The happiest of the 31,793 fans jammed into Crosley Field on the sunny afternoon of Oct. 2, 1940 was Henry Quillen Buffkin Newsom. A frail 68-year-old retired farmer, Newsom, it seemed, had been kept alive only by the dream that one day he would see his son, Norman Louis, pitch in a World Series. And this day he would start the Series opener for the visiting Detroit Tigers against the Cincinnati Reds.
The younger Newsom had also waited a long time for this Series. By 1940 he was 33 years old, an 11-year veteran, and was pitching for his sixth big league club. While his father and his family called him Louis, baseball knew him as either "Bobo" or "Buck," and Newsom affectionately referred to himself as "Ol' Bobo." He was a fun-loving, boastful, big-mouthed buffoon, as quick with a quip as he was with a curve.
Some of Newsom's most memorable lines were spoken on the numerous occasions when he was injured. While pitching for the Senators in 1935, he was struck on the knee in the third inning by a vicious liner off the bat of the Indians' Earl Averill. Nonetheless, Newsom finished and won the game. Then he limped into the clubhouse, saying to the trainer, "Mike. Ol' Bobo thinks his leg is broke." Bobo thought right; his leg was in a cast for five weeks.
The next season, the Yanks' Ben Chapman put down a bunt against Newsom in the third inning of the Presidential opener. Senator Third Baseman Ossie Bluege swooped in and made a hasty throw that hit Newsom—who had been giving the play something less than his full attention—in the face. Newsom staggered from the mound in pain but refused to leave the game. "Whenever President Roosevelt comes to see Ol' Bobo pitch," he said, "Ol' Bobo ain't going to disappoint him." He didn't, winning 1-0. Afterward it was discovered that Newsom's jaw had been broken.
With his baggy eyes and ever-present five-o'clock shadow, the 6'3", 200-pound Newsom usually looked as if he had just got in from an all-night bender. But as one of his teammates, Hall of Famer Charlie Gehringer, says, "Once he stepped out on that field, Bobo was all business."
A rubber-armed righthander, Newsom had all but wrapped up the 1940 pennant for Detroit by winning a double-header in the last week of the season. In the first game, he pitched the last two innings in relief to beat the Chicago White Sox 10-9 for his 20th win, and in the nightcap he went the full nine to gain a 3-2 triumph. He finished the regular season with a 21-5 record.
But even with Newsom's big victories, the Tigers had to battle right up to the final Friday of the season before clinching the flag. With 90 wins and 64 losses, Detroit's percentage of .584 was the lowest ever by an American League pennant winner. And the Tigers' prospects for the World Series seemed none too promising, because they would face the Reds who had won 100 games en route to their second consecutive National League championship.
In the Series opener, Newsom drew as his opponent the Reds' big, experienced righthander, Paul Derringer, who had won 20 or more games three years in a row. The Tigers chased Derringer in 1‚Öì innings. A five-run second and Outfielder Bruce Campbell's two-run homer in the fifth inning gave Newsom more support than he needed. He used only 102 pitches to subdue Cincinnati 7-2 and get his first World Series victory.
"I feel great over this one, because my father was out there watching me," said Newsom in a postgame interview. But his joy was short-lived. Early the next morning his father died in a Cincinnati hotel room. It had been his heart, said the attending physician, but Newsom claimed his father had died simply because he had seen his son win that Series game. That was all the old man had been living for.
Sobbing, Newsom attended the simple funeral services that afternoon, while out at Crosley Field the Reds were evening the Series 5-3 behind Bucky Walters. Newsom caught the Tigers' special train for the return trip to Detroit and announced he would take his regular pitching turn. "Dad would have wanted it that way," he said, "and I'm going to beat them for him."
By Game 5, the Series was again tied, when Newsom, head down, walked slowly to the mound at Detroit's Briggs Stadium. A crowd of 55,189 was on hand to lend support to Newsom's bid to "win one for Dad."
The Reds got their first hit in the top of the second, but Newsom held them scoreless. He did the same in the third, before Detroit finally took the lead. After singles by Barney McCosky and Gehringer, one swipe of Hank Greenberg's bat settled the issue. The ball landed in the upper left-field stands to give Newsom a 3-0 edge. Thereafter, Newsom kept firing the ball past the Reds. The final score was 8-0, with Cincy getting only three hits.
Newsom listlessly shook hands after the game and dutifully posed for pictures with his catcher, Billy Sullivan. When reporters and photographers continued to crowd around Newsom's stall, his teammate Schoolboy Rowe barked, "Leave him alone!" Newsom left the room sobbing. When he came back, he said, "I don't think anybody could have beaten me today. It was the game I wanted to win the most." While Newsom was winning, his father was buried back home in South Carolina.
The Reds bounced back when the Series returned to Cincy for Game 6, Walters winning 4-0. With his undermanned pitching staff, Tiger Manager Del Baker had little choice but to ask Newsom to come back with one day's rest and start the deciding game. As in the Series opener, he would face Derringer.
For six innings, while he nursed a 1-0 lead, it looked as if Newsom would become the first pitcher in 20 years to win three games in a World Series. Then in the bottom of the seventh, two first-pitch doubles, a sacrifice and a long fly gave Cincinnati the runs it needed for a 2-1 win.
Even though the Reds were world champs, the hero of the Series was Newsom. He had pitched the most innings (26), struck out the most batters (17), had the lowest earned run average (1.38) among the starters and had tied Walters and Derringer for most wins (two).
Seven years later, Newsom, then with the Yankees, again pitched in the Series, but he did not win. His last World Series victory would remain the one he won for his dad.