In probably the second best known trade in Reds history (only to the Joe Morgan trade), the Reds deal Hall of Fame outfielder Frank Robinson to the Baltimore Orioles and proceed to watch him win the American League Triple Crown and be named the American League Most Valuable Player. And, to add insult to injury, Robinson bats .273 and hit two home runs against the Reds in the 1970 World Series as the Orioles beat the Reds, four games to one.
Robinson is one of the greatest Reds players of all time. He holds the Reds’ career records in slugging percentage, OPS, is second in career home runs, fourth in OBP, fifth in runs scored, and fifth in runs batted in. He joined the Reds in 1956 and tied the (then) record for rookie home runs with 38, batting .290 with 83 rbi. He finished 7th in the MVP balloting in his rookie season. In playing ten seasons for the Reds, he was named to six all-star teams, finished in the top five in MVP balloting three times, finished in the top ten in MVP balloting six times, won a Gold Glove, and led the league in OPS three times.
Frank Robinson’s MVP season came in 1961 when the Reds surprised the baseball world by making a 26 a game improvement from 1960, becoming one of the miracle teams of the 1960’s and winning the National League championship. Robinson batted .323 with 37 homers and 124 rbi, leading the league in slugging percentage and OPS. He was even better in 1962 when he batted .342 with 39 homers and 136 rbi. He led the league with a .421 OBP, a .624 slugging percentage, and with his 1.045 OPS. He finished fourth in MVP balloting that year behind Maury Wills, Willie Mays, and Tommy Davis. That was the year Wills stole 104 bases, and they all had outstanding seasons, but Robinson was better than all three of those guys that year.
Reds GM, Bill DeWitt was operating on the famous General Manager Branch Rickey’s philosophy in that it is better to trade a player too early rather than too late, with age 30 being sort of a target trade age. Upon announcing the trade, DeWitt said he thought Robinson was an “old 30” despite batting .296 with 33 homers and 113 rbi. The proud Robinson proved DeWitt wrong, and did so in a big way, posting the best season of his career with the Orioles, winning the Triple Crown by batting .316 with 49 homes and 122 rbi, and a career best OPS of 1.047. Robinson hit 324 home runs in his 10 year career with the Reds. He hit 262 more after leaving the Reds. The “old 30” remark bothered Robinson so much, he referred to it in his Hall of Fame induction speech in 1982.
According to “Ron Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Blunders,” the Robinson trade may not have been so much about being an “old 30” as much as it was “likely that growing differences between Robinson, whom DeWitt regarded as a troublemaker, and the owner led to the trade.” (Neyer quoted from DeWitt’s obituary in “The Sporting News.”) A few years earlier, Robinson had been busted for carrying a concealed, unlicensed pistol, and Robinson had been booed unmercifully by Reds fans during the 1965 season. In fact, according to “Redleg Journal” (by Greg Rhodes and John Snyder), the trade received almost no fan reaction at the time. Robinson (like so many other Reds stars) could not do enough to make Reds fans happy. Reds fans had been writing local newspapers demanding that he be traded, and it got so bad that Reds manager Dick Sisler made a public appeal for Reds fans to lay off of Robinson.
By mid season, 1966, the fans wanted to run GM/owner DeWitt out of town as the Orioles were in first place in the American League, and Reds were finishing 7th in the National League. DeWitt’s famous “old 30” quote was found in a Sports Illustrated article; at the time, Robinson was batting .344 with a .682 slugging percentage and Milt Pappas was 4-5 with a 4.04 ERA. DeWitt sold the team at season’s end.
Many may not know that Milt Pappas was considered one of baseball’s best pitchers at the time of the Robinson trade. Unfortunately, Pappas, born Miltiades Stergios Papastegios, was not a popular player nor fulfilled his immense promise. Fourteen major league teams were scouting him as a high school player and he pitched his first major league game at age 18, winning 10 games for the Orioles at age 19 in 1958. By age 24, Pappas had compiled a major league record of 81-58, and was on the verge of baseball stardom. According to “Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia”, Pappas had also earned a reputation as a “brash hothead and became one of the most disliked pitchers in the league. He talked back to veteran batters, complained to scorekeepers, and argued with his manager.” His “behavior was tolerated” because of his great talent. In three years with the Reds, Pappas was 30-29 with a 4.04 ERA, going 16-13 with a 3.35 ERA in 1967. Pappas won 69 games after leaving the Reds, including a no-hitter for the Cubs.
Jack Baldschun was one of the National League’s best relievers at the time of the trade. The Orioles had just acquired him in trade three days before dealing him to the Reds. In five years with the Phillies, Baldschun had double figure wins twice in relief (12 in 1962 and 11 in 1963) and had posted a 3.18 ERA through 333 games. With the Reds Baldschun went 1-5 with a 5.25 ERA before being released prior to the 1969 season. He only played one more major league season after his Reds release and that was with the 1969 expansion San Diego Padres.
Outfielder Dick Simpson was supposed to be the key to the deal for the Reds. A huge 22 year old prospect, the Reds had lost most of their minor league outfield talent through ill-advised trades in the previous few years before the Robinson trade. Simpson had also been acquired by the Orioles in the previous week, and had already had some major league experience with the Los Angeles and California Angels. Simpson spent all of the 1966 and 1967 with the Reds, but spent most his time being a late inning replacement for Tommy Harper. In two seasons with the Reds, Simpson batted .246 with five home runs before being traded to the Cardinals for Alex Johnson. Simpson’s career included 595 plate appearances, with a .207 batting average ande 15 home runs.
The Reds did get value in trading Pappas to the Atlanta Braves in 1968, receiving Clay Carroll, Tony Cloninger, and Woody Woodward in return. Woodward was a weak-hitting starting shortstop for the Reds until Dave Concepcion took over, batting .242 with one home run. Cloninger spent a couple of years in the rotation, going 27-33 with a 4.31 ERA. Carroll became an all-time Reds’ favorite, an all-star relief pitcher. In 486 games with the Reds, Carroll went 71-43 with a 2.73 ERA and 119 saves.
It’s hard to know how much losing Robinson really “hurt” the Reds, but the team finished four games out of first place in 1969 with an outfield of Alex Johnson, Bobby Tolan, and Pete Rose. All three batted over .300, but Robinson batted over .300, too….and hit 32 homers. Robinson would not have been with the Orioles in the 1970 World Series win over the Reds, and he may have singled handedly willed the Reds from being complacent during the losing 1971 season. The Reds needed just a little more in the 1972 World Series and fell just a little short in the early 1970’s before taking over the baseball world in 1975 and 1976. Robinson, “old 30 or not,” may have been the missing driving force.
A little Robinson trade trivia: According to Neyer’s book, the Orioles balked at only receiving Robinson in the trade with the Reds, insisting on a minor league pitcher at the time. The Reds countered with veteran starter Roger Craig, whom the Orioles declined. Craig had gone 1-4 with a 3.64 ERA out of the bullpen in 1965.