Part 2 of 4
Warren Giles 1937-1950 Won NL championships in 1939 and 1940, Won World Championship 1940 W L PCT 1136 1165 .494 Gabe Paul 1950-1960 W L PCT 674 712 .486
MacPhail’s sudden departure might have left a large hole in any of the prior Reds ownership groups. However this time Crosley and company were prepared, announcing the next day that their intent was to continue with the slow, but steady plan to regain respectability. The Reds had an immediate replacement in mind too. Despite the rumors of Branch Rickey coming to town and purchasing the team, Rickey remained in St.Louis and once again a former Cardinal employee ended up in the Cincinnati general manager’s office. Warren Giles, who had been running the Cardinals ‘top farm team in Rochester was the Reds’, surprise choice. Giles brought his assistant Gabe Paul to the Reds and also lured the Reds’ first great manager to the club.
Bill McKechnie had managed in Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Boston, but it was his stint for Giles in Rochester that endeared him to the new Reds GM. Ironically McKechnie also had a unique bit of prior history with the Reds, being obtained from the Giants with Christy Mathewson and Edd Roush back in 1916, a trade that changed the makeup of the Reds and produced the 1919 Champions. Giles was convinced that McKechnie was the man to guide the Reds if success was to be obtained anytime in the near future.
Giles and Paul guided the franchise from 1938-1960, with Giles handing the keys to the office to Paul in 1951. The first major payoff was achieved in 1939 and 1940 when the Reds won back-to-back titles and one world championship. The amazing resurgence since Crosley bought the team was evident at the gate where the 1939 Reds drew almost 775,000 more fans to the park than the 1934 team had. These numbers helped enrich the Reds organization, lining the pockets of Crosley and McKechnie, who had an attendance clause in his contract. As a Baseball man Giles was more similar Rickey than he was to MacPhail, favoring tightfisted spending and sound financial methods, as did his mentor. The players knew Giles as being a tough negotiator and somewhat of cheap GM in the post war era. He also was also prone to building his teams around speed at the expense of power. This was the type of game McKechnie’s favored, deadball in root with power taking a back seat to defense and pitching. This played extremely well in the expansive grounds of Crosley Field in tandem with the 1939 and 1940 team’s infield defense, legendary for its efficiency. However the transition wasn’t as smooth in the post war age when slugging became more of the norm across both leagues.
The major failing of the Giles tenure occurred during the lean war years. Not being a rich franchise, the Reds attendance had always helped dictate the team’s spending money, all of baseball experienced a downturn in revenue during the war years, and how they spent their limited resources during the conflict would likely help them after the war, the Reds, gambled that the war would last awhile. This belief led them to change their approach to signing prospects. Rather than scout and sign potential players who might be on their way to the service, the Reds decided to forgo singing most players until the war was over. This proved to be a faulty approach as teams like the Dodgers (who were being run by Branch Rickey) had signed numerous young military recruits with hope that the war would end sooner than later. At the end of the war, the Reds had far fewer bodies to sort through than many other organizations and it was soon evident in the standings.
Giles strong suit was the meticulous building of a healthy infrastructure, allowing the Reds to endure the postwar setback and continue to be a healthy organization. Giles helped redefine and change the structure of the Reds front office, expanding the operations from the bare, bare bones of the Weil years to a deeper, more professional organization. He also reached out to the community with the establishment of the annual Kid Glove game in the late 40’s, and endorsed the family as the main clientele of the team. This small change in fan culture at Crosley Field helped increase the fan base beyond the locals that had been traveling to the west end since Bid McPhee picked it barehanded in the Beer and Whiskey league. Much credit is given to the massive radio network maintained by the Reds during this era. Waite Hoyt and Burger beer brought Reds baseball to the nooks and crannies of the states that surrounded the Ohio Valley. This was a proven success, as these long time listeners would represent a consistent “out of town” commuter fan base that would help fuel the Big Red Machine to record attendance numbers in the mid 70’s.
Giles left the Reds to be President of the National League in 1950. Without missing a beat, in stepped his longtime assistant Gabe Paul, who entered the job at a point that mirrors the current Reds teams’ runs of bad luck. In the fifties the Cincinnati franchise was more notorious for changing the team name to Redlegs during the height of the McCarthy era than they were for the teams’ play on the diamond. The two years that the team wasn’t below .500 revealed the rabid potential attendance base that the Reds possessed. In 1956 and 1957, the Reds achieved their first attendance of a million or more, making them the final franchise in the major leagues to achieve that goal. Their popularity was highlighted by the famous 1957 All Star Game ballot stuffing incident and came at an opportune time for Crosley and Paul to use the threat of moving to the vacated New York area to wrangle parking improvements from the city.
As the city spread out and the downtown area aged it was becoming obvious that the Reds had begun to outgrow the little ballpark on the west side of town. On the Baseball side of the coin Paul’s tenure was marked with a few poor managerial hiring’s (Mayo Smith, Rogers Hornsby), consistently inadequate pitching and a plethora of impressive slugging. The Reds of fifties embraced station-to-station style of baseball. It was an offensive explosion that had not ever been a regular visitor in the Queen City. Naturally the locals loved it, and 30 years after the long ball had entered the game in New York, it finally made its way to the Ohio Valley where all the fans embraced it. With an increased organizational emphasis on slugging, Gabe Paul built some impressive hitting teams in the late fifties, teams that captured the imagination of the locals. Since that time the offense first approach has been a familiar one for the Reds and except for a few seasons this approach has been the Reds staple for over 50 years now. This is most recently seen in last year’s offensive heavy squad that led the National League in runs scored, but finished far below .500.
Prior to the 50’s, the Reds could boast a team ERA 0.10 above the league average since 1900. Since Giles left the Reds the Reds have had a 3.95 team ERA, good for tenth in the National League and -0.11 below the league average. Despite the sub-average ERA the Reds franchise have had a .522 winning percentage in that time span, the prior 50 years had seen a .481 winning percentage. Of the original 16 franchises, only the Red Sox have had a higher team ERA and a .500+ record since 1950. The overall winning percentage barely scratched the surface of .500 over the Giles/Paul era, however the Reds organization expanded and got stronger than ever before. They developed a minor league system and created a vast, rabid culture of fans spread across Middle America with their large radio network. Giles and Paul had helped stabilized the franchise in an era that that demanded you adapt or die. Other teams such as the Philadelphia A’s and Washington Senators tried to hold out against the rising cost of player development, night baseball and radio broadcasts and they eventually had to go look for a fan base that reflected as brightly as the one the Reds possessed.
In the late 1950’s Branch Rickey and some associates (including Denver businessman Bob Howsam) attempted to seed a new baseball league to expand the game to areas without MLB. Because of this threat, baseball decided to expand beyond their traditional borders, creating new challenges and job openings in the game. When Gabe Paul resigned to run the new Houston franchise in 1960, once again a former Rickey employee stepped in to take control of the Reds.
Wednesday – Part Three – The Talent Evaluator
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