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The First Big Red Machine

1940 Reds claimed club's first unquestioned Series victory
MLB.com
Since the 1970s, every Reds team has lived in the shadow of the Big Red Machine. Even the accomplishments of the teams that pre-dated the Machine dynasty have been dimmed by the bright lights of Sparky, the Great Eight and the back-to-back World Championships of 1975 and 1976. It's difficult to imagine a time when any Reds team was looked at with a comparable degree of reverence by the Cincinnati faithful but the 1939 and 1940 editions of the club, the only other back-to-back pennant winners in Reds history, came close. Call them the first Big Red Machine.

Red fans had precious little to cheer for since the dawn of the World Series era in 1903. The joy of the club's World Series victory in 1919 had been swallowed up by the Black Sox scandal which resulted in an asterisk being placed on that victory that seemed to grow as the years passed. The team remained competitive through much of the 1920s but no titles were won. By the early 1930s, the Reds hit upon hard times that saw them plunge to the basement of the National League, a post they would stubbornly hold on to for four consecutive seasons from 1931 - 1934. New owner Powel Crosley, Jr. arrived in 1934 and promised better things but in the immediate term, the losing continued. The hiring of Warren Giles as general manager in 1936 also failed to stem the losing tide.

But 1938 Giles hired veteran manager Bill McKechnie to lead the Reds and with him came immediate respectability. Under his guidance the Reds finished with a winning record for the first time since 1928. The next year, the club came into its own, winning a franchise-record 97 games and the National League pennant. A sweep at the hands of the Yankees in the World Series put a significant damper on the club's otherwise remarkable season but left them primed for a strong pennant defense in 1940.

An early omen of the good things that were to follow was the Reds victory on Opening Day, the club's first opening game win since 1932. From there, the successes continued. The Reds and Dodgers battled for first place throughout the season's first half. The Reds were led by largely the same cast that had been so successful the year before and adhered to the same winning formula with stellar pitching and defense, timely hitting and team speed serving as the foundation for victory.

Bucky Walters and Paul Derringer once again headed the starting rotation with Junior Thompson, Wilcy Moore and Jim "Milkman" Turner rounding out the league's best starting staff. Key off-season addition Joe Beggs turned in a remarkable performance as the league's top relief pitcher winning 12 games, and saving seven with an ERA of 2.00. Combined Reds pitchers posted the league's best ERA at 3.05. Reds defenders set a National League fielding record (since broken) with a .981 fielding percentage and committed the fewest errors of any team in the league.

On offense, the Reds were lead by National League Most Valuable Player first baseman Frank McCormick (the third consecutive Reds league MVP following Ernie Lombardi in 1938 and Bucky Walters in 1939) who paced the club with 19 home runs and 127 RBI and catcher Lombardi's .319 batting average. Third baseman Billy Werber lead the Reds in runs scored with 105 and second baseman Lonny Frey topped the club in stolen bases with 22. The outfield was anchored by powerful Ival Goodman in right field, Harry Craft in center and Mike McCormick in left. The late season purchase of Jimmy Ripple from the Dodgers further bolstered the outfield for the stretch run.

Indeed the entire 1940 campaign seemed to be falling together for the Reds until the tragic suicide of back-up catcher Willard Hershberger on August 3 when the Reds were in Boston to play the Braves. While the club was devastated by the loss of the popular "Hershey" they rallied around each other to overcome their grief and clinched the club's second consecutive pennant on September 18. The team's final regular season victory total of 100 not only set a new franchise record (breaking the 97 win mark of the previous year) but was also the first time in club history that the 100 victory mark had been achieved.

In the World Series, the Reds squared off against the Detroit Tigers in a tough see-saw battle that went the full seven games before the Reds emerged victorious with a 2-1 win in the final game at Crosley Field, the only time in Reds history that a World Series has been won in Cincinnati. Many heroes emerged for the Reds in the Series but none more significant than infielder Eddie Joost who filled in ably for injured second baseman Lonny Frey and Jimmie Wilson, the Reds coach who starred at catcher for the injured Lombardi, batting .353 good for the second highest Series average on the club. Jimmy Ripple also turned in an outstanding performance batting .333 and leading the Reds in RBI with six. Werber paced the club in batting at .370. On the mound, Walters and Derringer were their typically outstanding selves with each pitcher claiming two Series victories with Walters helping the Reds stave off elimination with a clutch 4-0 shutout performance in Game 6 and Derringer limiting the Tiger to but one run in the decisive Game 7.

Until the 1970s, when Reds fans were asked to name the finest teams in the history of the club, the '39 and '40 squads were almost always the selections. Since the 1970s, while the Big Red Machine has correctly been viewed as the greatest team in Reds history, it is beneficial to keep McKechnie's charges in the discussion for they are the only Reds team to tread a path that can even be remotely compared to the mighty Big Red Machine. They were the Machine before there was a Machine.

Since the 1970s, every Reds team has lived in the shadow of the Big Red Machine. Even the accomplishments of the teams that pre-dated the Machine dynasty have been dimmed by the bright lights of Sparky, the Great Eight and the back-to-back World Championships of 1975 and 1976. It's difficult to imagine a time when any Reds team was looked at with a comparable degree of reverence by the Cincinnati faithful but the 1939 and 1940 editions of the club, the only other back-to-back pennant winners in Reds history, came close. Call them the first Big Red Machine.

Red fans had precious little to cheer for since the dawn of the World Series era in 1903. The joy of the club's World Series victory in 1919 had been swallowed up by the Black Sox scandal which resulted in an asterisk being placed on that victory that seemed to grow as the years passed. The team remained competitive through much of the 1920s but no titles were won. By the early 1930s, the Reds hit upon hard times that saw them plunge to the basement of the National League, a post they would stubbornly hold on to for four consecutive seasons from 1931 - 1934. New owner Powel Crosley, Jr. arrived in 1934 and promised better things but in the immediate term, the losing continued. The hiring of Warren Giles as general manager in 1936 also failed to stem the losing tide.

But 1938 Giles hired veteran manager Bill McKechnie to lead the Reds and with him came immediate respectability. Under his guidance the Reds finished with a winning record for the first time since 1928. The next year, the club came into its own, winning a franchise-record 97 games and the National League pennant. A sweep at the hands of the Yankees in the World Series put a significant damper on the club's otherwise remarkable season but left them primed for a strong pennant defense in 1940.

An early omen of the good things that were to follow was the Reds victory on Opening Day, the club's first opening game win since 1932. From there, the successes continued. The Reds and Dodgers battled for first place throughout the season's first half. The Reds were led by largely the same cast that had been so successful the year before and adhered to the same winning formula with stellar pitching and defense, timely hitting and team speed serving as the foundation for victory.

Bucky Walters and Paul Derringer once again headed the starting rotation with Junior Thompson, Wilcy Moore and Jim "Milkman" Turner rounding out the league's best starting staff. Key off-season addition Joe Beggs turned in a remarkable performance as the league's top relief pitcher winning 12 games, and saving seven with an ERA of 2.00. Combined Reds pitchers posted the league's best ERA at 3.05. Reds defenders set a National League fielding record (since broken) with a .981 fielding percentage and committed the fewest errors of any team in the league.

On offense, the Reds were lead by National League Most Valuable Player first baseman Frank McCormick (the third consecutive Reds league MVP following Ernie Lombardi in 1938 and Bucky Walters in 1939) who paced the club with 19 home runs and 127 RBI and catcher Lombardi's .319 batting average. Third baseman Billy Werber lead the Reds in runs scored with 105 and second baseman Lonny Frey topped the club in stolen bases with 22. The outfield was anchored by powerful Ival Goodman in right field, Harry Craft in center and Mike McCormick in left. The late season purchase of Jimmy Ripple from the Dodgers further bolstered the outfield for the stretch run.

Indeed the entire 1940 campaign seemed to be falling together for the Reds until the tragic suicide of back-up catcher Willard Hershberger on August 3 when the Reds were in Boston to play the Braves. While the club was devastated by the loss of the popular "Hershey" they rallied around each other to overcome their grief and clinched the club's second consecutive pennant on September 18. The team's final regular season victory total of 100 not only set a new franchise record (breaking the 97 win mark of the previous year) but was also the first time in club history that the 100 victory mark had been achieved.

In the World Series, the Reds squared off against the Detroit Tigers in a tough see-saw battle that went the full seven games before the Reds emerged victorious with a 2-1 win in the final game at Crosley Field, the only time in Reds history that a World Series has been won in Cincinnati. Many heroes emerged for the Reds in the Series but none more significant than infielder Eddie Joost who filled in ably for injured second baseman Lonny Frey and Jimmie Wilson, the Reds coach who starred at catcher for the injured Lombardi, batting .353 good for the second highest Series average on the club. Jimmy Ripple also turned in an outstanding performance batting .333 and leading the Reds in RBI with six. Werber paced the club in batting at .370. On the mound, Walters and Derringer were their typically outstanding selves with each pitcher claiming two Series victories with Walters helping the Reds stave off elimination with a clutch 4-0 shutout performance in Game 6 and Derringer limiting the Tiger to but one run in the decisive Game 7.

Until the 1970s, when Reds fans were asked to name the finest teams in the history of the club, the '39 and '40 squads were almost always the selections. Since the 1970s, while the Big Red Machine has correctly been viewed as the greatest team in Reds history, it is beneficial to keep McKechnie's charges in the discussion for they are the only Reds team to tread a path that can even be remotely compared to the mighty Big Red Machine. They were the Machine before there was a Machine.