When Joey Votto won the 2010 National League MVP Award, it marked the 12th time that a Red had won the Award since it’s inception in 1911 (no award was given from 1915-23 or in 1930).
Reds winners are listed below, and in deference to Joey Votto’s quote about batting average (“we all know that batting average is kind of an overrated statistic”), I’ll use more modern metrics for their performance.
1938, Ernie Lombardi, catcher, .342 batting average/.391 OBP/.524 SLP
1939, Bucky Walters, pitcher, 27-11, 2.29 ERA, 137 K’s
1940, Frank McCormick, 1st base, .309/.367/.482
1961, Frank Robinson, outfield, .323/.404/.611
1970, Johnny Bench, catcher, .293/.345/.587
1972, Johnny Bench, catcher, .270/.379/.541
1973, Pete Rose, outfield, .338/.401/.437
1975, Joe Morgan, 2nd base, .327/.466/.508
1976, Joe Morgan, 2nd base, .320/.444/.576
1977, George Foster, outfield, .320/.382/.631
1995, Barry Larkin, shortstop, .319/.394/.492
2010, Joey Votto, 1st base, .324/.424/.600
You most likely know about most, if not all, of these guys. Lombardi, Walters, and McCormick were stars that played with the 1939-40 Reds teams. Robinson was the best player of the late 50’s/early 60’s and played on the 1961 World Series team. Bench, Rose, Morgan, and Foster were stars from the Big Red Machine World Series teams. Larkin was a star from the 1990 World Series team, and Votto broke many Reds hitting records from this past season.
MVP’s weren’t officially awarded in other years, but the STATS, Inc., group that provides statistical information to many news and sports organizations across the world (STATS now has 85 worldwide offices) published a book, “The STATS, Inc. All-Time Baseball Sourcebook” which retroactively determined MVP awards. Other Reds “winners” (families, please don’t hold your breath on the trophies…):
Groh was the best player on the 1919 Reds World Series team. Edd Roush from that team is in the Hall of Fame and had the better overall career, but Groh may have been the National League’s best position player from 1918-19. Luque had an uneven career, but was simply phenomenal in 1923. He, too, played on the 1919 World Series championship team. So, all these guys except for Votto have been to the World Series, and only Votto hasn’t been on a World Championship team (Robinson won while with the Orioles).
Okay, so we have the winners, essentially 14 players who were the Most Valuable Players in their league in their respective seasons. So, what about the runners-up for each season? Which Reds were “that” close to taking home a nice trophy memorializing their excellent play? I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge them.
1926, Hughie Critz, 2nd base, .270/.316/.371
Critz may be the least known name on this entire list. A slick fielding second baseman from the 1920’s, the Reds and their cavernous ballpark were still playing small ball while the rest of baseball were jumping on the Babe Ruth run-scoring band wagon. He set the record for assists by a second baseman this season (since broken) with 588. Third year player Critz was the infield anchor for a superb Reds pitching staff that included Luque, Hall of Famer Eppa Rixey, three-time 20-game winner Pete Donohue, veteran Carl Mays, and young Red Lucas. Critz’s 1925 and 1926 defensive WAR ratings are two of the top nine defensive ratings in Reds history. Baseball writer/sabermetrician Bill James once wrote that the double play combination of Critz and shortstop Hod Ford was the best of the 1920’s.
The 1926 Reds placed second with a 87-67 record, only two games behind the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals had the best offense in the league, while the Reds had the second best defense. As oddly as it may sound, defense ruled the MVP voting, however, as Cardinals catcher Bob O’Farrell, a good-hitting catcher, but far from the best hitter on the Cardinals, won the the award. O’Farrell hit .293 with 68 rbi, and an .804 OPS (112 OPS+). Critz batted .270 with 14 triples, 79 rbi, and a .687 OPS (86 OPS+). O’Farrell had 79 voting points for the MVP, Critz had 60 in a two-man race, as third place totaled 32 points (Pirates pitcher Ray Kremer). Critz would later finish fourth in the 1928 MVP voting; this was the only year that O’Farrell ever received MVP support. O’Farrell is best known for throwing out Babe Ruth trying to steal second base for the last out of the 1926 World Series.
1947, Ewell Blackwell, pitcher, 22-8, 2.47, 193 K’s
Nicknamed “The Whip” for his sidearm throwing motion, Blackwell often pops up on the most feared pitcher list of Hall of Fame hitters from this era. In 1947, Blackwell’s second major league full major league season, he was 22-8 with a 2.47 ERA, leading the league with 23 complete games and 193 strikeouts. He won 16 consecutive games at one point that season, including a no-hitter and nearly matching teammate Johnny Vander Meer’s record of two consecutive no-hitters before surrendering two hits in the ninth (the Dodgers’ Eddie Stanky broke it up by singling between Blackwell’s legs).
Blackwell pitched ten major league seasons, eight with the Reds, but only had three double digit win seasons due to injuries. He lost the MVP vote to Pittsburgh Pirate third baseman Bob Elliott, who hit .317 with 22 homers, 113 rbi. Elliott received nine first place votes and accumulated 205 points. Blackwell had two first place votes and 175 points. Eight other National Leaguers also received first place votes making this a fairly even vote.
In 1947, the Reds were 73-81, finishing in fifth place, 21 games behind the Brooklyn Dodgers. Elliott won despite the Pirates finishing in eighth (last) place.
1954, Ted Kluszewski, 1st base, .354/.423/.642
Most Reds/Redlegs fans know of Big Klu’s hitting prowess, but 1954 was the pinnacle Kluszewski year. Kluszewski led the majors with 49 home runs and 141 runs batted in. His .326 batting average finished fifth for the batting title, 19 points behind the leader. Klu was sixth in OBP (.423), third in slugging percentage (.642) and third in OPS (1.049). Yet, he only struck out 35 times. Yes, read that again…he had 41 home runs while only striking out 35 times to the plate.
Kluszewski received seven first place votes and finished with a total of 217 points, in second behind MVP Willie Mays. Mays hit .345 with 41 homers, and 110 rbi, for the team that won the World Championship. The Redlegs finished in fifth place at 74-80, 23 games behind the Giants.
1968, Pete Rose, outfield, .335/.391/.470
We wrote about Rose’s 1968 season just the other day. It was the Year of the Pitcher and the Cardinals’ Bob Gibson was nearly unhittable all season. Gibson was 22-9 with a 1.12 ERA, striking out 268 batters in 304 innings.
Still, Rose received six first place votes for MVP while Gibson received 14. Gibson totaled 242 points, Rose totaled 205. Rose had 210 hits, winning the batting title with a .335 batting average and he had an .861 OPS (152 OPS+). Against Gibson, Rose had a career .307 batting average.
As you may guess, the Cardinals finished in first place with a 97-65 record. The Reds finished in fourth with an 83-79 record, 14 games behind the Cardinals. Rose would later win the MVP in 1973 when the Reds won the National League Western Division.
1976, George Foster, outfield, .306/.364/.530
George Foster lost out to teammate Joe Morgan for the 1976 Award. Foster hit .306 with 29 home runs, 121 rbi, and an .894 OPS (150 OPS+). He led the majors with the 121 runs batted in as he became the clean up hitter for the best offensive team in baseball.
Unfortunately, for Foster, Morgan had his best season in 1976, hitting .320 with 27 homers, 111 rbi, 60 stolen bases, a .444 OBP, a .576 SLP, a 1.020 OPS, and a Gold Glove. Morgan received 19 first place votes and 311 points; Foster received five first place votes and 221 points. The Reds were World Champions in 1976, their second consecutive championship. Foster won the MVP in 1977.
1985, Dave Parker, outfield, .312/.365/.551
Many have forgotten how well Parker played upon coming to his hometown in the twilight of his career. He had previously won the MVP Award with the Pittsburgh Pirates back in 1978, but drug usage affected his performance and he quickly went into decline.
The Reds took a chance on Parker and made him their first “real” free agent acquisition of the free agent era and he paid off in dividends. His first season with the Reds was little better than average, batting .285 with 16 homers, 94 rbi, and a .738 OPS (104 OPS+) in 1984. However, 1985 was a great one as Parker reverted to MVP form, hitting .312 with 34 home runs, and a league leading 42 doubles, 125 rbi, and 350 total bases. He had an OPS of .916 (149 OPS+) and became the leader of a Reds team that finished in second place with an 89-72 record, five and 1/2 games behind the division leading Los Angeles Dodgers.
Parker lost the MVP vote to St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Willie McGee who batted .353 with 10 home runs for the National League Champions. McGee had 14 first place votes and 280 points; Parker had six first place votes and 220 points. Pedro Guerrero received three first place votes (208 points), and Dwight Gooden received one. Parker finished fifth in MVP voting in 1986 when he hit .273 with 31 homers, 116 rbi.