The Detroit Tigers temporarily broke New York’s stranglehold on the American League pennant in 1940, edging out both the Yankees and the Cleveland Indians in an extremely close three-team pennant race. The Tigers finished the regular season with a record of 90-64, just one game ahead of the second-place Indians, and only two games in front of the third-place Yankees. Boston and Chicago finished tied for fourth, eight games off the pace.
The Indians managed to remain in contention for the A.L. flag until the season’s final days even though they despised their acerbic manager Oscar Vitt. The sharp-tongued Vitt alienated his players to such a degree over the course of the season that they ultimately presented a petition to team owner Alva Bradley demanding his dismissal. The Cleveland players subsequently became known as the “Crybaby Indians.”
Also working against the Indians was the mediocrity of their offense, which finished just sixth in the league with 710 runs scored. First baseman Hal Trosky and shortstop Lou Boudreau served as the focal points of the Cleveland attack. Trosky hit 25 home runs, drove in 93 runs, and batted .295. In his first full season, the 22-year-old Boudreau also batted .295, led the club with 101 runs batted in and 97 runs scored, and placed second in the league with 46 doubles.
It was the Indians’ outstanding pitching that kept them in the pennant race the entire year. Cleveland’s staff surrendered a league-low 637 runs to the opposition over the course of the season, with staff ace Bob Feller proving to be easily the circuit’s most dominant hurler. The fire-balling right-hander led all A.L. pitchers with 27 victories, a 2.61 ERA, 261 strikeouts, 31 complete games, 320 innings pitched, and four shutouts, en route to earning a second-place finish in the league MVP voting. Feller started off the year in style, defeating the Chicago White Sox 1-0 on April 16 by hurling the only Opening Day no-hitter in American League history. Unfortunately for Feller and the rest of the Indians, the campaign ended on a sour note when little-known right-hander Floyd Giebell defeated him 2-0 on the last weekend of the season to clinch the pennant for Detroit. The complete-game shutout turned out to be Giebell’s last win in the major leagues.
An arm injury to Lefty Gomez and subpar seasons by several regulars relegated the Yankees to a close third-place finish. Only another exceptional performance turned in by reigning A.L. MVP Joe DiMaggio allowed them to remain in the pennant race as long as they did. DiMaggio ended the year with 31 home runs, 133 runs batted in, and a league-leading .352 batting average – numbers that earned him a third-place finish in the A.L. MVP balloting.
The man who won the award played for the pennant-winning Tigers, who topped the junior circuit with 888 runs scored. After agreeing to move to left field prior to the start of the season to make room at first base for Rudy York, Hank Greenberg became the first player to earn MVP honors at two different positions. Greenberg led the American League with 41 home runs, 150 runs batted in, 50 doubles, 384 total bases, and a .670 slugging percentage. He also finished among the leaders with a .340 batting average and 129 runs scored. Meanwhile, the trio of York, Charlie Gehringer, and Barney McCosky provided ample support for Greenberg in the Detroit lineup. York batted .316, scored 105 runs, and finished among the league leaders with 33 home runs and 134 runs batted in. Gehringer batted .313, compiled a .428 on-base percentage, and scored 108 runs. McCosky led the league with 200 hits and 19 triples, and he also finished near the top of the league rankings with a .340 batting average and 123 runs scored.
The Tigers subsequently lost a closely-contested World Series to the Cincinnati Reds in seven games, even though they outscored their National League counterparts over the course of the Series 28-22. Paul Derringer defeated Bobo Newsom by a score of 2-1 in the decisive Game Seven.
Other notable events from around the league and players who distinguished themselves over the course of the season included:
• September 24 - Jimmie Foxx hit his 500th career home run, making him just the second player to reach that milestone.
• Bob Feller's 261 strikeouts represented the highest total compiled by any major league pitcher since 1924 (Dazzy Vance).
• After the season, Hank Greenberg became the first major leaguer to enlist in the armed services in preparation for World War II.
• Ted Williams hit 23 home runs, drove in 113 runs, batted .344, and led the league with 134 runs scored and a .442 on-base percentage.
• Boston teammate Jimmie Foxx batted .297, scored 106 runs, and placed among the league leaders with 36 homers and 119 runs batted in.
• In addition to knocking in 101 runs, Cleveland shortstop Lou Boudreau led all league shortstops in assists, double plays, and fielding average.
• Washington's George Case led the American League with 35 stolen bases.
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- 1940 World Series, Alva Bradley, American League, Barney McCosky, Bob Feller, Bobo Newsom, Charlie Gehringer, Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers, Floyd Giebell, George Case, Hal Trosky, Hank Greenberg, Jimmie Foxx, Joe DiMaggio, Lefty Gomez, Lou Boudreau, Ossie Vitt, Paul Derringer, Rudy York, Ted Williams