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This Day in Reds History: Bobby Tolan Traded; George Foster Wins MVP

November 9, 1973: The Reds trade disgruntled outfielder Bobby Tolan and relief pitcher Dave Tomlin to the San Diego Padres for starting pitcher Clay Kirby.

Tolan had been acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals along with reliever Wayne Granger on October 11, 1968 for popular star Reds outfielder Vada Pinson. Pinson played for seven more seasons after leaving the Reds, but he was never the same player he had been as a Red, except for his 1970 season with the Cleveland Indians (.286, 24 homers, 82 rbi, 115 OPS+). Meanwhile, Tolan became an outstanding outfielder for the Reds and probably the most underrated player on the 1970 World Series team.

In 1970, Tolan batted .316, with 16 homers, 80 rbi, 34 doubles, 57 steals, 112 runs scored, with an OPS of .860 (126 OPS+). He was third in range factor/ nine innings, was fourth in fielding percentage, and led the league in stolen bases. The Reds started the season with Tolan batting leadoff, Tommy Helms second, and Pete Rose third before swapping Rose and Tolan nine games into the season. Starting with the 34th game, Tolan moved to second in the batting order with Helms dropping to seventh and Tony Perez moving into the third slot…and the Reds’ offense hummed right along, at least from the 1 through six slots of the batting order.

In the 1971 offseason, Tolan tore an Achilles tendonand missed the entire season, but came back strong in 1972, batting .283 with 42 steals and was named the National League Comeback Player of the Year. However, 1973 wasn’t so pretty as Tolan slumped to .206 (57 OPS+). Reds fans may remember, too, that Tolan misplayed an outfield ball into a three-base error in the first inning of Game 7 of the 1972 World Series vs. the Oakland Athletics that led to the A’s first run of the game. In a tightly played series (seven game totals: Reds 21 runs, A’s 16 runs), that one run may have made the difference as the A’s won the seventh and final game, 3-2. The Reds decided to trade Tolan in the offseason.

Tolan went on to play five more seasons for four different teams. With the Reds, Tolan batted .282 with 54 homers and 140 stolen bases (108 OPS+). In four seasons for the Cardinals before joining the Reds, Tolan batted .227 (74 OPS+) with 12 homers 26 steals. In the seasons following his Cincinnati days, Tolan batted .254 (83 OPS+) with 20 homers and 29 steals. His best days definitely came as a Red (ages 23-27). For his career, Tolan batted .265 with 86 homers and 193 steals (95 OPS+).

Tomlin was a young, lefty reliever who had only made 23 appearances for the Reds before the deal. He pitched four years for the Padres, going 10-7 with a 3.28 ERA in 239 games, before being traded to the Texas Rangers for Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry. Two months later, the Reds purchased his contract and he spent three seasons with the Reds (14-3, 4.48 ERA, 137 appearances) before being released by the Reds. He made brief stops in the majors over four more seasons before retiring with a 25-12 record and a 3.82 ERA in 409 appearances over 13 years.

Clay Kirby was a talented strikeout pitcher who had success against the Reds. The Padres had selected Kirby from the St. Louis Cardinals during the 1968 expansion draft and immediately placed him in the rotation as a 21-year-old. Kirby lost 20 in his rookie season (7-20), and went 10-16 in 1971. His best season with an excellent 1972 when he went 15-13 with a 2.83 ERA and 231 strikeouts for a Padres team that went 61-100. After five seasons for the Padres (52-81, 3.73), the Reds acquired Kirby who had gone 11-8 with an ERA of 2.64 against them.

Kirby had a very good inaugural season with the Reds in 1974, going 12-9 with a 3.28 ERA over 35 starts. Hoewever, his K rate took a big drop in 1975 (from 6.2 to 3.9 per nine innings) and he became hittable, going 10-6 with a 4.72 ERA. He did not pitch in the 1975 postseason. In the offseason, the Reds traded him to the Montreal Expos (for 3B-PH Bob Bailey) and Kirby retired after going 1-8 with a 5.72 ERA in Montreal. For the Reds, Kirby was 22-15 with a 3.74 ERA; for his career, Kirby was 75-104 with a 3.84 ERA. Kirby died of a heart attack at age 43 in 1991.

November 9, 1977: George Foster, the first player to hit 50 or more home runs in a season since Willie Mays in 1975 (both hit 52), is named the National League’s Most Valuable Player. Foster’s award marks the third consecutive year that a Red had won the award (Joe Morgan won in both 1975 and 1976), and he becomes the fourth Reds winner in five years (Pete Rose won in 1973). Foster’s award marks the sixth time in eight years that a Reds player had won (Johnny Bench won in both 1970 and 1972).

Foster had a near Triple Crown season. He led the majors in both home runs (52) and rbi (149) in 1977, while batting .320, fourth in the league behind league leader Dave Parker’s .338. He was first in slugging percentage (.631) and first in OPS (1.013). He had previously led the league in rbi in 1976 with 121, finishing second in the MVP voting behind Morgan. He had another huge season in 1978, batting .281 with 40 homers and 120 rbi. Foster finished in the top six in MVP voting four different times (1976, 1977, 1978, 1981) and was a five-time all-star.

Foster had been acquired in 1971 to play centerfield after Reds centerfielder Bobby Tolan tore an Achillies tendon and missed the entire season. The Reds opened the season playing Hal McRae in centerfield, auditioned young shortstop Dave Concepcion out there, tried pinch hitter Ty Cline, and even tried Pete Rose, a Gold Glove rightfielder, in center. McRae and Rose were too slow, Cline was too old, Concepcion nor Cline hit enough, so the Reds acquired failed outfield prospect Buddy Bradford from the Cleveland Indians for future utility infielder Kurt Bevacqua.

Bradford had begun his career with the Chicago White Sox, playing parts of four seasons, batting .228 with 16 homers in 234 games. He went on to have three different stints with the White Sox in his 11 year major league career (parts of ten seasons with the White Sox), batting .231 with 39 home runs. He was acquired on May 8 and played centerfield for the Reds for 18 straight games, batting .196 with three doubles and a .536 OPS. He started in centerfield only twice more that season.

On May 29, the Reds acquired Foster from the Giants for shortstop Frank Duffy and pitcher Vern Geishert. Duffy was a good field-no hit shortstop trapped behind Concepcion, Woody Woodward, and Darrel Chaney on the depth chart. Geishert was a minor league pitcher acquired with Jim McGlothlin and Pedro Borbon from the California Angels for outfielder Alex Johnson and utility infielder Chico Ruiz. Foster had had two cups of coffee with the Giants, but was stuck behind the star-studded outfield of Mays, Bobby Bonds, and Ken Henderson with more outfield prospects on the way. Hitting .267 with three homers in 36 games, Foster was dealt to the Reds and installed as the Reds everyday centerfielder at age 22. Foster hit .241 with 10 homers in 104 games for the Reds the rest of the season.

Foster was farmed out 1972-73, before hitting enough to force his way onto the Reds roster in 1974 when he batted .264 with seven homers. By 1975, he became a major slugger, pushing his way past line drive hitting Dan Driessen and winning the leftfield job when Pete Rose moved to 3B.

In eleven years with the Reds, Foster hit .286 with 244 homers, and 861 rbi. His OPS+ was 140 during that span. His career lasted 18 years and he compiled a .274 lifetime average, with 348 home runs and 1239 rbi. He left the Reds after the 1981 through free agency and signed with the New York Mets, but hit only .247 with 13 homers as declined suddenly set in for Foster. In his last five seasons (ages 33-37), Foster batted .251 with 100 home runs and an OPS+ of 102.

5 thoughts on “This Day in Reds History: Bobby Tolan Traded; George Foster Wins MVP

  1. Bobby Tolan and Pete Rose lead off their first season together with back-to-back home runs.

    In one of the many Sparky interviews I heard last week he stated his clubhouse and dugout problems with Bobby Tolan in 1973 was the one things he wished he could do over again. He felt he let Bobby down when he needed him. By the way Bobby is a bench coach in a couple of baseball movies.

    • Bobby Tolan and Pete Rose lead off their first season together with back-to-back home runs.

      Off Hall of Famer Don Drysdale, no less.

      Rose played CF that year, Tolan RF through about the end of June before Dave Bristol swapped them….Tolan to CF, and Rose to RF.

  2. clay kirby and steve arlin were the padres toppitchers

    Ted Savage feels resentful that you have omitted him

  3. great job, I guess then that cecil espy, gary varsho and cesar hernandez remain upset

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