1940 Baseball Season

By the 1940 baseball season, 21-year-old Bob Feller was already a veteran of four big-league seasons and had achieved almost every pitching distinction possible. He had led the American League in strikeouts twice and in innings pitched once. In 1939, he went 24-9 to lead the American League in wins and complete games with 24.

Three times -- once in 1938 and twice in 1939 -- he had thrown one-hitters. Just about the only thing Feller hadn't done was to throw a no-hit game, an omission he remedied on Opening Day, 1940, when he no-hit the Chicago White Sox 1-0. It was the only Opening Day no-hitter in American League history.

The 1940 baseball season ended much less happily for the Cleveland ace, as he lost the game that clinched the pennant for Detroit on the next-to-last day of the season. Cleveland finished with an 89-65 record, 1 game behind the 90-64 Tigers. Feller had no reason to hang his head; the Indians would never have come that close to a pennant without his 27-11, 2.62 ERA virtuoso performance. He led the league in wins, ERA, games, complete games, strikeouts, and innings pitched.

Cleveland's mediocre offense was led by young shortstop Lou Boudreau, who hit .295 and drove in 101 runs, and first baseman Hal Trosky, who led the team in home runs with 25. The team's chances were undermined by a palace revolution against manager Ossie Vitt in the closing days of the race. The uprising culminated with the players presenting a petition to management demanding, unsuccessfully, that Vitt be fired.

New Detroit manager Del Baker was a more positive factor. He made the managerial move of the year by putting Hank Greenberg in left field in order to open up first base for young, poor-fielding slugger Rudy York: Greenberg responded with an MVP season, hitting .340 and leading the league in home runs (41), RBI (150), and doubles (50). York contributed 134 RBI and 33 home runs, and the Tigers as a whole scored a league-leading 888 runs.

On the pitching side, Detroit featured 21-5 Bobo Newsom, who was runner-up to Feller in ERA at 2.83; 16-3 Schoolboy Rowe; and 12-9 Tommy Bridges. Both Detroit and Cleveland were momentarily distracted from their neck-and-neck race down the stretch by the hard-charging New York Yankees, who rose from dead last in May to within 2 games of the flag by season's end. Joe DiMaggio won the batting title at .352, hit 31 home runs, and drove in 133.

Ernie Lombardi was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986.
Ernie Lombardi spent his
final five seasons in the
majors with the New
York Giants.

The Cincinnati Reds took the National League pennant by 12 games over Brooklyn, but it was no cakewalk. With starting catcher Ernie Lombardi out with an injury in August, backup catcher Willard Hershberger became overwhelmed by the pennant-race pressure and committed suicide. A month later, Lombardi reinjured himself. Coach Jimmy Wilson, who was 40 years old and hadn't caught regularly for five years, was activated and guided the Reds pitchers into the 1940 World Series.

First baseman Frank McCormick was the Reds' big gun on offense, with a league-leading 191 hits, as well as 44 doubles and 127 RBI. He was named National League MVP. Cincinnati relied heavily on its pitching staff, which was led by Bucky Walters and Paul Derringer (who combined for 42 wins).

The Reds won the 1940 World Series in seven games to give the National League its first victory since 1934, when Detroit was also the loser. Walters and Derringer continued their good work, each winning two games. But an unexpected hero of the 1940 World Series was catcher Wilson, who was brilliant defensively and hit .353. Wilson re-retired the following year to manage the Chicago Cubs.

Check out the next page for some of the headlines from the 1940 baseball season.

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