In keeping with the trend that I started last week, I wanted to put together another random piece about the history of the Yankees. Instead of focusing on the team as a whole, however, I decided to look at individual players and seasons to see what I could find. Looking through the greatest single-season performances leads to the names that most would expect - Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Mickey Mantle are the only names in the team's top-14 individual seasons, with Rickey Henderson getting in on the action at number 15 on the list. That stood out at first, as most don't think of him as a Yankee (despite his 1985 season with the team being one of his very best), but seeing his name among some all-time greats isn't all that surprising. So I went deeper, past a few more Mantles and Gehrigs, as well as a DiMaggio and a couple of Rodriguez seasons.
And then I found the player that I needed to write about. The man who, by bWAR, had the twenty-fifth best season in the team's storied history. That man is Snuffy Stirnweiss.
If you know the name Snuffy Stirnweiss, it's likely for one of three reasons - you saw him play, you live on Baseball Reference, or you saw it pop up on one of those 'best names in baseball' lists (and, to be fair, it is an 80-grad name). I spend more time on B-R than I'm comfortable discussing, so I'm familiar with him to an extent. He started for the Yankees for five years, from 1944 (when he took over at second for Joe Gordon, who was serving overseas) through 1948, spending most of his time at the keystone. He was unceremoniously dealt to the St. Louis Browns in 1950, after spending his last two seasons in pinstripes as a part-time player.
Stirnweiss's career ended in 1952, and started managing in the minors almost immediately thereafter. He then went into banking, and seemed poised to make it big. Unfortunately, he died in a horrific train crash in 1958, a bit more than a month after playing in Old-Timers' Day. Stirnweiss was just 39-years-old. In lieu of blindly including a hyperlink here, I think it's best if you check out his SABR profile, which can be found here. It's an interesting read.
All that being said, let's discuss the titular topic - Stirnweiss's 1945. In his age-26 season, Stirnweiss led the American League in:
- Batting average
- Slugging percentage
- Stolen bases
- Total Bases
- bWAR (position players)
- fWAR (position players)
- Offensive bWAR
- Defensive bWAR
All told, he hit .309/.385/.476 with 107 R, 35 2B, 22 3B, 10 HR, 64 RBI, 33 SB, a 145 OPS+, and 8.7 bWAR / 8.9 fWAR. Both WAR totals led all MLB position players, in fact. Were it not for Hall of Famer Hal Newhouser having a season for the ages (313.1 IP, 195 ERA+, 12.0 bWAR), one could argue that Stirnweiss was the best player in the Majors that year. As it stands, he'll have to settle for being the season's best position player.
That season wasn't entirely out of nowhere, either. Stirnweiss was similarly excellent in 1944, batting .319/.389/.460 (139 OPS+), and once again leading the AL in runs, hits, triples, steals, and bWAR / fWAR. His 8.5 bWAR was actually the the 27th best in Yankees history, showing how impressive he was at 25 and 26. This time, however, he was the second-best position player in the game, behind a player by the name of Stan Musial (who just so happened to be overseas in 1945).
Those two seasons account for a bit over 65% of Stirnweiss's career bWAR, as he would go on to hit just .247/.351/.323 (83 OPS+) over his last seven seasons. He posted solid bWAR totals from 1946 through 1948, but that was largely due to his strong defense more so than his fringe-average offense.
For those two years, though, Stirnweiss was incredible.