Boston writer Michael Connolly captures the magic of American’s return to normalcy after World War II in this intimate portrait of a city and the baseball team it loves.
Fenway 1946 celebrates the city and the team and the spirit of that wonderful 1946 season in Boston—a season, as usual the broke fans’ hearts—as America returned to return to peacetime pastimes. And none was more American than baseball.
Along the way he brings out the stories and personalities that made that year so special in the Hub. From returning veterans like Ted Williams and young Congressman John F. Kennedy and thousands of others and their families who worried while they were in Europe or the Pacific, the 1946 Red Sox season was a celebration. It was catharsis. It was what made American great.
Husbands and sons were coming home to the open arms of a grateful nation. This included five hundred major leaguers who fought in World War II. The homecoming of America’s best sparked a spirit of collective pride from coast to coast—and New England was not exempt. For the previous five years, America sat around its radio listening to war reports. Now they would gather in the parlors to enjoy baseball once again.
Baseball had always been a thread that connected the country--a sport that linked generations. Opening Day 1946 was a tangible reminder that the country was at peace – back to the way things were.
Nowhere was this more relevant than in Boston. From Scollay Square to South Boston to the North End, veterans in their uniforms, kids with bats over their shoulder and housewives were talking about the return of Ted Williams and a roster that was considered the best in the league. Expectations were high – as always, at Fenway Park. Fans somehow knew this would be their year. The 1946 Boston Red Sox finished first in the American League with a record of 104 wins and 50 losses. And they wouldn’t disappoint (until October).
* In January of 1946, Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio, John Pesky and Bobby Doerr are released from the military and vow to come back as good as ever.
* American and especially Boston are desperate for real baseball. In 1945, the Red Sox averaged only 7,814 fans a game at Fenway. In 1946, with Williams and the team back home, they played in front of over 33,000 in their last scrimmage game at Fenway Park before the season started.
* Opening Day for the league was in Washington D.C. between the Senators and the Red Sox. President Harry Truman threw out the first pitch. Ted Williams went 6-12 in the series and was mobbed by Senator fans who rip his shirt off while he leaves the field. As he approached the dugout, Williams tossed his hat to a GI sitting in the lower box
* The home Opening Day for the Red Sox at Fenway Park was an event for the ages. Before the game Marines re-enacted the flag-raising at Iowa Jima in center field. The first pitch was thrown out by Governor Tobin. Standing by his side was a local war hero, John Murdoch, who got a bigger ovation than Ted Williams. Murdoch was part of the team that saved boxing world champion Barney Ross, whose bravery at Guadalcanal was unparalleled.
* Red Sox won an amazing 41 of their first 50 games. Ted Williams hits eleven home runs in just June. A spirit of euphoria overtakes Boston as the always hopeful fans pray for the Red Sox to break their 28-year curse.
* All Star game is played at Fenway where Ted Williams and voted MVP after going 4 for 4 with 2 home runs including a grand slam.
* In September, the Red Sox win a matinee game 1-0 in Cleveland on a Ted Williams inside the park home run. Later that day the Tigers lose giving Boston the pennant. Red Sox owner, Tom Yawkey throws a party in his hotel room. No one can find Ted Williams. Not telling anyone, Williams went to the local veterans’ hospital in Cleveland and spent the night with a dying veteran.
* Red Sox clinch the pennant. In one year their win total improved by 33 games (71-83 in 1945 to 104-50 in 1946). America is returning to the ballpark. At Fenway alone attendance went from 603,794 in 1945 to 1,416,944 in 1946.
* In the National League, the Brooklyn Dodgers and the St. Louis Cardinals tie for the pennant. While Boston awaits the National League playoff to conclude, Tom Yawkey invites American League All Stars to come to Fenway Park and scrimmage his Red Sox to keep them sharp. Hall of Famers, DiMaggio, Greenberg and Appling all sacrifice the first week of their offseason in loyalty to the American League. DiMaggio forgets his uniform and has to wear a Red Sox uniform for the game. A game in which Williams is hit on the elbow with a pitch and never fully recovers in the World Series.
* In anticipation of Game Seven of the World Series in St. Louis, newspapers across the country split the front page with previews of the big game and the expected execution that day of Herman Goering (he would avoid that by killing himself) and ten other high-ranking Nazi’s in Nuremberg, providing Americans further validation that the war was behind them.
* President Harry Truman’s team beats the Red Sox in the penultimate game when Johnny Pesky holds the relay throw from the outfield allowing Enos Slaughter to score from first on a single.
Michael Connelly is a lifelong Bostonian and the author of Rebound!: Basketball, Busing, and Larry Bird, and the Rebirth of Boston; The President’s Team (featured in the CBS documentary Marching On); The Great Book of Boston Sports Lists; and NBA List Jam. For fifteen years, he has written the popular blog "The Top Ten," first with The Boston Herald and now with sportsofboston.com.