Reds - General

Finding Bobby Tolan

All right, you expert Reds fans. What’s the significance of this lineup?

Pete Rose
Bobby Tolan
Tony Perez
Johnny Bench
Lee May
Jimmy Stewart
Tommy Helms
Darrel Chaney
Wayne Granger

Those were the Reds on the field on June 30, 1970 during the final inning played at Crosley Field. Cincinnati defeated the San Francisco Giants that night 5-4 on back to back home runs by Johnny Bench and Lee May. Wayne Granger retired Bobby Bonds for the final out and Crosley Field’s days were done.

Eighteen years later, I received a framed photo as a gift that captured the final pitch of that night. Six Reds players were visible in the photo, along with Bonds and on-deck hitter Tito Fuentes. So I decided to get a baseball with the signatures of those 9 Red players to flank the photo on the wall.

Keep in mind, this was before the internet was invented by Al Gore and before Facebook, email and cell phones. Research to find out where some of these players were could only be found at the public library. (Library: An institution funded by tax dollars that is considered an essential part of an educated and literate population.)

Perez, Helms and May were the first three signatures I got; they were easy because they were all coaches for the Reds. I found addresses for both Chaney and Stewart and sent the ball to each of them for their signatures as well. So I had five of the nine done pretty quickly.

I had the address of Bench’s foundation in Cincinnati and sent the ball but the timing was bad. That was when he was elected to the Hall of Fame and the ball was with him (or at his office) for three months. But I got it back and he had signed it. 6 down, 3 to go.

Pete Rose was coming to Galesburg, Illinois for a card show. His signature fee back then was $10 so I got him to autograph the ball. Pete took a genuine interest in this baseball. He looked it over before signing it, saw the names and asked what kind of ball it was. When I explained to him what it was, he asked, “Where’s Chaney at these days?” Then he asked about Stewart. As we spoke and people behind me in line got impatient, Rose was also interrupted by a runner hired by the show that updated him on NFL football scores. Depending on what was happening with the game, he would either grin or wince. After he got a good report, I asked if he’d ever seen a ball like that before and he said he hadn’t.

This left just Wayne Granger and Bobby Tolan, and the Crosley Field ball would be complete. I got Granger’s address but since the ball had so many signatures on it (and its value was increasing), I didn’t want to take a chance and mail the ball off; instead, I wrote the former Reds relief pitcher a letter, asking if he would sign it. At the same time, I couldn’t track Bobby Tolan down.

Granger replied and said he would sign the ball, so off it went. Meanwhile, I kept trying to find Tolan. He left the Reds on a sour note during the 1973 season when he started to grow a mustache and beard. Back then, Sparky Anderson had rules that the Reds be clean shaven and groomed. The Reds suspended him, then peddled Tolan to San Diego.

Because of this, I wasn’t sure what Tolan’s reaction would be to my request. 1970 was his career year, his best in the majors. Unfortunately, Tolan tore his Achilles tendon playing a charity basketball game with the Reds in Frankfurt, Kentucky during the off-season and despite a nice season in 1972, he never bounced back 100%.

Then I caught a break. I got the ball back from Wayne Granger and he included a handwritten note with it— “John, Bobby Tolan is coaching in the minor leagues for the Baltimore Orioles. Wayne”

It was then I sent a letter to Bobby, asking him the same thing I did Granger. Five days later, I got a reply. Bobby Tolan would be more than glad to sign it.

Two weeks later, the ball was finished and back in my possession. The total cost in getting this done, including the cost of the ball itself and the $10 Pete Rose fee was $28.50.

I kept the ball protected and it stood by the photo. 15 years later, the Reds Hall of Fame was built after Great American Ball Park opened and they were featuring a special exhibit on the history of Crosley Field. I contacted the HOF and offered the baseball to them. And now in 2013, the baseball is still there in the Hall of Fame.

Friends often asked why I gave it away instead of selling it. But I didn’t do it for the money, it was for my collection, which is very modest. And now it’s in the Reds Hall of Fame, surrounded by so much of the rich history of one of the great baseball franchises.

It’s where it should be.

17 thoughts on “Finding Bobby Tolan

  1. That’s a great story and a very nice deed. If I ever make it to Cincy and the Reds HoF, I’ll be looking for your ball !

  2. That’s a great story. Amazing how different Pete the person is from Pete the celebrity. Well done on your tracking down of the Crosley Nine! :)

  3. I loved Bobby Tolan during his early years with the Reds. He was sort of an early version of Joe Morgan without the power – good fielder, good hitter, great at stealing bases.

    I never did really understand what happened to cause him to become disaffected with the Reds hair rules. As you said, this was the era before the internet, so the only news you could rely upon was what the papers printed and I don’t recall seeing much in print on the subject.

    Nice story. I applaud you for donating the ball to the Reds HOF.

  4. This was a really cool story. I enjoyed reading it. I’m selfish, though; I don’t think I could give my autographs away, even for a price.

  5. I’m playing the 1970 Reds in an on-line Strat-O-Matic league. That team was better in Crosley than in Riverfront.

    Tolan is one of several treats on that team, but there are some big differences in style of play. Wayne Granger, for example, had an awful strikeout rate, and he probably wouldn’t even get a chance now. Jim McGlothlin, too, had a 4.1 K/9. And Tommy Helms had an OPS of .545 in 575 ABs, not to remind us of recent shortstops before Cozart. The pitching was generally pretty dicey, especially after Wayne Simpson went down, and it’s easy to see now how vulnerable they were to some good pitching from Baltimore.

  6. Thanks for another great story.

    I feel lucky to be a Reds fan; the quality of writing of Redleg Nation underlines that good fortune.

  7. Really great story, ive seen that ball, made a comment to my dad about how awesome it was. Granted i was born in 86′ i still know my reds history. I have that “last pitch at Crosley” photo in my mancave.

  8. What a gripping story! I’m a bit too young to know half of that Reds lineup, but I’ve heard a ton of stories from my dad about games at old Crosley Field and it sounds like the roster was absolutely stacked towards the end of Crosley and the beginning of Riverfront. I’ve never had a chance to check out the Reds HOF, but I definitely plan on visiting this season.

  9. Thanks, that is a great story, it made my evening and can’t wait to let my 9 year-old son read it.

  10. @Big Ed: The fact that several wheels were falling off of the Reds rotation throughout the second half of the 1970 season not only contributed to the World Series defeat, it almost certainly was also a factor in the poor record at Riverfront versus what the team had done at Crosley Field.

  11. @OhioJim: The main hitters, though, Jim, were better at Crosley, and some substantially so. Using OPS, Rose was .978 at Crosley and .769 at Riverfront; Bench was 1.091 at C and .972 at R; Lee May was .978 at C and only .780 at R; Perez was 1.142 at C and a “mere” .994 at R; Tolan was 1.091 at C and .868 at C. Bernie Carbo, vastly underrated, was .962 at Crosley and .987 in the new place.

    The sample size is too small to attribute a whole lot of it to Crosley, but it was by memory and stats a team built for Crosley. It could have been just that everybody got hot together early, and it was impossible to sustain with a comfortable lead. Tolan, for example, hit a preposterous .397 and slugged .595 at Crosley.

    Bernie Carbo had 467 PAs, but only 23 were against lefties, but drew 94 walks total. His OBP was .454, and he had at age 22 an OPS of 1.005. He either couldn’t hit lefties, or else got a reputation at a young age that he couldn’t, because for his career only 290 of his 3320 career ABs were against lefties.

  12. Well, showing my age a bit but my Mom & Dad took me to the last game at Crosley. I have the ticket stubs & program to prove it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s