The Reds were one of the worst teams in baseball in the early 1930’s. From 1929 through 1937, the Reds surpassed a .400 won-loss record only twice. They finished 8th in an 8 team league five times and seventh twice. The St. Louis Cardinals had won the world championship in both 1930 and 1931, and four of the previous six years at the time. They were one of the powerhouses of baseball and would remain so for about the next 20 years. No doubt, young Paul Derringer was less than thrilled when he found that he had been dealt to the lowly Reds.
Derringer had finished 20th in MVP voting in his rookie year, going 18-8 for the 1931 World Championship team. His 1932 record was 11-14 and he felt into disfavor with the Cardinal front office. After starting 1933 0-2, he found himself the key component in a trade to the Reds which landed the Cardinals slick fielding, no-hit shortstop Leo Durocher. Durocher had been a four year starter for the Reds, but wasn’t the star he was to become. Durocher did become a leader of the raucous gashouse gang for the Cardinals, but he wasn’t going to be the player that Derringer became.
1933 was a miserable year for Derringer. He led the league in losses, going 7-27 with a 3.30 ERA (he went 7-25 for the Reds after being 0-2 in St. Louis). During that season, the Reds were shut out in 7 of Derringer’s 25 losses. Of his 212 career losses, Derringer’s teams were shut out a staggering 36 times.
He lost 21 games in 1934 (15-21) with a 3.59 ERA. In 1935, with a nearly identical ERA of 3.51, Derringer became a 22 game winner for a Reds team that finished in sixth (of eight teams), winning only 68 games. Derringer won nearly 1/3 of the Reds games that year. His season brought him notice from the league, and Derringer was selected to all-star teams in six of eight seasons.
Derringer won 20 games four times for the Reds, with a career best season of 25-7 with a 2.93 ERA for the 1939 World Series team. In the Reds World Championship Year of 1940, Derringer finished 20-12 with a 3.06 ERA. Derringer did not win a World Series game in 1939, but only allowed four runs in two games. He did win two games in the 1940 World Series, starting three games. He pitched the game 7 Championship winner, allowing no earned runs and winning, 2-1. Derringer also was the pitcher selected to pitch the first night game in Major League history when he beat the Phillies, 2-1.
One of the best Derringer stories (found in Total Baseball’s “Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia”) happens when Reds GM Lee MacPhail fined Derringer $250 for not sliding, suspended him, and lectured him for an hour. Derringer was furious and hurled a inkwell in MacPhail’s direction, missing him by inches. MacPhail screamed “You might have killed me.” Derringer responded by saying “That’s what I was meaning to do.” MacPhail’s reaches into his desk and pulls out a checkbook and writes Derringer a check for $750. When Derringer asks why, MacPhail responds by saying “That’s a bonus for missing me.”
Derringer finished his career with a 223-212 record, with a 3.46 ERA. Nine times he finished in the top five in fewest walks per nine innings and seven times finished in the top five in strikeouts. He would not be a crazy choice for the Hall of Fame despite his near .500 record as most Hall of Fame tracking charts has him as slightly below the average Hall of Famer.
In the deal the Reds also acquired infielder Sparky Adams, who had been a starting second baseman for the Cubs in the 1920’s. He played out the string for two years at 3B for the Reds (ages 38 and 39); Allyn Stout was a role pitcher who won 8 games for the Reds in 1933-34 and only one more after that. The Cardinals received Durocher, who was a miserable hitting shortstop and remained that way. However, his glove and leadership mattered, and Durocher even finished twice in the top ten MVP votes. Ogden and Henry were pitcher roster fillers who never pitched in the big leagues again.
Just as Garry Herrmann had mined the Giants minor league associations and extra players to build the 1919 World Championship team, the Reds “Lee” MacPhail used the 1930’s to mine the Cardinals’ farm system to build the next Reds World Championship team. He started slowly, getting some over the hill players (and missing out on Johnny Mize), but Derringer joined a Reds squad that had acquired youthful outfield slugger Ival Goodman, and two future aging HOFers in 1b Jim Bottomley and OF Chick Hafey. Derringer would become part of a terrific one-two punch with Bucky Walters (plus Johnny Vander Meer) to give the Reds a formidable starting rotation.