One Cool Cat
by Todd Newville
Former Cardinals Pitcher Harry "The Cat" Brecheen Was A Crafty Lefty For The 1946 World Series Champs
Former left-handed pitcher Harry "The Cat" Brecheen from Ada, Okla., didn't need much help when he was on the mound for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1940s. Brecheen usually helped himself out of jams because he was a crafty moundsman who threw a wicked screwball and handled a slick glove.
Like all cats, there were a few times during Brecheen's tenure with the Cards when it looked like he would have to spend one of his nine lives to get out of a pickle. However, on one particular occasion, teammate Enos Slaughter made sure that Brecheen wouldn't have to do that.
It was during the seventh game of the 1946 World Series against the heavy-hitting Boston Red Sox when Slaughter came to Brecheen's rescue. When Brecheen entered the contest in the top of the eighth inning in relief of starter Murry Dickson, the Red Sox had two runners on base and no one out.
Brecheen, who went 15-15 during the regular season, quickly retired Wally Moses and Johnny Pesky. After winning Games 2 and 6 at Sportsman's Park by scores of 3-0 and 4-1, it looked like Brecheen would continue to cruise. However, Dom DiMaggio doubled off the wall in right-center field to tie the score at 3-3.
Going into the bottom of the eighth, all Brecheen could do was hope for the best. He got exactly that as Slaughter scored the series-winning run on what has become known as "Slaughter's Mad Dash." Slaughter opened the inning with a single.
After the next two hitters were retired, Slaughter took off for second base on a pitch to left fielder Harry Walker, who hit .412 for the series. As Walker's line drive sailed over shortstop, Slaughter never broke stride as he raced all the way around the bases to give St. Louis its seventh world championship.
"The 1946 World Series was a great series," said Brecheen, who became the first left-handed pitcher to win three games in one World Series. "When Harry Walker hit the ball, I can remember feeling a little relieved. And when Enos Slaughter scored that run, it was a wonderful feeling. Winning the World Series is one of the greatest thrills you can ever have as a baseball player. It was terrific to be part of that team."
The '46 Cardinals had a formidable infield with Stan Musial at first, Red Schoendienst at second, Marty Marion at short, and Whitey Kurowski at third. Slaughter played right field while Walker played center. Musial, who won National League MVP honors, led the NL that year with a .365 batting average while Slaughter led the league with 130 RBI.
"It was a great time and a great team," Brecheen said. "We became good friends and even on off days, we might go to a picnic or a movie or something. You just don't see players doing that type of stuff today with each other."
In a 12-year major league career, Brecheen forged a 133-92 lifetime record with a 2.92 ERA pitching mostly for the Cardinals; he pitched his last season in 1953 with the St. Louis Browns. In addition to 1946, Brecheen also pitched in two other World Series for the Cards - in 1943 and '44. In '43, Brecheen's team lost to the New York Yankees.
The next season, the Cardinals topped the Browns in the only all-St. Louis World Series ever staged. For 30 years, Brecheen's lifetime 0.83 ERA in World Series play stood as a record until Jack Billingham posted a microscopic 0.36 ERA in three World Series with the Cincinnati Reds during the 1970s. At 5-10 and 160 pounds, Brecheen earned his nickname because of his shrewd pitch selection and his nimbleness around the mound.
"I thought I was pretty good fielding my position," said Brecheen, who recorded a 1.000 fielding percentage seven times during his career. "In spring training my first year, the pitchers would practice fielding bunts, throwing to second, and covering first on balls hit to their left.
"The players started calling me 'The Cat' because I seemed to be pretty good with the glove. When the exhibition games started, Roy Stockton of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch started to write about 'The Cat did this' and 'The Cat did that.' It just kind of stuck on me after that and people knew me."
On instances that opposing hitters made contact with Brecheen's pitches, he proved himself adept at snaring liners and grounders hit straight back at him. Having such a smooth glove proved to be an important attribute to Brecheen's repertoire.
"I followed through good on my delivery and I was pretty good about protecting against the balls hit back up through the middle," said Brecheen, a .983 lifetime fielder who committed just eight errors his entire career. "I could catch a lot of those balls. That way, the shortstop and the second baseman could play more in the holes."
When Brecheen won those three games in the '46 World Series, it ended what was a somewhat tumultuous year for the Cardinals. To get to the fall classic, St. Louis had to beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in the first-ever playoff in major league history.
Both teams ended the regular season tied with 96-58 records. After winning the first game of the playoff at home 4-2, the Cards went to Ebbets Field, where they disposed of the Dodgers 8-4 to win the NL pennant. But, that wasn't the first time the Cards had to rise to the occasion during their world title run.
Before the '46 season started, the wealthy Pasquel brothers from Mexico (Jorge, Alfonso, Bernardo, Mario, and Gerardo) started raiding major league teams of players for the rival Mexican League. The Cardinals soon lost pitchers Fred Martin and Max Lanier, plus second baseman Lou Klein, to the outlaw league.
Other major league players defected, too. Catcher Mickey Owen of the Dodgers and pitcher Sal Maglie of the New York Giants were two of the biggest names to jump ship to Mexico. All players who defected to the Mexican League that year were suspended from playing in the majors for five years by then-commissioner A. B. "Happy" Chandler.
"Max was one of our starters," Brecheen said of Lanier, who was 17-12 in 1944 for St. Louis. "When we lost him, that just gave me a better chance to step in and pitch a little more. I tried to capitalize on that opportunity and I ended up playing in the World Series."
For a while, it seemed their wasn't room for Brecheen in the St. Louis rotation. He won over 100 games in the minors, going 21-6 in 1937 for Portsmouth, Virginia, in the Class B Piedmont League and 18-4 with four shutouts in 1938 at Houston.
Brecheen received a 4-F rating from the draft board during World War II because of a bad back and an ankle injury he suffered while a youth. As more and more players departed for duty, Brecheen finally was able to get his foot in the door. He went 9-6 with a 2.26 ERA in 1943 and 16-5 with a 2.85 ERA in '44.
When players started returning from WWII in 1945, Brecheen got even better. His .789 winning percentage (15-4) in '45 is third-best in St. Louis history. His best season was in 1948, when he went 20-7 and led the Senior Circuit with a .741 winning percentage and a 2.24 ERA. He also led the NL with seven shutouts and 149 strikeouts while completing 21 of 30 starts.
"Everything just fell in place for me that year," said Brecheen, who is fourth all-time among Cardinal pitchers with 25 career shutouts. Only right-handers Bob Gibson (50), Bill Doak (30), and Mort Cooper (28) had more shutouts for St. Louis.
"I made the right pitches when I had to and the position players behind me made great plays when I was pitching," added Brecheen. "I couldn't tell much difference at all between the quality of baseball during and after the war was over. I just did the best I could."
Part of Brecheen's success stemmed from the fact that he grew up idolizing a famous Oklahoma southpaw named Carl Hubbell, another tantalizing screwball artist. Hubbell, a 253-game winner, earned induction into the Hall of Fame in 1947.
As a youngster, Brecheen used to watch Hubbell and a pair of Hall of Fame brothers from the Sooner State - Paul and Lloyd Waner - play exhibition games in Ada during the off seasons. But, it was a lesser-known hurler named Cy Blanton from nearby Waurika who really made a difference in Brecheen's career.
"Cy Blanton used to pitch exhibition games here in Ada after the season was over," said Brecheen of Blanton, a righty who was 18-13 with an NL-leading 2.58 ERA in 1935 for the Pittsburgh Pirates. "He showed me a couple of things on how to throw the screwball. He lived close to Ada and we became friends.
"Hubbell was my favorite pitcher because he was left-handed like me. Paul and Lloyd Waner used to play exhibitions in Ada and I loved to watch them play. I did pretty well after watching guys like that play and showing me how the game should be played."
Brecheen, who will celebrate his 86th birthday in October, was a pitching coach for the Baltimore Orioles for 14 years after his playing days. Now, he says he likes to drink coffee while taking in several games each week on television. Tom Glavine of the Atlanta Braves reminds Brecheen of himself.
"He moves the ball in and out and he'll come inside on a hitter every now and then when he has to," said Brecheen. "Nowadays, pitchers won't pitch more than five, six or seven innings. I always liked the fact that pitchers in my day could go the distance most of the time."
And, most of the time, Brecheen was one of those pitchers.
HARRY "THE CAT" BRECHEEN - LHP
Born: October 14, 1914 - Broken Bow, Oklahoma.
Resides: Ada, Oklahoma.
Marital Status: married 62 years to wife Vera (who died in 1997).
Favorite Players: Cy Blanton, Carl Hubbell, Lloyd and Paul Waner.
Major League Debut: April 22, 1940 for St. Louis Cardinals.
- Pitched 12 seasons for Cardinals and St. Louis Browns.
- Lifetime record of 133-92 with 2.92 ERA.
- First lefty to win three World Series games in 1946.
- Second in history with career 0.83 ERA in three World Series.
- Completed 125 of 240 career starts.
- Threw 25 career shutouts, tops among Cardinal southpaws.
- Went 20-7 in 1948 with NL-leading totals in win percentage (.741), ERA (2.24), strikeouts (149), and shutouts (7).
- Lifetime fielding percentage of .983 and committed only eight errors his entire career.
- Pitching coach for Baltimore Orioles for 14 years.