September 18, 1940: The Cincinnati Reds clinch their second consecutive National League pennant with a 13-inning 4-3 win over the Philadelphia Phillies.
Johnny Vander Meer pitched twelve innings, allowing eight hits and walking five, but striking out 11 in improving his record to 2-0. Ace Reds reliever Joe Beggs retired the hometeam Phillies in order in the bottom of the 13th inning to preserve the victory.
Vander Meer also scored what proved to be the winning run of the game after leading the off the 13th inning with a double. Frank McCormick had three hits for the Reds, all singles.
Vander Meer had pitched his two no-hitters in 1938 when he went 15-10 with a 3.12 ERA, but poor control dropped him to 5-9 with a 4.67 ERA in 1939, as he walked 95 batters in 129 innings. The Reds sent him to the minors in 1940, but brought him back for the stretch run and he went 3-1 in 10 games (7 starts) with a 3.75 ERA despite walking 41 batters in 48 innings pitched. He rebounded from that point to lead the National League in strikeouts for the next three years consecutively and he was a double digit winner for five of the next six seasons.
McCormick was the 1940 season MVP as he batted .309 with 19 homers, 127 rbi, and a league leading 44 doubles. He led the league in hits from 1938-40, his first three full major league seasons. McCormick finished in the top five in MVP voting for each of his first full major league seasons, too. In his 10 years with the Reds, McCormick batted .301 with 803 rbi and an OPS+ of 120.
Beggs was a stand out reliever in 1940, going 12-3 with a 2.00 ERA, seven saves, and a league leading 27 games finished in his rookie season (they didn’t keep track of saves at that time). His ERA+ was 191 for his 76 innings pitched. In seven seasons with the Reds, Beggs was 42-30 with a 2.56 ERA.
The pennant win was manager Bill McKechnie’s fourth first place finish. In addition to winning pennants with the Reds in 1939-40, he also won the World Championship with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1925 and won the National League championship with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1928. In nine years with the Reds, McKechnie had two first place finishes, one second, two thirds, two fourths, one sixth, and one seventh, compiling an overall record of 744-631. McKechnie managed five different major league teams in his career, finishing 1896-1723 over 25 managerial seasons. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1962.
McKechnie liked pitching, but he loved fielding and he loved to ride his starting pitchers and one reliever. In Chris Jaffe’s book, “Evaluating Baseball’s Managers,” Jaffe notes that from 1920-70, only three teams had reliever record all their saves and McKechnie managed two of them, the 1935 Braves and the 1942 Reds (Beggs had eight saves that year). McKechnie liked to acquire shortstops and convert them to other positions in the infield. Reds star second baseman Lonnie Frey was a former shortstop with the Dodgers and third baseman Billy Werber reached the majors as a shortstop in the Yankees organization. The Reds shortstops were Billy Myers and Eddie Joost. The 1940 Reds commit 117 errors during the season and set a major league record .981 fielding percentage.
McKechnie liked for his pitchers to be durable. Jaffe notes that McKechnie’s 1939 Reds completed 86 games while no other team completed more than 72. The 1940 Reds had 91 complete games, 40 percent more than any other NL team. Jaffe: “From 1939 to 1941, Bucky Walters completed 87 of his 107 starts and teammate Paul Derringer finished 71 of 100. No other NL hurler completed more than 57 starts in those years.” McKechnie’s possessed pitching staff that were one of the two oldest staffs in the league a dozen times.
Walters had been the 1939 MVP (there was no Cy Young Award at the time), when he won the pitcher’s Triple Crown by leading the league in win (27-11), ERA (2.29) and strikeouts (137). In 1940, he went 22-10 with a league leading 2.48 ERA and finished third in MVP voting. Teammate Derringer was nearly as good; he finished third in the 1939 MVP vote when he was 25-7 with a 2.93 ERA. He was fourth in 1940 when he went 20-12 with 3.06 ERA. Derringer led the majors both years in fewest walks per nine innings (1.0 and 1.5, respectively).
The Reds had one player Hall of Famer on the team, catcher Ernie Lombardi. Lombardi won the 1938 MVP award when he batted a league leading .342 with 19 home runs and 95 rbi. In 10 seasons with the Reds, Lombardi batted .311 with 120 home runs. A different REds player won the Most Valuable Player Award each season from 1938-40.
The 1940 Reds finished their season, 100-53, 12 games ahead of the Brooklyn Dodgers. They defeated the Detroit Tigers in a seven-game World Series battle to win the World Championship.