Reds catchers are having a momentous month of August. Devin Mesoraco’s wife gave birth to the couple’s child (Luke) on August 7. Stuart Turner spent last weekend on the paternity list, as he and his wife welcomed their first son. And Tucker Barnhart’s wife is due with their first son later this week.  What was once an […]

In 1976 my family moved to Cincinnati. At the time I was a Tigers fan, a disciple of the American League. That changed damn quick. I guess you can say I stepped into a good thing and 31 years later I’m still waiting for that same feeling to return, a feeling of sustained greatness, a […]

November 1, 1937: Former Reds starting pitcher Benny Frey commits suicide after spending a season without baseball. Frey had been with the Reds from the end of 1929 through 1936, except for one month that he spent with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1932. Frey was the most effective player on the 1934 Reds when […]

October 31, 1938: Ernie Lombardi becomes the first Cincinnati Reds player to win the National League Most Valuable Player Award. Lombardi wins by becoming only the second catcher in Major League history to win a batting title. For the season, Lombardi batted .342 with with 19 homers and 95 rbi, a .391 OBP, and a .524 slugging percentage. He was third in the league with an overall OPS of .915.

The only other catcher to have been credited with a batting title through 1938 was another Reds catcher, Bubbles Hargrave, who had won the title in 1926 when he batted .353. Hargrave had played in 105 games with 365 plate appearances; Lombardi played in 129 games with 529 plate appearances. Lombardi later won a second batting title, in 1942 with the Boston Braves, when he batted .330 in 105 games and 347 plate appearances. I believe the rule at the time was a player had to appear in a minimum of 100 games. Joe Mauer is the third catcher to win a batting title and he’s accomplished the feat three times to this date.

Heinie Groh is another Reds player who would’ve possibly won an MVP Award if one had been announced for the 1919 Reds World Championship season. Groh batted .310/5 hr/63 rbi and a league leading .823 OPS for the 1919 team but no award was granted that season. Sabermetrician Bill James and the Stats, Inc., group retroactively named Groh to that honor in their book “All-Time Baseball Sourcebook.”

Hall of Famer Lombardi was a legend even during his playing days. A very large man, James even devotes more than 10 pages of his 2001 book “The Bill James New Historical Baseball Abstract” to the Lombardi legend. Lombardi was possibly the slowest runner in baseball history, or, at least, the slowest runner of any consequential star hitters in baseball history. The shortstops and third basemen of the National League regularly, not often, but regularly played him from the outfield grass. James says in his historical abstract that some infielders played so far back that they would have to run up to have enough strength to throw the ball to first base to get Lombardi out. On at least one occasion, Lombardi was thrown out at first base in Philadelphia after hitting the ball off the left field wall.

Lombardi used a HUGE bat and would interlock his fingers somewhat like a golf swing to hit. He had such strength and bat speed that he would rocket line drives everywhere. He once hit a line drive off a pitcher’s hand and broke three fingers. A right handed batter, the corner infielders would ask their pitchers to work the plate hoping that Lombardi would hit the ball to the other side of the infield. He told Dodger Hall of Fame shortstop Pee Wee Reese that it took Lombardi three years to realize that Reese wasn’t an outfielder. A quote from sportswriter Arthur Daley:

“You almost come to the conclusion that he was the greatest hitter of all time. Every hit he made . . . was an honest one.” –

The quote stands from the fact that defenses played so far back on him, only legitimately crushed line drives would fall for hits. Another quote, this one from an exceptional fielder, Lombardi’s teammate Harry Craft:

“He was the best righthanded hitter I ever saw. And he was an exceptional player in every way except running. If he hadn’t been so slow, he would have had an even better batting average.”

Lombardi played 17 major league seasons and batted over .300 in ten of them with a lifetime batting average of .306, an OBP of .358, with a SLP of .460, a lifetime .818 OPS. His career OPS+ was 126. He hit 190 career home runs with a seasonal high of 20 in 1939. What must be understood is that the Reds home run record had been 19 (Harry Heilman in 1930) until Ival Goodman hit 30 in 1938 after the Reds moved home plate 20 feet closer to the outfield fence. Crosley Field was death to home run hitters at the time and not the home run band box that it became in the 1950’s. Lombardi played 10 seasons for the Reds, batting .311 with 120 homers and an .828 OPS.

What should be noted here is that Lombardi was so good that he won the MVP Award in a season where the Reds finished fourth in the standings after being a league doormat for nearly a decade. Lombardi’s MVP award was the first of three consecutive winners by Reds players (Bucky Walters in 1939 and Frank McCormick in 1940 were the others) with the Reds winning the National League pennants in both 1939 and 1940. They ultimately won the 1940 World Series championship.

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October 8, 1904: Rookie second baseman Miller Huggins strokes three triples in an 8-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in St. Louis. The Reds’ win enabled them to sweep a doubleheader as they won the first game, 6-0.

The Reds were second in the league in 1904 with 92 triples, 10 behind Pittsburgh’s 102. Cy Seymour and Joe Kelley both tied for third in the league with 13 triples. Rookie Huggins finished with seven. For the season, Huggins batted .263 with a .377 OBP (OPS+ 110). Over six seasons with the Reds, Huggins batted .260 with a .362 OBP. He played 13 major league seasons, but is most famous for managing the New York Yankees to their first six World Series titles.

The 1904 Reds finished the season 88-65, in third place, 18 games behind the New York Giants. Seymour was their most effective hitter, batting .313 with 26 doubles and 13 triples (134 OPS+), while manager-1b Kelley batted .281 with 21 doubles and 13 triples (OPS+ 121). The Reds’ asset was their pitching, for they had six starting pitchers with ERA+ of 112 or higher. The Reds were third in the league with an ERA of 2.34. Jack Harper was 23-9 with a 2.30 ERA; Noodles Hahn was 16-18 with a 2.06 ERA; and Tom Walker was 15-8 with a 2.24 ERA. Win Kellum was 15-10 with a 2.60 ERA.

October 8, 1919: The Chicago White Sox get a complete game victory from Ed Cicotte and two run singles from both Shoeless Joe Jackson and Happy Felsch as they pull within four games to three by defeating the Reds, 4-1, in the seventh game of the World Series. The major principals for the White Sox were all later said to have been in on the Black Sox fix for the Series. Dolf Luque pitched four innings on one-hit shutout baseball in relief for the Reds.

October 8, 1939: The Yankees score three times in the tenth inning to sweep the 1939 World Series from the Reds. The Reds made four errors in the final game of the 1939 Series, and included the play noted for “Lombardi’s Snooze.”

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October 2, 1877: The Reds finish one of their worst season in Cincinnati baseball history, by losing to the Chicago White Stockings, 13-1. The 1877 Reds, who had disbanded and restarted at mid-season, finish the year 15-42 in last place, 25 1/2 games behind the first place Boston Red Caps. The Red Caps were remnants of the original Cincinnati Red Stockings team, led by George Wright and managed by brother Harry Wright. The 1877 Reds won-loss percentage of .263 was tied for second worst of all time.

The 1877 Reds were led by superstar Charley Jones, who batted .310 with an .819 OPS (168 OPS+) in 55 games. He had the second highest WAR (wins above replacement rating) in the league in 1877 (3.2), not that he knew that at the time since it’s a recently developed metric. Shortstop-manager Jack Manning batted .317 (OPS+ 151) and outfielder-manager Lip Pike (142 OPS+) also had strong years. The Reds used three different managers during the season. Pitching was the Reds’ downfall as their staff ERA (4.19) was nearly a run worse than any other team in the league.

October 2, 1892: The St. Louis Browns score eight runs in the top of the first inning, but the Reds come back to win the first game of a double header, 12-10. The Reds also win the second game, 4-1, to sweep the Browns. The 1892 Reds go on to finish in fifth place.

October 2, 1919: The Reds win the second game of the 1919 World Series, 4-2, over the Chicago White Sox in Cincinnati. The Reds now led the best of nine series, two games to one.

The Reds struck for three runs in the fourth inning when White Sox starter Lefty Williams ran into control problems. Williams, who had averaged 1.8 walks/9 innings for the season, walked three Reds hitters in the inning leading to three Reds runs on a single by Edd Roush and a triple by Larry Kopf. The Reds added an insurance run in the sixth when Greasy Neale singled home Roush. The White Sox scored their two runs in the seventh when Ray Schalk singled to score two, aided by two Reds throwing errors on the play.

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July 31, 1935: Billy Sullivan hit a run-scoring pinch single in the bottom of the 10th inning to give the Reds a 4-3 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in a night game played at Crosley Field. Starting pitcher Tony Freitas went the distance in improving his record to 4-5.

But, that was just a minor detail in the real stories of the evenings and days of July 31st

John Snyder has co-authored at least two books about the Reds. He partnered with Floyd Conner to write “Day by Day in Cincinnati Reds History” and later partnered with Greg Rhodes to write “Redleg Journal.” Both tell the story well, but here’s the more recent version taken from “Redleg Journal.”

“The capacity of Crosley Field at the time was 26,000, but an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 squeezed into the ballpark. Due to an unbelievable traffic crunch in the West End, those in private automobiles and buses were late in arriving. Even excursion trains emanating from Kentucky, Indiana, West Virginia, and elsewhere in Ohio were unable to keep their schedules. As a result, many of those who bought standing room tickets took the seats of the late arrivals, sending thousands of late-arriving fans onto the field.

Attempts to corral the standees failed and the milling crowd filled foul ground and edged onto the playing field. Fans stood 12 deep all around the diamond and against the outfield wall. The contest was delayed for 25 minutes in the third inning when many of the unruly fans scampered across the outfield. Order was restored by the arrival of the riot squad of the Cincinnati police and the threat of a forfeit to the Cardinals.

Players couldn’t see the action from the dugout and had difficulty making their way to the playing field. The two managers had to call out to fans to find out what was happening on the field. In the eighth inning, when play was stopped to tend to an injured player, Kitty Burke, a young woman in the crowd near home plate, grabbed the bat from the hands of Babe Herman and pranced up to the batter’s box. St. Louis pitcher Paul Dean tossed an underhanded pitch which Miss Burke grounded to first base. She later toured the burlesque circuit as the only woman to ‘bat’ in the major leagues.

Somehow, in the midst fo the pandemonium, a baseball game was played. The Reds won, 4-3….Ironically, Commissioner (Kennesaw Mountain) Landis, who had a standing invitation from (Reds owner) Powel Crosley to attend a night game, picked this occasion to see his first nocturnal contest. However, the commissioner took no action against the Reds.

The next day, (Reds GM Larry) MacPhail issued refunds to the outraged patrons who either had their seats stolen or couldn’t see the action on the field. He announced sheepishly that he would not oversell the ballpark again, but–at the suggestion of groundskeeper Matty Schwab–MacPhail authorized the expansion of the left field terrace into center and right fields to provide additional seating for future overflow crowds.”

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We’ve reviewed some of the major components of the first two Cincinnati World Championship teams. We know that championship teams need big time players, but it takes more than just stars to win a championship (see Ernie Banks).

Briefly, here’s how the other guys came about….watch for the number of waiver wire and contract purchases…it takes a combination of scouting for waiver wire acquisitions, trades, and, yes, even spending some money to win championships.

1919 Reds–Record of 96-44, with a winning percent of .686–highest in modern Reds history
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