Who will be the next Reds Rookie of the Year? Will it be Nick Senzel? Jesse Winker? Shed Long?
No one knows for sure. Most Cincinnati Reds who have won that award went on to have pretty good careers. There was Frank Robinson (1956), Pete Rose (1963), Tommy Helms (1966), Johnny Bench (1968). Pat Zachry shared it with San Diego’s Butch Metzger (1976) Chris Sabo won in
Joey Votto should have won it in 2008 but it went instead to Chicago Cubs catcher Geovany Soto. But Soto played for the Cubs, was a catcher, made the All-Star game (thanks to ballot stuffing by Cubs fans) so Votto was snubbed. Two other Reds that finished runner-up were Bernie Carbo (1970) and Tom Browning (despite winning 20 games in 1985.)
But the last Rookie of the Year for Cincinnati was Scott Williamson.
Williamson had two good things going for him: he came out of nowhere to excel in Cincinnati’s bullpen and he played for the Reds during that magical season of 1999. The 1999 Reds had some great players with charisma: Barry Larkin, Greg Vaughn, Sean Casey, Mike Cameron, Pokey Reese and Aaron Boone, to name a few. They were managed by Jack McKeon, the last truly great Reds manager.
Scott Williamson (righthander, 6-0, 195) was a 9th round draft pick by the Reds in 1997. In two years, he went from college to the big leagues. After a great season at Billings (Rookie Leagues), Williamson skipped Class A entirely. And after just 5 appearances in Triple A, he was invited to spring training in 1999 despite not being on the Reds 40-man roster.
Injuries to Denny Neagle and Stan Belinda, along with a solid spring by Williamson, got him a roster spot when the Reds broke camp. McKeon picked his spots for the rookie, mostly in middle relief at the beginning, then later to set up closer Danny Graves (29 saves that season) and then in save situations towards the end of the year.
Williamson’s season was superb: 12-7 record, 19 saves and a 2.41 ERA. He stumbled a bit late in the season, including a crucial loss to Milwaukee on October 1. Leading 3-1 in the 7th, McKeon pulled Neagle after the lefty threw over a hundred pitches. In the 8th, Milwaukee scored two runs off Williamson and the game-winner in the 10th off Scott Sullivan. The next day, the Brewers scored 7 runs in the 4th off Juan Guzman, Dennys Reyes and Belinda and routed the Reds 10-6. Those losses resulted in a tie for the wild card berth with the New York Mets (only one team was allowed in back then) and the Mets eliminated the Reds 5-0.
Williamson never recaptured that ’99 magic. He was nagged by injuries; two broken toes in 2000 and a torn ligament in his shoulder that led to Tommy John surgery in 2001. The Reds traded him to Boston in 2003 for Phil Dumatrait, Tyler Pelland and cash in a fire sale after the Reds fired General Manager Jim Bowden and Manager Bob Boone.
Williamson had some success with the Red Sox (especially in the 2003 post season) but was slowed by elbow tendonitis and a nerve impingement in his right forearm. With the Cubs in 2005, he had Tommy John surgery (again.). In 2006, he developed tendonitis once more and the day after he signed with the San Diego Padres, a bone chip was discovered in his elbow, followed by tightness in his right triceps tendon. He bounced around with some more teams before retiring. Scott could never escape these injuries.
But when I think of Scott Williamson, it’s about 1999. Those memories are deep and plentiful.
It was the last hurrah for old Riverfront Stadium. Barry Larkin played 161 games that year, Greg Vaughn slammed 45 home runs. Sean Casey was beloved by Reds fans and became the de facto Mayor of Cincinnati. Cameron was the Reds best centerfielder since Eric Davis. Those Reds had a swagger, a personality that oozed confidence and aggressiveness.
And Williamson, a rookie, was in the middle of it. None of us knew it then, but despite the soon-to-be-trade for Ken Griffey Junior — man, did I celebrate that night! — we were about to be tortured by poor pitching, poor draft picks, poor managing (Boone, especially) and a rebuilding era that was to last for the next eight years.
The Reds are due for another Rookie of the Year. I said it nine years ago and I’ll say it again– Joey was ripped off in the Rookie of the Year voting in 2008.
The next one? My money’s on Nick Senzel. When he was playing for Dayton, I watched him take BP from the field before a game in Davenport, Iowa. Even the other players stopped to watch him.
You didn’t have to watch, to see it was him. You could hear the difference.