1940 Cleveland Indians

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1940 Cleveland Indians / Franchise: Cleveland Guardians / BR Team Page[edit]

Record: 89-65, Finished 2nd in American League (1940 AL)

Managed by Ossie Vitt

Coaches: Johnny Bassler, Ski Melillo and Luke Sewell

Ballpark: League Park II / Cleveland Stadium

History, Comments, Contributions[edit]

The 1940 Cleveland Indians are notable as a team that blew a lead late in the year after rebelling against manager Ossie Vitt.

Vitt was known for being critical of his players, who had grown increasingly upset with his style since he had become manager in 1938 after a stellar year with the 1937 Newark Bears. The Indians had been in contention from the start of the 1940 season, beginning on Opening Day when Bob Feller pitched a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox. They had started an eastern road trip 5-6, though, and on June 11th, they dropped another one, 9-2, behind Feller to their top contender, the Boston Red Sox; Vitt grumbled "He's supposed to be my ace. I'm supposed to win a pennant with that kind of pitching" in the dugout for all to hear. The next day, he yanked Mel Harder from a game against the Red Sox, saying "It's about time you won, [given] the money you're getting." Harder, Feller, Johnny Allen and others met after the game and decided to approach owner Alva Bradley with the request that Vitt be removed. 11 players met with Bradley, including Ken Keltner, Al Milnar, Rollie Hemsley, Jeff Heath, Oscar Grimes and the three aforementioned pitchers; Roy Weatherly refused to go along and Ray Mack and Lou Boudreau were kept out due to their youth. Hal Trosky called in at the time to express his agreement, but as his mother had died, he could not attend. Criticisms included Vitt's insults to his players, showboating style, anger and willingness to air dirty laundry with the media. Bradley said he would investigate but did not want the affair to become public. Somebody leaked it though, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer had details a day later.

The players were the primary subject of fan criticism as the public generally supported Vitt, who said he would tone down his act somewhat. The Indians became known as "Vitt's Crybabies", the "Bawl Team" and the "Half Vitts" among other epithets.

Cleveland rallied, though, and overtook Boston on June 20th to improve to 7-1 since the meeting with Bradley. They won the next three as well and were in first place for the next couple of months, except for a one-day break on July 4th.

Cleveland led the Detroit Tigers by 4 games on September 4th when they arrived at Briggs Stadium for three games; the New York Yankees, meanwhile, were 3 1/2 back after a 21-4 stretch. Feller dropped the first game in Detroit and the club was socked again the next day. When some Cleveland players met for a strategy session, the media in Cleveland claimed that they had decided to implement new tactics without Vitt's knowledge; all of the Indians denied this, but it gave in to the public image of "Crybabies". Cleveland lost the third straight game of the series on September 6th and a loss the next day, with a Detroit win, tied up the race after over two months of the Indians having been in sole possession of first place.

The Tigers, Indians and Yankees kept up a tight race for the next couple of weeks, with 7 changes in the top spot in the standing. Cleveland and Detroit were tied at 85-61, 4 games up on New York, when the Indians visited Detroit for the last visit there.

Detroit's fans did not greet the Cleveland team kindly, yelling "crybabies!" at them, trying to stuff baby bottles into the players' pockets, booing them throughout the games and using other props to reinforce their claim that the Indians were babies. Detroit led the opener, 4-1, but Harder retired and Vitt went with Feller, known to be tired, who let the Tigers rally to win. Detroit won game two but Cleveland took the third game behind Feller to stay one back.

Cleveland split two games with the St. Louis Browns while Detroit took two from Chicago behind Bobo Newsom for a two-game lead, with New York 2 1/2 out. Cleveland and Detroit would face off in a final three games, with the Indians needing to win all three to claim the pennant. When New York lost on September 27th, it became a two-team race. Feller, who had won 27 games, got the start in game one against Detroit, when the Tigers opted for little-known Floyd Giebell, saving their top hurlers to face Cleveland's lesser lights. Giebell stunned Cleveland with a 2-0 shutout win, powered by a Rudy York shot off Feller. The Indians won the last two, but the Giebell loss had cost them their chances.

Awards and Honors[edit]


American League W L Pct. GB
Detroit Tigers 90 64 .584 --
Cleveland Indians 89 65 .578 1
New York Yankees 88 66 .571 2
Boston Red Sox 82 72 .532 8
Chicago White Sox 82 72 .532 8
St. Louis Browns 67 87 .435 23
Washington Senators 64 90 .416 26
Philadelphia Athletics 54 100 .351 36

Further Reading[edit]

  • William H. Johnson: "The Crybabies of 1940", in Brad Sullivan, ed.: Batting Four Thousand: Baseball in the Western Reserve, SABR, Cleveland, OH, 2008, pp. 37-42.
  • Scott H. Longert: Bad Boys, Bad Times: The Cleveland Indians and Baseball in the Prewar Years, 1937–1941, Ohio University Press, Athens, OH, 2019. ISBN 978-0-8214-2379-0
  • Lowell Reidenbaugh: The Sporting News Selects Baseball's 25 Greatest Pennant Races