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This Day in Reds History: The Reds Disband; Tebbets (and others) Named Manager of the Year

October 24, 1879: The Cincinnati Reds, an organization in disarray, are disbanded by Reds president, J. W. Neff, in a move that destroys a team of promising young players at one of the more critical points in early baseball history.

The 1876 and 1877 Reds were abysmal teams, finishing the seasons with records of 9-56 and 15-42, respectively. However, 1878 was a different story. The Reds had been temporarily expelled from the National League the previous December for failing to pay their league dues the previous summer. However, they re-admitted after one day and the Reds decided would spend their way into contention. The Reds mined the free agent market and signed third baseman-manager Cal McVey and catcher Deacon White to go along with slugging outfielder Charley Jones. The Reds also signed two rookies, pitcher Will White (Deacon’s younger brother) and catcher-right fielder King Kelly and the Reds became instant contenders, finishing the year in second place with a 37-23 record, only four games behind the league champion Boston Red Caps.

However, the price of winning was steep in terms of both cost and team unity. Despite McVey’s 1878 winning leadership, team management was turned over to catcher Deacon White. The Reds decided they needed a shortstop and signed the aging Ross Barnes who had led the league with a .429 batting average in 1876. Local sportswriter, and future manager O.P. Caylor, felt that the Reds needed a catcher with public opinion being that the young Kelly and the older brother White were having trouble catching the younger Will White’s pitches. The clubhouse fell apart and McVey returned to his management role after the Reds started the season 9-9. (Despite only managing 157 games with a record of 91-64, including 33 games with the Baltimore Canaries, Chris Jaffe’s book “Evaluating Baseball’s Managers” rates the little known McVey as being one of the most influential managers of all time.)

The team did play better under McVey and finished the season in fifth place with a 43-37 record, 14 games behind the Providence Grays. However, the team lost money. The Reds had signed Deacon White, Barnes, and McVey to large contracts while the rest of the team made less than half of imports, and clubhouse bickering increased as the season went on. From the book, “The Ball Clubs” by Donald Dewey and Nicholas Acocella:

…while the Reds improved on the diamond, clubhouse difficulties actually worsened under McVey. When Mike Burke, who yielded the shortstop spot to Barnes, was released, he started a fight with McVey on the field. Caylor supported Burke, and the fans, disgusted with the dissension, stayed home.

The fundamental problem was that the team had polarized. The three high-priced stars–Deacon White, Barnes, and McVey, each of whom made $2000–all wanted to run the team. Many of the other players, each of whom made only $800, resented the stars’ attitudes and salaries. As attendance dropped, the club sank deeper and deeper into the red. When losses reached $10,000, Neff, who held one-third of the stock, decided to cut his loses. On September 24, he gave all the players notice that they’re services would not be required after October 1. The consequences of the near-collapse were grave and long lasting. To prevent the spread of Cincinnati’s star system, in which three players made as much money as the rest of the players combined, the NL held a special meeting on September 29 at which it passed the first primitive but effective reserve rule to curb salaries. The vote was unanimous, with (NL president William) Hulbert casting Cincinnati’s proxy…..on December 4, new ownership cleaned house, keeping only the White brothers and outfielder Blondy Purcell from the 1879 team. The result was a last place finish.

The new ownership didn’t understand or respect how to use the reserve clause to their benefit. According to David Nemec’s “The Great Encyclopedia of 19th-Century Major League Baseball,” each team could reserve up to five players while the rest were essentially free to negotiate with each team from season to season. The number of reserved players was raised to 11 for the 1883 season, and eventually all players were reserved. The problem was not everyone on Cincinnati wanted to be reserved. McVey quit baseball altogether at age 29 and Deacon White held out the first half of the season in dispute of his contract. The Reds sank to the bottom of the league and finished the season 21-59, before being expelled from the National League again, this time for leasing it’s ballpark and selling alcohol on Sundays. The team was doing these things in defiance of league rules to earn additional profits, or to possibly even breakeven. This expulsion lasted until 1890 when the Reds were re-admitted to the National League after a successful run in the American Association as the Cincinnati Red Stockings.

October 24, 1956: Redlegs manager Birdie Tebbets is named National League Manager of the Year by the Associated Press following a 91-63 season. The Redlegs finished third in the National League, two games behind the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was the first time a Cincinnati squad had won 90 or more games since the 1940 Reds World Championship team that won 100.

Tebbets had been hired by the Cincinnati Redlegs following the 1953 season. A 14-year-major league veteran as a player, he had one season of minor league managing experience with the American Association Indianapolis Indians before joining the Redlegs. Indianapolis was a Cleveland Indians farm team at the time and finished the 1953 season in fourth place with an 82-72 record before Tebbets joined the Redlegs. (The Cincinnati major league team changed their nickname from Reds to Redlegs from 1954 through 1959 to avoid any Communism ties).

Tebbets managed the Redlegs for four full seasons and a majority of a fifth season, going 372-357. His 1956 season made for the best finish of his career. The Redlegs had losing seasons his first two years in Cincinnati with 74 and 75 wins before riding a powerful home-run driven offense to win 91 in 1956. His Redlegs team won 80 in 1957 before being replaced after 113 games in 1958 with a 52-61 record. Tebbets also managed the Milwaukee Braves (98-89) and the Cleveland Indians (278-259) in his managerial career for an overall record of 748-705.

As mentioned, his 1956 Redlegs team was built on power, specifically the powerful bats of rookie outfielder Frank Robinson (.290, 38 homers, 83 rbi), first baseman Ted Kluszewski (.302, 35 homers, 102 rbi), outfielder Wally Post (.249, 36 homers, 83 rbi), outfielder Gus Bell (.292, 29 homers, 84 rbi), and catcher Ed Bailey (.300, 28 homers, 75 rbi). The 1956 Redlegs tied a major league record with 221 homers and led the league with an average of five runs scored per game. The Redlegs also led the National League in fielding percentage. According to Chris Jaffe’s book “Evaluating Baseball Managers”, Tebbets teams also were adept at not grounding into double plays. The 1956 team was third from the bottom in the National League.

The “Manager of the Year” Award has come and gone over the years and has been awarded by different organizations. Major League Baseball has awarded a Manager of the Year for each league since 1983. Jack McKeon is the only Reds manager to have won that award, having won it in 1999 when the Reds were 96-67. The Sporting News awarded a Major League Manager of the Year Award from 1936-1985 with two Cincinnati managers winning, Tebbets in 1956 and Bill McKechnie for the Reds’ World Championship season in 1940 (100-53). The Associated Press named league Manager of the Year Awards from 1959-83 and then named one for the entire Major Leagues from 1984-2000 (except for 1997). The Associated Press has named Fred Hutchinson Manager of the Year for the Reds 1961 World Season season (93-61), Sparky Anderson for the Reds 1972 World Series season (95-59), Anderson again for the 1975 Reds World Championship season (108-54), and McKeon for the Reds 1999 season (96-67). (Information found online from Baseball-Almanac.com).

One thought on “This Day in Reds History: The Reds Disband; Tebbets (and others) Named Manager of the Year

  1. The 56 team will always be my favorite. Why? Because it was my first & I just loved those guys, Big Klu, Wally, Gus,Johnny,Roy, Ed, Smokey, Nuxy, Brooks. 😆

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