Throughout the history of baseball, there have only been 2 players to lead their league in OPS and defensive WAR in the same season. One of them is Willie Mays (in 1954) which should come as no shock to anyone. The other…was Snuffy Stirnweiss (in 1945). When we think of the year 1945, the ending of WWII comes to mind before Major League Baseball does.
During WWII over 500 MLB players served in the war including Ted Williams (the #2 all-time OPS leader behind Babe Ruth). Ted Williams lead the league in OPS from 1941-42, then went to war from 1943-45, and came back to lead the league again from 1946-49! Stirnweiss however, was not allowed to fight in the war due to his stomach ulcers. Snuffy’s OPS of 0.862 in 1945 was the lowest OPS since 1908 to lead the AL. In addition, before the War, each year from 1919-1942 had an OPS above 1.000 lead the AL.
During his college days at North Carolina, he became the first ever captain of both football and baseball in school history. Interestingly, Snuffy (born George) was actually drafted in the 2nd round of the 1940 NFL draft. Even though there was more interest in his football career, he chose to sign with the Yankees instead of the NFL.
He finally got his shot in the MLB during the 1943 season when many of the current players went off to war.
Of the over 20,000 players to play in the MLB, just 144 of them (about 0.7%) have appeared in the World Series 3 times for the winning team. Stirnweiss is one of those players; having played on the 1943, 1947, and 1949 Yankees.
Snuffy Stirnweiss (who died 63 years ago yesterday) is not a household name, and many huge baseball fans reading this may never have heard of him before now. Even so, his 1945 season leading the league in OPS and defensive WAR can be admired more as the years pass. Until recently WAR had not been available for people to view how a player is valuable compared to an average replacement player. In addition to this, OPS has become more widely accepted as an indicator of a productive hitter instead of the traditional ways of just looking at a hitter’s batting average, home runs, and rbi’s. Although the MLB was clearly shorthanded at the time, Snuffy made the most of his opportunity and had one of the most productive seasons ever relative to the rest of the league.