The next player on our list for the Supernova team has a unique history. The reasons behind his short-lived peak and subsequent steep decline are different from any other Yankee who’ll join him on this list.
However, despite all that was said and all that can be brought up regarding his best years, I felt compelled to write about him for a few reasons:
- I would not be surprised if many Yankee fans were unfamiliar with the name.
- Caveats or not, his production was the backbone of the Yankees for a two-year period in which he was the best player on the team.
- His position (second-base) doesn’t have any slam dunk candidates and while a case could be made for Alfonso Soriano, his tenure with the Yankees was cut short due to a clear reason for improvement (the availability of Alex Rodriguez), and the player himself bounced back to have a very solid career after a couple middling seasons with the Rangers.
Ultimately, all of these lists have a sort of personal touch and although certain choices can’t be argued, such as Don Mattingly at first base and Bobby Murcer manning center, there are multiple spots where you can’t go wrong and it’s all about empathizing a specific point. In this case, a forgotten name in Yankee history broke out during a difficult time for the whole country.
The choice to man the keystone and likely the No. 9 hitter for this particular lineup is none other than Snuffy Stirnweiss.
Career NYY stats: .274/.366/.382, 66 3B, 1252 TB, 130 SB, 109 OPS+, 28.8 WAR
These career numbers serve an introductory purpose, but I wouldn’t put too much stock into them with any of the players that join this team. The whole premise behind this series is to highlight short-lived peaks, and often the latter years bring with them a steep decline dropping the overall numbers for these athletes. That can occasionally mark an unimpressive career stat line.
A New York City native, Stirnweiss was born on October 26th, 1918. At Fordham Prep, he excelled in all of the major sports and would eventually be included in the school’s Hall of Honor. Stirnweiss would go on to be a major football star at North Carolina, playing a variety of positions from quarterback to running back, and even both punter and return man.
At the time, the then-Chicago Cardinals went as far as drafting him in the second round, but after hitting .390 as a senior and receiving interest from scouts as a baseball player, Stirnweiss chose that route for what he felt was a better shot at a longer career. So after graduating in 1940, he signed with the Yankees. By 1943, he was in The Show and won a World Series in his rookie campaign after appearing in 83 games as a reserve infielder.
Stirnweiss has decent career numbers for an average MLB player, but he’s on this list because of what he did in the following two seasons: 1944 and 1945. High-profile players like teammates Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, and Tommy Henrich were off to serve in World War II, but severe stomach ulcers reportedly kept Stirnweiss from being drafted into the military. So instead, he starred in the Bronx.
Baseball was still going on and through those two seasons, Stirnweiss was easily the top player on the squad and helped carry the Yankees to a couple of winning campaigns, even if the team fell six games short of the pennant in both years. His combined stat line for that period is quite impressive:
306 Games, 17.5 WAR*
400 Hits, 142 OPS+, 88 SB*, 151 BB, 149 K
*88 SB and a 17.5 WAR are each the top mark in the league for that period
Stirnweiss didn’t have much home run pop, as he combined for just 18 homers between the two years. However, the speed that helped him swipe so many bags helped him lace a tremendous amount of triples: 38, by far the most in baseball. His 22 three-baggers in ‘45 were only one off from the still-standing franchise record of 23 (set by Earle Combs).
Stirnweiss finished fourth and third in the MVP voting respectively and led the league in OPS+, total bases, and won a batting title in 1945. Stirnweiss remains one of eight Yankee players to achieve that honor.
Following the end of the war, Stirnweiss played regularly for another three years with the Yankees, but with numbers that barely hovered around league average. He earned a couple more World Series rings with commendable contributions to each of the ‘47 and ‘49 champions before being dealt to the St. Louis Browns in June of 1950. Just two years later, he retired at the age of 33, though tragically, he did not live long afterward. Stirnweiss passed away in 1958, a month shy of his 40th birthday, in a tragic New Jersey train accident that also claimed the lives of at least 47 other people.
Regardless of what you think about that period, those games counted and one could easily argue that from 1944 through 1945, Snuffy Stirnweiss was the best player in the American League. Leading it in WAR certainly gives him the credentials.
Credit as always to SABR for their help in research.