A lot of fans in the Nation were disturbed about the signing of right-handed pitcher Jason Marquis before the 2015 season started. There were concerns about his age, his durability and a history of injuries. It may have been a low-risk signing ($1.5 million) but Marquis eventually was released by the Reds after going 3-4 this year and posting an ERA of 6.46. And that earned run average was definitely in Eric Milton territory (see below).

There were a lot of warning flags before this signing of Marquis by Walt Jocketty and the Reds. It was one that didn’t work out. The Marquis signing in itself didn’t lead to the Reds ultimately collapsing this season, but rather it’s symbolic of the organization’s belief it could seriously contend in 2015.

It certainly isn’t the first time it’s happened. Historically, the Reds — like other teams — have made pitching transactions either by trade or free agent signings that have crashed and burned. Most of them have the same characteristics — aging veterans, a questionable history of injuries and durability — and they didn’t pan out.

There are times the farm system can produce or the Reds can make a decent trade for quality pitching. That’s been proved with the successful trades of Fred Norman, Tom Seaver, Danny Jackson, John Smiley and Bronson Arroyo over the years. Sometimes, the Reds get it right.

But sometimes, it just doesn’t work out. Best laid plans are blown up.

It didn’t work out for the Reds and Jason Marquis. And it didn’t work out for the ones listed below. Some of the names you will recognize. Others you won’t. But in the end, the Reds were damaged by the transaction.

Here we go, in no certain order:

Milt Pappas

Probably the most famous “failure” because he was traded for Reds superstar Frank Robinson. Sure, Jack Baldschun and Dick Simpson were included in the deal with Baltimore, but Pappas was the main guy the Reds acquired. Pappas pitched for the Reds  for two-plus seasons before being jettisoned to the Atlanta Braves. Nicknamed ‘Gimpy’ Pappas was a control specialist and innings-eater. He pitched  over 200 innings in each of his two full seasons with the Reds with records of 12-11 and 16-13. Milt Pappas was a good pitcher, but not a great one. He pitched every fourth day for the Reds and was reliable but he couldn’t measure up to Robinson’s Triple Crown performance in 1966. But who could? He was also outspoken. Pappas later admitted to “throwing nothing but fastballs to Roger Maris” when Maris hit his 59th home run of the 1961 season off Pappas, later justifying it because he didn’t agree with Commissioner Ford Frick stating an asterisk should be used if Maris broke Babe Ruth’s record. He continues a decades-long feud with Umpire Bruce Froemming over a walk to Larry Stahl that ruined Pappas’ perfect game against the Padres with two out in the 9th inning of his no-hitter. Pappas was traded to the Braves in June 1968 for a package of players that included reliever Clay Carroll. Getting Carroll, who is in the Reds Hall of Fame, at least gave a little return of the trading of Frank Robinson.

Woody Fryman

Fryman’s fate was worse that what befell Pappas. He was swapped to the Reds along with relief pitcher Dale Murray for beloved slugger Tony Perez and reliever Will McEnaney in probably the worst trade ever made by Bob Howsam before the 1977 season. Fryman arrived to the Reds at the age of 35 (strike one) and was a lefthanded pitcher. The highlight of his brief Reds career was when he won on Opening Day in 1977 against the Padres, thanks to Cesar Geronimo (two-run homer) and Rawly Eastwick (three shutout innings of relief) Fryman clashed with Reds Manager Sparky Anderson (strike two) repeatedly. Sparky pulled him from the starting rotation in June. Fryman then stunned the Reds by announcing his retirement (strike three) in the middle of a heated pennant race against the Dodgers. Howsam traded Fryman to the Cubs immediately after the season for Bill Bonham and Fryman resumed his career. A Kentucky native and tobacco farmer, Fryman is in both the Montreal Expo and Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame. His record with Cincinnati in 1977 was 5-5, with an ERA of 5.38– not much of a return for a future Hall of Famer in Tony Perez. Howsam really blew this one.

Eric Milton

This was the worst free-agent signing ever by the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds signed Milton to a three-year $25 million contract on December 28, 2004. Merry Christmas, Reds fans. Milton was similar in style to Jim Merritt, a lefty who was a 20-game winner for Cincinnati in 1970. Unfortunately, Milton needed perfect control because he had mostly ordinary stuff. Milton gave up a staggering 40 home runs in 2005, to accompany his 8-15 record and an ERA of 6.47. That’s right— 6.47. He improved slightly in 2006 (8-8, 5.19) but tore a cartilage in his left knee. In 2007, he was 0-4 when he had Tommy John surgery. And that was that for Eric Milton, his career with the Reds and $25 million.

Roger Nelson

The Big Red Machine was always on the look out for starting pitching. Before the 1973 season, Howsam traded Hal McRae and Wayne Simpson to the Kansas City Royals for Nelson and outfielder Ritchie Scheinblum. The Reds had no room for McRae, a promising young righthanded hitter. McRae’s liability was his lack of defense and speed. He was the perfect DH, hence the trade to the American League. He certainly was a good one for KC and McRae wound up in the Royals Hall of Fame. For Roger “Spider” Nelson, it didn’t quite work out with the Reds. Nelson was a solid 14-8 for the Royals in 1972 with an ERA of 2.08 but Spider pitched just 54 innings for the ’73 Reds as he was hindered by injuries. He pitched only another 85 innings the next year. Spider was a good pitcher when he was healthy– he just wasn’t ever healthy, at least during his sojourn with the Reds.

Jim Kern

Reds GM Dick Wagner traded George Foster to the Mets for Kern, Greg Harris and catcher Alex Trevino after the 1981 season. Kern was a three-time All-Star with the Texas Rangers and finished 4th in the Cy Young voting in 1979 as a reliever. Injuries and overwork slowed him down but Kern had a solid second half of the 1981 season and Wagner took a gamble. Kern, a 6’5” righthanded flamethrower, was famous for his fastball and intimidating whiskers. In 1982, the Reds had a ban on facial hair. When Kern reported for spring training, he was clean shaven and gave a bag of his shaved whiskers to pitching coach Bill Fischer. It went downhill from there, Kern was effective but no longer an elite pitcher. The 1982 season was a disaster for the Reds, resulting in the first 100-loss year in Cincinnati history. Kern feuded with management, especially Chief Bender, the Reds Vice President for Player Development. Kern demanded a trade and started to grow a beard when Bender said that Kern, Johnny Bench and Cesar Cedeno were the reasons for the Reds dismal year. “When you’re 30-some games under the .500 mark,” said Kern, “it has to be a community effort. You can’t pinpoint three guys and blame them.” Kern had a valid point. Every trade Wagner made before the 1982 season was a flop, from Clint Hurdle to Trevino to Cedeno. Players promoted from AAA were disappointing, including Paul Householder and Duane Walker. The 33-year old Kern was traded to the White Sox for the “proverbial player to be named later” on August 23, 1982. His line with the Reds— a won-loss record of 3-5, 2 saves, 76 innings pitched, 61 hits, 43 strikeouts, 48 walks and WHIP of 1.434. Harris, the other pitcher acquired by Wagner in this trade, was worse– 2-6 and a 4.03 ERA that season. Trevino was a mediocre catcher and a dreadful hitter.

Jimmy Haynes

Here is another free agent acquisition by the Reds, first in 2002 and again one year later after his only decent season in Cincinnati.. In many ways, Haynes reflects the Reds of the early part of that decade — good hitting and not a lot of pitching. Haynes was another control specialist with underwhelming stuff but he averaged 190 innings of work over the previous six seasons before arriving in Cincinnati. Haynes pitched three years for the Reds and had one good season, in 2002, when he was 15-10 and posted a 4.51 ERA. He pitched 196 innings that year but yielded 221 hits. But by “good” it refers to Reds standards. The Reds Opening Day starter in 2002 was Joey Hamilton (4-10, 5.27 ERA in ’82) — not exactly Soto, Cueto or Seaver. In 2003 (the first game ever at Great American Ballpark) the Opening Day starter was Jimmy Haynes. That season, Haynes was 2-12 with an awful ERA of 6.30. The Reds signed him to a $2.5 million deal originally, certainly not Milton-esque and they did get one decent season out of him. But unfortunately, Jimmy Haynes reflected the Dunn-Griffey Era of patchwork pitching staffs and other similar pitchers in that that time frame such as Josh Fogg, Elmer Dessens and Chris Reitsma.

John lives in Galesburg, Illinois and has been a Reds fan all of his life. He is a retired firefighter and a Veteran who served for 32 years but stays active at the local Humane Society. His favorite Reds players include Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, Tony Perez, Eric Davis, and Bronson Arroyo. While writing, he frequently listens to the music of Led Zeppelin and Steely Dan. He is flanked in the photo by ever-loyal “Reptar.”

Join the conversation! 19 Comments

  1. Fun article… I liked Elmer Dessens for some reason. I remember him more fondly than the others you’ve named.

  2. Eric Milton, woof.

    Interesting story on Milton. I went to his first-ever game as a Red, against the Mets at GABP. He was hit hard all day, giving up 3 earned runs on 9 hits in just 5 1/3 innings. After giving up a league leading 43 homers the year before, Milton served up his first of 2005 in the 2nd inning. I had gone to the john during the top of the fourth, but was still listening to the radio call in the bathroom when Milton gave up another home run. The guy standing nearby turned to me and said “I believe we’re going to be seeing a lot of that this year”. More prophetic words were never spoken. That signing was a trainwreck from the get-go.

  3. Many people seems to forget where was this team just 10 years ago. Losers with no prospects in the horizon, awful drafting and development, a terrible owner not willing to spend, not a single decent pitcher and Griffey/Dunn as our “stars”. Then came O’ Dowd(sp?), Krivsky who deserves lots of credit for some shrewd moves (although that Hamilton trade….) and Jocketty. A passionate and willing to spend owner. Each one brought some assets that made possible the best run the Reds have had in 20 years. They underachieved no doubt, but nobody can argue that even now a turnaround is easier than in those almost 2 decades of helpless frustration. For one, when did the Reds enjoyed having so much pitching than in the last 10 years and beyond?.

    ps. I’m waiting for the comment that blames WJ for the Robinson/Pappas trade. 😉

    • It was Dan O’Brien.

      I applaud your sunny attitude, but Is this supposed to make us happier? Enough with the “At least we’re not like we were 10 years ago” talk. To me, that makes you sound like a Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis apologist. I’m not sure that was your intention.

      The bar was raised when Bob C bought the team. Expectations are higher, or at least they ought to be. The team was very close in 2012 and 2013, but now is drifting aimlessly in the other direction, with Bob and Walt rearranging deck chairs.

      Sure, it might be easier to turn things around right now, but that is operating under the assumption that management thinks something is wrong, and has a plan to change it.

      Yes, the Reds have pitching, but that and Votto is all they have. Don’t fool yourself, Bruce and Frazier are both delightful people, but they slump too often. Meso might be something, but we won’t know anything until he’s declared healthy. Suarez? Hopefully not a flash in the pan. Hamilton? Regressing. Winker? Still a prospect – he could be Paul Householder or Tracy Jones.

      Anyone expecting Walt to pull a rabbit out of a hat with a Free Agent bat ought to know that not once with the Reds has Walt signed a FA player who has made a significant difference offensively. Not once. Know why? He’s a terrible judge of talent with established players. (Skip, Jack, Brennan… etc)

      Ideally, Walt overpays (he’ll have to to get offense) via trade for a cost-controlled, high OBP bat. I won’t be holding my breath, but maybe I’ll be surprised.

      • It was O’brien, correct.

        No, it was not my intention to have a sunny attitude nor was to have your doomsday attitude either. Of course the bar has risen after 15 years of losing (my entire point that you missed) when Mr. Castellini bought the team, had good baseball people managing the org that made the Reds one of the best teams at drafting players and had a heck of a run (even winning 97 games in 2012) between 2010 and 2013 in a very tough division. They should’ve done better, but injuries (Votto’s and Cueto’s in 2012) and lack of depth/underperforming killed a good chance of having a title in Cincy. News for you: happens.

        On Your comments on Walt ” He’s a terrible judge of talent with established players” well…McGwire, Holliday, Carpenter, among others (with the Cards) and Rolen, Marshall (injuries were not his fault), Ramon Hernandez, Alfredo Simon, Brayan Pena (Reds) prove you wrong. Even Marlon Byrd was not as bad as some want to make him look.

        We can discuss the trades he’s made too, but that’s for the next Horror Movie you want us to watch. ;))

        • I’m not wrong about the FA signings, especially the ones in the last 5 years. What offensive players has Walt ever signed that have made significant contributions? Pena and Hernandez are both stretches, as they were not regular players. Byrd was a trade, not a Free Agent.

          Walt is much better when he trades, which has not been often enough.

          I hope that you are right. I don’t see much intelligence or foresight from this organization.

          Here’s some news for you: When you’re a small market, have a good core of players, and have THE BEST rotation the franchise has ever had, you go for it. The Reds didn’t. That’s on Walt.

        • One last thing: What the heck happened to Walt and all the good baseball people? They’ve totally blown it for the past two years. Of course, they’ll blame injuries.

    • Totally agreed. Unfortunately, Reds have had a bad two years in a row run of injuries coupled with a lousy manager. With less injuries and a better manager they should be able to fight for the 3rd division place/2nd wild card spot next year.

  4. …and yet some bemoan getting too many pitching prospects in trades. Sorry, I remembering (the opposite of fondly) all the seasons with an SP5- as our opening day starter. You knew the season was over before it began, even if you held out hope.

  5. Listening to the Cubs radio broadcast of one of the games in the just completed series, they interviewed Pappas. The announcers were gushing over his 1972 season with the Cubs when he went 17-7 with a 2.77 ERA and how he finished his career with over 200 wins. Not a bad career for Milt. Definitely not Robinson-esque, but a solid career.

  6. I remember the Foster trade to the Mets, it hurted me really bad, he was one of my favorite players at the time.

  7. Reitsma had a filthy changeup

  8. As many of you will never admit, Walt had two good managers that made him to some people, a great GM.

    It pains me to say this, but tony larussa was the best manager a GM could have. He pushed his players and set the tone for his club. He’s aggressive by nature. The cardinals played aggressive.

    Dusty Baker also was a good manager. While some of you hate dusty, the numbers speak for themselves. Dusty only had one standout player in votto, but yet had the ”we’re all in this together mentality “. They played that way. Played for each other. People often overlook a good manager and give credit to the upper management or players. If you don’t believe me about dusty, look at the state of all his team’s before he managed them. All became competitive.

    Walt jocketty was given the keys to this franchise by an owner who see’s it as a business investment. Marge schott had more of a desire to win that castellini. Jocketty has proven he is clueless. Larussa clearly had pull with St. Louis ownership. He got what he wanted.

    Jocketty fired Baker because he didn’t want another experienced manager to deal with. Nobody to question him about his moves or lack thereof. Baker questioned him and told him about the lack of moves. He was fired for speaking the truth.

    Do me a favor, Google larussa not interested in reds job. Larussas’s response was classic:

    “Walt’s had more than enough of me,” La Russa told CBSSports.com while attending the Oakland A’s-Detroit Tigers American League Division Series game on Friday night. “In fact, I talked to him today and told him that and he said, ‘You’re right. I agree.'”

  9. It’s still too soon to bring up Eric Milton.

Comments are closed.

About John Ring

John lives in Galesburg, Illinois and has been a Reds fan all of his life. He is a retired firefighter and a Veteran who served for 32 years but stays active at the local Humane Society. His favorite Reds players include Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, Tony Perez, Eric Davis, and Bronson Arroyo. While writing, he frequently listens to the music of Led Zeppelin and Steely Dan. He is flanked in the photo by ever-loyal "Reptar."

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Reds History