You may have noticed that we’ve been focusing on Reds history a little bit more recently (Thanks, Steve Price). We all love the Reds, and I don’t want us to forget that this organization has a very storied and interesting history.
Anyway, while doing some research for another series of posts (coming soon), I thought it would be interesting to put together a team of former Reds who many of us may have forgotten actually played for the Reds. Accordingly, here I present the all-time “They Were Reds?” team. You may remember some, or all, of them but these are players who made their names elsewhere, yet spent a short time with the Reds at some point.
First Base: Leon Durham
I actually do remember Durham’s time with the Reds, but he had such a strange career, I thought I’d put him at the top of the list (this was a difficult position to choose from). Durham, of course, was an all-star for the Chicago Cubs, a powerful hitter with a great defensive reputation. In 1988, at age 30 and just a year removed from a decent, 27-homer year, Durham was traded to the Reds for Pat Perry and cash. After only 56 plate appearances, the Reds released him and within a year, at 31 years old, Durham was out of baseball. Very strange career.
Honorable Mention: Joe Adcock — an all-star who spent his best years with the Milwaukee Braves, Adcock amassed 336 homers over a long and distinguished career. His major league debut, however, was with Cincinnati.
Charlie Comiskey — Comiskey, of course, is a Hall-of-Famer for his contributions off the field. He finished his playing career as a Red.
Terry Francona — Francona is known now as the manager of the first Red Sox team to win a World Series in about a million years. He played a decade in the majors, however, and wasn’t an awful player. He played 102 games in 1987, his sole season with the Reds. Wish he was managing the Reds now?
Wally Pipp — Everyone remembers Pipp, who had a headache, took a day off, and then never reclaimed his position with the Yankees because Lou Gehrig refused to let go. The Reds purchased him in 1926, and he finished out his career with Cincy, which was a much better organization anyway.
Second Base: Billy Martin
Martin was a fiery all-star second baseman on some great Yankees teams in the ’50s. He then went on to a career as an even-more-fiery manager on a bunch of teams, most memorably the Yankees. Well, in 1960, at the age of 32, Martin spent one year with the Reds, arriving with Gordy Coleman and Cal McLish from the Indians in a trade for Johnny Temple.
Honorable Mention: Julian Javier. He was overrated, but Javier did spend 12 years with the Cardinals and made a couple of all-star teams. He even made the top ten in MVP voting once, in 1967. The last 44 games of his career were with the Reds.
Cookie Rojas: made 5 all-star teams with the Phillies and Royals in the sixties and seventies. He started his career as a Red.
Manny Trillo: won 3 gold gloves and was named to 4 all-star teams in the 70s and 80s. His best years were with the Phillies, but the final 42 plate appearances of his career, in 1989, were with Cincinnati.
Third Base: Don Zimmer
The only real candidate for this team at 3B is baseball legend Zimmer, who has been a manager or coach in the big leagues since about 1797. He spent part of 1962 with the Reds. Later, as a coach with the Yankees, George Steinbrenner forbade Yankees broadcasters from showing Zimmer on screen; make of that what you will. My favorite Zim moment, however, will always be his altercation with Pedro Martinez.
Shortstop: Joe Tinker
Tinker was a Hall-of-Famer, primarily because he was the Cubs shortstop when the famous “Tinker to Evers to Chance” ditty was contrived in 1910. In fifteen major league seasons, Tinker spent only one in a city other than Chicago; yep, it was 1913, with Cincinnati.
Honorable Mention: Tony Fernandez. Fernandez was a very talented shorttop and had some great years, mostly with Toronto. He won four gold gloves and was an all-star five times. Fernandez joined Cincinnati in 1994, and though he had a decent year, he was never happy playing 3B, so the Reds let him walk at the end of the year.
Outfield: Curt Flood, Vince Coleman, Frank Thomas
–Curt Flood, of course, is best remembered as being the man who challenged baseball’s reserve clause, ending up before the US Supreme Court. He also won 7 straight gold gloves in the sixties, making three all-star teams. Some of you may remember that the first 4 at-bats of his major league career, beginning in 1956 at age 18, were as a Red.
–Vince Coleman burst onto the scene for the Cardinals as a rookie in 1985. He won the Rookie of the Year award, swiping 100 bases (he would also steal more than 100 each of the next two years). Unfortunately, Coleman always had a problem getting on base, and by the time he joined the Reds in 1996, his career was basically over. He hit .155 over 33 miserable games in Cincinnati before he was released.
–The original Frank Thomas was also the first “Big Donkey” for the Reds organization. Thomas hit lots of homers in the fifties and sixties, with his best years coming for the Pirates. In 1959, he was traded to the Reds in a blockbuster deal, but he had the worst year of his career for the Reds and was promptly traded to the Cubs after just that one season.
Honorable Mention: Jim Thorpe. Thorpe won Olympic gold medals, played college and pro football, and professional basketball, as well. Thorpe was named the greatest athlete of the first half of the 20th century, and the 3rd greatest of the entire century. Plus, he spent 77 games with the Reds in 1917.
Vince DiMaggio: DiMaggio was a two-time all-star, primarily because his brother was really good. He spent 10 games with the Reds in 1939 and 1940 (great years for the Reds) before achieving more success in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
Tip O’Neill: No, not the famous politician.
Cuckoo Christensen: I just liked his name.
Catcher: Spud Davis
This was actually the one position where there wasn’t a great candidate for the team. Davis was considered one of the better defensive catchers of the early part of the century, but he spent just one season in a Reds uniform (his best years were with Philly and St. Louis). Bill James discussed Spud fairly extensively in his latest Gold Mine; interesting stuff.
Honorable Mention: Smokey Burgess — All-star catcher whose best years were with Philly and Pittsburgh.)
Benito Santiago — We all remember Bento Sonteego (as my brother called him at age 3), but I had actually forgotten that Santiago had two tours of duty with the Reds. Santiago had a good 1995 season for the Reds, but his best years were elsewhere.
Pitcher: Christy Mathewson
We all know Mathewson, who is widely considered one of the best pitchers of all time. He spent 16 seasons with John McGraw’s New York Giants, and he was brilliant until an unfortunate incident during the first world war caused a somewhat steep decline. He joined the Reds as player/manager in 1916, the last year of his playing career. He only pitched one game, but spent three as the team’s manager, finishing 7th, 4th, and 3rd.
Honorable Mention: Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown. Three-Finger was a Hall-of-Famer from the first couple of decades in the last century. A childhood injury caused the deformation with his hand, an injury that was always credited for the funky spin Brown could put on the ball. He spent one season with the Reds in 1913, but his best days were elsewhere. (NOTE: great, rare “video” of Brown here)
Mike Cuellar: At one time, Cuellar was a studly left-hander who won the 1969 Cy Young Award as part of what would become a great Baltimore rotation. In 1959, at age 22, the Reds gave a young Cuellar his first taste of the big leagues, and the youngster responded with a 15.75 ERA in 2 games. If only the Reds had kept Cuellar; can you imagine his arm on the early seventies Reds teams that came oh-so-close to winning a World Series?
Steve Avery: Avery hit the ground running as a 20-year-old rookie who held his own in some great Atlanta rotations of the early and mid-nineties. Unfortunately, he lost it just as quickly as he had found it, and by the time he was 29, his career was basically over. The Reds gave him 19 excruciating starts in 1999, and Avery went 6-7 with a 5.16 ERA before the plug was mercifully pulled.
Frank Viola: Viola was the ace pitcher for some excellent Minnesota teams in the 1980s, winning a Cy Young Award in 1988. At age 35, in 1995, Viola attempted to re-capture the magic in Cincinnati. Three starts and a 6.28 ERA later, his Reds career was over.
B.J. Ryan: Ryan pitched one game for the Reds at age 23, in 1999. He was promptly traded to Baltimore for Juan Guzman, who pitched very well for the Reds down the stretch in that exciting 1999 season. Ryan, of course, turned into an all-star closer.
Pedro Martinez: Unfortunately, the Reds got the wrong Pedro Martinez. This one gave up two runs in three innings in 1996.
Mysterious Walker: great name.