Reds 150 – Throwback Uniforms – 1990

October 27th, 2019

Whether you celebrate the Reds from a starting date of 1869 (first full professional team), 1882 (first year in the American Association), or 1890 (first year in the National League), you have to be somewhat amazed by the longevity of the Cincinnati team. A 2019 version of a uniform from the past is great, but knowing what was happening when those uniforms debuted is history, and knowing your history is a big part of being a baseball fan, so we’ll try to cover the key events of the year.

Uniform

1990 – Home

Date Debuted 

4/17/1990

Due to a labor dispute, Spring Training was delayed as the Owners and Players’ Union tried to pound out an agreement. Because of this, Spring Training didn’t start until mid-March, delaying Opening Day and putting the Reds in an opponent’s stadium for Opening Day for the first time since 1966. The Reds met the Padres eight days later for their home opener.

Team’s Record that Season 

91-71, 1st place, NL West  

The first National League team to hold first place from the first game of the season to the last. The team will forever be known to Reds fans as “The Wire to Wire” Reds. Despite starting the season off 30-12, the season wasn’t without its drama. During a stretch from July 24th to August 24th, the fans saw the team go 12-20 and lose 5.5 games in their lead, only to right themselves and continue on with their quest to win the pennant.

Team’s Attendance 

2,400,892 (4th of 12)

This was the ninth best attendance total in team history, the sixth best at Riverfront. Remaining in first place all season helped keep the numbers consistent. 

  • 10 games 40,000+
  • 33 games 30,000+ 
  • 21 games 20,000+

Top Ten Years for Reds Attendance:

Year Attendance Park

  • 1976 2,629,708 Riverfront
  • 2000 2,577,371 Riverfront
  • 1978 2,532,497 Riverfront
  • 1977 2,519,670 Riverfront
  • 2013 2,492,101 GAB
  • 2014 2,476,664 GAB
  • 1993 2,453,232 Riverfront
  • 2015 2,419,506 GAB
  • 1990 2,400,892 Riverfront
  • 1991 2,372,377 Riverfront

Reds Manager

Lou Piniella

Lou Piniella managed for the Reds for three seasons. Jack McKeon managed the Reds for 3.3 seasons, and both left the team after not receiving a promise from the front office that they would be returning the next season. Both also went on to other jobs where they would achieve great success. This success would cause many in the game to cast disparaging looks at the dysfunctional operations of a Marge Schott-owned team. Lou, however, was able to win his championship with the Reds, which makes him much-loved by the fanbase. That, and his fiery personality and tendency to go crazy on umpires (he threw a base in frustration) and players (he fought Rob Dibble in front of the press) makes him beloved for many of the same reasons Fred Hutchinson was loved by Reds fans. He’s the guy you want on your side; he’s what you want in a foxhole buddy. More of a motivator than a strategist, Piniella (who was a platoon player) did not like to gain the platoon advantage as a manager, eschewing it both on offense and defense, especially when compared to his peers. Not a button pusher by any stretch of the imagination he would manage 17 more seasons in MLB after leaving the Reds.

As Reds Manager: 

  • Lou Piniella: 256-231 +25
  • Jack McKeon: 291-259 +31

In 1972, Lou Piniella played for the Royals, who were managed by Bob Lemon. Their AAA team was located in Omaha and managed by McKeon, who spent a good part of that season whispering in the ear of the Royals executives about what he’d do if he was running the team. In his 1986 book, Sweet Lou, Piniella wrote, “He was a champion second-guesser. Second-guessing is a baseball disease. It destroys more clubs than sore arms. McKeon helped sour the front office on Lemon and greased the skids…I didn’t like his manner, his tone of voice, his sarcasm-and the feeling was mutual. He didn’t like me very much . I just couldn’t play for the man.” 

Lou was traded to New York after the 1973 season.

The Roster

The team’s strong suit was pitching and defense. Browning topped 220 IP, Rijo had 197, and Jack Armstrong had a Derek Dietrich-like first half of the season. The bullpen would prove to be the team’s real strength. This, of course, would be the “Nasty Boys” bullpen. 

Rob Dibble, a forebearer of today’s strikeout-infused game, logged 98 innings with a 12.49 K rate. He spent a good portion of the year setting up Randy Meyers, who logged 31 Saves in 66 games.

Norm Charlton split his role between starter and reliever, a strategy Sparky Anderson favored when he didn’t have a strong starting five. 

  • Rob Dibble 229 ERA+ / 22 times pitched two innings or more in relief.
  • Randy Meyers 193 ERA+ / 16 times pitched two innings or more in relief.
  • Norm Charlton 146 ERA+ / 12 times pitched two innings or more in relief.

The trio of Paul O’Neil, Eric Davis and Billy Hatcher would be the top three outfielders in Fielding % in the league. 

The rest of the roster was a mishmash of young and old. The trio of Morris, Larkin and Sabo had all played together at Michigan. Forty-year-old Ken Griffey Sr. was cut in late August and would later play with his son in Seattle in September. Todd Benzinger, Joe Oliver and Billy Hatcher combined for 1,362 plate appearances of sub-average output, yet all three would factor into the Reds’ sweep of the A’s in the World Series. Hatcher carryied the Reds on his back with a .750/.800/1.250/2.050 line and Oliver delivered a .333/.333/.500/.833 line. Benzinger’s contribution was less impactful at the dish, though he is forever etched in the minds of Reds fans as the man who squeezed the final out of Game Four.

Best Red Batter 

This Reds team had no player that carried the team for the whole year. What they did have was a set of quality performances throughout the year that provided the team with enough offense to complement their strong pitching and defense. Hal Morris had the highest OPS+ with a 136, but he also had only 336 PA’s and grounded into 12 DP’s and hit only 7 HR’s. Sabo hit .270/.343/.476/.819 for the season, a line built mostly before the All-Star Game when he hit a torrid .299/.372/.534/.906, with a second half that was more pedestrian.238/.311/.413/.724. Mariano Duncan contributed with an .821 OPS and a team high 11 triples. Barry Larkin led the NL in hits with 185, though slotted in one of the top three spots in the order he often saved his best performances for the number three slot where he hit.333/.399/.407/.806 in 309 plate appearances. Eric Davis was supposed to lead the team in most hitting categories, and he did hit .260/.347/.486/.833 with 24 HR’s over the season but, it was an uneven performance with an OPS under .700 for three months and two months with it over 1.000. 

Sometimes it really is a team game.

Best NL Hitter

Barry Bonds, .970  OPS

After four seasons in the league, Barry Bonds’ game exploded in 1990. He had 33 HR’s, 32 doubles, stole 52 bases, scored 104 runs and knocked-in 114. His rate stats of .301/.406/.565/.970  produced his first .300 average and OB% over .400. He walked 93 times and struck out only 83 times. If there was something to complain about it would be the 13 times he was caught stealing. For his efforts, he won the Silver Slugger and the MVP Award, something he’d do six more times in his career.

Best Red Pitcher 

Jose Rijo, 24 RSAA                 

Jose Rijo Timeline:

  • 1965 – Born in the Dominican Republic
  • 1980 – 15-year-old Rijo signs with the Yankees for $3,500
  • 1984 – 4/8, Makes Yankees and debuts
  • 1984 – 12/5, Traded to Oakland as part of the Rickey Henderson trade
  • 1986 – Strikes out 16 Mariners in the Kingdome
  • 1987 – Traded to Reds in the Dave Parker deal
  • 1988 – Reds trade Dennis Rasmussen and slide Rijo into his spot in the rotation
  • 1989 – Injures back and misses last part of the season
  • 1990 – Pitches 197 innings and becomes the Reds ace
  • 1990 – October, Leads Reds to sweep over the Oakland A’s and wins the Series MVP
  • 1991 – Goes 15-6, leads the league in WHIP and comes in 4th place in Cy Young voting
  • 1992 – Develops elbow pain and is placed on a 65-70 pitch limit for starts 
  • 1993 – Leads league in strikeouts
  • 1994 – Chosen to be on NL All-Star team, does not play
  • 1995 – Develops bone spurs in his elbow and has Tommy John surgery on 8/22
  • 1996 – Has more surgery in November, does not play
  • 1997 – Rehabs, does not play
  • 1998 – Granted Free Agency
  • 1999 – Opens Baseball Academy, does not play
  • 2000 – Takes the year off from throwing, does not play
  • 2001 – 8/17 Called up to Reds, pitches two innings in relief, will appear in 13 games, pitching 17 innings
  • 2002 – Vacillates between starter and reliever, pitching 77 innings with an ERA over 5.00
  • 2003 – Has elbow pain in spring and undergoes his sixth arm operation, does not play
  • 2003 – Granted Free Agency by Reds
  • 2004 – Begins working with Washington Nationals
  • 2005 – Elected into the Reds HOF

Best NL Pitcher

Ed Whitson, 33 RSAA

Born in Tennessee, he found pitching success on the west coast, pitching exceptionally well for a surprise team and, if he wasn’t the team’s best pitcher, it was pretty darn close. Guys like this have been lapped-up by teams like the Yankees for years and it was no different with this guy. Things changed once he was there. They said the pressure of New York got to him, affected his performance, proved he wasn’t a gamer.

Some people might think I’m writing about Sonny Gray, who just spent a year and a half in New York experiencing just that. But, I’m talking about Ed Whitson.

In 1990, Doug Drabek won the Cy Young, but Ed Whitson had a better ERA+, gave up less HR’s, and pitched as many innings. He just did it for a fifth-place team. Whitson’s greatest claim to fame is the brawl he had with his manager Billy Martin in a hotel bar in a Baltimore suburb late in the 1985 season. Both men were fueled with alcohol by the end of a long day and Martin had already been in an argument with another guest at the bar over rude remarks Martin made toward a man’s wife. The anger Whitson felt over his recent treatment by Martin oozed over and soon the two men were having words. Martin’s usual fighting approach was to get the first swing in; he was famous for cold cocking unsuspecting opponents as he’d done as a Red to Cubs pitcher Jim Brewer. This approach did not work, as Whitson, at 6’3″, was not only strong but trained in martial arts. By the end of the evening, Martin had made a scene in front of the general public, his fellow coaches and his players. He also had a broken arm and several cuts and bruises. This battle would have an effect on the team as Martin was fired and his job given to Lou Piniella, who would hone his management style in New York before bringing it to Cincinnati.

Whitson would ride his career out in San Diego, which evidently fit his style and temperament better than New York. His 1990 season with an ERA of 2.64 and a 3.07 FIP was a sign that he could throw the ball as well as he could kick a man.

My favorite thing about Whitson, (aside from the time he kicked Billy Martin in the groin only to have Martin sneer, ‘Now I am going to have to kill you,”) is that he threw the Palm Ball, which is an odd, off-speed pitch you don’t see much these days. The reason he threw it was because he once cut his finger on a beer can and developed the grip to continue pitching. That’s a thinking man’s pitcher! 

Making their MLB Debut

  • Moises Alou
  • Luis Gonzalez
  • Steve Avery
  • Kevin Brown
  • Frank Thomas

Making their MLB Exit

  • Nick Esasky
  • Chet Lemon
  • Frank White
  • Keith Hernandez
  • Dan Quisenberry

Cincinnati Population 

The estimated population of the world in 1990 is 5,263,593,000. In the United States, the census counts  248,709,873, an increase of 9.8 percent from the 1980 census. Ohio is the seventh most-populated state with 10,797,630 people. Cincinnati ranks as the 45th largest city in the states with 364,040 people, between Honolulu and Miami.

Team Media Sources 

An amazing number of media gems appeared between the 1976 Reds Championship and the 1990 teams. USA Today began publishing in 1982, not known for its approach to hard news, the paper understood sports and excelled at drawing readers to indulge themselves in the sports section. In 1985 they released a 12-page section called “Baseball ’85”, that covered the upcoming season. In January 1990, The National, an all-sports paper, was born to live a short, but fruitful life, providing excellent coverage of the Reds wire to wire season. On the tube, the visiting Reds could be seen on any of the Superstations—WGN (Chicago), WOR (New York) and TBS (Atlanta). The Reds themselves offered the game to locals on SportsChannel Ohio with Steve Lamar and Gordy Coleman describing the action. Also debuting in 1990 were ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball and the nightly recap show Baseball Tonight. Designed to be a longer version of George Michael’s Sports Machine, the show provided full coverage of the game across the nation each day of the season and was a can’t-miss for those with cable TV.

The Baseball Tonight Crew 1990:

  • Announcer:  Gary Miller
  • Announcer:  John Saunders
  • Former Player:  Dave Campbell
  • Journalist:  Peter Gammons
  • Journalist:  Dave Marash

Entertainment

Television in 1990 was bigger and better, by a large margin.

  • Fox TV begins their foray into the large network arena by moving to a third night of broadcasts. They hitch their wagon to The Simpsons and air their first regular episode, “Bart the Genius”, in January.
  • ABC premieres Twin Peaks in April, causing cherry pie sales to spike.
  • On CBS, a quirky show called Northern Exposure debuts in mid-July.

Music:

  • MTV airs their first Unplugged in-studio concert (Squeeze).
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan is killed in a helicopter crash following a concert at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre.
  • Leonard Bernstein announces his retirement from the conducting podium; he dies five days later.
  • Pearl Jam, then named “Mookie Blaylock”, play their first show in Seattle.
  • Tool forms in Los Angeles.

Hot Technology 

1990 marks two of the largest achievements in science and communication when the Hubble Space Telescope is launched, and The World Wide Web software is first tested at CERN. Hard to believe these predate such technological innovations as “The Answering Machine” (1991), The Playstation (1994), and Plasma display screen (1993).

Born 

  • Trevor Bauer, American baseball player
  • Paul George, American basketball player

Died 

  • Alan Hale Jr, American actor (b. 1921)
  • Sarah Vaughan, American jazz vocalist (b. 1924)
  • Brent Mydland, American keyboard player (b. 1952)
  • B. F. Skinner, American psychologist (b. 1904)

Notes 

General Managers:

Once Bob Howsam righted the Reds ship in 1984, he decided to retire again. The Reds’ new principal owner, Marge Schott, would prove to be a difficult owner to work with and the Reds would churn through three GM’s in the next 8 years. All three had worked for the Yankees and each had a hand in the creation of the 1990 team.

Bill Bergesch – Hired October 1984

Former Title – Director of Baseball Operations – New York Yankees

  • First Move – Keefe Cato to San Diego for Darren Burroughs. Bergesch made only 2 trades in his first 8 months on the job.
  • Most Famous Player Traded First – Cesar Cedeno was traded to the Cardinals in August for Mark Jackson. Cesar was out of the game the next year but strung together 76 magical at bats for the NL pennant winners.
  • Most Famous Trade Pickup – Buddy Bell. Ten months into the job, Bergesch made his first significant trade and it was a steal, trading Duane Walker and Jeff Russell in mid-July of 1985.
  • Best Young Player Pickup –It took Bergesch 15 months to pick-up a future impact Red, though again it was steal. The Reds relinquished Wayne Krenchicki and ended up with Norm Charlton.
  • Who’d he cut? – Every GM comes aboard with a plan that often doesn’t include the former regime’s players. The axe often swings freely, and in Bergesch’s tenure the axe took down longtime Red Frank Pastore.
  • Biggest Mistake – Being slow on the trade trigger was Bill’s greatest weakness and it would eventually cost him his job as he held-on to both the Reds shortstop prospects and the quickly multiplying outfield prospects.
  • First Draft – Bergesch endeared himself to Reds fans forever by being the GM who chose Barry Larkin with the 4th pick in the 1985 draft.

Murray Cook – Hired in October 1987

Former Title: Montreal GM and Yankee Employee

  • First Move – Unlike his predecessor, Cook started off with a bang, trading Kurt Stillwell for left hander Danny Jackson, who would be a major player for the Reds for the next few years.
  • Most Famous Player Traded First – Targeting pitching was Cook’s first order of business, so he moved Dave Parker for Jose Rijo and Tim Birtsas.
  • Most Famous Trade Pickup – Danny Jackson was an established starter who immediately strengthened the Reds weak staff.
  • Best Young Player Pickup – Jose Rijo would go on to be one of the best pitchers in team history.
  • Who’d he cut? – Cook was the man who sent Tom Hume into the coaching profession in the Autumn of 1987.
  • Biggest Mistake – Saddled without a first-round choice in the 1988 draft, Cook took Jeff Branson with the number one pick, in a draft that was largely disappointing from top to bottom for the Reds.
  • First Draft – See above.

Bob Quinn – Hired October 1989

Former Title: Yankee Employee

  • First Move – It almost seems common with Reds general managers, the first deal is usually a deal for arms, and in Cook’s case it was no different. In December, he sent John Franco to the Mets for Randy Meyers and Kip Gross.
  • Most Famous Player Traded First – John Franco was the Reds closer and a fan favorite, but evidently he was easy to replace.
  • Most Famous Trade Pickup – Billy Hatcher/Bill Doran. Not looking for big name players, Quinn’s biggest names acquired would play roles in the 1990 team’s run for the title, and neither cost more than a middling prospect.
  • Best Young Player Pickup – Quinn’s 2nd trade was a steal for the Reds as Quinn picked the pocket of his former employers the Yankees and traded Tim Leary and Van Snider for Hal Morris.
  • Who’d he cut? – Quinn was the man responsible for finally getting Dave Collins off the field of play.
  • Biggest Mistake – The man drove the bus to the World Series in his first season. We’ll give this one a pass.
  • First Draft – In Quinn’s first draft he created what some consider a cardinal sin. He drafted a catcher with his first pick. Holy Steve Swisher, it didn’t fail… nor impress many either.

Astroturf:

Many forget that Astroturf was big part of this era of baseball. Quite a few teams played on turf, while today we only have three:  Toronto, Tampa and, joining this year, the Diamondbacks. 

The following teams had turf in the National League in 1990:

  • CIN
  • HOU
  • MON
  • PHI
  • PIT
  • STL

The San Francisco Giants had turf from 1970- 1978, returning to grass in 1979.

These American League teams had turf in 1990:

  • KCR
  • MIN
  • SEA
  • TOR

The Chicago White Sox became the first team to install artificial turf in an outdoor stadium. They used it in the infield and adjacent foul territory at Comiskey Park from 1969 through 1975, returning to grass in 1976.

Reds 150 – Throwback Uniforms – 1976

October 27th, 2019

Whether you celebrate the Reds from a starting date of 1869 (first full professional team), 1882 (first year in the American Association), or 1890 (first year in the National League), you have to be somewhat amazed by the longevity of the Cincinnati team. A 2019 version of a uniform from the past is great, but knowing what was happening when those uniforms debuted is history, and knowing your history is a big part of being a baseball fan, so we’ll try to cover the key events of the year.

Uniform

1976 – Home

Date Debuted 

4/8/1976

Plastic grass, no ads on the walls, black shoes and polyester double knits with elastic stretch pants—a big part of my youth. In the 1970’s, many teams had bright colors with neon jerseys and interchangeable looks, almost all as horrible as a Ralph Furley outfit. The Reds played it simple, clean, classic and conservative, and it worked.

Team’s Record that Season 

102-60 –  1st place, NL West  

On Friday, May 28, 1976, the first place Los Angeles Dodgers came to town two games in front of the Reds. Sunday, they left town after dropping three of the four games the teams played. The Reds would tightly hold first place for the rest of the season, leading the league in Batting Average, On Base Percentage, Slugging, HR’s and Steals, scoring 161 more runs than the league average (857/696).

Team’s Attendance 

2,629,708 (1st of 12) 

Attendance Record

1976 was a year of great growth in attendance around the game. Nowhere was this more evident than in Cincinnati where the Reds led both leagues in home attendance with 2,629,708, over 1.8 million fans went to see them on the road. Prior to the Howsam era the Reds only topped one million four times and the now they were the only team aside from the Dodgers to have back to back seasons with two million plus fans go through the turnstiles. Alas, this season is still the Reds’ highest attendance, the only team in baseball to hit their attendance peak in the 70’s. The nearest team is the 1990 Oakland A’s who haven’t topped their 2.9 million tickets sold since the last time they went to the World Series. The 2,629,708 the Reds drew is the 3rd lowest franchise record in MLB, only Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh have lower totals. Aside from a great roster, the 1970’s Reds had a superb marketing department with an impressive outreach that encompassed large swaths of the surrounding states. This increased presence, plus the success of the team, makes this the golden era of Reds baseball. 

Reds Manager

Sparky Anderson

“Me carrying a briefcase is like a hotdog wearing earrings.” 

~ Sparky Anderson

Sparky Anderson is a HOF manager, a baseball character, and gallons of ink has been spilled to cover the many aspects of his managerial career. Every Red and Tiger fan over a certain age has a favorite Sparky moment. He was without a doubt a baseball treasure—that is, unless you’re talking about his one year in MLB.

In 1958, the Phillies were in a rebuilding phase, as they always seemed to be in those days. They finished an astonishing 64 games behind the Braves that season, and the Cardinals finished 44 games back, firing Fred Hutchinson as manager in September. The Cardinals, in their search for a new skipper, turned to the Phillies to inquire about a former player of theirs who was manning 2nd base, Solly Hemus. The Phillies, having nothing to lose, dealt Hemus to the Cardinals for Gene Freese, who they planned to play at 3rd base. The deal left them with an issue in the middle of the diamond at second. To solve that problem, they turned to the fully stocked Dodger system and asked about a middle infielder they had playing in Montreal, George ‘Sparky” Anderson. The price was 30-year-old Rip Repulski, a solid ballplayer but certainly not a star or impact player. As Spring Training started the local paper wrote, Anderson has been described as an “Eddie Stanky type” player, but the rookie disagrees. “I am,” he says forthrightly, “an Anderson type.”

He was right. He was unique, uniquely bad—horrible is probably a better description.

In-between the Dead Ball era and the 1960’s, baseball didn’t see players last a whole season with an OPS in the low .500’s, but 1959 was one of those seasons. Despite the OPS, Anderson still made The Sporting News “All Rookie Team”. This only seems plausible when you realize that Anderson was the only rookie second baseman to have more than 24 At Bats in the National League. It would be Sparky’s only season in MLB. He would play-out his career in Toronto and get into managing, where he was nothing but a success.

Sparky’s season ranks as the 127th lowest OPS in NL history, right between Kid Gleason (1898) and Billy Sunday (1888). Now that’s ALL of history, if you go to 1900-Now it’s #24, go from 1920-Now and it’s #10.

“Every 24 hours the world turns over on someone who was sitting on top of it.” 

~ Sparky Anderson

The Roster

The Great Eight 

When the 1976 season started, the Reds were the World Champions. Their starting eight was a phenomenal group, a mixture of speed, power vets and youngsters. They didn’t play every game together—only 88 games together during the 1975 and 1976 seasons, compiling a 69-19 record.

Nonetheless, the team had other players, many who contributed from the pitching side. In this day and age, it’s odd to think that a MLB team would only use a total of 13 pitchers in a season, the sum total the 1976 Reds used. The story really was the offense. The top three hitters scored 100+ runs, each of The Great Eight had an OPS+ over 100, four above 140. 

The Great Eight’s lifetime numbers up to the 1976 season:

  • Pete Rose     8221 ab – .310/.379/.432/.810
  • Tony Perez   5799 ab – .285/.348/.484/.831
  • Joe Morgan     5406 ab – .278/.396/.430/.826
  • Johnny Bench  5406 ab – .271/.342/.487/.829
  • Dave Concepcion  2399 ab – .256/.309/.344/.653
  • Cesar Geronimo 1681 ab – .255/.319/.365/.683
  • George Foster 1420 ab – .263/.320/.435/.755
  • Ken Griffey    776  ab – .298/.378/.409/.786

Best Red Batter 

Joe Morgan  1.020 

“Joe, I want you to understand something. For as long as you are on this team, until you prove that you are not up to it, I am never going to give you the signal to steal. In fact, I will never give you a sign of any kind. It will be up to you and you alone to determine when and when not to go, when to bunt or not bunt, when to take a pitch or not, you will be the one to put on a hit and run. I am turning all that over to you. I will expect you to make the right decisions and I will never question your judgement unless you come to me and tell me you can’t handle the pressure.” 

 ~ Sparky Anderson to Joe Morgan, 1972

Joe Morgan hit a respectable .263/.375/.396/.771. for the Astros over a span of 9 seasons. He battled with his manager Harry Walker (brother of Dixie), much of it race-related. The trade to the Reds was not something he took well. He felt unappreciated—angry at the overt racism he had to endure from Walker and then sent away from the only town he knew as a MLB player. He did find solace in the fact that he was heading to Cincinnati and felt they were a good club. 

Joe Morgan, Houston 1963-1971

  • 3920 PA’s 
  • 195 Steals 
  • 255 EBH
  • 585 BB
  • .263/.375/.396/.771

 Joe Morgan, Cincinnati 1972-1977

  • 3902 PA’s 
  • 359 Steals 
  • 323 EBH
  • 709 BB
  • .301/.429/.495/.924

Best National League Hitter

Joe Morgan

“Whenever I did have a conversation with a scout—which wasn’t often—the same phrase kept coming up again and again. I was a ‘good little player’, they said. I knew what that meant. I had no future.”

~ Joe Morgan

Bill Wight, a scout for the Houston 45’s, saw Morgan play during his first year of college, “You’re a really good player,” he told Morgan, sans the common qualifier. Sometimes it just takes one guy and one chance. 

Bill James picked Morgan as the best 2nd baseman in MLB history in his Historical Abstract, declaring him “the best percentage player” ever, also sans qualifier.

Despite these two examples, Joe Morgan was “a little player”.

In the history of MLB there have been 2394 players who compiled 2000 PA’s in their career and only 242 of them were 5’8” or shorter, roughly ten percent. Morgan has the most plate appearances of those with 11,329. Most of the players on this list played in the 19th century and the numbers have decreased in the past 60 years. Since 1950, 1373 players have come to the plate 2000 times and in that span only 38 of them were 5’8″ or shorter, a miniscule 2.7%.

In many ways, it’s a big man’s game.

“There’s another type of player who only plays according to the situation of the game. That was Joe Morgan. He could have stolen one hundred bases but there were not enough game situations for him to do that. When the game was out of reach, when it was nine to one, ten to one, he was showered and gone. For him to stay in there he couldn’t put in the same effort, he was a winning type of player. Pete on the other hand, he’d say, ‘OK, it’s ten to one, now we are facing the weak pitchers. Let’s get some more hits.'”

~ Merv Rettenmund 

Best Red Pitcher 

Pat Zachry

Following the 1975 season, GM Bob Howsam traded pitchers Clay Carroll and Clay Kirby to free-up salary. It seemed prudent considering that the World Champion Reds were likely to have more than a few players looking for a bump in their take-home pay. The Front Office hoped that the pitchers in AAA would be ready to make that step forward and fill-in the spots fairly well at a much lower cost to the team. The 1976 Reds didn’t have a world class starting staff. They would finish with a league average ERA and six pitchers who would start over 20 games, two of them were the rookies Howsam hoped would step up, Santo Alcala and Pat Zachry. Zachry pitched the second most innings on the team. He led the Reds in K’s with 143 and had the best ERA of all the starters at 2.74. A lot of this success came from how stingy Zachry was in giving up the longball. In 204 innings, Zachry only allowed 8 HR’s. In 239 innings, Gray Nolan allowed 28. Aside from making 28 starts, Zachry also appeared in 10 games in relief. The Reds routinely used their starters in relief, a practice considered Neolithic in today’s game. 

For example:

Zachry’s performance garnered him a share of the National League Rookie of The Year Award. The other recipient, reliever Butch Metzger of the Padres, would be out of the game in two years. Zachry, on the other hand, would pitch nine more years in the game and would be used by the Reds as a chip to steal… er, obtain Tom Seaver from the Mets in 1977.  Zachry and Scott Williamson are the only Reds pitchers to be named ROY. Zachary is also the first ex-Red I can recall who immediately grew facial hair as soon as he left town.

Best NL Pitcher

John Denny  

“I pitched a great game one night with St. Louis against the Big Red Machine—Monday Night Game of the Week. The next day he calls me over before our game. I’m 23 years old and I’m wondering what does Pete Rose want to talk to me about? He says ‘John, I just want to tell you last night you threw one hell of a ballgame. Your fastball was in on my hands all night. But I’ll tell you something, next time I’m gonna get you good, you S.O.B.’ More than anyone, he helped show me how to be a professional and still show respect to the other team and the other players and still be the man and the player you need to be.”

~ John Denny

The game mentioned above was on Monday, August 30th, 1976. The Cardinals were 13 games under .500 and in 5th place in the NL East. Their best pitcher was 23-year-old John Denny, a certified Red-Ass whose hair-trigger temper was known around the league already, mostly because he had gotten into a fight with his own catcher, Ted Simmons, in the dugout tunnel during a game. Most Reds fans remember Denny as a pitcher on the 1986 Reds, his last season in the league. By then, Denny had settled down a little, found God, gotten married and was finally succumbing to years of arm ailments. He had also won the Cy Young Award with the Phillies in 1983. In 1976, arm troubles limited him to 206 innings, and yet he was the most productive pitcher in the league, leading the league in ERA with a 2.34. During this era Denny was a fastball pitcher with a hard curve and a change-up. As he aged, the curve would get softer and become his main pitch. In 1976, 27 NL pitchers topped 200 innings pitched, and of that group only five pitchers had less than 4 K’s per game. Denny was one of those five, averaging only 3.22 K’s every nine innings. You don’t see this anymore in a game where “strikeouts don’t matter” and increasing one’s “Launch Angle” is the universal approach. The last NL pitcher to top 200 IP and have a K-rate that low was John Lannan of the Nationals in 2009.

Making their MLB Debut

  • Andre Dawson
  • Willie Wilson
  • Garry Templeton
  • Rick Sutcliffe
  • Bruce Sutter

Making their MLB Exit

  • Hank Aaron
  • Bill Freehan
  • Frank Robinson
  • Wayne Granger
  • Billy Williams

Cincinnati Population 

The 1980 census has the city dropping to 32nd in the country with 385,457. Meanwhile, communities within driving distance of Cincinnati are growing at a rapid rate. Swaths of farmland are being transformed into mazes of cul-de-sacs and shopping centers. Cincinnati, like most of America, is in the peak suburban-living era.

Team Media Sources 

Following Al Michaels’ departure after the 1973 season, the Reds hired Marty Brennamen, who would team with Joe Nuxhall for the next 23 years. By 1978, the Reds had 125 stations in their vast network. This success could not have occurred without the dominance of the Reds on the field and their marketing department on the street. On the TV side, Bill Brown was behind the microphone. Both radio (Strohs) and television (Pabst) broadcasts were sponsored by breweries from other cities, which would have seemed impossible in the earlier part of the century. In Dayton, Hal McCoy began his career at the Dayton Daily News. His voice would be loud and prevalent in the local press over the next several decades and he would be the first non-Cincinnati newsperson elected to the Cincinnati Journalists Hall of Fame.

With success comes the opportunity to make more money and in the 1970’s we see a tsunami of players writing diaries of their season—some bawdy, some dry. The Reds counted among them the following titles:

  • From Behind the Plate –  Johnny Bench
  • Catching and Power Hitting – Johnny Bench /John Sammis
  • Charlie Hustle – Rose/Hertzel
  • Pete Rose’s Winning Baseball – Pete Rose

Entertainment

A quick rundown of the brilliant year in film: Network, All the President’s Men, The Outlaw Josey Wales, The Shootist, Silver Streak, Rocky, Taxi Driver and The Omen, just to name a few. The best of the lot? In my humble opinion, The Bad News Bears, a film many feel is a classic. In today’s world it seems an impossibility—tipsy coaches driving with open beers, kids drinking, smoking, cussing and disparaging others’ race and creed, both verbally and physically. It is a time capsule of what the world was then and should be stored in a crystal case in The Library of Congress to be revisited at least once a year.

Six Things about The Bad News Bears:

  • Kelly Leak, the baddest kid in the neighborhood, would play Rorschach in the Watchman movie.
  • The script, penned by Bill Lancaster (son of actor Burt Lancaster), was the winner of a Writers Guild of America award.
  • The musical score’s theme was composed as an adaptation of Bizet’s opera, Carmen.
  • Tatum O’Neal was paid $350,000, plus a percentage of the profits, later estimated to be $1.9 million.
  • Buttermaker was seen at various times in the film drinking Budweiser, Miller High Life, Schlitz “Kingers”, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Lucky Lager and Coors.
  • The burrito that Tanner Boyle was eating at the ball field’s snack bar was the first burrito I ever saw in my life. It was, and is, an important milestone for me.

Hot Technology 

  • The Apple Computer Company was established by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in April. 
  • NASA’s Viking 1 Lander soft-landed on Mars in July.
  • Matsushita introduces the VHS home video cassette recorder to compete with Sony’s Betamax system released in 1975.

Born 

  • Cillian Murphy, Irish actor
  • Kevin Garnett, American basketball player
  • Alicia Silverstone, American actress
  • Peyton Manning, American football player

Died 

  • Howlin’ Wolf, American blues singer (b. 1910)
  • Howard Hughes, American aviation pioneer (b. 1905)
  • Dalton Trumbo, American screenwriter and novelist (b. 1905)
  • Agatha Christie, English detective fiction writer (b. 1890)

Notes:

1976 is one of my favorite seasons. It was a blast on many levels. These are a few things that stand-out:

Meanwhile in Detroit:

Mark Fidrych and Ron LeFlore. You can’t think of 1976 without touching on The Bird—21-year-old Fidrych took the league by storm, talking to the ball and completing 24 games with an ERA of 2.34. Meanwhile Ron LeFlore, a former felon in his 3rd-year in major league ball, was the leadoff hitter for the American League in the All-Star Game. Both were great stories for a team that had lost 107 games in the first year of Al Kaline’s retirement. The city of Detroit rode the Bird craze hard. Before the internet age, becoming something as big as The Bird was something special.

Here come the agents:

Jerry Kapstein was a major player representative as the free agent era started, a man that Reds GM Bob Howsam loathed. How much did he loathe him? Enough to trade two of his clients after the 1976 season, when he unloaded Tony Perez and Rawley Eastwick. An influential man in a changing time, Kapstein caused a lot of owners to mumble under their breath, including this nugget uttered by Charlie O’ Finely “Kapstein kept me in the dark continuously, he never came to visit me once.”  

Poor Guy! 

Go dance on your own dugout, Charlie.

Reds Pass on Free Agents:

The Free Agency era is ushered in. Marvin Miller wields a mighty bat and the players finally achieve the freedom they’ve pursued. Spring Training is delayed as the owners lock the players out for 17 days. On March 19th, 1976, fans heave a collective sigh of relief as a settlement is reached and all 24 teams open camp. Throughout the season, 24 players without contracts would play with an eye on hitting the marketplace after the season.

That autumn, fresh off the 1976 title, the free agent draft started. Rather than pick players, as did most of the other teams in the game, the Reds decide to address their picks with a single statement and stance that would hamstring the team in the early eighties as they faced a rebuild

“In fairness to the players who have won the World Championship for us two years in a row and considering how our organization is structured. We do not think it would be right for the Cincinnati organization to get into the bidding contests that must come out of this draft.”

~ Bob Howsam