In the lore of the Reds lurks a team from the mid 50’s that was talked about in the 70’s in the same manner as the Big Red Machine is these days. My in-laws lived in town near the Gardens and they tell tales of seeing Klu and Baily drive around their neighborhood or of the time they had Lindy McDaniel over for Sunday supper after he attended their church that morning. The corker is that they then drove him to the park for the afternoon game.
It’s the 1956 Reds that they remember best, a team that hit a NL high 221 Home Runs that year, the following year the fans aided the team by stuffing the ballot box in the all star game… but I digress.
1956 is the year that is the forbearer for the Reds attempt to field a team this year, as is 1999 and to a lesser extent 2000.
It’s a simple blueprint; load the team down with sluggers and offense watch a “family” type of clubhouse emerge and then most important of all a hard roll the dice on the pitching.
The benchmark in each case is the offense.
Currently the Reds are 50 runs above the league average.
Averaging 5 runs a game vs the leagues 4.48 the Reds are also on pace to have 344 doubles and 216 home runs.
That would be 560 extra base hits, and it would be the most in a season in team history.
EXTRA BASE HITS YEAR EBH 1 Reds 1999 558 2 Reds 2000 538 3 Reds 1965 512 4 Reds 2004 509 5 Reds 2001 502 6 Reds 1977 492 7 Reds 1970 489 8 Reds 2002 487 9 Reds 1996 486 10 Reds 1987 483
If they achieve 200 home runs that it will only be the 4th time in team history.
The chart below lists the years that the Reds topped 200 in Home Runs. Each year was during eras of the game that promoted more slugging than speed. The 1956 team was the only one to average more than the league in offense, the 1999 and 2000 team despite having over 500 EBH averaged less then the league mostly due to less than stellar walk rates.
HOMERUNS YEAR HR BB AVG OBA RC/G 1 Reds 1956 221 5 .002 .005 0.45 2 Reds 1999 209 -66 -.004 -.010 -.03 3 Reds 2000 200 -86 .001 -.007 -.14
Each of the 3 years with 200 home runs the Reds ended up disappointing the faithful, yet teasing them with long balls and fruitless sprints to first place. All three years represent the Reds best years hitting the ball out of the park. Each season has a special bond in local lore and most of it is because of the slugging. Each year was cemented with a patched together pitching staff of no names performing above the expected and it was this combination of a lucky roll on the pitching staff and sheer power that grabbed the Reds fans attention.
In postwar America the Cincinnati Reds entered the 1956 season the only team to have yet to draw over a million fans. The introduction of Goat Run in Right Field reduced the down the line distance from 366 feet to 342 feet. This helped push the park factor of Crosley from an even 100 to a plus 117. With a shortened distance and the decade standard of station to station baseball the Reds averaged over half a run more a game when they played at home then they did on the road. It was at home that the Reds grabbed the towns attention finishing the year a 25 games above .500 with more than 50 wins for the first time at home since 1940.
The 1999 team had Pete Harnisch as the 31-year-old pitching pick that anchored the staff and 1956 had Brook Lawrence, a 31 year old with 2 years on the Cardinals. Johnny Klippstein could have been Steve Parris and Nuxhall was a healthier version of Neagle. In step with the times the 1956 team had more workhorses with Hersh Freeman handling most of the bullpen duties, 1999 and 2000 had deep bullpens in a bullpen era, it was their starters that provided the biggest surprises.
On July 22, 1956 the Reds were 88 games into the season and in second place, three games behind the Braves they had scored 446 runs and allowed 395. In 1999 on the same day the Reds were 53-40 1 1/2 games back of the Astros and had scored 483 runs allowing 410. In 2000 they were 49-48 and in 2nd place 6 games back. They had scored 497 runs and allowed 505 at that point.
5.0 runs a game - 1956 5.2 runs a game - 1999 5.1 runs a game - 2000
Reds pitching the aforementioned seasons.
3.77 League ERA Reds 3.84 - 1956 - (-07) - 91-63 .591 4.57 League ERA Reds 3.99 - 1999 - (+58) - 96-67 .589 4.64 League ERA Reds 4.43 - 2000 - (+21) - 85-77 .525
This all of course leads us to today and the 500 EBH, 300 plus doubles 200 plus Home runs targets bounding on the horizon. You’d think that with the type of gunpowder this team has that they’d be in line for a winning season.
On July 22nd 2005 the Reds are pace to offensively match the seasons listed above, this we know.
And they won’t get near the wins those teams got and it’s because of the pitching.
This we also know.
After 96 (one postponed) games they stand at 40-55 with 479 runs scored and 556 allowed.
That’s 5.0 a game for the Reds and 5.8 runs for their opponents.
Earlier I noted that it was a roll of the dice, in building a staff from bits and pieces, this of course is what the Reds tried this past off season, it was a sucker bet, trying to throw a pitching staff against the wall and going with what sticks usually is. It only is advisable if you don’t overspend for it, unlike this years attempt. More often than not it doesn’t work that is a given, but financially it is murder to lock up performers who don’t perform and then have to hand them the ball every 5 days to justify their salary. Especially if you have to hand it to him every 5th day in 2006 and 2007.
I’ll say it again that’s a great offense the Reds have, but the pitching is killing us and it’s not a slow death most of the time.
That makes the season like having a nice cut of meat (the offense) and then burning the crap out of it. You have to pick around a lot of gristle and waste (the pitching) to find something good to chew on.
Teams like 1956 and 1999 don’t come around often, they’re usually an amalgamation of career years and sudden pitching staff stability, teams that make sudden surges in the win column tend to regress the next year and 2000 and 1957 were those years, though they also were slightly successful in their own way too.
Fans love the hell out of surprise teams, they treasure them , laud them in a way that is not reserved follies like sub .500 teams with a good offense.
That’s why over a million finally filled Crosley in 1956 and and it was their presence that enabled the Reds to ponder new digs and install the famous 5 story scoreboard that the fans so loved in the 60’s. It’s also why the 1999 and to a lesser extent the 2000 season still lift spirits in the hue of the recent Red season car wreaks that litter the landscape.
But fans love steady growth too, the Reds tried for the golden ring too early and in reaction to that they owe 16 million to a starter ill fitted for the GAB and they missed the boat on getting perhaps their best return on Sean Casey. Building a team might be harder in the era of 2 year leases on luxury boxes, corporations think bottom line when it comes to spending entertainment dollars, they can’t shuttle a client to a crappy teams games. So what are the Reds to do? Retool and suffer the blight that comes with the retooling? Or smother the fans with offense and try the 1956 method?
They had hoped and prayed for something like this.
YEAR W L PCT CG SV IP H R ER BB SO ERA 1956 91 63 .591 47 29 1391 1406 658 594 458 653 3.84 HR H/9 BR/9 SO/9 BB/9 SO/BB PARK 141 9.10 12.24 4.23 2.96 1.43 117 Or better even this: YEAR W L PCT CG SV IP H R ER BB SO ERA 1999 96 67 .589 6 55 1462 1309 711 648 636 1081 3.99 HR H/9 BR/9 SO/9 BB/9 SO/BB PARK 190 8.06 12.25 6.65 3.92 1.70 98 YEAR W L PCT CG SV IP H R ER BB SO ERA 2000 85 77 .525 6 42 1456 1446 765 700 659 1015 4.33 HR H/9 BR/9 SO/9 BB/9 SO/BB PARK 190 8.94 13.27 6.27 4.07 1.54 115
Instead they got a 5.59 era vs the leagues 4.32. That’s 1.30 runs a game more than the league average or 210 runs over the course of the season.
TWO HUNDRED AND TEN RUNS!!!!!!!!!
Eddie Feigner and Roy Hobbs couldn’t overcome those sorts of odds.
And neither can the 2005 Reds.
Enjoy the offense, it’s a once in awhile type of unit… abhor the pitching it’s a once a generation anomaly, uglier than most, and more painful because it’s the opposite of the other side of the coin.
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