for the New York Yankees. He was both a great hitter and an excellent fielder. His one flaw may have been that he did not steal many bases. DiMaggio hit 20 or more home runs in every full season he played during the 1940s, and he ended a year with a batting average below .300 only once. He won the league MVP Award in 1941 and again in 1947. Like many other MLB players, DiMaggio took a hiatus from baseball to serve in the U.S. armed forces during World War II.
First Base: Johnny Mize (1940-1942, 1946-1949)
Like many other players, Johnny Mize's baseball career was interrupted by World War II. During the 1940s, he played for the St. Louis Cardinals, the New York Giants, and the New York Yankees (for 13 games in 1949). As ESPN notes, Mize was an exceptional batter. He hit 40 or more home runs three times in the 1940s, and his season-ending slugging percentage only dipped below .500 once (in 1949).
Second Base: Joe Gordon (1940-1943, 1946-1949)
During the 1940s, Joe Gordon played for the New York Yankees and the Cleveland Indians. While his batting average was not that high, he was the best slugger among the second basemen of his era. Additionally, Gordon was an excellent defensive player. As a result of both his prowess on the field and at the plate, he won the league MVP Award in 1942. His baseball career was interrupted by a stint in the armed forces during World War II.
Third Base: George Kell (1943-1949)
During the 1940s, George Kell starred for the Philadelphia Athletics and the Detroit Tigers. He played one game in 1943 and began his major league career in earnest in 1944. In every season from 1946 through 1949, Kell ended the year with a batting average over .300 and an on-base percentage greater than .400. However, he is most noted for his excellent fielding skills, which separated him from other third basemen of that era.
Shortstop: Lou Boudreau (1940-1949)
During the 1940s, Lou Boudreau played for the Cleveland Indians. He was an excellent hitter. Boudreau ended the season with an on-base percentage below .400 only one time. However, what set him apart from Luke Appling and other shortstops of that era was his fielding ability. He posted the best fielding percentage among shortstops every season from 1940 to 1949. He won the league MVP in 1948.
Catcher: Walker Cooper (1940-1949)
Walker Cooper played for the St. Louis Cardinals, the New York Giants, and the Cincinnati Reds during the 1940s. He was both a good fielder and an excellent slugger. His best year came in 1947 when he hit 35 home runs with 122 runs batted in.
Pitcher: Hal Newhouser (1940-1949)
A congenital heart defect kept Hal Newhouser from serving in the armed forces during World War II. He played for the Detroit Tigers, and posted some excellent statistics. He won 17 or more games every year from 1944 through 1949. He won 20 or more games four times during that stretch. From 1942-1949, his average ERA was an impressive 2.588. He won the league MVP in 1944 and again in 1945.
Pitcher: Bob Feller (1940-1941, 1945-1949)
Bob Feller played for the Cleveland Indians. He won 20 or more games four times during the 1940s. That feat is quite remarkable given that he only played six full seasons in that decade, due in large part to the fact that he spent time with the navy during World War II. In the 1940s, he struck out 1,396 batters and recorded 28 shutouts. As a result of his impressive statistics, he finished high up in the MVP balloting on more than one occasion.
Pitcher: Bucky Walters (1940-1948)
A New York Times article contends that Bucky Walters was a star pitcher in the 1940s. He was definitely one of the best pitchers in MLB in the early part of that decade. Between 1940 and 1946, Walters, who played for the Cincinnati Reds, finished every season, except for one, with an ERA below 3.00. During that stretch, he won more than 20 games on two occasions. The remainder of the decade was not kind to Walters; however, he did enough in the first part of the 1940s to earn a spot on this roster.
Pitcher: Spud Chandler (1940-1947)
Spud Chandler played for the New York Yankees. Chandler did not pitch in as many games as some of the other names on this list. However, when he did pitch, he was usually very good. Four times during the 1940s, Chandler finished a season with an ERA under 3.00. He had a brilliant year in 1943, when he posted an ERA of 1.64, won 20 games, and took home the league MVP.
Pitcher: Tex Hughson (1941-1944, 1946-1949)Tex Hughson played for the Boston Red Sox. A New York Times article notes that the pitcher was selected to represent the American League in the All-Star game three times in the 1940s. He finished with 20 or more wins in 1942 and again in 1946. As impressive, Hughson maintained an earned run average in the 2s from 1942 through 1946 (he did not play in 1945 because he was in the armed forces). During that period, he won 72 games.
Bench Player (Second Base): Bobby Doerr (1940-1944, 1946-1949)
Bobby Doerr played for the Boston Red Sox. He was an excellent second baseman who was both a good fielder and a dependable batter. While not as great of a slugger as Joe Gordon, Doerr twice managed to finish a season with over 20 homers during the 1940s.
Bench Player (Short Stop): Luke Appling (1940-1943, 1945-1949)
Luke Appling played for the Chicago White Sox. While he was only an average fielder, he was an excellent hitter. His season ending batting average only dipped below .300 once during the 1940s. As impressive, he finished with an on base percentage greater than .400 every year, except for one.
Bench Player (Center Field): Dom DiMaggio (1940-1942, 1946-1949)
Dom DiMaggio, who played for the Boston Red Sox, was overshadowed by his older brother, Joe. However, the younger DiMaggio was an excellent player in his own right. He posted good offensive numbers during the 1940s; however, he is better known for his defensive skills. In 1948, he broke an American League record for most putouts (throwing a base runner out) in a season.
The author grew up watching the Atlanta Braves on television and still roots for the Braves.