This week’s respondents are Matt Habel, Steve Mancuso, Jim Walker, Tom Mitsoff, and Chad Dotson.
Our Daily Reds Obsession: Which Reds player who played before you were born do you wish you had been able to watch?
Matt: The player that comes to mind first is Joe Morgan. Looking at the WAR numbers make it almost impossible not to pick him, with the three most valuable seasons in Reds history, according to Fangraphs. It’s hard to imagine a player that good on a team as good as the Big Red Machine, especially since the Reds teams that I have followed have never had that much talent. Frank Robinson is another player that intrigues me and would probably be next on my list, partially because I know much less about that era of baseball and would be very interested in seeing how the game has developed throughout the years.
Steve: Frank Robinson. Robinson accumulated 63.8 WAR in his ten years for the Reds; that’s a Hall of Fame career. He was NL Rookie of the Year as a 20-year-old, an All-Star in 1956 and the NL MVP in 1961. Robinson could also play defense. He won the Gold Glove award in 1958. Three times when he played for the Reds he led the league in OPS. He hit at least 20 homers in all ten seasons Robinson played for the Reds, and 30 homers seven times. Robinson was a complete player. I saw him play later in his career for the Orioles, particularly in the 1970 World Series, but I would have loved to see him play in his prime when with the Reds.
Jim: The Reds player I heard the most about from my dad and uncles when I was growing up was catcher Ernie Lombardi who played for the Reds from 1932-41. “The Schnozz” as he was affectionately known is my choice here. Lombardi’s Reds tenure included back to back National League pennants in 1939-40, (’40 World Champs). Lombardi, a 5 time all star and NL MVP (1938) as a Red, was an exceptional hitter (126 career OPS+; 48.3 career oWAR) and also a more than competent catcher. However, despite being a member of both the Reds and National Baseball Hall of Fame, Lombardi is more renowned for being possibly the slowest man afoot ever to be a significant position player in major league baseball. For a slow afoot kid catcher like myself, Schnozz would have been a natural idol.
Tom: The Reds player I would have liked to have had the chance to watch was Frank Robinson. My sense is that he is largely overlooked in the listing of all-time players who have played for the Reds, largely because he was traded before his prime, and because he did not play on any illustrious Reds teams. He did play on a National League championship team in 1961, a year he was NL MVP. His lowest WAR during the 10 years with the Reds was 4.3, and the highest was 8.7. He was NL Rookie of the Year in 1956. From all the second-hand and anecdotal accounts I have heard, he was a fantastic player both offensively and defensively in the outfield.
Chad: So many good names to choose from here: Edd Roush, Ted Kluszewski, Vada Pinson, Ernie Lombardi, Dolf Luque, Bucky Walters, Eppa Rixey. I wish I had seen Joe Morgan play in a Reds uniform (I did see him play in a Phillies uniform, however). The obvious answer is Frank Robinson, who may be the most underrated player in the history of baseball.
In the interest of picking a name that no one else chose, I’m going to go with Ewell “The Whip” Blackwell. Blackwell was an All-Star during each of his six full seasons with the Reds, depending on his blazing fastball, high leg kick, and intimidating sidearm delivery. He was a singular character in the history of this franchise — enough so that he earned his own chapter in an upcoming book about the Reds that I hope you’ll go preorder.
[Here’s an excerpt from that chapter that was left on the cutting room floor.] Even in 2016, people around baseball still marveled at Blackwell’s gifts. Legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully waxed poetic about The Whip in a random mid-September game:
“There was a remarkable pitcher years ago with the Cincinnati Reds named Ewell Blackwell…Blackwell was terrifying at times for a right-hand batter.
“How do I know that? Pee Wee Reese once told me about Ewell Blackwell, and he said, ‘He’s the only pitcher I ever saw whom I feared.’ So if Pee Wee feared him, it was pretty terrifying.”