National League: Cincinnati Reds (100-53) - Third World Series (won in 1919)
American League: Detroit Tigers (90-64) - Sixth World Series (won in 1935)
The Reds had waited 21 years for this series, their first reasonable chance to win a legitimate World Series. Sure, they had won it all in 1919, but that championship was tainted by the fact that their opponents were trying to lose. And they had a "chance" to win in 1939, but nobody was beating that Yankees team.
The 1940 season was different. The Reds had virtually the same team back that had won the National League pennant in 1939, so they had postseason experience. Plus, when they got to the World Series, waiting for them wasn't the Yankees, winners of the previous four championships, but the Tigers. The Tigers were still good, with many of the same players who had won the title in 1935, but they weren't the Yankees. The Reds had to be feeling good.
Any good feelings the Reds had went away in the second inning of Game 1, as the Tigers dropped five runs on Reds ace Paul Derringer on their way to a 7-2 victory. The Reds bounced back to win Game 2 behind Bucky Walters, starting a pattern where the teams alternated wins all the way through Game 5. Detroit's 8-0 win in Game 5 gave them a 3-2 lead as the series headed back to Cincinnati. Though the Reds were trailing in the series, they still felt like they had the advantage with two games at home and Walters and Derringer ready to throw.
Walters threw a five-hit shutout to beat Schoolboy Rowe in Game 6, setting the stage for Derringer and Game 7. Derringer pitched well, but the Reds were trailing Bobo Newsom and the Tigers 1-0 entering the seventh inning. Cincinnati responded, getting two runs in the bottom of the seventh. Derringer held off the Tigers the rest of the way to give the Reds their second title, and first that wouldn't have an asterisk next to it.
In a perfect world, the best game of any World Series would be Game 7. That was the case in 1940. Derringer and Newsom were their teams' hottest pitchers, and they controlled the game. For a long time, it looked like the run Detroit scored in the third - coming on a throwing error after Charlie Gehringer's infield single - would be the only run of the game. But the Reds pounced on a possibly tiring Newsom in the seventh, opening the inning with two straight doubles to tie the game. After a sacrifice bunt, a sacrifice fly by Billy Myers brought in the go-ahead run. Derringer closed things out, giving up only an eighth inning single to Gehringer the rest of the way. (Despite the late-inning lead change, I only have this Game 7 as the 16th best of all time. That's a lot of good Game 7s in history).
No official MVP yet in 1940, but Walters would have been the best bet. He won both his starts, including the must-win Game 6, and even hit the game-clinching home run in that game. Derringer won Game 7, but Walters was better throughout the series.
(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)
I'm ranking all the World Series, from worst to best. Here are the ones I've done so far:
77. 1940 - Cincinnati (N) def. Detroit (A) 4-3
78. 2009 - New York (A) def. Philadelphia (N) 4-2
79. 1984 - Detroit (A) def. San Diego (N) 4-1
Simultaneously, I'll rank all the Game 7s. The ones that have appeared in my countdown so far:
16. 1940: Cincinnati 2, Detroit 1
29. 1965: Los Angeles 2, Minnesota 0