This article was written by Kellen Nielson
Cincinnati’s Crosley Field was crammed with 30,640 spectators for Game Two of the 1940 World Series to watch the Reds take on the Detroit Tigers, who were looking for their first championship since 1935. The Reds, meanwhile, hadn’t won a title since they defeated the Chicago White Sox in 1919 and were trying to break a string of five straight losses in World Series games, including four in a row to the New York Yankees in 1939 and a Game One 7-2 thrashing by the Tigers in this Series.
The atmosphere in Cincinnati was gloomy and the Cincinnati Enquirer was already set to crown the Tigers the new champs, despite noting the confidence of the Reds players. Its headlines read, “In Silence, Redleg Fans Suffer,”1 and “Betting Odds Are Against ’Em. Victor in Opener Has Won Twenty-Five Times in Thirty-Six Fall Classics.”2 Another writer for the Enquirer quipped, “The only consolation to be derived from yesterday’s massacre is the fact that there’ll be cash refunds for sixth-game tickets and it will be just like finding money.”3
Game One starter Paul Derringer had had a fine 20-12 season in 1940, but the unquestionable ace of the Reds was Bucky Walters, the Game Two starter. Walters was a castoff from the Boston Braves and Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies; the former third baseman-turned pitcher had found his place in Cincinnati, leading the league the last two seasons in wins (27 and 22 respectively), ERA (2.29, 2.48), innings (319, 305) and complete games (31, 29). Walters had not fared well in the 1939 Series, going 0-2 with a 4.91 ERA.
Manager Del Baker of the Tigers countered with righty Schoolboy Rowe. The Waco, Texas, native went 16-3 with a 3.46 ERA in 1940. Rowe had an abundance of World Series experience, pitching in both the 1934 and 1935 Series. He pitched well in those Series, appearing in six games and going 2-3 with a 2.76 ERA. When asked about today’s game Rowe, humbly stated, “I feel all right and I’ll be in there giving the best I’ve got.” He then added sheepishly, “Gee, I hope they give me as many runs as they scored today. Weren’t they swell?”4
The Tigers looked early to keep their momentum in their favor and got off to a good start when the first two batters, Dick Bartell and Barney McCoskey, drew walks off Walters. The dangerous Charlie Gehringer then laced a single to right to bring home Bartell and give the Tigers the early lead. Deacon Bill McKechnie, the Reds manager, was ready for a quick hook, if necessary, when he sent Gene Thompson to the bullpen. Hank Greenberg was up next and was the Tigers’ most dangerous hitter. During the season Greenberg had hit 41 home runs with 150 RBIs. He also had a retrospective OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging average) of 1.103, the best in the majors, and had won the American League MVP Award. Lou Smith of the Enquirer described the tension of the at-bat. “Deacon McKechnie was perched on the top step of the dugout, his head cupped in his hands. Bucky hitched up his belt another notch and made the dangerous Greenberg bounce into a double play.”5 McCosky came home on the 5-4-3 double play to give the Tigers a 2-0 lead. The Tigers were doing their best to fulfill Rowe’s wish. Walters then struck out Rudy York to end the inning. The Reds had put themselves into a big hole, but Walters was able to limit the damage and the Tigers blew a chance of a big inning.
In their half of the first the Reds went down meekly with two groundouts and a strikeout. The Tigers did the same in the top of the second as Walters seemed to find his form, getting three easy outs. The Reds’ half of the second began auspiciously with a single to left by Frank McCormick. Jimmy Ripple then popped up to short but catcher Jimmie Wilson singled to right, putting pressure on Rowe. Eddie Joost singled to center, scoring McCormick. Billy Myers hit a third straight single, plating Wilson to tie the score. A botched pickoff and a walk followed, but Rowe was able to work out of the jam, getting Mike McCormick on a popup to shortstop.
Walters seemingly had found his groove, retiring the Tigers in order in the third, while the Reds again applied pressure on Rowe and the Tigers in their half of the third. Ival Goodman led off with a bunt single. Frank McCormick lined out to center, but Jimmy Ripple was up next and hammered an offering by Rowe into the seats in deep center to give the Reds their first lead of the Series. After the game, manager Bill McKechnie praised left fielder Ripple, a late-August call-up from Montreal: “He’s not only a good money player. He’s good all the time.”6 Rowe retired the next two batters, but the damage was done.
Walters continued his good work in the fourth with three easy outs surrounding a walk to the dangerous Hank Greenberg. The Reds were at it again when Walters, a converted third baseman, helped his own cause with a one-out double down the left-field line. Billy Werber, the Reds third baseman, followed with another double down the line, scoring Walters and giving the Reds a 4-2 lead. The hit chased Schoolboy Rowe. In 3⅓ innings Rowe gave up five runs on eight hits, easily his worst World Series performance. Rookie right-hander Johnny Gorsica replaced Rowe and retired the Reds without incident.
The Tigers’ fifth began with a double by Pinky Higgins, but Walters left Higgins stranded when he retired the next three Tigers. The Reds went down quietly in their half as Gorsica retired them in order. The Tigers’ offense finally found some life in the sixth. It began with a walk by Walters to Barney McCosky. Gehringer bounced into a fielder’s choice, but Greenberg smacked a double to deep left and Gehringer scored to bring the Tigers within two. Walters regained his composure and retired Rudy York and Bruce Campbell to end the inning.
Johnny Gorsica was fine in his own right, keeping the Tigers in the game. He tossed 4⅔ innings of one-hit ball. The Tigers wouldn’t get any closer and weren’t even able to mount a threat as Walters retired the last 11 Tigers batters, including Bruce Campbell’s popup to short to end the game and give the Reds the 5-3 win, their first World Series victory in 21 years. It was also the National League’s first win in a World Series game since 1937, when the Giants beat the Yankees.7
Despite the loss, the Tigers remained optimistic. Several Tigers downplayed Walters’ performance. A confident Gorsica said, “Bucky Walters didn’t have as much as he seemed out there … but I’ve seen more stuff. We’ll get him next time. He won’t beat us anymore.”8 McCosky said, “Walters had fair stuff at the start. … But his fastball straightened out as he went along. I had a feeling we were going to get to him.”9
Walters shook off his early wildness and stayed in charge, giving up three hits and four walks. It was the first three-hitter in the World Series since 1931. The biggest at-bat of the game may have come in the first when Walters induced a double play off the bat of Greenberg. Judson Bailey of the Enquirer gushed over Walters’ performance after the Greenberg at-bat: “From that point on Walters never gave the fans or his teammates a worry. He pitched carefully to the biggest guns of Tigers, working the corners and keeping the ball low when he came in with his fast one.”10 It was that at-bat that gave Walters and the Reds the confidence they needed to fight off the Tigers.
This article was published in “Cincinnati’s Crosley Field: A Gem in the Queen City” (SABR, 2018), edited by Gregory H. Wolf. To read more articles from this book at the SABR Games Project, click here.
Besides the sources mentioned in the notes, the author consulted baseball-reference.com, sabr.org, and retrosheet.org.
1 George Kirksey, “In Silence, Redleg Fans Suffer,” Cincinnati Enquirer, October 3, 1940.
2 Bob Saxton, “Betting Odds Are Against ’Em,” Cincinnati Enquirer, October 3, 1940.
3 Joseph Garretson Jr., “Reds Are Confident of Evening Series,” Cincinnati Enquirer, October 3, 1940.
4 Charles P. Ward, “Reds Banking Upon Walters to Even Series,” Detroit Free Press, October 3, 1940.
5 Lou Smith, “Series Squared by Reds,” Cincinnati Enquirer, October 4, 1940.
6 Joseph Garretson Jr., “Taste of Glory Sets World Right for Reds After Wait of 21 Years,” Cincinnati Enquirer, October 4, 1940.
7 The Yankees had swept the Cubs in 1938 and the Reds in 1939.
8 Charles P. Ward, “Turner Is Likely to Hurl for Reds,” Detroit Free Press, October 4, 1940.
10 Judson Bailey, “Wild Start Redeemed by Bucky,” Cincinnati Enquirer, October 4, 1940.