Red Sox Memories: Players who drifted into Boston during World War II
By Rick McNair
Boston Red Sox World War II players
The COVID-19 situation is unique in sports history, but there have been two other instances where the game has been impacted significantly – The Great War and World War II. The Great War soon became a name change to a more appropriate World War I. My look back will be WW II and some players who drifted into the Red Sox lineup as the result of the expected manpower shortage.
In 1942 the Red Sox finished second (93-59) which was a distant nine games behind (no surprise) the New York Yankees. The 1943 season saw the Red Sox plummet to seventh (68-84) as the core of the team was either drafted or signed up for duty. Things did not dramatically improve until 1946 and a pennant with the “real” players back in the fold.
Now a look at some of the players who filtered through Boston in 1944-1945 who in most parts were done when the war was done. A veritable whose who in forgettable with a few exceptions for stars who came back to embarrass themselves. No slideshow (thank me later) – just biographical snippets.
Right-handed Joe Bowman was gone from MLB after the 1941 season but not from professional baseball. Bowman returned to the minors for two seasons before being brought to Boston (12-8, 4.81) primarily as a starter. The Red Sox were duly impressed and traded the now 35-year-old to Cincinnati at the beginning of the 1945 season (11-13, 3.59).
Bowman first came to the majors in 1932 and played for some dreadful Philadelphia and Pittsburgh teams combining for a 49-68 record in various pitching roles. Bowman stayed in baseball after the war with a long history as a successful scout.
When you make it to the Baseball Hall of Fame you certainly have to have the numbers to back it up and Al Simmons fits that model with a career .333 average. Simmons was done as a player by the late 1930s but the Red Sox brought back the right-handed slugger in 1944.
The 41-year-old Simmions hit just .203 with one home run. Simmons played a few games the following season for where he had his most success – the A’s. Simmons coached in the majors for a few seasons when normalcy returned.
Emmett O’Neill surfaced with the Red Sox in 1943 (1-4, 4.53) and in 1944-1945 and won 14 games against 22 losses. O’Neill was a tall right-hander who would have spent his career in the minors except for the war which is exactly what O’Neil did – returned to the bushes and played until 1950.
Right-hander Rex Cecil had banged around the minors from 1937 until he got the call from Boston in late 1944 after a brief stay with the U.S. Army and being discharged with stomach issues. Cecil’s claim to Red Sox fame is as opening day pitcher for the 1945 season and a loss to the Yankees in the game. Cecil’s only two MLB seasons were with Boston (6-10, 5.18) before returning to the minors. Cecil died at just age 50.
Right-hander Yank Terry had languished in the minors since 1934 before a very brief stay with the 1940 Red Sox. Yank – short for Lancelot – returned to the Red Sox in 1942 and played the rest of his MLB career in Beantown and that ended in 1945.
Terry was – like so many – cut before the 1946 season as a glut of returning players forced the Terry’s of the baseball world to seek employment back in the minors. Terry’s five MLB seasons saw a 20-28 record. Terry died of cancer in 1979.
Dolph Camilli was once a great player with the optimum word being once. A National League Most Valuable Player in 1941. A compact left-handed hitter who once led the NL in home runs, but also strikeouts four times. Camilli’s path to Boston was a strange one.
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In 1943 the Dodgers traded Camilli to the Giants and he refused to report and choose to manage the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League. Camilli came to the Red Sox in 1945 and hit just .212 with a pair of home runs in 63 games. Early in his career, Camilli was a notorious poor fielder who one made three eros in an inning, but self-improvement made Camilli respectable. Camilli managed in the PCL for several seasons after retiring as an active player.
Right-handed Vic Johnson was just 23-years-old when he joined the Red Sox in 1944 (0-3, 6.26), but hung around for the 1945 season (6-4, 4.01) before having a very small cup of coffee with the 1946 Indians. Johnson was another of a long list of young, old, and physically impaired who went to the minors or retired when former players returned. Johnson played in the minor until 1949.
Right-hander Randy Heflin served two years in the Navy and after his discharge and had one season and a part of 1946 with the Red Sox. After a brief stay with the Louisville Colonels (AAA) Heflin came to Boston (4-10, 4.06) and was called back in 1946 (0-1) before being sent down. Heflin became a player-manager in the minors for several seasons.
Bob Johnson – a right-handed-hitting outfielder – had two productive seasons with the Red Sox in 1944-1945. In 1944 Johnson made the AL All-Star team and hit .324 with 17 home runs and 106 RBI. Johnson followed up with a .280 season in 1945 and was rewarded by being released at age 39. The accomplished veteran of 13 seasons and a .296 career average returned to the minors and played another five years.