In the early decades of the 20th century, Detroit’s baseball fans were no strangers to seventh-game angst. In fact, for the longest time, no franchise lost as many for-all-the-marbles matches in World Series play as the Tigers. The team dropped Game Seven to Pittsburgh in 1908, to St. Louis in 1934, and to Cincinnati in 1940. The last one was perhaps the most painful.
The melodrama of the 1940 World Series revolved around Detroit’s 21-game-winner, the much-traveled Louis Norman “Bobo” Newsom. Bobo was a gruff, bear-like, beer-drinking righthander who made an incredible 17 different big-league stops during a career that stretched from 1929 to 1953.
Despite Newsom’s reputation, “Bobo wasn’t really a troublemaker,” said teammate Hank Greenberg, who unselfishly moved from first base to left field in 1940 to allow Rudy York’s potent bat into the everyday lineup. “He just liked to brag, and he usually could back up his bragging because he was quite a pitcher.”
The series was knotted at two games apiece when Newsom took the mound for Game Five in Detroit on October 6, 1940. Newsom had pitched the Tigers to a 7-2 victory in the opener in Cincinnati, then awoke the next morning to find out that his father, who had cheered him on from his seat at Crosley Field, had later died of a heart attack inside his Cincinnati hotel room. While the series continued, Bobo went home to bury his dad.
That was the prologue to Game Five, which Newsom and Greenberg combined to turn into an 8-0 rout. Greenberg cracked a three-run homer in the first inning while Bobo, fighting back tears and vowing to “win one for Dad,” allowed the Reds just three hits. The largest crowd yet to watch a baseball game in the city – 55,189 fans – felt a tug on their collective heartstrings. The Tigers had been favored going into the World Series. Now destiny seemed on their side as they traveled to Cincinnati needing just one more victory.
Schoolboy Rowe was given the task of closing out the series in Game Six, but Schoolie flunked his assignment miserably. He was chased after pitching to just five batters as Cincinnati rolled to a 5-0 victory.
Detroit manager Del Baker had no choice but to bring back Newsom for the deciding seventh game. As in the opener, Bobo’s opponent would be Paul Derringer. The Tigers reached Derringer for an unearned run in the third. Meanwhile, the rubber-armed Newsom continued to mow down the Reds, nursing the 1-0 lead through the first six innings. It was beginning to look like he would become the first pitcher in 20 years to win three games in a World Series.
However, in the bottom of the seventh, Reds first baseman Frank McCormick led off with a double. Left fielder Jimmy Ripple then smacked a drive off the right-field screen. Tigers shortstop Dick Bartell had a very real chance of nailing the lumbering McCormick at the plate, but for some reason – indecision, crowd noise – he held onto the relay throw as McCormick scored. A sacrifice bunt and a long fly to center then brought in Ripple to score what proved to be the winning run in a 2-1 Cincinnati victory.
It was a bitter loss for the Tigers. Just as they had six years earlier against the Cardinals, the Tigers had dropped a World Series in which they had led three games to two. “I feel terrible,” Newsom told a reporter. “I really wanted this one.”
The reporter thought he understood. “For your dad?” he offered.
“Naw,” admitted Newsom. “I wanted this one for Bobo.”