Reds History / Reds Trivia

Ted Abernathy: The Power of Rule 5

On November 28, 1966, the Reds drafted reliever Ted Abernathy from the Atlanta Braves. Abernathy proceeds to have probably the best season of any reliever in Reds history in 1967.

It’s really hard to overstate just how good Abernathy was with the Reds in 1967. He made 70 appearances, all in relief, pitching 106 innings, finishing 61 of those 70 games. He was 6-3 with a 1.27 ERA and 28 saves. In those 106 innings, the submarining Abernathy allowed only 63 hits (5.3 hits per nine innings), had a WHIP of .978 and struck out 88 batters (7.4 per nine innings). He followed up that outstanding season by going 10-7 with a 2.60 ERA in 1968, again leading the league in appearances with 78 and pitching 135 innings, all in relief. He finished 53 games with 13 saves, and allowed 7.4 hits/nine innings. However, his K rate dropped to 4.3/nine innings and the Reds traded him to the Chicago Cubs for reserve catcher Bill Plummer , of-1b Clarence Jones and pitcher Ken Myette. Jones and Myette never played in the majors with the Reds.

In two seasons with the Reds, Abernathy was 16-10 with a 1.94 ERA (178 ERA+). In 148 appearances, he finished 114 games with 41 saves. For his career, Abernathy pitched in 14 seasons and was 63-69 with a 3.46 ERA (107 ERA+). He pitched in 681 games, starting 34 games between 1955-57, and had 148 saves. In addition to his two outstanding seasons with the Reds, Abernathy led the National League in games with the Cubs in 1965 when he appeared in 84 games, finishing 62, pitching 136 relief innings and collecting 31 saves. In 1972, his last season with the Kansas City Royals, Abernathy was 3-4 with a 1.70 ERA in games before being released at age 39. He was The Sporting News Reliever of the Year in 1965 and 1967.

From 1963-72, his last ten major league seasons, Abernathy was 55-47 with a 2.77 ERA (131 ERA+). He appeared in 608 games, finishing 400 of them, with 148 saves. His career has always fascinated me. He was never traded for a player of consequence (with due apologies to Mr. Plummer). Well, he was traded for a former all-star Lee Thomas, but by that time Thomas was a part-time player. Abernathy was released while still pitching effectively and played for seven different teams in his career. He didn’t reach effectiveness until he was 30 years old with the Cleveland Indians during the 1963 season, so may be his status was always age-related, but there’s no denying that he was an exceptional reliever. (He’s the only player I’ve searched that doesn’t have a baseball-reference.com “bullpen” biography page. I did find this page which seems to ask a lot of the same questions I’m asking.)

He’s one of many great Reds relievers in Reds history. In his 2001 book, “The New Historical Baseball Abstract,” baseball writer and sabermetrician Bill James rates Abernathy’s 1967 season as the eighth greatest relief season of all time.

5 thoughts on “Ted Abernathy: The Power of Rule 5

  1. Abernathy’s career is one that I really don’t get. I mean, he never looked good on a baseball card, and an arm injury kept him from getting his groove until he was 30, but how was he anything less than fabulous?

    I mean there’s hardly anything to be found about him, but his ERA at age 39 was 1.70 with good peripherals and he was released?

    He died a few years ago…I have to think he got fed up with trying to prove himself over and over…with the Reds he was absolutely super with a rubber arm and we traded him for Bill Plummer?

  2. Abernathy is one of my favorite Reds PU’s of the 60’s. I’m fairly certain that he is the only reliever in Reds history who was the team leader in Win Shares. After the the Robinson trade DeWitt was certain he had a stud RH relief guy in Jack Baldschun, but like Gary Majewski it was not to be in a Reds uniform (or many more after)Thus the PU of Abernathy was key in the 66 off season. Ted was a Senator player when he was young, must have a a somewhat live arm to get play at 22 but he injured his arm in 1957, hence the gap in his career. He reinvented himself as a submarine style thrower, with a rising curveball and a sinking fastball, his delivery often found him scrapping his knuckles on the ground, I’m thinking it more Quisenberry than Scott Sulliven one thing for sure is his 67 season was a gem and in an era of little relief acknowledgement he was the TSN Fireman of the year. He was great find and had a career year in 67, a nice one in 68 and grabbed the BU catcher for the 70’s. Not a bad Rule 5 pick at all.

  3. I remember watching Abernathy in 1967 and 1968. He was dominating, with that extreme submarine delivery.

    Right handed hitters especially wanted nothing to do with him. Hitters rarely squared up on him, I remember his giving up hits on swinging bunts and slow rollers.

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