August 15 has proven to be a day of several interesting items:
August 15, 1919: The Reds sweep a doubleheader from the New York Giants, 4-3 and 4-0, to give them a six 1/2 game lead in first place. Four days later they begin a ten-game win streak to seal first place on their way to the 1919 World Championship. During the ninth inning of the second game against the Giants, Reds outfielder Greasy Neale steals second, third, and home.
Neale may be better known to the world for his football achievements. He has been selected to both the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. As a college coach he was 78-55-11 and as a pro football coach he went 71-48-6. He was a star for the Reds in the 1919 World Series, batting .357 with 10 hits. He also played baseball with another football great who played baseball for the Reds, Jim Thorpe. Thorpe was sometimes called the greatest athlete in the world. Thorpe batted .247 in 1917 with the Reds (career .252). Neale batted .259 in eight big league seasons, playing all but 22 games of his career with the Reds. Neale’s best season was 1917 when he batted .294. He stole a total of 139 bases during his eight year career; one may have expected more considering his stolen base feat of August 15, 1919.
The Redlegs had blown an early 8-2 lead when the Cardinals scored seven in the top of the fourth. The Cardinals were leading 12-8 entering the ninth when they pushed across two insurance runs making the score 14-8. The Cardinals needed the insurance for the Reds scored four times in the bottom of the ninth on the strength of the three home runs and a run-scoring single by Andy Seminick. The tying runs were on base with one out before pinch hitter Bob Borkowski grounded into a double play to end the game.
For the season, Bell batted .299 with 17 homers, 101 rbi, Kluszewski had his best season with triple crown numbers of .326/49/141, and Greengrass hit .280/27/95. That wasn’t a bad heart of an order for a 74-80 team.
August 15, 1961: Joey Jay goes the distance, allowing six hits and walking eight, as the Reds beat Sandy Koufax and the Dodgers, 5-2, in Los Angeles. The win moves the Reds within one game of the first place Dodgers and sets up a next day double header shutout sweep by the Reds. Sweeping the three game set moves the Reds into first place for good as they go on to win the National League pennant.
The shutouts the next day are pitched by Bob Purkey and Jim O’Toole. Jay improved his record to 17-7 with the August 15 win on his way to a 21-10 season. The big play of this game was when right fielder Frank Robinson threw out Koufax at first on a ground ball to the outfield. Dodger announcer great Vin Scully is quoted as saying “Sandy forgot to run.”
August 15, 1973: Late blooming star starting pitcher Jack Billingham tosses his seventh shutout of the season as the Reds beat the Pirates, 1-0. Billingham’s shutout ties the Reds club record set by Hod Eller back in 1919. The young 24-year-old Eller was 19-9 with a 2.39 ERA (116 ERA+) in 1919, but soon blew out his arm, pitching his last game at age 26. The 30-year-old Billingham had a similar season to Eller’s, finishing the season 19-10 with a 3.04 ERA (113 ERA+). Billingham didn’t make the majors until age 25, and was unable to crack the Los Angeles Dodgers pitching staff. He was selected by the Montreal Expos in the expansion draft, but was traded to the Houston Astros before ever pitching for the Expos. With the Astros, Billingham was a reliever, a swing man, and finally a starter at age 28 before being dealt to the Reds in the Lee May-Joe Morgan trade.
Billingham wasn’t expected to become the Reds pitching ace. The Reds pitching staff boasted the electric arms of past phenoms Don Gullett and Gary Nolan, but a strong case can be made that Billingham was the best pitcher of the Big Red Machine days. Billingham was 87-63 in his six years with the Reds, twice winning 19 games, and leading the league with 293 innings pitched in 1973, 40 starts, and the seven shutouts during this 19-10 season. He completed 16 games that season and finished fourth in Cy Young Award voting. He also finished sixth in Cy Young voting during 1974 when he went 19-11. In 10 postseason games, Billingham was 2-1 with a 1.93 ERA over 42 innings allowing only 28 hits and no home runs.
August 15, 1984: The Reds surprised everyone by announcing that Pete Rose had been named player-manager of the Reds. Unfortunately for Reds manager Vern Rapp, he was told by the media of the move about one hour before Reds GM Bob Howsam officially informed Rapp. Rose would play his first return game with the Reds two days later on August 17. Rose singled in his first at bat after returning to the Reds, and a two-base error allowed Rose to go all the way to third base where he used his trademark head-first slide to excite the fans. Upon his return, Rose batted .365 with a .430 OBP and an .888 OPS during his 26 games with the Reds to conclude the 1984 season. The team was 19-22 in games managed by Rose during 1984 and 51-70 for Rapp. The Reds finished second the next four consecutive seasons with Rose at the helm as manager.
August 15, 1995: Reggie Sanders connects for three home runs in an 11-3 Reds victory at home over the Colorado Rockies. Sanders hit a two-run homer in the first inning and solo shots in both the third and fourth innings as the Reds cruised to a 10-0 lead after five innings of play. 1995 was Sanders’s best year, batting .306 with 28 homers and 99 rbi, including a .975 OPS and a 154 OPS+. Sanders had career highs of 91 runs, 148 hits, 36 doubles, 99 rbi, and 36 stolen bases, finishing sixth in the Most Valuable Player voting. Unfortunately, he slumped at the wrong time, during postseason play that year. He went 2-13 with nine strikeouts in the National League Divisional Series against the Dodgers (Reds won 3 games to none), and followed that performance by going 2-16 with 10 strikeouts against the Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship Series (the Reds lost, four games to none). In total, Sanders was 4-29 with 19 strikeouts in that postseason. However, in eight seasons with the Reds, Sanders batted .271 with 125 home runs and an OPS+ of 118.