The Tigers started a new decade with new hope. Manager Del Baker was settling in as being the permanent skipper, and there was still a legitimate talent core around which to build.
The Tigers were working on a streak of having six straight winning seasons. But the 1935 championship was five years ago, and the fans were getting restless. Americans also kept their eye on the goings on in Europe, which threatened to explode into another World War. What better way to distract the hard-working people of Detroit from the strife abroad by putting a winning baseball team on the field?
There was a big move Baker made that had baseball people talking.
The great slugging first baseman Hank Greenberg was being moved to left field. The move was necessitated by the presence of Rudy York, who had played 3B, 1B and catcher for the Tigers since 1934, and who was best suited for first base. Baker needed York's big bat in the lineup, and the only place where Rudy wasn't a noticeable defensive liability was at 1B.
The switch had mixed results. While York was doing minimal damage with his glove at 1B, Greenberg wasn't exactly a textbook outfielder. He committed 15 errors in LF, but he also registered 14 assists, leading the league.
As a team, the Tigers became embroiled in a hotly contested pennant race with the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees. No longer were the Yankees miles ahead of their competition. And no longer were the Tigers an underachieving also-ran.
The position move had no effect on Greenberg's offense. Hank had 41 homers, 150 RBI, and he batted .340. CF Barney McCosky also batted .340. 37-year-old Charlie Gehringer batted .313. And Rudy York, who moved Greenberg to LF so he could play 1B, slammed 33 homers and knocked in 134 runs.
The pitching staff was led by rotund, colorful Bobo Newsom, who went 21-5 with a 2.83 ERA. Schoolboy Rowe recovered from his arm woes to register 16 wins against just three losses.
But despite all those accomplishments, the Tigers couldn't pull away from the pack. It wasn't until they beat the Indians on September 27 that the Tigers could celebrate, moving three games ahead with two to play.
The Tigers had captured their third pennant in seven years, and their sixth in franchise history. Awaiting them would be the Cincinnati Reds, and the two teams would combine for a thrilling World Series.
1940 World Series
The Cincinnati Reds waltzed to the National League pennant, 12 lengths in front of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Where the Tigers slugged their way to victory, the Reds used superior pitching to overwhelm their foes. The Reds' team ERA was 3.05, nearly a full run lower than the Tigers' 4.01.
Leading the Reds attack was 1B Frank McCormick, who batted .309 with 19 HR and 127 RBI. Only one other Reds starter, C Ernie Lombardi, batted .300 or better.
Bobo Newsom got the Tigers off to the right start with a 7-2 win in Game 1, played in Cincinnati. The Reds captured Game 2, but back in Detroit for Game 3, Tommy Bridges earned the complete-game victory as the Tigers scored four runs in the seventh inning of a 7-4 win. The Reds again evened the Series in Game 4, also played in Detroit. Still in Detroit for Game 5, Newsom spun a three-hit shutout, and Greenberg had three hits and four RBI in the Tigers' 8-0 win.
As they had done in 1934 and 1935, the Tigers found themselves ahead, 3-2, going into Game 6.
And, as they did in 1934, the Tigers lost Game 6 as Bucky Walters shut them out in Cincinnati, 4-0.
Then Newsom, still playing with a heavy heart following the news of his father's death prior to Game 5, valiantly went out on one day's rest to try to pitch the Tigers to victory in Game 7.
But Newsom, despite allowing only two runs in eight innings, took the loss as the Tigers fell in a heartbreaker, 2-1. For this series at least, the old adage about good pitching beating good hitting fell true.