For three years in the mid-1940s, Newhouser was the most dominant pitcher in baseball. He is the only pitcher to win two consecutive MVP awards. But he never had a winning season before he blossomed during the war years. And that has been an obstacle to his gaining the respect due his prowess, despite the fact that Newhouser won 26 games in 1946, the year the war veterans returned. A congenital heart ailment kept Newhouser out of the service and for a time threatened his baseball career.
Newhouser signed with the Tigers for $400 while a Detroit schoolboy star. Moments later, the story goes, Cleveland Indians superscout Cy Slapnicka arrived to offer $15,000 and a new car, but the deal was done. Newhouser appeared briefly in the majors at age 18 in 1939 and returned for good in 1941. But he recorded only a 25-43 record through 1943, when he led the league in walks. Failure frustrated Newhouser, an intense competitor, and he alienated teammates with his tantrums. But he resolved to control both his behavior and his pitching, and he won a career-high 29 games in 1944. Pinpoint control of his fastball and overhand curve became Newhouser’s trademark. “He is smart and tough in any pinch,” said the Yankees’ Bill Dickey. Newhouser won two complete-game victories, including the seventh-game clincher, in the 1945 World Series against the Cubs. He engaged in many classic matchups with the Indians’ Bob Feller, the dominant righthander of the era. The “big one,” in Newhouser’s words, came on the final day of the 1948 season, when he outpitched Feller on one day’s rest to force Cleveland into a playoff with Boston for the AL title. The victory was a league-best 21st for Newhouser, but also marked the beginning of shoulder trouble that would limit his effectiveness after one more 18-victory season in 1949. Newhouser closed his career as Feller’s teammate in 1954, when he won seven, saved seven, and appeared in one more World Series.