Among men who know shortstops best, it may not be Billy Myers two to one, but he was blessed with superlative natural ability.
- Historian Lee Allen
Only once in team history has a Reds team clinched a World Series in seven games. That Game 7 victory occurred in 1940 in Cincinnati at Crosley Field against the Detroit Tigers as the Reds overcame a 1-0 Tiger lead in the bottom of the eighth inning with two runs. The go-ahead run was driven in by shortstop Billy Myers, who had struggled at the plate throughout the Series but who, with the game on the line, lofted a deep fly ball to centerfield that allowed Jimmy Ripple to tag up and score from third base for the vital run. Reds pitcher Paul Derringer set the Tigers down in order in the ninth for the complete game victory and the Reds were World Champions for the first time since 1919.
It is appropriate that Myers helped to win the game with a sacrifice fly. For much of his career, merely playing the game was something of a personal sacrifice for Myers who struggled mightily with his nerves, a debilitating malady that resulted in him abruptly walking away from baseball on more than one occasion.
Myers' nervous condition plagued him from the start of his career as he first refused to accept an invitation to play semi-pro baseball shortly after graduating from high school. He eventually agreed to go and was soon after signed by the St. Louis Cardinals. During his first spring training camp with St. Louis, he decided to return home after a brief stay, offering little explanation as to why he was apparently quitting the team. Cardinals officials were able to coax him back and he worked his way steadily through the labyrinthine Cardinals farm system before being picked up by the New York Giants in 1934. In December of that year, he was acquired by the Reds and by the end of the 1935 season was both Cincinnati's starting shortstop and team captain.
It had been a rapid rise for Myers that did not come without a cost. Already prone to excessive nervousness, Myers did not react well to negative fan reaction to his play which, in the early years of his Major League career, was characterized by erratic defensive play at shortstop. Never a strong hitter, it was not until Bill McKechine arrived to manage the Reds in 1938 that Myers began to blossom as a defensive player. In a short period of time, Myers teamed with second baseman Lonny Frey to form one of the best double play combinations in baseball.
McKechine not only elevated the play of Myers and Frey but the entire club improved dramatically under his leadership, posting its first winning season in a decade in 1938 and winning the club's first pennant since 1919 the nest season. The Reds and Cardinals engaged in a spirited race for the flag throughout the 1939 season with the Reds finally clinching the title on September 28. For Myers, the race had an added element of drama as his brother Lynn was a backup infielder for St. Louis.
The euphoria of winning the pennant evaporated quickly in the World Series as the Reds were swept in four games including an embarrassing 7-4 loss in Game 4 that was decided when the Yankees scored three times in the tenth inning, aided in large part by a key Myers error and the infamous "snooze" of catcher Ernie Lombardi at home plate.
Despite enjoying the best offensive season of his career in 1939 and playing stout defense at the infield's most challenging position, Reds fans could not seem to forget Myers' subpar performance in the field in the '39 Series. Even with the impressively defending the pennant throughout he 1940 campaign, Myers was regularly the target of abuse by the fans. Even the joy of clinching a second consecutive pennant was not enough to keep fans from riding Myers at every opportunity resulting finally in Myers walking away from the club on the eve of the World Series. As Cardinals officials had been forced to do years before, Reds officials were now compelled to try to coax Myers to come back to the club. Fortunately, their entreaties were successful as Myers did come back and atoned for the shortcomings of 1939 by driving in the run that gave the Reds the title. Redemption and a World Championship with one swing of the bat.
Myers's triumph in the eighth inning of Game 7 proved tobe his final at-bat in a Reds uniform as the club traded him to the Cubs that December. His stay in Chicago was brief and after playing for Chicago's Minor League club in Milwaukee in 1941, Myers walked away from the game for the final time.
Inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame in 1966, Billy Myers died in his native Pennsylvania in 1995.