This article was written by Will Anderson
The 1940 World Series featured the National League champion Cincinnati Reds, who won 100 games and outpaced their nearest rival by 12 games, and the Detroit Tigers, who captured the AL flag by a mere one-game margin over Cleveland. The Bengals were in a dogfight until the very end as only eight games separated the first five teams in the final American League standings.
If one believed Connie Mack’s axiom that good pitching will overcome good hitting, victory by the Reds in the World Series was where the bettors should place their money. Cincinnati had a strong pitching staff headed by Bucky Walters (22-10) and Paul Derringer (20-12), both right-handers. Walters led the National League in wins, earned-run average, and complete games.Yhe Reds’ number two man in the rotation, Paul Derringer, tied for the second most victories and ranked second in innings hurled and complete games.
On the offensive side of the game, Detroit held a decided advantage with a league-leading .286 team batting average against Cincinnati’s average of .266, and in Hank Greenberg and Rudy York, the Tigers had two premier sluggers, with Greenberg soon to be chosen the Most Valuable Player in the American League.
In the first contest, waged in Cincinnati on October 2, ace Detroit hurler Bobo Newsom, a 21-game winner, outdueled Derringer, winning 7-2. Newsom’s father was in the stands to see his son win the opener. Sadly for both, his father died early the next morning. A shaken son said, “I’ll win the next one. I’ll pitch it for Dad.”1
In the next three games, the opponents took turns winning in alternate games with the Reds prevailing 5-2 in Game Four,in Detroit,and knotting the Series at two wins apiece.
The winner of Game Five would need only one more victory to become baseball’s world champion. Reds manager Bill McKechnie called on second-year big-leaguer Junior Thompson to pitch. Thompson had his career year in 1940, winning 16 games with a solid 3.32 ERA. Tigers skipper Del Baker countered by sending Newsom, the AL’s second-winningest pitcher, to pitch on very short rest.
This game was all Detroit and all Bobo Newsom as the home team won, 8-0. When the fifth game in the Series concluded, the hot bats of Hank Greenberg, Bruce Campbell, and Barney McCosky had struck 24 hits over five games. In this game, the Tigers scored seven runs in the third and fourth innings combined, and chased the Reds starting pitcher after he retired only one hitter in the fourth inning. Thompson pitched 3⅓ innings and gave up eight hits and six runs.
McCosky led off the third with a single and raced around to third on Charlie Gehringer’s base rap. On a 2-and-1 count, Greenberg launched a drive that carried into the second deck in left field for a three-run homer.
The Tigers sent nine men to the plate in the fourth frame. Catcher Billy Sullivan walked to start the productive inning and advanced to second when Newsom laid down a sacrifice bunt with two strikes on him. Dick Bartell doubled to left, driving in Sullivan. A passed ball moved Bartell to third and Thompson walked McCosky. McKechnie summoned Whitey Moore from the bullpen. Moore immediately walked Charlie Gehringer, loading the bases. Greenberg hit a deep fly ball that plated Bartell and sent McCosky scooting to third. York then drew a free pass, again loading the bases. Campbell came through again with a single, driving in two lead runs as Detroit built its lead to 7-0.
Cincinnati managed just three hits, all singles: Frank McCormick led off the second with a hit and died there; Mike McCormick led off the fourth and advanced to second on a groundout but didn’t go any further; Bill Werber repeated the scenario by driving out a base hit leading off the sixth but was quickly erased when Mike McCormick hit into a double play. Newsom retired the side in order in the first, third, eighth, and ninth innings.
Cincinnati had its one moment of glory in the eighth inning. After the Tigers had scored their eighth run on a wild pitch and had runners on first and second, Sullivan came to the plate. The Tigers catcher was a left-handed batter, and the Reds played him to pull with left fielder Jimmy Ripple shading over into the left-center-field alley. Sullivan drove the ball deep into left field near the 340-foot fence, the blow appearing to be at least a two-base hit. Ripple raced to his right and stretched his glove (left) hand to its maximum, snaring the drive while tumbling forward. He rolled over twice and slid on his back with his glove hand reaching upward, demonstrating that he had held onto the ball.
Next to Newsom, Ripple received the most accolades and press coverage. His great catch was called a masterpiece, sensational, and “the greatest play of the series.”2 Bob Murphy, the Detroit Times sports editor, noted, “Even the Tigers had to handclap — all save Sullivan, who must have thought things about Ripple that made his ancestors whirl in their graves.”3 Henry McLemore of the Associated Press was so ecstatic that he claimed: “Had Ripple’s catch come in the clutch, and not when the game was already won by the Tigers, it would be remembered and talked about for the next century.”4
Yet easily the bigger story was the heroic performance of the winning pitcher, Bobo “Buck” Newsom. He pitched a brilliant shutout, allowing three harmless singles and letting only one runner reach second, while striking out seven. Detroit News sports editor H.G. Salsinger wrote, “Newsom pitched a game that must be included among all-time classics. … Newsom had a blazing fastball, a quick breaking-curve, and a change of pace. But above everything else he had control. In nine innings only 31 of Newsom’s pitches were called balls.”5
Newsom had a well-established persona; he was frequently called “Loud Louie,” and was a pop-off who could be abrasive and prone to brag and make bold, self-serving predictions. But not after pitching perhaps his greatest game. He had given it his all in honor of a father he loved who had so recently died. Entering the Tigers clubhouse, he quickly retreated to the trainer’s room seeking to pour out his emotions and escape the presence of reporters as tears streamed down his cheeks.6
Unable to interview Newsom, the sportswriters sought the impressions of his catcher, Billy Sullivan. “When I asked for the ball down here, I got it there,” replied Sullivan. “I don’t think he ever pitched a more polished game. … I caught him every game in his 13-game winning streak.”7
Newsom’s teammates and the writers respected his need to be alone,but after awhile Bobo moved to his locker and spoke in a solemn manner. “Naturally, I don’t feel as good as I might. It was the hardest game I ever pitched and I wanted to win more than I ever did before.”8 After a player said his dad would have been very proud of him, Newsom responded — “I’d give my World Series check for him to have seen it.”9
Both the players and manager Del Baker were confident they would finish off the Reds and win the World Series. Cincinnati manager McKechnie was equally optimistic, given that he had his two aces, Walters and Derringer, ready to pitch the next two games. He also liked his chances with the other Tigers pitchers. “That big Buck Newsom is out of the way. We won’t be seeing any more of him, thank goodness,” the manager said.10
The die was cast: Bucky Walters hurled a gem to shut out the Tigers, 4-0, in Game Six, which evened the Series again. Newsom did come back for the final game, in Cincinnati, pitching against Paul Derringer. There was no repeat of Game Five. The Reds scored two runs in the seventh off a tired gladiator and won it all, 2-1.
This article appeared in Tigers By The Tale: Great Games at Michigan and Trumbull” (SABR, 2016), edited by Scott Ferkovich. To read more articles from this book, click here.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, Retrosheet.org and Baseball-Reference.com were also accessed.
1 Charles Ward, “Hank’s Homer Clinches Game,” Detroit Free Press, October 7, 1940, 13.
2 Bob Murphy, “Reds Too Docile,” Detroit Times, October 7, 1940, 15; Detroit News, 17; Charles Ward, Detroit Free Press, 16.
3 Murphy, 15.
4 Henry McLemore, “Fancy Diving –Ripple’s Catch Rates Wing at Cooperstown,” Detroit Free Press, October 7, 1940, 13.
5 H.G. Salsinger, “Umpire,” Detroit News,” October 7, 1940, 17.
6 Sam Greene, “Cheers Still in His Ears, Buck Chokes Back Tears,” Detroit News, October 7, 1940, 17.
9 Greene, 18.
10 Lewis Walter, Detroit Times, October 7, 1940, 14.