The 1945 World Series was, until this year, the last appearance in the Fall Classic for the Chicago Cubs.
It also pitted managers against each other that represented the Indians’ past – and possibly its future.
The Tigers manager was Steve O’Neill, who was originally signed by the Athletics but played the bulk of his career for the Indians. He was a part of the 1920 championship team, and ended his career with stints in Boston, the Bronx, and St. Louis.
After his major league career ended in 1928, he continued to play in the minor leagues, and branched into coaching as well, including three years in Toledo with the Mud Hens – then an Indians affiliate. In 1935, former Senators pitcher Walter Johnson – then in his second full season as Indians manager – was looking for a pitching coach, and he looked no further than Toledo, tapping O’Neill.
After Johnson was jettisoned mid-season in 1935, O’Neill took over as Indians manager. In his two years and change at the helm, he led the Tribe to a 199-168 record before he was replaced by Ossie Vitt. After a stint in the minor leagues, he became a coach for the Tigers in 1941, and two years later, he was named the Tigers manager.
In 1945, everything gelled for the team. Hal Newhouser won 25 games in his second straight MVP season, and the team got a late addition from Hank Greenberg, who was honorably discharged early from the U.S. Army. In a rematch of the 1935 Fall Classic, they would face the Cubs, managed by Charlie Grimm.
Grimm was a Cub through and through. He had broken in with the Pirates, but Chicago president Bill Veeck Sr. traded for him in 1925 – and named him manager during the 1932 season. Grimm was a welcomed change from the tyrannical Rogers Hornsby, and under his guidance, the Cubs won the pennant, but got swept in the World Series by the Yankees. He also led the Cubs to the pennant in 1935, but the team appeared headed for its third straight second-place finish when he was relieved of his duties as manager midway through 1938. He was replaced by Gabby Hartnett, who led the Cubs to their fourth pennant in nine years (each coming three years apart, oddly enough).
He served as a broadcaster and then coach for the Cubs until 1941, when he bought a piece of the minor league Milwaukee Brewers along with Bill Veeck’s son and namesake. With Veeck going off to the Army for World War II, Grimm served as manager for two years, winning a pennant and Little World Series in 1943.
By May 1944, the Cubs wanted him back, so he returned to Chicago, picking a journeyman outfielder who was in the middle of a mediocre managing career: Casey Stengel. He whipped the team into shape and the next year, won 98 games (ten more than the Tigers) and the National League pennant. That Cubs team had a high-powered offense, led by National League MVP Phil Cavarretta, and a pitching staff led by Hank Borowy, a purchase from the Yankees.
Borowy started and won the first game of the World Series, pitched the fifth game, appeared in relief the next day, and started Game 7, getting shelled as the Tigers won the game and the series.
A year later, Grimm’s friend Veeck fronted an ownership group that bought the Indians. Veeck was dangling player-manager Lou Boudreau as trade bait, and a number of managers were rumored as his replacement, including coach Al Lopez, Stengel (who by then was managing in the Pacific Coast League) and Grimm. But those proved to be just rumors, as Veeck held on to Boudreau in both roles, and after the 1947 season, Grimm was signed to a five-year contract with the Cubs.
He wouldn’t last through the end of the deal, being fired in 1949. By that time, O’Neill was back with the Indians, serving as a coach for a year for the defending world champions. He then went to Boston, serving as scout, coach, and then, after Joe McCarthy stepped down after 1950, as manager. He was not retained in 1952, replaced, ironically enough, by Boudreau, who had been released as a player and fired as a manager in Cleveland after Veeck sold the team.
Grimm, meanwhile, was named manager of the Boston Braves, and held on to the position when the team moved to Milwaukee, a town where he remained popular from his stint with the Brewers. He was fired in 1956, the year before the Braves won back-to-back pennants and a World Series.
He returned to Chicago, where he served in the front office and at the start of the 1960 season, as manager. He was 17 games into that season when Cubs management pulled off a unique double switch. Grimm went to the broadcast booth, and the team’s broadcaster – none other than Boudreau – went to the dugout in what turned out to be his last managerial stint.
In 1961, the Cubs opted against a single manager and went to a “College of Coaches.” It was never tried before, and hasn’t been done since – mostly because it was a terrible idea. In addition to Grimm, other people serving in the college of coaches included former Indians pitcher and coach Mel Harder and Buck O’Neil, the first black coach in Major League Baseball.
Steve O’Neill died in 1962 of a heart attack. He had a .559 winning percentage over 14 years and never had a losing season, remarkable when you consider the teams he managed. Grimm remained with the Cubs in some form until 1981, when he retired to Arizona. He died in 1983 and even now remains with the Cubs. His ashes were scattered at Wrigley Field.
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