In 1965 the first amateur draft was held in New York. The Reds first round draft choice was Bernie Carbo a High School star in Michigan, their second round choice was Oklahoma’s Johnny Bench.
Thirty three years later in 1998 the Reds first round draft choice was Kentucky High School Star Austin Kearns, in the second round the Reds chose Texan Adam Dunn.
Unlike Kearns, Carbo was a left handed hitter, but a pure hitter who hit the scene in 1970 with a bang.
How big of a bang? Platooning with RH hitter Hal McRae, Carbo came to the plate 476 times that year, seeing less than 30 at bats against a left handed pitcher. He had an ungodly .310/.454/.551/1.004 line with tremendous RISP numbers to the tune of .325/.532/.566, plus 3 months with a slg% above .620 and 5 months with an OB% over .410.
For players with 300 plate apperances or more Carbo was 3rd in the league in runs created per game, a hair behind McCovey and Rico Carty. The twenty two year old had an impressive 9.95 RC/27, which is the 2nd best for players 22 and under (best 22 year old)
RUNS CREATED/GAME YEAR RC/G OPS AGE 1 Alex Rodriguez 1996 10.08 1.045 20 2 Bernie Carbo 1970 9.95 1.004 22 3 Albert Pujols 2001 8.77 1.013 21 4 Ken Griffey Jr. 1991 7.94 .926 21 5 Albert Pujols 2002 7.79 .955 22 6 Vladimir Guerrero 1998 7.68 .960 22 7 Austin Kearns 2002 7.54 .907 22 8 Cesar Cedeno 1972 7.51 .921 21 9 Alex Rodriguez 1998 7.38 .919 22 10 Tim Raines 1981 7.34 .829 21
All this wasn’t new to Carbo his 1969 season in Indy saw him lead the league in hitting with a .358 BA and he also knocked 60 EBH, he also wasn’t all batting average drawing an impresive 91 walks in Asheville in 1968, all while delivering 47 EBH in the year of the pitcher..
The future for Carbo looked incredible (even despite his attempt to score in the World Series in the “Hendricks Play”) he even won the Rookie of the year award that season… the man picked by the Reds after him in the 1965 draft won the MVP that year.
A year and a half later after a miserable 330 at bats, a 1971 benching and a horrible spring in 1972 Bernie had a pitiful .215/.339/.325/.666 line.
For this he was flipped to the Cardnials in May of 1972, soon to be a thorn in the Reds side during the 1975 World Series and a character who finds his way into “this dumb ballplayer” stories around MLB in the mid 70’s.
1998 First Round pick Austin Kearns also arrived with a bang; in the wake of fellow draftee Adam Dunn in the spring of 2002. Though an injury cut his season short, Kearns produced the 2nd highest RC/27 for a Reds player 22 or younger in post war major league ball.
RUNS CREATED/GAME YEAR RC/G OBA SLG OPS AVG EBH 1 Bernie Carbo 1970 9.95 .454 .551 1.004 .310 43 2 Austin Kearns 2002 7.54 .407 .500 .907 .315 40 3 Frank Robinson 1957 7.44 .376 .529 .905 .322 63 4 Frank Robinson 1956 7.43 .379 .558 .936 .290 71 5 Vada Pinson 1961 7.28 .379 .504 .883 .343 58 6 Vada Pinson 1959 7.22 .371 .509 .880 .316 76 7 Johnny Bench 1970 7.14 .345 .587 .932 .293 84 8 Adam Dunn 2002 6.70 .400 .454 .854 .249 56 9 Frank Robinson 1958 6.32 .350 .504 .854 .269 62 10 Johnny Bench 1969 6.20 .353 .487 .840 .293 50
After a hot start in 2003 a game of Buck-Buck with Ray King curtailed Kearns 2003 season. This was a shame since the season was looking good for Kearns with a robust BA driven line and 13 pre injury home runs.
Pain found Kearns again last year when a persistant hand injury stunted his development even more. After these two unproductive seasons he had a line of .250/.346/.440/.786 a pale shadow of the 2002 player who electrified the scene like Bernie Carbo did in 1970.
All this eventually left the mess of a player that is playing these past 2 months for the Reds, swinging at ball in an off balanced manner and looking lost during most of his at bats.
A man who has 169 at bats this season and only a .225/.307/.396/.704
So you have to ponder…….Is Kearns going down like Carbo?
Ray Shore former scout with the Reds felt that Carbo folded under the expectations created by his initial burst in 1970. Also Gammons paints Carbo as not the brightest man in his book “Beyond the Sixth Game” I’m not sure what happened to Carbo’s game, but from where I sit it looks like Kearns is experiencing alot of the same problems. Decreased power and batting average, problems finding a consistent groove, making lots of outs.
The ironic thing is it is all happening in the shadow of the southwestern player chosen number two in the same draft.
Just like it did to Bernie.
Brian first met the greatest game in Detroit in 1968, that team played in a league called the “American League”…. but I digress.
Later after a family move he started a dalliance with the Cincinnati Reds, who perchance were in the midst of their greatest era. It was a romance that was greater than many could hope to be.
After barely stomaching the strike of 1981 Brian headed West but never forgot the Reds, and even despite being surrounded by Giants and A’s fans who tried to entice him with things both Green and Orange he found himself wondering what was up with Kal Daniels and was that kid from Moeller ever going to make us forget Davey.
A long time member of SABR and a baseball history junkie he currently lives in Portland and can be followed at @baseballminutia