June 1940 ended with the reigning National League champion Cincinnati Reds in first place, 1½ games ahead of the second-place Brooklyn Dodgers. The Reds fell from the top spot by losing their first two games in July, but recaptured first place with a seven-game winning streak, and led the NL the rest of the way. One of the streak’s highlights came on July 5, when the Reds rallied in the ninth to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates, 5-4.
After opening July with two road losses to the fifth-place St. Louis Cardinals, the Reds returned home for a three-game series with the sixth-place Pittsburgh Pirates, a July 4 doubleheader and a single game on July 5. Cincinnati’s 41-23 record entering the Pittsburgh series was good for a .641 winning percentage but left the Reds a game behind the Dodgers.
The Reds beat the Pirates handily in the Independence Day doubleheader, giving Cincinnati eight wins in nine meetings with Pittsburgh. Bucky Walters, the 1939 National League MVP, on his way to leading the league in wins and ERA for the second year in a row, scattered seven hits to win the opener, 9-1, and Junior “Gene” Thompson threw a three-hitter to take the second game, 3-1. The third game of the series – Ladies Day at Crosley Field – was not settled until the ninth inning.
The July 5 game featured veteran hurlers Jim Turner for the Reds and Danny MacFayden for the Pirates; they had been teammates on the Boston Bees from 1937 to 1939. Turner had won more than 200 games in 14 minor-league seasons before joining Boston in 1937 as a 33-year-old major-league rookie. Turner proved he belonged, posting 20 wins and a league-best 2.38 ERA. Cincinnati had acquired Turner in December 1939 after a season in which he won just four games. Reds manager Bill McKechnie, Turner’s manager in 1937 with Boston, plugged him into the Reds starting rotation, and Turner had responded with a 5-3 record, including wins in his last three starts.
The bespectacled MacFayden (1-1) was in his 15th big-league season, and well-traveled. He had seen action in both the NL and AL over the course of his career, including a brief stint with the Reds in 1935; Pittsburgh was his fifth stop. The Pirates had used MacFayden, a 35-year-old right-hander, in relief eight times, and he was making his seventh start for manager Frankie Frisch.
The Pirates jumped ahead, 2-0, in the second inning, and remained ahead until the ninth. Shortstop Arky Vaughan, headed for his fourth All-Star Game start, began the inning by beating out a bounding ball to short. He was bunted to second and scored when Maurice Van Robays rifled Turner’s pitch just inside the left-field foul line and two feet from the top of the wall for a two-bagger. Vince DiMaggio1 also doubled to deep left, bringing Van Robays home with the Pirates’ second run.
In the fifth Pittsburgh capitalized on two errors by Cincinnati shortstop Eddie Joost to extend its lead without getting a hit. With one out and Al López on first after walking, Joost dropped catcher Ernie Lombardi’s on-target throw, allowing López to steal second. Turner walked MacFayden, putting Pirates on first and second.
Lee Handley followed with a double-play grounder to short, but Joost threw wildly past second base into right field. López scored an unearned run, making it 3-0; MacFayden reached third on the play and Handley was safe at first.2 Two fly outs ended the inning without further scoring.
Cincinnati, scoreless through four innings despite eight baserunners on six singles, a walk, and an error, cut the deficit to one in the bottom of the fifth. Lonny Frey singled to right, and he scored ahead of Ival Goodman, who slammed a pitch from MacFayden into the right-field bleachers, making the score 3-2. It was Goodman’s sixth home run of the season, and the two RBIs brought his total to 27.
The Pirates quickly responded. Leading off the sixth, Vaughan hit a pitch into the right-field bleachers, near the spot where Goodman’s home run had landed, putting Pittsburgh up 4-2. Turner retired the next three Pirates on a groundout, strikeout, and fly ball; the score remained 4-2 until the bottom of the ninth.
Turner was removed for a pinch-hitter in the eighth, so Joe Beggs (3-2) pitched the top of the ninth for the Reds. It was Beggs’ 13th appearance, all from the bullpen, and for the ninth time he entered a close game in the eighth inning or later. At season’s end Beggs topped the NL with 27 games finished, and he compiled a 12-3 record, with a 2.00 ERA. His one inning of work in this game turned out to be enough to earn a win.
MacFayden had surrendered 10 hits and two walks through eight innings; nevertheless, he was still on the mound as Cincinnati came to bat in the ninth. Other than Goodman’s home run, MacFayden had kept the Reds at bay throughout the contest, using deception rather than speed. Lou Smith of the Cincinnati Enquirer described MacFayden’s pitches as “softballs” and “dipsy-do” curves.3
Despite his anemic stuff, MacFayden had been able to get the Reds out when it was most needed, and he may have been getting better as the game progressed. In the eighth inning MacFayden set down Cincinnati one-two-three for the first time.
The ninth started well for MacFayden; he fielded a bounding ball off the bat of Lew Riggs and tossed him out at first. MacFayden had retired six Reds in a row, and Pittsburgh was two outs from a win. That was when MacFayden’s fortunes changed.
Frey got his third hit, whistling a ball over first-sacker Bill Brubaker’s head and into right field. Frey rounded first and headed for second. He slid into the bag and was called safe, receiving “the benefit of a close decision by umpire George Magerkurth.”4 From the press box it looked as though Bob Elliott’s throw from right field “had cut him down by a step or two.”5
The Pirates, led by manager Frisch, protested, but to no avail.6 Magerkurth’s call was the turning point of the game. Instead of two outs with the bases empty, Cincinnati had a runner on second, one out, and the middle of its batting order coming up.
After the argument fizzled, Goodman sent a hot grounder to short that Vaughan could not handle. Goodman reached first on the error.7 Frank McCormick – who took home MVP honors at the end of the season – singled to left, scoring Frey, to make it 4-3.
MacFayden’s day was done. The Pirates summoned Mace Brown from the bullpen to hold the lead, and the first batter he faced was Lombardi, who lined out to right-center. With two out and the Reds still trailing by a run, Harry Craft hit a sharp single to left; Goodman scored from second, tying the game, 4-4.
Morrie Arnovich stepped in with McCormick at second, Craft at first, and two out. Brown fired a fastball that skipped off López’s glove; McCormick took third, and Craft took second. Despite an open base, Frisch chose to pitch to Arnovich – who already had two hits – rather than walk him.
After sweeping Pittsburgh, Cincinnati traveled to Chicago and beat the Cubs twice to extend its winning streak to five. Brooklyn had built a seven-game winning streak, only to lose both games of a doubleheader to the Boston Braves on July 7 – the final day before the All-Star break –returning Cincinnati to first by a half-game.
After the July 9 All-Star Game in St. Louis, in which Lombardi, McCormick, Walters, and pitcher Paul Derringer represented the Reds, Cincinnati stretched its lead by taking two straight from Brooklyn before dropping a third game to the Dodgers. By the end of July, the Reds were on top by 7½ games and the pennant race was essentially over. Brooklyn never got closer than four games back the rest of the way.
Cincinnati won 100 games for the first time in franchise history and finished 12 games ahead of Brooklyn (88-65). Flying the NL pennant for the second year in a row, Cincinnati capped the season with its first World Series championship since 1919 by beating the Detroit Tigers in seven games.
This article was fact-checked by Bill Marston and copy-edited by Len Levin.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org for pertinent information, including the box score and play-by-play. The author also relied on game coverage in the Cincinnati Enquirer, Cincinnati Post, and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and reviewed SABR BioProject biographies for several players participating in the game.
1 DiMaggio started the season with Cincinnati, and played two games before being traded to Pittsburgh on May 8.
2 Edward F. Balinger, “Score Three Runs in Ninth Frame; MacFayden Victim,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 6, 1940: 12. The play-by-play in both Retrosheet.org and Baseball-Reference.com place Handley on second base.
3 Lou Smith, “Three Runs,” Cincinnati Enquirer, July 6, 1940: 3.
4 Tom Swope, “Goodman’s Hitting Big Help to Champs as They Win 9 of 12,” Cincinnati Post, July 6, 1940: 10.
7 Balinger. The play-by-play in both retrosheet.org and baseball-reference.com indicate Frey advanced to third base, but Balinger’s account kept him at second.
8 In the twenty-first century this would be called a walk-off win, but that phrase was not in use in 1940.
9 Swope. Attendance was 13,746, of which 5,682 was paid. The remainder took advantage of the Ladies Day promotion.