The older you get, the more baseball you’ve probably watched, and with this fact comes a great responsibility, a solemn task that all fans of the game undertake. You can’t resist it; it’s in the fans DNA. Of course I’m talking about… picking nits, mulling the obvious, and sifting through the past.
Thom Brennaman has a habit that most announcers possess, in that he speaks with authority on a subject (in this case “baseball”) consistently enough to please most listeners, but occasionally he states a fact as an absolute truth when in reality it’s not even remotely true. This past weekend, it was the time honored statement that the Cincinnati Reds were the oldest team in baseball, which is no where near the truth.
They do hold a distinction that is unique: they were the first all professional team.
They were in the original National League, but were expelled for selling beer and other liquid refreshments favored in those days for daily intake. The current version of the Reds trace their legacy to the old American Association (AKA The Beer and Whiskey League) founded by former Enquirer sportswriter O.P Caylor in the early 1880’s.
For those interested, the oldest teams in professional baseball are listed below.
Chicago Cubs 1876 (NL) Atlanta Braves 1876 (NL) St. Louis Cardinals 1882 (AA) (NL) 1892 Pittsburgh Pirates 1882 (AA) (NL) 1887 Cincinnati Reds 1882 (AA) (NL) 1890 San Francisco Giants 1883 (NL) Philadelphia Phillies 1883 (NL) Los Angeles Dodgers 1884 (AA) (NL) 1890
Obvious Off-day Observation.
The current Reds shortstops have combined for the worst OPS for the position in the National League, but fear not — they are still better than the Royals! In case you are wondering this is what stink looks like in a slash line:
256 ab’s – .234/.281/.273/.554
To measure this, we’ll look at the last 60 years of Reds SS listed by worst OPS delivered in a full season.
YEAR OPS AVG OBA SLG AB Reds 1983 .583 .233 .303 .280 528 Reds 1953 .591 .233 .290 .302 557 Reds 1963 .595 .235 .270 .326 565 Reds 1954 .621 .250 .308 .313 588 Reds 1984 .628 .245 .307 .320 531 Reds 1950 .632 .251 .276 .356 483 Reds 1985 .645 .252 .314 .330 560
How well have the Reds SS usually hit? Compared to the Cubs and Braves (who, by the way, are the two “oldest” team in MLB), we see a wide difference in batting talent from the SS position. The Cubs have had 18 and the Braves have had 22 shortstop seasons in the same time span with an OPS worse than the Reds 7th-worst OPS in the list above.
Concerning the Reds current situation, I’m certain many will reply that the glove is what matters, and they are correct it is the most important tool in the shortstop’s bag. Now if the Reds SS crew gave this slash line with the stick in 600 AB — .230/.276/.313 — I’d hope that they were a plus 21 in Runs Allowed with the glove, like Ozzie Smith was the year he put up those numbers.
Something has to give with Cincinnati’s current situation. However, let us note that the options are few when it comes to SS. Either the cost is prohibitive or you have to develop from within, which the Reds were capable of doing for the time frame between 1950-2004.
Sifting through the past
It’s the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Reds team who lofted the NL Championship flag for that season.
It’s safe to say that this is a forgotten bunch that somewhat resides in the shadow of not only the Big Red Machine, but also the Ted Kluszewski-era Redlegs. Not to say this team didn’t have some mojo, it just seems to be forgotten more than remembered. Also of note was that this was the the first year after the Crosley ownership and only the second ownership group in franchise history to be from outside the area. It was also the last season of the original 8 NL teams that survived the contraction scenario of 1899.
What’s fun to see is how strange the game was aligned geographically after the Dodgers and Giants moved west. For instance, in 1960 the NL had one team (the Phillies) east of Pittsburgh and the American League had one team west of Detroit and four teams east of Pittsburgh. Expansion would rectify that imbalance and 1961 was an AL expansion year as the Angels and the Senators came in and the original Senators moved to Minnesota to try and even out the obvious.
Meanwhile the new ownership group in Cincinnati was trying their best to cobble together a winner and by winter’s end, the predictions had to be made. The team was not picked to go very far by all the scribes across the nation. One truism was the constant lament heard in Cincinnati since the 1950’s: if the pitching comes through… well you know the drill. In digging through some old periodicals, I ran across some items that should interest all Reds fans.
Sports Illustrated had this to say about the Reds chances:
THE BIG IFS
The young pitchers. Except for Purkey, Red starters are kids: Jim O’Toole (24), Jay Hook (24), Joey Jay (25), Jim Maloney (20). This quartet started 85 NL games among them last year, won only 34, and they won’t be helped this year by the shaky infield. But they are a talented group; if they come through en mass, Manager Fred Hutchinson will have a first-division club.
THE BALL PARK
Crosley Field (30,274 capacity) is smallest National League park, but it has two claims to permanent fame: no other park has had a ballplayer row a boat over its center-field fence (Lee Grissom did it when the Ohio River flooded in 1937); and the first major league night game was played here in 1935. Field is near Union Terminal, draws large out-of-state audience, especially from the South. New expressway runs to within few blocks of park. Parking near field improved (6,000 spaces). Refreshments include bratwurst, mettwurst, fried shrimp and 16-ounce lemonade (Cincinnati leads league in lemonade sales). Dugouts are air-conditioned (home team also has heat). New screen in left keeps homers from denting cars parked between ball park and adjacent laundry. No more will cry go up as well-tagged ball leaves stadium: “It’s over the laundry!”
Brian first met the greatest game in Detroit in 1968, that team played in a league called the “American League”…. but I digress.
Later after a family move he started a dalliance with the Cincinnati Reds, who perchance were in the midst of their greatest era. It was a romance that was greater than many could hope to be.
After barely stomaching the strike of 1981 Brian headed West but never forgot the Reds, and even despite being surrounded by Giants and A’s fans who tried to entice him with things both Green and Orange he found himself wondering what was up with Kal Daniels and was that kid from Moeller ever going to make us forget Davey.
A long time member of SABR and a baseball history junkie he currently lives in Portland and can be followed at @baseballminutia