This is our first baseball article looking at a brief history of every major league franchise, concluding with our selection of the franchises’ all time All Star Team. We’re starting with the first Professional Team; The Cincinnati Reds.
Cincinnati Reds 1869-present
Also known as the Red Stockings and Red Legs.
In 1869 Harry Wright (the most important person in the history of professional sports) fielded a team comprised of all professional players. This was the first professional team ever. Because Wright had the best baseball player in the world at shortstop, his brother George, he was able to attract the other top players in the country. The Cincinnati Club was a juggernaut, posting a 67-0 record in 1869. The winning streak would grow to 81 before they lost in 11 innings to the Brooklyn Atlantics on June 14th, 1870. Baseball has been alive in Cincinnati every since.
The club was disbanded in 1871 due to dwindling attendance, but re-formed as a charter member of the American Association in 1882, winning the Association’s pennant in that league’s inaugural season. With the coming collapse of the American Association in the early 1890s the Cincinnati Reds bolted to the more stable National League in 1890 and have competed there every since. Besides Cincinnati’s American Association Title in 1882, they have also captured the National League Pennant nine times (1919, 1939, 1940, 1961, 1970, 1972, 1975, 1976, 1990).They would go on to win the World Series in five of those seasons (1919, 1940, 1975, 1976, 1990). The 1919 Championship was more famous for the team that lost than the team that won, owing to the fact that was the year of the infamous Black Sox scandal, when the Chicago White Sox were bribed by gamblers to throw the World Series. The Reds’ 1975-1976 World Champions are consistently rated among the greatest teams ever. We’ll now get to their all time All Star Team. The years listed following each player’s name are the years the player competed for the Reds.
The discussion as to who is the greatest catcher of all time comes down to Yogi Berra, Mickey Cochrane, and Johnny Bench (1967-1983). It’s very close, but A Sip of Sports would choose Bench. If Johnny Bench is the greatest catcher of all time then he is obviously the greatest catcher in the history of the Cincinnati Reds. An easy choice.
This choice comes down to the first baseman of the 1970s “BIG RED MACHINE” and the current occupant. Tony Perez (1964-1976, 1984-1986) is in the Hall of Fame while Joey Votto (2007-present) still occupies the position for the Reds. Perez was a marginal Hall of Fame selection, but he is in. He was the fourth best player on the 1970s Reds’ team (behind Bench, Joe Morgan and Pete Rose). Votto was National League MVP in 2009 and finished 2nd in 2017, 3rd in 2015. Votto has been the best player on the Reds for ten years and is probably the best 1st baseman in baseball during the 2010s. It’s our opinion that Votto has surpassed Perez and will continue to expand his advantage.
Bill James maintains that Joe Morgan (1972-1979) is the greatest second baseman of all time. We disagree, but would list him 3rd, behind Eddie Collins and Rogers Hornsby. Since neither Collins nor Hornsby played for Cincinnati, Morgan is clearly the best choice for the Reds. If we considered Pete Rose a second baseman then we might reconsider, but since Rose played more games at 3rd base for Cincinnati than second base (622-600) we’ll consider Rose a third baseman. Our only regret is we had to leave out Bid McPhee who occupied second base in Cincinnati for 18 years, from 1882-1899. McPhee is largely forgotten today, but he was the face of the Cincinnati franchise for almost 20 years.
As we mentioned in the second base comment, where to play Pete Rose (1963-1978, 1984-1986) is a tough call. He actually played more games in the outfield than either second or third, but in the Reds’ best years (1975-1976) he was their third baseman, so he could obviously handle the position. Besides Rose, Heinie Groh (1914-1921) would be the choice, but Groh was not better than Joe Morgan or any of the three choices in the outfield, so making Rose the third basemen seems to make the most sense.
Barry Larkin (1986-2004) was National League MVP (1995), and also the best player on Cincinnati’s last World Series Champion Team (1990). He played his entire career with the Reds and was inducted into the Hall of Fame on his third ballot. Another easy choice.
The best player on Cincinnati’s much maligned 1919 World Champion team was Edd Roush (1916-1926). A two time batting champion with a .323 career average he was primarily a center fielder, but could easily handle Left Field and was significantly better than the next best Reds’ left fielder (George Foster).
Since Edd Roush could play either left or center the third outfield position is between a left fielder and a center fielder. George Foster (1971-1981) was the NL MVP in 1977 while Vada Pinson (1958-1968) never earned that honor, but Foster only had two really good years while Pinson had six. It’s not a mismatch, but Pinson was better.
The third outfielder is a no brainer. Frank Robinson (1956-1965) was the NL MVP in 1961, when Cincinnati shocked the baseball world by winning the NL Pennant. He was even better in 1962. After Henry Aaron and Willie Mays he was the third best outfielder of the 1960s. Robinson passed away earlier this year, with most young fans not aware of his immense impact on the game. A true superstar.
Cincinnati’s top three pitchers are easy selections. Even the order we rate them is pretty simple. Bucky Walters (1938-1948) was the best player on the Red’s Championship teams in 1939 and 1940. His record those two years was 27-11 and 22-10. He was the National League MVP in 1939, then finished 3rd in the voting in 1940.
Walters is the #1 pitcher, # 2 Dolf Luque (1918-1929) was on the staff of the 1919 World Series Champions, but he did not come into his own until the early 1920s. In 1923 he was the best pitcher in baseball and went on to win 154 games for the Reds.
The 3rd pitcher is Eppa Rixey (1921-1933), who spent his final 13 years of his Hall of Fame career in Cincinnati, winning 20 games three time, with a peak of 25 in 1922. Our opinion is that Rixey was a poor Hall of Fame selection, but he was a quality performer in a long career.
The #4 pitcher comes down to three pitchers who combined won more than 450 games in Cincinnati. Frank “Noodles” Hahn (1899-1906) was the ace of the Red’s staff at the beginning of the 20th century. He won 20 games four times, and three times led the league in strikeouts. Paul Derringer (1933-1942) also won 20 games four times for the Reds, including the 1939 and 1940 seasons when the Reds were the best team in the National League. They are both reasonable choices for the #4 pitcher, but we’ll go with “The Apollo of the Box”, the exceedingly handsome Tony Mullane (1886-1893). Mullane was the reason Cincinnati started “Ladies Day” at the ballpark. Every time he pitched they would sell discount tickets to the women, so they could gawk at his handsome face. He was a very effective pitcher, winning 157 games for the Reds. He was also famous for pitching both right handed and left handed. One of the true celebrities of 19th century baseball.
This is the toughest choice of all. George “Sparky” Anderson (1970-1978) is the most successful manager, winning two World Series (1975,1976) and two additional pennants (1970, 1972). But this was “The Big Red Machine”, he had Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, all in their prime. To some it seemed that he should have won more. This is not a knock on Sparky, for he was instrumental in putting this team together, but we think that Bill McKechnie (1938-1946) was actually the better manager. McKechnie took over a team that hadn’t had a winning season since 1928, had gone 67-87 in 1937 and in 1938 quickly turned them into a National League powerhouse. The Reds improved to 82-68 in 1938, then exploded to 97 and 100 wins in 1939 and 1940, earning two NL Pennants and the World Series title in 1940. Only one member of that Reds’ team is in the Hall of Fame, catcher Ernie Lombardi, and he was definitely no Johnny Bench! McKechnie did more with less, so he’s our choice.
The choice of the Greatest Red is not an easy one. Nobody who has played for the Reds is ever listed as one of the ten best players in baseball history, but there are four of them who are in everybody’s top 50. Frank Robinson is probably the 3rd greatest right fielder in history (behind Babe Ruth and Henry Aaron), but his best years are split up between the Reds and the Baltimore Orioles. Joe Morgan, like Robinson, reached peak seasons higher than any other Red. Robinson in the early 1960s and Morgan in the mid 1970s. They won three MVP Awards between them, but the fact that both players spent less than half their careers in Cincinnati puts them below the other two candidates. Pete Rose had some quality years with both the Montreal Expos and the Philadelphia Phillies, but he still spent 19 years in Cincinnati, including all his best seasons. Rose would be a reasonable choice as the greatest Red, but we think he doesn’t quite match Johnny Bench. Johnny Bench’s peak value in the early 1970s was higher than Rose’s peak. Bench was a two time MVP while Rose only won one. Bench is the only Red that we would rate as the greatest of all time at his position. Add to that that he spent his entire 16 year career in a Reds’ uniform and that tilts the edge to the All Star Catcher.