Posts Tagged ‘1940 Detroit Tigers’

Trying for Two: The Tigers

January 16, 2015
Charlie Gehringer

Charlie Gehringer

The 1940 World Series was sort of the odd man out Series of the era. Between 1936 and 1943 it was the only one in which the Yankees didn’t represent the American League. The Detroit Tigers won 90 games and made a temporary dent in the New York run. The Tigers weren’t new to World Series play, they’d been in five previously, but had won only once, in 1935 (Detroit had a championship from the 1880s, but that was a different team). So for Detroit, it was a chance to win a second title.

Manager Del Baker was a former catcher, who’d had a number of stints as a fill-in manager for the Tigers. He’d finally gotten the job fulltime with about 60 games left in 1938 and by 1940 had formed a team that hit well, fielded well, and pitched well enough to cop a pennant.

His infield consisted of one Hall of Famer and three very good players. The Hall of Famer was Charlie Gehringer. He was the resident gray-beard at 37. He was on the downside of a stellar career that included the 1937 AL MVP award. He hit .313 (OPS+ of 119) with 10 home runs and played a fine second base. At first, the Tigers had Rudy York. York was in his mid 20’s, and was noted for his inability to play in the field. Baker decided York would do less damage at first that anywhere else, so a Hall of Fame first baseman was sent to the outfield. York responded with a .316 average (OPS+ of 145) and 33 home runs. Pinky Higgins held down third. Higgins was one of the handful of third basemen who could honestly be considered the best AL third sacker of the era (along with Harold Clift, Ken Keltner, Red Rolfe). He was a capable enough fielder but his hitting made him something of a  star. In 1940 he managed .271 (a 92 OPS+), and 13 home runs. “Rowdy” Dick Bartell was the new guy at short. He’d come over from the National League and had World Series experience with the Giants. He was considered one of the finer shortstops of his day, but his hitting wasn’t much (As a testament to his fielding, he finished 12th in the MVP voting with a .233 average and seven home runs.)

The outfield consisted of a transplanted first baseman, a new guy, and one old hand. The transplant was Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg. With York unable to play the outfield, Greenberg agreed to make the move to left field in ’40. He wasn’t great (his dWAR for 1940 is -0.8 in Baseball Reference.com’s version) but his hitting was still superb. He hit .340, led the AL in doubles, home runs, RBIs, total bases, and slugging and copped the MVP award (his second). The new guy was second year player Barney McCosky, age 23. He, like Greenberg, hit .340 (OPS+124) but with only four home runs. He did lead the AL in hits and triples and played an acceptable center field (he was fifth in the league in assists). The old hand was right fielder Pete Fox. He’d been around long enough to have played in both the 1934 and 1935 World Series (Detroit winning the latter and losing the former). He hit .289 with little power.

The Tigers bench wasn’t overly strong. Backup outfielder Bruce Campbell had eight home runs. For the Series he would get the bulk of the play in right field. Hall of Famer Earl Averill hit .280 while playing out the string in Detroit.  Backup catcher Billy Sullivan hit .309 with 41 RBIs. Come Series time he would replace the regular catcher for most of the games.

Primary catcher Birdy Tebbetts hit just under .300 with no power and handled a staff with four starters pitching at least 20 games. All but one were right-handed. Lefty Hal Newhouser was only 19 and still four years from the numbers that would put him in the Hall of Fame. The righty starters were 21 game winner and ace Louis “Bobo” Newsom, 1934-5 stalwart Lynwood “Schoolboy” Rowe, Tommy Bridges, Johnny Gorsica, and later managing legend Fred Hutchinson who got into less than 20 games. Only Newsom had an ERA under 3.00, although all but Hutchinson and Newhouser had ERA+ numbers over 100 (Newsom’s was 168). But only Newsom and Bridges had given up fewer hits than they had innings pitched. Al Benton did most of the relief work, but had an ERA of almost four and a half.

It was a very different team from the 1934-35 versions who’d won a World Series. The pitching was about the same, but most people agreed it had somewhat better hitting and the defense, particularly up the middle was better. Detroit was a slight favorite to defeat the National League’s Cincinnati Reds.

 

 

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