Following the bad trade of Christy Mathewson, the Reds decided to deal away more talent. The five position players listed below are all rated in the top 60 (or higher) for their positions by baseball historian Bill James and Orval Overall had a 2.23 career ERA:

a. 1903….Of Sam Crawford jumps to Detroit Tigers (AL)
b. 1904….Sold Jake Beckley to St. Louis Cardinals
c. 1904… traded OF Mike Donlin to New York Giants
d. 1906….sold OF Cy Seymour to New York Giants
e. 1906…traded 3b Harry Steinfeldt to Chicago Cubs for SP Jake Weimer
f. 1906….traded SP Orvall Overall to Chicago Cubs for SP Bob Wicker

Demonstrating a stunning amount of ineptitude, the Reds sold and traded a bevy of stars to other teams in the first decade of the 20th Century.

The hardest part to understand about these deals is that the Reds owner of the day, Garry Herrmann, was respected enough by his cohorts, or may have been foolish enough, to have been on the three-man “National Commission” that presided over the game until 1920 when baseball had its first commissioner in Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Herrmann later built the 1919 World Championship Reds team, but in the early 1900’s he doesn’t seem to have had a clue about how to win, or the team’s goals were diametrically opposed to winning.

The Reds had a winning team in the 1890’s before falling on hard times in 1900 and 1901 under owner John T. Brush who was in the process of building his other NL franchise, the New York Giants. Brush sold the Reds to what writers Donald Dewey and Nicholas Acocella describe this way in their book “The Ball Clubs:”

“It was in August 1902 that Brush finally did step down, selling the franchise to as motley a crew as has ever sat on the board of directors of a baseball team. The main parties were Cincinnati mayor Julius Fleischmann; Fleischmann’s brother Max;, who ran the family’s yeast company; George Cox, a political boss who had few equals in his reputation as a corrupt thug; and August (Garry) Herrmann, chairman of the municipal waterworks board. The transaction was finalized when Cox threatened to build a new city street through the Palace of the Fans (the Reds playing field) if an agreement wasn’t reached.”

I don’t know how much baseball they knew, but they knew how to deal away players. First, future Hall of Fame outfielder Sam Crawford, defected to the American League amidst the ownership confusion. Crawford, who led the league in homers in 1901, triples in 1902, and had batted over .300 in three of four seasons, had signed contracts with both the NL and AL. Crawford holds the major league record with 309 career triples and finished his career with a .309 batting average and only 39 hits short of 3000. The Reds chose not to sue Detroit over the contracts which was the deal that paved the way for peace between the AL and NL. Crawford starred for the Tigers for the next 13 years. Bill James rates Crawford as the 10th best right fielder of all time.

The next move was to sell future Hall of Fame 1B Jake Beckley to the St. Louis Cardinals. Beckley was near the end of this career, but was still a star having hit over .300 for five consecutive seasons. Beckley’s career batting average was .308. Beckley played four more years with the Cardinals.

Turkey Mike Donlin was next to go, this time to former owner Brush’s team, the Giants. Donlin was quite the character in many ways. He was an actor and spent time in prison; in fact, the Reds had signed him while he was incarcerated for assaulting an actress. After batting .329 and .356 for the Reds, he was traded to the Giants in a three team trade. The Pirates acquired outfielder Moose McCormick from the Giants, and the Reds received outfielder Jimmy Sebring from the Pirates. McCormick played 66 games with the Pirates and made his way back to the Giants. Sebring played two partial seasons with the Reds, batting .225 and .286 before being traded to the Cubs. Donlin played six more seasons, batting way over .300 in five of those seasons. Donlin’s career BA is .333.

Cy Seymour had been acquired for the Giants after his pitching arm was damaged and produced one of the best seasons in Reds history in 1905, batting .377 with 8 homers, 21 triples, and 121 rbi. He came within one home run of winning the Triple Crown. Seymour had batted over .300 for seven consecutive seasons. Having gotten off to a .257 start season in 1906, the Reds sold him to the Giants. He played five more seasons with the Giants, batting over .300 twice. Seymour’s career BA is .303. Bill James rates him as the 30th best centerfielder of all time.

Are you noticing a pattern here? Oh…the Giants finished first or second for 10 of 14 seasons during this stretch.

Another NL powerhouse at the time were the Chicago Cubs (Pittsburgh was also strong during this time). The Reds liked to deal with the Cubs, too…or may be it was the Cubs that liked to deal with the Reds.

Before the season started, the Reds dealt another hitter and one of their best 3B ever, Harry Steinfeldt to the Cubs for SP Jake Weimer. Steinfeldt became the fourth member (and a trivia answer) to one of the great infields of all time on the 1906 Cubs with shortstop Joe Tinker, 2b Johnny Evers, and 1b Frank Chance. Steinfeldt did not get along with Reds owner Herrmann and had gotten a bad baseball reputation, despite holding down the 3b job for eight years with the Reds. The Reds finally had a taker in the Cubs, whose manager and 1b, Chance, had played with Steinfeldt during the winter and thought the reputation was undeserved. Steinfeldt became the league leader in RBI for one of the greatest teams in baseball history. The Reds received SP Weimer, a two-time 20 game winner for the Cubs. Weimer won 20 in his first season with the Reds, but won only 19 more over the next two years before leaving baseball.

But, the Red’s hadn’t helped the Cubs enough. The Reds came up with a promising young hurler, Orval Overall, who went 18-23 with a 2.86 ERA his rookie season. Having started 1906 with a 4-5 record, the Reds decided to deal Overall (see Seymour above). Overall and $2000 were dealt to the Cubs for starting pitcher Bob Wicker. It was Wicker’s sixth year as a starting pitcher, with a career record of 58-41. Wicker finished the year 6-11 for the Reds. Overall went 86-44 with a 1.91 ERA for his time in Chicago, including a 3-1 record with a 1.58 ERA in World Series play.

So, the Reds lost, and lost, and lost, before turning the tables when they started raiding the Giants for talents such as Heinie Groh and Edd Roush, and scouring the waiver wire to find spare parts with quality skills.