Have the Reds ever had pitching? 1950-1959

“Warren Giles was the type of general manager who would say, “Sign this contract or stay home.”

Hank Sauer

“There was no money in those days, even after my great season in 1947, I got only a small raise, up to $13,000.

I asked for more but that didn’t do any good.”

Ewell Blackwell

YEAR      W        L       PCT      ERA
1956       91       63     .591     -.07
1957       80       74     .519     -.75
1958       76       78     .494     0.23
1955       75       79     .487     0.09
1959       74       80     .481     -.36
1954       74       80     .481     -.43
1952       69       85     .448     -.29
1953       68       86     .442     -.35
1951       68       86     .442     0.26
1950       66       87     .431     -.17

By the end of the 40’s and into the postwar grey flannel age of the 50’s the Reds were a team in constant tradition. Last in the league in attendance and only out done in mediocrity by the Pirates and Cubs. Lacking the pop the other teams had the Reds removed Goat Run in 1950, this extended the right field line to 366 feet, 3 seasons later they reinstalled it for the seating.

The 1951 Reds were perhaps the best pitching team in the decade. With Blackwell and Ken Raffensberger. In fact the staff had only one pitcher with a below average ERA, the Achilles heel was the hitting that year.

But that wouldn’t be the case for the rest of the decade.

ERA                        DIFF   PLAYER   LEAGUE
Harry Perkowski            1.13     2.82     3.96
Frank Smith                0.76     3.20     3.96
Bud Byerly                 0.68     3.27     3.96
Ken Raffensberger          0.52     3.43     3.96
Ewell Blackwell            0.52     3.44     3.96
Herm Wehmeier              0.26     3.70     3.96
Howie Fox                  0.13     3.83     3.96
Willie Ramsdell            -.08     4.04     3.96

Following the season general manager Warren Giles left the team to become the National League President (Housing the office in the Carew Tower)

With Gabe Paul at the helm the Reds continued on the same basic path that Giles had laid out, with one change, the trade market became more active in the Cincinnati arena, otherwise with low revenue and a limited scouting staff it was business as usual in Cincinnati.

Despite the effort the decade really belonged to three teams, the Dodgers, Giants and the Braves, after they moved to Milwaukee.

WINS                             W        L       PCT
1    Dodgers                     913      630     .592
2    Braves                      854      687     .554
3    Giants                      822      721     .533
4    Cardinals                   776      762     .505
5    Phillies                    766      773     .498
6    Reds                        741      798     .481
7    Cubs                        672      866     .437
8    Pirates                     616      923     .400

Oddly enough the top three teams are also only three to move west in the National League.

Despite the sub .500 record for the decade the Reds laid a pathway to the franchise they are now. The fifties have long been recognized as the decade that blurred the national culture from tiny sub-cultures to one mono-culture the 50’s were a time when players were still your neighbors, the play by play announcer a friend and the team a source of deep civic pride… especially when doing battle with the constant bombardment of “look at me,” “look at me” coming from the eastern seaboard. In short the brand was established in the fifties and part of the brand is hitting the ball hard and hitting it long.

During the fifties the Reds pitching and team makeup was quite similar to now, pitching was fraught with guys who didn’t rank with the best in the league and guys that would never get you to the top. For the length of the decade the Reds could only boast 2 pitchers with over 100 games started and an ERA above league average.

INNINGS PITCHED          IP       GS       ERA
Robin Roberts            3012        370     0.67
Warren Spahn             2823        350     1.06
Bob Rush                 2046        278     0.40
Bob Friend               1976        262     0.06
Lew Burdette             1862        230     0.57
Don Newcombe             1773.2      246     0.42
Murry Dickson            1728.1      219     0.19
Johnny Antonelli         1722        241     0.80
Curt Simmons             1625        223     0.55
Harvey Haddix            1572.1      214     0.41
Sal Maglie               1558        214     0.79
Jim Hearn                1410        191     0.18
Joe Nuxhall              1341        176     0.05
Paul Minner              1197        166     0.02
Bob Buhl                 1171        158     0.83
Vinegar Bend Mizell      1163        176     0.25
Sam Jones                1135        159     0.52
Johnny Podres            1027        150     0.24
Larry Jansen              982        136     0.42
Larry Jackson             926        108     0.24
Gene Conley               923        117     0.49
Ken Raffensberger         919        128     0.38
Preacher Roe              888        124     0.54
Don Drysdale              803        106     0.58
Tom Poholsky              754        104     0.01

Even more telling is the fact that the Reds had only 5 starters with 75 starts in the decade.


INNINGS PITCHED            IP       GS       ERA
Joe Nuxhall              1341        176     0.05
Ken Raffensberger         919        128     0.38
Brooks Lawrence           778         99     -.13
Herm Wehmeier             721         93    -1.24
Art Fowler                702         87     -.27
Ewell Blackwell           596         81     0.44

The decades lack of true pitchers was highlighted by the Reds emergence as a slugging team, the team celebrated the 1956 teams home run accomplishment by giving each player a ring with the number 221 engraved on it. No rings for team ERA were issues in the fifties, despite being managed by 2 ex-catchers (Tebbets and Sewell) for most of the decade.

After decades of playing as a pitchers park the change in the game was felt at Crosley Field when the park effects skyrocketed in the decade of the fifties.

1950  4.32    112
1951  3.70     99
1952  4.02    100
1953  4.63    102
1954  4.50    112
1955  3.94    113
1956  3.84    117
1957  4.62    118
1958  3.73    114
1959  4.31    111

Slugging teams and poor pitching can do that to a park, currently the Reds are going through that at the GAB, it will be interesting to see if the Reds can correct that with better pitching on their end of the equation. However back then the increased slugging plus the Reds past lackadaisical scouting in the war years left a talent void to wide to breach year in and year out, instead the team created the model that has been the Reds model for 50 years now.

As the 1956 season started the Reds were flush with power and a revamped staff that included Brooks Lawrence and Hal Jeffcoat, despite only scoring 14 more runs than they did in 1955 the Reds won 16 more games due to an improved pitching staff. Much like 1999the Reds caught lightning in a bottle and the teams slugging and run for first brought in more than a million fans for the Reds, making them the last of the original 16 to draw a million fans to the park.

That 1956 season is a milestone season in the Reds history, the revenue generated enabled the team to install an impressive new scoreboard, finagle more parking from the city as well as dangle thoughts for a new stadium. For the organization it established an approach that is a large part of the team makeup even today.

That would be get your hitters first and let pitching take care of itself approach.

Which two teams have winning records since 1946 and a below league average team ERA?

Answer: Reds and the Red Sox.

Part of this approach can be seen in patterns that the Reds began to traverse in 1956 and the mid 1950’s. The Reds established

something I see year after year during that decade and they are as followed.

1. Get a LH from another team
2. Find a surprise RH
3. Bullpen Strength
4. Local Hero
5. Gamble on Talent

As a longtime Reds fan I’d be remiss in not mentioning the left handed pitchers that came from elsewhere and anchored the

staff, or filled up innings.

This path was blazed by Ken Raffensberger, a junkballer with a forkball and a head for pitching, Ken is followed by hurlers like Jim Merritt, Fred Norman, Danny Jackson, Pete Schourek, John Smiley, Denny Neagle and even Eric Milton (in theory)

INNINGS PITCHED            IP       GS       ERA
Fred Norman              1315        196     0.25
Ken Raffensberger         919        128     0.38
John Smiley               775.1      123     0.03
Jim Merritt               600         83     -.51
Danny Jackson             493.2       76     -.06
Gerry Arrigo              431.1       57     -.60
Pete Schourek             423.2       68     -.07

Surprise pitchers, when Art Fowler finally got into the Reds sights he was 31 years old and had been toiling in their system for a few years. Art was a WW2 vet, so the minors to him were nothing more than a walk in the park. The youngest of ten, his older brother pitched a year for the Cardinals in 1924. Thirty years late Art made his debut for the Reds and his presence on the staff is a constant to this day, the league average right-hander with more grit than stuff (big shout out to Paul Wilson). Art started 87 games for the Reds and vanished to the west coast and later gained notoriety as Billy Martins drinking buddy and pitching coach.

BORN: 10/30/1898
MLB DEBUT: 7/29/1924

BORN: 7/3/1922
MLB DEBUT: 4/17/1954

Bullpen Strength. Prior to the fifties a deadball player and a disciple of his managed the Reds, this combination led to a slow transfer to the offense of the post war age as well as the use of the bullpen. The Reds have been using the bullpen for year as the buoy to the staff’s weakness, inconsistent starters. This strength was first established in the fifties with the deployment of Frank Smith as the closer, Hersh Freeman, who was the Reds first bonafide closer, later eclipsed him, only to give way himself to Jim Bronson later on in the decade and on and on and on.

To illustrate the point is the list of pitchers who started less than 20 games yet finished more than 50 games.

If we divide the search into two sections 1900-1949 and 1950-2005 the difference is drastic, with only one entry for the first era and chances are that one is peppered with more opportunities that were more mop up for a bad team than locking down the win for the local nine.

INNINGS PITCHED             IP       GS       GF
Don Brennan               302         16       57


INNINGS PITCHED             IP       GS       GF
Pedro Borbon              920.2        4      255
Clay Carroll              856.2       15      282
Scott Sullivan            662.2        0      109
John Franco               528          0      286
Frank Smith               457          7      161
Rob Dibble                450.2        0      196
Jim Brosnan               332         11      109
Wayne Granger             330          0      155
Gabe White                329.1        9       69
Scott Williamson          322.1       10      110
Doug Bair                 318.2        0      148
Tom Hall                  294         15       59
Hersh Freeman             292.2        0      100
John Riedling             274.1        8       52
Hector Carrasco           269.1        0       78
Bill Henry                267          0      146
Rawly Eastwick            258.2        0      122
Jeff Shaw                 249          0      121
Ted Abernathy             241          0      114
Rob Murphy                238.2        0       63
Randy Myers               218.2       12       77
Jeff Brantley             218.1        0      154
Stan Belinda              203.1        0       54
Bill Scherrer             194.2        2       56
Will McEnaney             190          0       68

Local Talent. During the fifties no Red was more popular than Joe Nuxhall, Joe not only was the Reds top left handed starter, but Joe was a local legend and the youngest player ever in major league ball. Many a promotion was concocted around the close knitReds and many of them involved Hamilton Joe and the Reds marketing department paid attention to the crowds reaction as well. Since that time the team makes an effort to promote local players as well as their roots to the community. The team can boast a long list of luminaries who played in the tri-state area and it has never hurt the Reds to hitch their wagon to them from time to time.

STARTED                     GS       ERA      IP
Joe Nuxhall                 176     0.05   1341

Gamble on Talent. What Reds team hasn’t had a pitcher that the team was hoping would give them more then they gave someone prior? Not many that’s for sure. The 1956 Reds bought Brooks Lawrence from the Pacific Coast League Oakland Oaks (Think Bobby Mattick had a say in this?)Brooks was a 31 year old with experience in the Negro Leagues and St. Louis. His 1956 season of 19-10 and a 3.99 ERA was a major reason the team was able to outperform the preseason expectations and yet his quick descent to mediocrity later on should have been expected. Brooks emergence from nowhere can be seen in the resurrection of Bob Purkey, Fred Norman, Pete Schorek, Pete Harnisch, Elmer Dessens and Steve Parris.

By the end of the decade the Reds were finally producing quality young arms through their scouting system, players like Jim O’Toole, Ken Hunt and Jim Maloney were in the wings with the promise of matching some of the arms being developed in Los Angeles and San Francisco. With the emergence of former pitcher Fred Hutchinson as the manager of the team in the waning days of the 1959 season the future for the Reds pitching looked brighter than it had since the early 1940’s.

Next: The End of the Crosley Era and the 60’s

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