Why there is nothing mysterious about it. Just a matter of putting a first class man at the helm; keeping players who looked as if they belonged; getting rid of players who looked as if they did not belong; and getting the respect of the opposition.
- Giles on the Reds' transformation from also-ran to contender beginning in 1938.
Born in Illinois in 1896, Warren Giles began his professional baseball career shortly after his return from military service in World War I. The Minor League club in Moline, IL had struggled for some time and was open to change. Giles, who possessed no previous experience in baseball but was willing to offer many suggestions for improvement, was selected to run the club on a one-year trial basis. Moline's fortunes improved immediately and in his second year running the operation, Moline captured a Three-I league pennant.
Giles moved rather quickly up the Minor League chain, his success and work ethic catching the eye of Cardinals General Manager Branch Rickey, who hired him to run St. Louis's top farm club in Rochester where Giles's clubs reeled off four consecutive pennants.
When Reds general manager Larry MacPhail unexpectedly announced his resignation in September of 1936, Giles immediately came to Reds owner Powel Crosley's mind as an ideal replacement. Crosley had been impressed by Giles when the two had met the previous year, and his Minor League track record was beyond reproach. And so it was that the 40-year-old Giles was named vice president and general manager of the Reds on September 19, 1936.
The club that Giles inherited had its bright spots but was still struggling to free itself from a string of losing seasons that dated back to 1929. The 1937 edition of the club under incumbent manager Charlie Dressen all but eliminated any hope engendered by the fifth place finish of 1936 when it stumbled to last place with 98 losses. Despite its struggles, Giles knew that the club had talent with players like catcher Ernie Lombardi, outfielder Ival Goodman and pitchers Lee Grissom, Paul Derringer and rookie Johnny Vander Meer in the fold. He concluded that it needed a different leader and, as Crosley had known about him a year earlier, Giles was confident that he knew precisely who that leader should be.
Giles choice as the Reds' new manager was Bill McKechnie, a studious, gentlemanly man whose approach to managing stood in stark contrast to that of the impulsive, aggressive Dressen. McKechnie had forged an impressive managerial resume having previously won pennants and a World Series as manager of the Pirates and a second pennant as Cardinals manager. After trying in vain to resuscitate the moribund Boston franchise for the previous eight seasons, McKechnie was pursued by the Reds and four other clubs when his contract expired. McKechnie had managed under Giles briefly when both were in Rochester and this relationship, coupled with the Reds' willingness to outbid his other suitors, resulted in McKechnie signing with the club on October 13, 1937.
With McKechnie on board, Giles set about reworking his player roster. In December, he traded young infielder Eddie Miller to the Yankees for catcher Willard Hershberger, who would become an invaluable backup to Lombardi. Two months later, Giles purchased an underachieving infielder named Lonnie Frey from the Cubs. Under the patient guidance of McKechnie, Frey would blossom into an All-Star. Slowly, the pieces of what became the championship clubs of 1939 and 1940 were being put into place.
The Reds of 1938 bore little resemblance to the lackluster outfits of the previous decade, winning 82 games and finishing in fourth place. Perhaps the most significant event of that 1938 season was a trade the Reds consummated with the Phillies on June 13 when the Reds dealt pitchers Spud Davis and Al Hollingsworth along with $50,000 to the Phillies in exchange for shortstop-turned-pitcher Bucky Walters. Walters would team with Paul Derringer to form the best starting pitching duo in the National League and the finest such tandem in Reds history.
In his lone season as a Reds coach, McKechnie's good friend and all-time Reds great Edd Roush in assessing the 1938 Reds came to the conclusion that the key ingredient the club was missing was a good third baseman to solidify an infield that featured budding star Frank McCormick at first base, the rejuvenated Lonny Frey at second and team captain Billy Myers at shortstop. Giles found such a player when he purchased the contract of Billy Werber from the Philadelphia Athletics in March of 1939.
The competitive spirit of Werber, the continued development of the Reds' young talent and the indomitable pitching of Walters (who captured the pitching Triple Crown) and Derringer propelled the Reds to their first pennant since 1939. A sweep at the hands of the Yankees in the 1939 World Series already only served to intensify the Reds' desire to return to the Series in 1940.
In January of 1940, Giles immeasurably bolstered the Reds' already formidable roster with the acquisition of relief pitcher Joe Beggs from the Yankees. Under the deft handling of McKechnie, Beggs emerged as the Reds' relief ace, earning the nickname "Fireman" for his ability to squelch opponents' rallies.
The Reds were rolling to their second straight pennant when tragedy threatened to derail their season. Gifted back-up catcher Hershberger, struggling with the strain of handling full-time catching duties due to an injury to Lombardi, committed suicide on August 3 in his hotel room during a Reds road trip to Boston. His death shocked the Reds and remains the only in-season suicide by a player in Major League history. McKechnie and Giles acted quickly to hold the team together, helping the team through the grieving process and turning the pennant chase into a tribute to Hershberger.
The club's play remained strong and the club clinched the pennant on September 18. Giles added two more players in the season's final two months when he activated coach and former catcher Jimmie Wilson and acquired outfielder Jimmy Ripple on waivers from the Dodgers. Both Wilson and Ripple emerged as postseason heroes in the Reds' World Series victory over the Detroit Tigers. The hard-fought seven-game triumph marks the only time in franchise history that the Reds have clinched a World Championship at home.
The 1940 World Championship was the high watermark of Giles' tenure as Reds general manager. The Reds remained competitive through the middle of the 1940s, but by the end of the decade had begun a steep decline from which it would not emerge until the powerful Reds team of 1956 blasted its way to 91 victories.
Giles had departed by the time the Reds returned to the upper ranks of the National League having ascended to the presidency of the National League in September of 1951. As was the custom of the time, league presidents had the discretion to move league offices to the city of their choice and Giles decided to bring the National League office to Cincinnati.
Giles was an effective and distinguished league president who presided over a period of great change during his 18-year tenure. Under Giles's watch, the Braves moved not once but twice, baseball landed on the west coast as the Dodgers and Giants abandoned New York for more profitable locales in California, the league expanded twice and divisional play was introduced.
Giles was inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame in 1969 and was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Famer in 1979. He died on February 7 of that year. The National League Championship trophy is named in his honor.