The Post WWII Baseball Trinity

(L>R) Ted WIlliams, Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio (It took a cigarette ad to bring baseball's "Big Three" together).

In the years following World War II, Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox, Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals, and Joe DiMaggio of the New York Yankees were baseball’s unholy trinity of swat. Of course, they were unholy. They were neither the three natures of God in One Divine Being, nor were they clean of endorsement money from the tobacco industry. Of course again too, cigarette smoking was not the cultural sin in the 1940s and 1950s that it was later to become. Ted, Stan, and Joe were just normal American males as cigarette users, although DiMaggio may have been the only one who chain-smoked through games. The stories of him ducking into the clubhouse tunnel from the dugout between innings at Yankee Stadium are the stuff of legend by now.

All I know is – I had to use the attached crop from an old Chesterfield ad to get the three great ones of my childhood aspiration years in one photo. If they ever made a photograph together, and I’m sure they did, it was too obvious an attention-grabber to miss. No self-respecting news-hound of that era’s All Star Games could have allowed that photo opportunity to have passed every year they were there together – and that was just about every season they all shared in common. I just could not find the expected photo of all three guys smiling and waving bats over their hitting shoulders in one tight pictorial.

I thought it would be interesting to take a brief broad ban look this morning at how The Big Three’s statistical accomplishments and honors compared over the years. Let’s start with tenures of service and batting averages.

Joe DiMaggio started earliest, finished earliest, and played the least time in the big leagues. DiMaggio broke into the majors in 1936, missed three years, 1943-45, due to World War II, and then finished his 13-season career (1936-42, 1946-51).

Ted Williams reached the majors second in 1939. Technically, Williams played 19 seasons in the big leagues, but he also lost 1942-45 fully to World War II and all but 43 games total of the 1952-53 seasons to a second tour as a fighter pilot in Korea. Williams concluded his career (1939-42, 1946-60) with a home run in his last time at bat.

Stan Musial started last and played for the longest tenure of time. Musial’s 22-season career (1941-44, 1946-63) cost him only the 1945 season to military service.

For their careers, Ted Williams batted .344, Stan Musial batted .331, and Joe DiMaggio batted .325. Not a shabby tab for any single outfield that might have had both the good fortune and the bucks to have afforded all three. – Williams, of course, was the only one to ever hit over .400 (.406 in 1941) and Joe D. is the only man (period) to have ever hit in 56 consecutive games (also in 1941). All Musial could do was lead the three-man pack in batting championships with 7 National League titles (1943, 46, 48, 50, 51, 52, & 57). Williams finished a close second with 6 American League titles (1941, 42, 47. 48, 57, & 58). Joe DiMaggio won only two American League batting titles in 1939-40.

All three guys could hit for power, but only Stan Musial never led his league in home runs. Williams took 4 HR crowns in the AL with 37 in 1941, 36 in 1942, 32 in 1947, & 43 in 1949. Joe DiMaggio took a couple of crowns, early and late. Joe D. won the AL title with 36 HR in 1937 and again in 1948 with 39. For their careers, Williams struck 521 homers; Musial blasted 475; and Joe DiMaggio hit 361.

On the most runs batted in side, Williams won 4 times (1939, 42, 47, & 49); DiMaggio won 2 times (1941-48); and Musial also won twice (1948, 56). Joe D’s 1941 total of 125 rbi to Ted’s 120 cost Williams the triple crown that year. Williams is the only triple crown winner in the group. Ted took the big trifecta two times, winning the triple crown in 1942 and 1947.

Oddly, Ted Williams failed to win the AL MVP award in his .406 BA 1941 season or in either of his 1942 or 1947 triple crown years. Writers gave the MVP nod in 1941 and 1947 to Joe DiMaggio. Joe Gordon of the Yankees received the award over Ted Williams in 1942. Go figure.

MVP totals include 3 for DiMaggio (AL: 1939, 41, & 47); 3 for Musial (NL: 1943, 46, & 48); and 2 for Williams (AL: 1946 & 49).

World Series Experience. All three stars played only for their original teams: DiMaggio played  for the Yankees; Williams for the Red Sox; and Musial for the Cardinals. DiMaggio, of course, got to play for the most World Series winners. Joe D. played for 10 winners  in 11 World Series tries (1936, 37, 38, 39, 41, 42, 43, 47, 49, 50, & 51). Joe’s 1942 Yankee loss to the Cardinals was his only disappointment. Stan Musial played on World Series winners in 1942, 44, & 46, losing only in 1943 to the Yankees. Ted Williams got into only a single World Series that his Red Sox lost to the Cardinals in 1946.

DiMaggio played for World Series winners in 1950-51 and then retired. Williams and Musial labored for the all of the 50’s and into the early 60’s, winning nothing more with their teams. Even the greatest stars cannot do it alone.

Williams and Musial both hit from the left side; DiMaggio from the right. The two American Leaguers from California (Williams and DiMaggio) were egoists of the first order; one was just louder than the other. The other guy (Musial) was as humble, nice, and down-to-earth as the people who raised him in the coal country of western Pennsylvania, but so what? All three were baseball greats of the first order.

I personally like Ted Williams as the greatest hitter of the era, Joe DiMaggio as the greatest fielder of his time; and Stan Musial as the greatest all around player from that period of the greatest generation. That was the 1940’s.

The 1950’s weren’t about these three guys. By the mid-50’s, the discussions of the greatest player had shifted to Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, or Duke Snider – with Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, and Al Kaline all showing up soon enough with their own support for recognition.

Keeping those latter guys from the 50’s separate from the mix, what do you guys think of Teddy Ballgame, the Yankee Clipper, and Stan the Man? Who among them was the greatest in your opinion?

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9 Responses to “The Post WWII Baseball Trinity”

  1. David Munger Says:

    “Stan The Man”. He was my Dad’s teamate for many years, and I heard
    some stories of awe about “The Man”.

  2. Mark Wernick Says:

    Bill, these are three wonderful ballplayers. I was privileged to see two of them play on television, and one of them live at the ballpark (Musial).

    I couldn’t pick one as greater than the other. But there is something about DiMaggio in his prime, and almost to his final season, that always has fascinated me. He retired with 361 homeruns, and 369 strikeouts. And had he retired after the 1950 season instead of after 1951, he would have finished his career with more homeruns than strikeouts, the only 300 homer hitter to do so. Missed it by just 8! One year (1941) he hit 30 homeruns and struck out 13 times, in 621 plate appearances! Williams best in a BA-title-qualifying year was 21 strikeouts, in 416 plate appearances, in 1950. (28 homers for Williams that year.) Musial’s best was 24 strikeouts in 1947, but with only 19 homers. His only season where his homers exceeded his strikeouts was 1948, 39 to 34. I regard his 1948 season as one of the greatest in baseball history.

    While DiMaggio’s career was a lot shorter than the careers of the other two, maybe because of that smoking, I take into account that he was a right-handed hitter who played half his games in Yankee Stadium, which in his era was brutal on right-handed hitters. I think had he played his home games in Sportsmans Park or Fenway, his career BA would have approached Musial’s at least, and his homer total would have approached Musial’s also – in ten fewer seasons!

    In the final analysis, I’m so taken with DiMaggio in his prime as a power hitter who made amazing contact (career OBP .398) and who also was a swift runner and a terrific strong-armed fielder in the vast area of Yankee Stadium center field, that I’ve decided he is the player among those three I’d have to pick first in an imaginary draft to build my team around.

    For what that’s worth!

    Mark

  3. Damon Leonetti Says:

    Those of us “Baby-Boomers” can only rely on the history books, old film clips and the stats of the early modern era to appreciate what Ruth, Cobb, Gehrig and Foxx must have been like. However, we are really able to relate to these three magnificent baseball players who we got a much closer look at. They EACH stand on their phenominal accomplishments as a small, select group to be the finest that ever graced a ballfield. Williams has been lauded as possibly the greatest pure hitter who ever lived and yet, has been shortchanged on many other aspects of his greatness due to the negative Boston press, etc. Joe D. was almost Greek-god like (but, Italian) as one of the most graceful and productive super-stars ever. Stan the Man combined it all, along with his style and class; which speaks to his popularity to this day. His consitency of stats both home and away tells you what an unbelievable hitter he truly was. Three Gold medal winners!

    Thanks, Bill for paying tribute to the finest 3 baseball players from a special era.

    Damon Leonetti

  4. Leona Schroeder Says:

    Three all time favorites in the post World War II era. This is a great
    write up of their records compared. Only a lady would ask, but what
    years was DiMaggio married to Marilyn Monroe?
    Leona Schroeder

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Leona:

      The answer is singular on the years of the DiMaggio-Monroe marriage. They were married in January 1954 and, by November of the same year, they were divorced. All the stuff about their ill-fated union has been said: (1) Joe was jealous and possessive; (2) Joe hated sharing the limelight with someone who got cheers that were louder than his in retirement; (3) Joe didn’t like the scene in “The Seven Year Itch” in which a subway blows Marilyn’s skirt over her head. In short, the skills that Joe possessed for playing center field with incredible talent, style, and class were of no help to him in a marriage to America’s hottest sex symbol. Poor Joe. He lived with the ache of that failed marriage until the day he died. – Bill McCurdy

  5. Doug S. Says:

    Musial fact — 1,815 hits on the Road and 1,815 hits at Home

  6. Anthony Cavender Says:

    Here are my thoughts. In 1941, DiMaggio had his 56 game hitting streak, Williams hit .406, and Musial was brought up to the Cardinals after an extraordinary minor league season beginning in Class A. I believe his batting average in September 1941 was well over .400.
    Many of DiMaggio’s games during the streak (which was shorter than his PCL consecutive game streak) were witnessed by only a few thousand fans, especially in Saint Louis in day games against the Browns. I believe his brother Vince, who was once considered to have greater potential than Joe, once led the NL in strikeouts. I think that Musial’s brother may have played minor league baseball.
    Williams was a Marine Corps fighter pilot, and he retired as a Colonel. He flew with John Glenn in Korea, and he always condered Glenn to be the bravest man he ever knew.
    Musial made the cover of Time Magazine in its glory days, but I don’t believe that either Williams or Dimaggio did so (I’ll need to check that out). Bill James once classified Musial as one of the ten greatest ball players. The legendary careers of Williams and DiMaggio inspired wonderful written tributes by John Updike and others, as well as remarkable popular music. George Will noted that Musial had as many base hits on the road as at home. Willaims became a champion of the Negro Leagues, and served for years on the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee.

  7. larry joe"Longball" miggins Says:

    Stan the man, in my book as a complete hitter and because he was a Cardinal his entire career. I heard he has 19 time All Star with many all star game records?
    I got to meet him as a kid.
    In 1963, his last season, Musial contributed as the Cardinals mounted a furious drive at the end of the season. He hit his last major league home run to tie the score in a key game against the Dodgers, but the Cardinals’ pennant bid fell short. In his last day as a Cardinals player, Musial had two hits after being honored in pre-game ceremonies. “My heart is filled with thanks for so many who made these 22 years possible,” he told the crowd.
    Musial finished with 1,951 runs batted in, fourth on the all-time list, and with 6,134 total bases, second-highest in history. He also ranked in the Top Ten in career hits (3,630), runs scored (1,949), doubles (725), walks (1,599), and games (3,026). Though not a bona fide power hitter, he finished with 475 home runs. He led the league in hits six times, in doubles eight times, in triples five times, in runs five times, and in runs batted in twice. Sporting news player of the decade in 1956.
    Ted was a great American and had he not gone off to serve his country twice he would had been heads above the rest. I also got to meet him at Sharpstown theatre with the debut of the Ted Williams story (1970 or 71?) We all got a Ted Williams glove made by Sears and he stayed until the last one was signed. Ted hit a homer in his last at bat. All great ballplayers. and each worthy of mention in this great article. Thry don’t make them like that anymore.

  8. Wayne Williams Says:

    I have to agree with Larry Miggins. Musial was the complete player although Williams was the best hitter and Joe D the best fielder. Got to see Stan play his last game in Cincinnati in Sept 1963. He did not have a great game but the occasion has remained in my memory after all these years.

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