Baseball history: 2017 sixth seasonwith three 100-win teams

21 Oct 1998: Infielders Derek Jeter
21 Oct 1998: Infielders Derek Jeter /
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ST. LOUIS – JULY 14: A statue of Stan Musial at the St. Louis Cardinals New Busch Stadium is shown on July 14, 2006 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS – JULY 14: A statue of Stan Musial at the St. Louis Cardinals New Busch Stadium is shown on July 14, 2006 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

1942—Cardinals, Dodgers, Yankees

106-48 St. Louis Cardinals

104-50 Brooklyn Dodgers

103-51 New York Yankees

The 1942 season was the first time MLB had three teams win 100 or more games. The St. Louis Cardinals beat out the Los Angeles Dodgers by two games in the National League, which must have been quite frustrating for the 104-win Dodgers. The third place team was 18 games back of the Dodgers. Down at the bottom of the NL were the Pittsburgh Pirates, who went 42-109 and finished 62.5 games behind the Cardinals. In a surprising twist, of all the teams the Cardinals played that year, they had their second-worst record against the Pirates.

This was Stan Musial’s first full season in the big leagues. He was good, but was about to become great. From 1943 to 1948, Musial won three NL MVP Awards in the five seasons he played (he missed 1945 because of WWII). Even though he wasn’t at that level yet, he was still a five-win player.

The Brooklyn Dodgers finished two games behind the Cardinals in large part because they were 9-13 in head-to-head matchups. The Cardinals were the only team they had trouble beating. The Dodgers actually led the Cardinals by a large margin at the All-Star Break, but couldn’t hold them back over the second half of the season. Pee Wee Reese, Dolph Camilli, and Pete Reiser were the team’s best players.

Reese was just 23 years old but already in his third season with the boys in blue. He would miss the next three seasons while serving in the military. Camilli led the team with 26 homers and 109 RBI. Reiser had burst upon the scene the previous year with a league-leading .343 batting average, 117 runs, 39 doubles, and 17 triples in his first full year in the big leagues. He finished second in NL MVP voting.

Reiser’s story is a sad one. He was an incredible athlete who could do it all on the baseball diamond when he first came up. After his terrific 1941 season, he hit .361/.416/.541 in the first half of the 1942 season. Then tragedy struck. In a game on July 19, the Cardinals’ Enos Slaughter belted a long drive to center. Reiser raced back and caught the ball in his glove, then slammed into the concrete wall as the ball fell to the ground. He was able to get up and throw the ball back in, then collapsed with a separated shoulder and blood oozing from his ears.

That injury, and others that followed, changed the course of his career. He hit .258/.335/.381 in the second half of the season, then missed three years due to military service. He came back from WWII to play seven more seasons but wasn’t close to the player he’d once been as injuries continued to pile up. According to this SABR article, “Reiser was carried off the field on a stretcher eleven times—six times conscious, five times not.”

While the Cardinals and Dodgers were battling it out in the NL, the Yankees finished nine games ahead of the Red Sox in the AL. Second baseman Joe Gordon won the AL MVP Award (that should have gone to Ted Williams). Charlie Keller, Joe DiMaggio, and Scooter Rizzuto were also very good.

The Yankees starting rotation had 21-game winner Tiny Bonham and 16-game winner Spud Chandler. Veteran Red Ruffing was 14-7, with a 3.21 ERA. The Yankees scored the most runs in the AL and allowed the fewest, for a terrific +294 run-differential.

Next: Top ten Midwest League propsects

The 1942 World Series began with a Yankees’ win, but the Cardinals then won four straight games to take the title. Johnny Beazley earned two of the wins with two complete games and Enos Slaughter hit .263/.364/.474. In a year in which three teams won 100 or more games for the first time ever, it was fitting that the winningest of them all took home the World Series trophy.