Ed. Today begins a new Redleg Nation feature that will take us up through the July non-waiver trade deadline. Steve is going to be reviewing trades from the Reds’ history, good and bad.

December 15, 1900….Christy Mathewson traded to the New York Giants for pitcher Amos Rusie.

Any list of bad Reds trades has to start at the turn of the century with this awful deal, the worst trade in Reds history. Mathewson had a 1900 trial with the New York Giants, going 0-3, when he was assigned to the minor leagues. The Reds drafted him in the rule 5 draft, and turned around and dealt him a few days later back to the Giants for starting pitcher Amos Rusie.

Rusie was a future Hall of Famer who had endured some serious contract squabbles with the Giants front office before blowing out his arm in 1898. He had just finished his eighth 20-victory season (he won more than 30 games four times each). Rusie was planning a comeback for 1901 when he was dealt to the Reds. He had sat out two full years due to his arm injuries.

At one time Rusie was the most feared pitcher in baseball. He led the league in strikeouts and walks in five of six consecutive seasons in the 1890’s. Rusie’s fastball is one of the reasons the pitching rubber was moved back from 50 feet to 60’6”….which only helped his curveball.

Meanwhile, in a series of events, Reds owner John T. Brush was busy buying the Giants. Before completing his purchase of the Giants, he made the deal of trading Mathewson to the New York team for the sore-armed Rusie. Rusie pitched three games for the Reds, going 0-1 with an 8.59 ERA. He allowed 43 hits in 22 innings. The once imposing fastball was gone, for he only struck out 6 hitters. Rusie retired.

Meanwhile, Mathewson was pitching like a future Hall of Famer. He won 20 games in his first full season with the Giants, and proceeded to win 352 more games before the Reds reacquired him in 1916 to manage the team. He pitched one game for the Reds, beating another future Hall of Famer, Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown, in a 10-8 challenge game between the two aging stars. Mathewson’s Reds record as a pitcher was 1-0.

As manager of the Reds, the team made great strides. The Reds finished next to last his first season at the helm in 1916, despite being second in the league with a team batting average of .254. Pitching was acquired and the groundwork was laid for the Reds’ first World Series championship in 1919 under new manager Pat Moran. Mathewson had resigned near the end of the 1918 season to serve in World War I after finishing fourth in 1917. The Reds finished third in 1918.

This next item wasn’t a trade, but it’s an addendum to the above story as the Reds had a chance to own the rights to the possibly the two greatest players of the early 20th century. July 7,1914: In one of the worst Reds’ roster/scouting decisions of all-time, the Reds purchased outfielder George Twombly and shortstop Claud Derrick from Baltimore of the International League. The Reds had an agreement with the Baltimore team to choose any two players from their team, and they somehow overlooked the greatest baseball player of all time, Babe Ruth. Ruth was purchased later that year by the Red Sox and made his big league debut. So, the Reds passed on both Ruth and Christy Mathewson within a 13 year period.

The results of these bad deals (as well as some others during this time)? The Reds had losing seasons in 12 of 17 seasons from 1900 through 1916, finishing from 6th-8th in an eight team league in nine of those seasons.

6 Responses

  1. RiverCity Redleg

    That sounds about right for the Reds. It’s amazing how one decision in 1900 or 1914 can effect the entire franchise forever. Good stuff Steve.

  2. Steve Price

    I found out even more about the Ruth situation after I wrote this post.

    Turns out the Red Sox had a deal to sign two players, too. Their second pick was starting pitcher Ernie Shore, who’s the answer to another Babe Ruth trivia question.

    Ruth started a game as pitcher for the Red Sox, walked a hitter, and was then ejected by the umpire for arguing balls and strikes. Shore came in to pitch, and the runner on first was caught stealing. Shore retired the next 26 batters in order to complete the combined no-hitter.

    Shore had a lifetime 65-43 record with a career ERA of 2.47.

    We could have had Shore and Ruth.

  3. Steve Price

    I suspect it was not called Rule 5 draft then. Baseball-reference.com called it Rule 5 on their website, so I went with that name. Minor league drafts have been around to balance team talent since before Mathewson played. Some may remember the Dodgers tried to hold Roberto Clemente in Montreal before the Pirates selected him.

    Concerning Mathewson, several sources cite the Reds as having taken Mathewson in a minor league draft for $100. I may have been better served to have just called it that…a minor league draft.

  4. Baseball_Minutia

    Brush was a big city want to be, he owned a department store in Indy, but aspired to be in NYC to expand his business interest, he is in fact the last Reds owner who was not a local resident.

    The Matty deal was precursor to Brush teaming up with Freedman to raid the AL Baltimore club of their roster (which they did) and sell off the Reds and partner up with Freedman and the best players stolen from the O’s. Which they did in response to the AL placing the floundering Baltimore franchise (Which McGraw had an interest in)in the NYC market, which had prior been impossible due to Freedman’s political connections.

    The Guys the Reds stole from the O’s became the teams best players and also garnered the Reds a new manager.

    It still doesn’t remove the sting of letting a player like Matty slip through your fingers. But even then the NYC marketplace dictated a lot of baseball business beneath the covers.