Trying for Two: the Reds

Ival Goodman

Ival Goodman

If, in 1940, it was five years between pennants for Detroit, it was much longer for Cincinnati. The Reds hadn’t won since 1919, and that was the most tarnished of all World Series victories. For Cincy, it would be both a chance for a second title and for redemption from the fiasco of 1919.

For much of the 19th Century Cincinnati was a hotbed for baseball. They’d had the famous Red Stockings team of 1869, they’d been a charter member of the National League, they’d won the first ever American Association pennant. But the 20th Century turned the Reds into an afterthought. In 1919, they’d won their first NL pennant and promptly won the World Series. Of course it was the Black Sox World Series, noted primarily for Chicago throwing the Series to Cincinnati in eight games. The Reds argued they would have won anyway, but no one would ever know. In 1939 they’d won the NL pennant, and been destroyed in four games by the Yankees. The 1940 Series offered them the chance to finally prove they could be in true winner, particularly in the wake of tragedy.

In early August, backup catcher Willard Hershberger killed himself in a hotel room in Boston. Apparently he blamed himself for causing multiple losses to both the Giants and the Bees (now the Atlanta Braves). The team dedicated the remainder of the season to Hershberger and used his death as a  spur when they got to the Series. They also retired his number (5) but unretired it later and then gave it to Johnny Bench.

Hall of Fame manager Bill McKechnie, who had a World Series title already as manager of the 1925 Pirates, but was primarily known as Babe Ruth’s last manager, took over the Reds in 1938. They finished fourth. He maneuvered them to pennants each of the next two years by emphasizing pitching, good defense, and timely hitting (obviously he didn’t invent that formula).

His infield consisted of NL MVP Frank McCormick at first, Lonny Frey at second, Billy Myers at short, and Bill Werber at third. McCormick led the NL in hits and doubles, played a solid first base, led the team with 19 home runs, and hit .309. He also led the league in grounding into double plays. Frey hit .266 for the season, but led the NL in stolen bases with 22. He’d come to the big leagues as a shortstop, was lousy at it, and ended up at second, where he was at least a little better. He played little in the Series because of an injury to his toe. Myers was at the end of his career (1941 was his last season). He hit .202 for the year, but was a good enough fielder his glove kept him in the lineup. Werber was, at 32, the geezer of the group (all the others were 29). He hit .277 and his 12 home runs were tied for third on the team.

The outfield contained two new kids and one veteran. The vet was right fielder Ival Goodman. He hit .258, was tied with Werber for third in home runs, was third on the team with 63 RBIs, and played an excellent right field. The new guys were left fielder Mike McCormick (apparently not related to Frank) and center fielder Harry Craft (who later did a lot of managing). McCormick was a rookie who hit .300 but without power. Craft hit .244,  played center well, and by the Series was replaced by Jimmy Ripple, who hit better.

The catcher was Hall of Famer Ernie Lombardi. Lombardi was famous for two things: hitting the ball hard and being the slowest man on earth. For the year he’d hit .319 with 14 home runs and 74 RBIs. But he was hurt (his hand) and was limited in his performance during the Series.

With Frey and Lombardi hurt and Craft not hitting, the bench was essential for Cincinnati. Ripple, a mid-season acquisition from Brooklyn, filled in for Craft. He hit .307 in 32 games. For catcher, McKechnie picked part-time player, part-time coach Jimmie Wilson, age 39, to sub for Lombardi. He hit .243 for the year, caught 16 games (mostly after Hershberger’s death and after Lombardi’s injury), and was considered well over-the-hill. Frey’s replacement was 24-year old Eddie Joost.

McKechnie’s pitching staff was well front loaded. Twin aces Paul Derringer and converted third baseman Bucky Walters each won 20 games. Walters won the 1939 NL MVP and was third in 1940 voting. He led the NL in ERA and innings pitched, had an ERA+ of 154 and a league leading WHIP of 1.092. Derringer was almost as good, finishing fourth in MVP voting. His ERA 3.06 with an ERA+ of 124. Gene Thompson and Jim Turner also started 20 games and had a combined record of 30-16. Turner had given up as many hits as he had innings pitched. Whitey Moore was the only other pitcher to start more than 10 games. Double no hit Johnny VanderMeer was 3-1 in only 10 games. Only VanderMeer was left-handed. The main bullpen man was Joe Beggs who went 12-3 in 37 games (only starting one).

It was a good team. Except for Mike McCormick much the same team that had won the NL pennant the year before. It was for the Reds a chance to erase the questions of 1919 and to honor a fallen player. The Series started in Cincinnati.

 

 

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5 Responses to “Trying for Two: the Reds”

  1. William Miller Says:

    They retired, then unretired, Hershberger’s number? Ouch. Perhaps the ultimate indignity.
    Nicely done,
    Bill

  2. steve Says:

    What a strange burden to win a World Series and have a yeh, but attached to it after 1919 and then during the franchise redemption opportunity 30 years later, a suicide added to the formula. I’m glad you are writing this as if the Series still hasn’t happened because I truly don’t know who won the 1940 Series. I don’t think I ever thought about it before right now and that makes it very exciting if I can keep from looking up the box scores on baseball reference.

  3. The Baseball Bloggess Says:

    I had to come back and re-read this post again. I keep thinking about the retiring and then unretiring Hershberger’s number … and the thought of his committing suicide because he felt responsible for some losses. And, it just makes my heart ache.

    I checked the Reds’ website to see if the now re-retired #5 mentions Hershberger’s #5 — if only in passing. Not a peep. Although, I guess it is odd to honor a brief career (just 3 seasons) for such a tragic reason.

    • verdun2 Says:

      I’m not quite sure what I think of the entire mess. I understand the desire to honor Hershberger at the time. I also understand the need to retire Bench’s number. I just keep wondering if they couldn’t have given Bench 6, 8, 43, something different.
      v

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