Bill DeWitt became the next General Manager of the Reds late in 1960 after Gabe Paul resigned to take a simiilar position with the expansion Houston Colt .45’s. Paul had built the Reds on power to make the most benefit of the short Crosley Field fences, and offense seemed to be the secret to the Reds’ winning. DeWitt came on board and got some pitching help which solidified the 1961 Reds into becoming one of the Cinderalla teams of the past 50 years. The Reds improved from 67-87 in 1960 to 93-61 in 1961 and improved even more to 98-64 in 1962.
Meanwhile, DeWitt, as new executives often do in any organization, decided to rid himself (and the Reds) of excess or undesired talent and bring in talent of his own. I’m not certain what’s more amazing; the sheer amount of prospects the Reds had during the early 1960’s, or the sheer amount of talent that DeWitt discarded as unnecessary and how little we received in return. Check out this list (principal players listed):
1960: Traded outfielder Tony Gonzalez to Philadelphia for OF Wally Post
1961: Traded LHP Claude Osteen to Washington for RHP Dave Sisler
1962: Outfielder Jimmy Wynn is drafted from the Reds by the Houston Colt .45’s in the “first-year draft”
1962: Traded 2B Cookie Rojas to Philadelphia for RHP Jim Owens
1963: Traded LHP Mike Cuellar to Detroit for “unknown reasons” (thought to have been released through the Mexican League where Cuellar was pitching)
1964: Traded OF-2b Cesar Tovar to Minnesota for LHP Gerry Arrigo
Of the group of players leaving the Redlegs, there are 15 all-star game appearances, one Cy Young Award (and a 4th and 6th place Cy Young finish), 19 mentions for MVP (within top 26 for a year), seven seasons of a .300 or higher batting average, and six 20-win seasons.
The Reds received none of the same performance achievements from whom they acquired.
Gonzalez was never a star player for a team, but always a solid performer. He was a .300 hitting quality centerfielder. Baseball historian Bill James
describes Gonzalez as a lefthanded hitting centerfielder; rarely commits an error; hits everything up the middle; a top of the lineup hitter; does lots of things well, but nothing extremely well or extremely bad; doesn’t talk to anyone; and very underrated. James ranks him as the 82nd best centerfielder of all time. Gonzalez had 99 official at bats with the Reds, batting .212. His career lasted 12 seasons with a lifetime average of .286 and 103 home runs. His best season came with the Phillies in 1967 when he hit .339. He was traded for former Reds slugger Wally Post, who played two more seasons with the Reds and had double digit home run totals. He was out of baseball by 1964. Gonzalez was a solid starter through 1971. (Gonzalez was traded by Paul before DeWitt arrived, just to be clear.)
Claude Osteen was a lefty who proved to be one of the most durable, reliable starting pitchers of the 1960’s and 1970’s for the Dodgers. He had four seasons of trials with the Reds at ages 17, 19, 20, and 21 putting up an 0-1 record and a 5.07 ERA through 60 innings. The Redlegs were done and sent him to the Washington Senators for reliever Dave Sisler. Osteen went on to win 196 games (he lost 195), with a 3.30 ERA, two 20-win seasons, ten consecutive seasons of 10 or more victories, 1612 strikeouts and three all-star appearances. He pitched more than 200 innings in a season for 11 consecutive years with a high of 321 in 1969. He completed 140 starts as a pitcher, including 40 shutouts. Sisler pitched 43 innings for the Reds and was out of baseball.
Jimmy Wynn was one of the top sluggers of the 1960’s and Bill James rates him as the 10th greatest centerfielder of all time. He was drafted from the Redlegs in the 1962 in the “first year player draft.” This was not an expansion draft, and today the “first year player draft” is what is called the “Rule 4” draft, the amateur draft that just recently took place. For whatever reason, the Colt .45’s took Wynn and grabbed a superstar. Wynn had a career batting average of only .250, but he clubbed 291 career home runs, playing all but two of his 15 major league seasons in the Astrodome or Los Angeles. He twice led the league in walks (a high of 148), scored 1105 runs and accumulated 964 rbi. He and Joe Morgan were two similar players both playing for the Astros (Colt .45’s. The Reds got some cash in this deal. Wynn was from Hamilton, Ohio, but never played for the Reds. He had only one level D baseball, batting .290, when the Colt .45’s drafted him. Keep in mind that the first GM for Houston was former Redlegs’ GM Gabe Paul. Houston’s scouts probably had prospect information on Wynn all along.
Mike Cuellar was one of the anchors of the Earl Weaver era Baltimore Orioles teams of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. It appears his fastball speed were slow, slower, and slowest, with a mixture of almost every other pitch. Cuellar won the 1969 Cy Young Award, going 23-11 with a 2.38 ERA. He had a better season in 1970, finishing 24-8 with a 3.48 ERA, leading the league with 21 complete games. He won 2 World Series games, including one against the Reds in 1970. For his career, Cuellar won 20 games or more four times, hurling 36 shut outs, and compiled a won-loss record of 185-130. For the Reds, Cuellar pitched 2 games, 4 innings, got shelled, was sent to Mexico, was then released and then bounced around for a couple of years before the Cardinals signed him. His career begin to take off after being traded to the Astros. In fairness to the Reds, Cuellar had been signed or played for the Reds, Indians, Tigers, and Cardinals, before Cuellar “figured it out” with the Astros.
Cookie Rojas was a late blooming second baseman who became a perennial all-star performer for the Kansas City Royals in the early 1970’s. Rojas was given a cup of coffee for the Reds in 1962 batting .221 in 97 at bats, the year before Pete Rose won the second base job. Rojas was dealt to the Phillies for starting pitcher Jim Owens. Rojas wasn’t much of a hitter in his young days, but somehow broke out with a .291 average in 1964 and a .303 mark in 1965. He didn’t come close to .300 again until 1971 (.300 with the Royals). Rojas was dealt to the Phillies for pitcher Jim Owens, who lasted 42 innings with the Reds. Rojas was a terrible minor league hitter, declining every year in the minors before getting his trial with the Reds due to his superb glove. Bill James rates Rojas as the 69th best second baseman ever.
Cesar Tovar is one of only four players to have played every position in one game in major league history, performing the feat in 1968 playing for the Minnesota Twins (as pitcher, he first faced A’s shortstop Bert Campaneris, who previoulsy had played all positions in one game in 1965). Tover spent six years in the Reds’ minor league system before being traded to the Twins for pitcher Gerry Arrigo. Within three years of being traded by the Reds, Tovar finished 7th in MVP voting in his second full major league season, spoiling a unanimous first place MVP ballot for Carl Yastrzemski. Tovar finished in the top 25 for MVP voting for five consecutive years. His best season was 1971, when he collected 204 hits and batted .311. Arrigo became the only real player of value received for losing any of these players. He pitched five years for the Reds, reaching double figure wins one season. Bill James ranks him as the 79th best centerfielder of all time.
There was one really good trade made for the Reds during this time. Slugger Deron Johnson, hailed as one of the many “next Mickey Mantles” had disappointed enough people for the Yankees that he had been banished to their pseudo-Siberian holding cell, the Kansas City Athletics. After batting .174 for the Yankees and .207 for the Athletics, Johnson was purchased by the Reds and became a four-year power hitting corner infielder. During those four years, Johnson batted .264 with 90 homers and 343 ribi, including leading the league in 1965 with 130 rbi and finishing fourth in MVP balloting. Johnson was then dealt to the Braves for three spare parts in of-1b Jim Beauchamp, of Mack Jones, and RP Jay Ritchie. Bill James rates Johnson as the 98th best first baseman ever.
That’s a lot of guys who had star years someplace else besides Cincinnati. In fairness, the Reds had other players. In the case of Gonzalez, they had Vada Pinson in CF, and Gonzalez was a shadow of Pinson’s skills. What they received for him was a part-time power season from Wally Post.
They lost patience with Osteen and Cuellar. They were both very young with the Reds and took a while to develop. Neither were bonus babies, so I’m not certain why the Redlegs rushed them to the majors (Osteen was 17), but then they were gone.
Rojas was given a trial and couldn’t hit. The Reds already had Don Blasingame , and several young second baseman pushing Rojas in the low minors: a youngster named Pete Rose, Tommy Harper , Tommy Helms, Chico Ruiz, and the aforementioned Tovar.
Wynn was drafted before anyone could blink. Knowing the draft existed, Wynn’s obvious talent, and the fact he grew up in the Redlegs’ back yard, makes me think someone was asleep at the wheel…assuming he could be protected. The first year player draft may be why so many young players were on major league rosters at such young ages (such as Osteen). If so, the Reds took a huge gamble here on “The Toy Cannon” whose career stats would have been much more impressive playing in Crosley Field instead of the Astrodome. Looking at the Reds’ rosters in 1962 and 1963 makes me think someone else could have been made available to protect Wynn.
Tovar wasn’t nearly as exciting as Tommy Harper. Harper became a 30 homer, 30 steal player with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1970, stole 73 bases in 1969, and drew walks, too. He rarely put all the skills together in a singular year, but he played 15 very good big league seasons. Bill James rates him as the 56th best left fielder of all time.
It’s not that the moves weren’t always justified, but I’m amazed at how little we actually got for these players. May be the prospects’ value weren’t as high to the other teams? More than likely, we felt the need to move them out of the way to make way for others that were working their way through the system, and we undervalued their potential. Whatever the case, we have five position players rated in the top 100 all time for their positions and two pitchers who combined to win about 350 games, and all we got for them were about 25 big league wins and about 50 home runs. That’s selling low.
Baseball ratings taken from “The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract.”