We all have our favorites. Ask any Reds fan about their favorite player, and you’ll get a bunch of different answers, for a bunch of different reasons. Here at the Nation, I’ve written about my favorite current Reds a number of times. At the top of that list is probably Bronson Arroyo, because it’s just fun to watch him throw those frisbees up there and confound hitters. Also, Paul Janish, because he’s fun to watch defensively (and perhaps a little because I feel he hasn’t been given a fair shot).
Some people pick the team’s best player as their favorite; Joey Votto would probably top a public poll of favorite current Reds. We’re all familiar, as well, with Cincinnati’s legendary fondness for a certain type of player: the scrappy, hustle-all-the-time, get-the-most-out-of-your-talent guy (see Freel, Ryan).
5. (tie) Chris Sabo: Originally, I guess I was guilty of liking Sabo because of the scrappy factor mentioned above. His rookie year was a sensation, and I fell under his spell at that time like everyone else. His brilliant performance in the 1990 World Series — and especially in the celebration downtown afterward — cemented Sabo’s place on this list.
5. (tie) Tom Browning: As members of the Reds Listserv will attest, I’ve long been a fan of TB. I liked the way he worked fast, changed speeds, and threw strikes. I still love the story about the birth of Browning’s child during Game 2 of the World Series, when Marty Brennaman had to issue the call for TB to come back to the ballpark because he might have to pitch.
4. Johnny Bench: I was too young to enjoy much of the Big Red Machine dominance, but when I first became enamored with baseball, Johnny Bench was my guy. Not only was he the Baseball Bunch guy, but he was a giant figure in Cincinnati. In Little League, I wore #5 and played catcher.
I will never forget the disappointment of going to Riverfront Stadium in 1983 — the only game we attended in that, Bench’s final season — when I looked up at the scoreboard and saw Wayne Krenchicki’s name in the lineup instead of Bench’s. I’m still heartbroken over that.
3. Mario Soto: A guy I felt never got his due, thanks to playing on some horrific Reds teams in the early eighties. I liked everything about Soto: his demeanor on the field, that wicked circle change. Mostly, I think I liked that our Reds — who were so bad at the time — had a stud pitcher who was worthy of The Sporting News’ cover. That was a big deal to young Chad.
2. Adam Dunn: One of the greatest Reds in history, and the most unfairly-maligned player I’ve ever seen. Dunn ranks 3rd on the Reds all-time OPS list (behind Frank Robinson, who is number two…and I’ll let you guess who is number one*). He’s 3rd in SLG (ahead of George Foster and Ted Kluszewski and Eric Davis, who almost made this top five list), 7th in OBP (ahead of Pete Rose), 4th in homers (behind Bench, Robinson, and Tony Perez), 6th in BBs. He’s all over the Reds all-time leaderboards.
Unfortunately, Marty didn’t like all the strikeouts, or the fact that Dunn couldn’t hit a sacrifice fly, so he led the charge to have Dunn run out of town on a rail. (Marty loved Ryan Freel, though.) Admittedly, Dunn’s defense was bad, especially at the end, but he played every single day and produced like few Reds in history. It’s a shame that people in Cincinnati wanted to focus on what he couldn’t do, rather than focus on the brilliant things he could do. I’m glad he’s appreciated by the fans of his current team.
1. Barry Larkin: I can’t imagine anyone coming along and knocking Barry Larkin from his perch at the top of this list. Larkin was the best Red on some good teams, and he was the best player during my teenage years and beyond, when I really, truly became obsessed with this ballclub.
I had never seen anyone combine excellence at shortstop and at the plate like Larkin. He was robbed of at least two — and maybe more — Gold Gloves by a declining Ozzie Smith, but there’s no doubting that Larkin was one of the best around. At the plate, he was dynamic. Bill James rates Larkin as the sixth best shortstop of all-time, and also singled him out as one of the more complete players in baseball history.
Larkin is a legend. It is a crime that he wasn’t inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. My fingers are crossed that next year will be his time.
*Joey Votto is number one on the Reds all-time OPS list. Crazy.