Grief-stricken pitcher nearly led Tigers to emotional World Series win in 1940

No one ever called Louis Norman Newsom, “Lou”. Everyone knew him as “Bobo”, and his teammates usually called him “Buck”.

Seventy-nine years ago this month, Bobo overcame a deep personal tragedy to give one of the greatest performances in World Series history. His heroic effort nearly led the Detroit Tigers to a championship.

Newsom started and won the first Game of the 1940 World Series in Cincinnati, handling the Reds in a complete game, 7-2 win. In the crowd that day was his father, who traveled by train from South Carolina to watch his son make his Fall Classic debut. Also in the crowd that day was Cy Young, the legendary former pitcher, who commented that Newsom seemed “fired up and unstoppable” on the mound. But the next morning, Newsom’s satisfaction was wiped away.

On the morning after the first game, 68-year old Henry Newsom died in his hotel room. The previous evening, after celebrating Bobo’s win with family and friends gathered at the Netherland Plaza Hotel, the senior Newsom complained of pains in his chest and side. A hotel physician was summoned, and he administered to Mr. Newsom in his room. Early in the morning, Henry again complained of pains and Bobo and a physician were called to his room. At 6 AM, the elder Mr. Newsom died in his hotel bed, surrounded by his son, his wife, and members of the Tigers. He passed only hours after seeing his son pitch the greatest game of his life. Newsom was shocked and inconsolable. His teammates rallied to support him.

“We have to win this for Buck,” first baseman Hank Greenberg told reporters at Crosley Field before Game Two. Newsom left the team to attend to his father’s funeral arrangements in Cincinnati, but he vowed to stick with his team. “Dad would have wanted it that way,” Newsom explained.

The Reds rallied to win Game Two and the series shifted north to Detroit, where the Tigers scored six runs late, sparked by a triple off the bat of Greenberg. A 7-4 victory put Detroit ahead in the Series after three contests. On Saturday, October 5, 1940, Game Four was played at Briggs Stadium in front of a large and raucous crowd. As the Tigers ran onto the field to start the game, a brass band played the tune “I’ll Never Smile Again.” The song proved to be a bad omen for the Detroiters. Dizzy Trout worked his way into first-inning trouble and plunged his team into a two-run deficit before most fans had warmed their seats. The home team was never able to trim that lead, losing 5-2 as the series knotted at two games apiece.

Shortly after Game Four, Detroit manager Del Baker announced that his big righthander, Ol Buck, would take the mound the following afternoon, a Sunday game in Detroit. Newsom told reporters, “I’ll win this one for my daddy.”

He sure did. Newsom scattered three hits and two walks in stifling the Reds for an 8-0 shutout. His every move was cheered by the adoring Detroit fans, and he got perhaps his largest ovation when he wasn’t even on the mound. In the fourth inning, Newsom laid down a sacrifice bunt even though he had two strikes on him, eliciting a thunderous ovation from the crowd of more than 55,000 at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. After he recorded the final out, Bobo retreated to the clubhouse and collapsed under a wave of emotions.

“It was the hardest game I ever wanted to win,” Newsom said with tears in his eyes. “I felt great. Naturally, I didn’t feel as good as I should have. I pitched this game for my dad. I hope he knows what I accomplished. I knew in my heart he wanted me to win. This was the one I wanted to win most.”

The moment was almost too big for baseball, and too emotional for the Tigers. Some teammates hugged and cried with Newsom after the game. But the team needed to win one more time to become world champions.

In Game Six back in Cincinnati, the Reds rebounded to deadlock the series, knocking Schoolboy Rowe out of the game in the first inning. The 1940 World Series would come down to a Game Seven. Baker quickly revealed that a familiar face would be pitching the game for Detroit: Game One and Game Five winner Bobo Newsom.

Reporters quickly hovered around Newsom in the visitors’ clubhouse to get his reaction on pitching the next day. One reporter asked Bobo if he was going to win that game for his dad too.

“Why, no”, Newsom said, “I think I’ll win this one for old Bobo.”

Not many pitchers have ever been as emotionally drained and tired as Newsom was for Game Seven of the 1940 World Series. But the man The Sporting News called “a bull elephant”, seemed up to the challenge. He was pitching on just one days rest, but given the circumstances of his World Series, no one was betting against Bobo. It seemed like an angel was on the pitcher’s shoulder.

It was a cool fall day when Newsom toed the rubber for Game Seven. He picked up right where he left off in Game Five: blanking the Reds inning-after-inning. The Tigers staked him to a lead on an RBI-single by Charlie Gehringer. He entered the seventh having strung together 16 consecutive scoreless innings against his foes. But in the seventh, Ol’ Bobo finally tired. The first two batters smoked doubles to the deep regions of the outfield, tying the game. A few minutes later, a fly ball scored the go-ahead run. The Reds held on and won a nail-biter, 2-1. The victory earned the Reds their second title, and denied Detroit an emotional triumph, despite the heroic pitching of their thick-chested ace.

“Buck was the right man for the game,” manager Baker said. “The poor fellow just ran out of gas.”