After winning the World Championship in 1940, the Reds remained competitive under manager Bill McKechnie through 1944. McKechnie stressed infield defense, and defense has been proven to be pretty much a young man’s game as quickness is one of the first of the major skills to fade. In 1940, the Reds’ positional age averaged 28.8 and their pitchers’ average age was 29.6 By 1944, the positional ages had increased to 30.4 and their pitchers had increased to 31.7. The Reds went into a steep decline, and the Reds faded from 89-65 in 1944 to an awful 61-93 in 1945, a 28 game drop. The Reds had a sub-.500 record through 1955.

The Reds didn’t react quickly enough to the decline of their players. They didn’t make a lot of bad deals during this time, it’s just that nothing came of the deals they made…a better explanation may be they didn’t go after the right players when it came to making deals. They did sign Ted Kluszewski and Ewell Blackwell to free agent contracts during the 1940’s, but they didn’t pay off until later and it wasn’t enough.

They did make two very good deals during this time, though they weren’t enough to be championship type deals.

June 14, 1947: Ken Raffensberger was traded by the Philadelphia Phillies with Hugh Poland to the Cincinnati Reds for Al Lakeman.

October 14, 1952: Gus Bell traded by the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Cincinnati Reds for Cal Abrams, Gail Henley and Joe Rossi.

Wow…if you’ll check, the Reds made two good, meaningful trades between 1938 and 1952….

Raffensberger is an underrated career Reds performer. About the only thing worse than playing for the Reds in the early 1950’s, was to play for the Philadelphia Phillies and that’s where the Reds found the lefthanded Raffensberger.

Raffensberger had a career 23-45 record despite having only a 3.49 ERA with the Phillies in a high hitting era. He had gone 13-20 one season with the Phillies, but was already 29 years old when the Reds acquired him.

He came into his own with the Reds…he was a double digit winner for six consecutive years with Cincinnati, and had a career Reds record of 89-99, with a 3.64 ERA. 25 of his 89 wins were shutouts. His Reds won-lost percentage was only .473, but the Reds won-lost percentage during this time was around .431. An outstanding control pitcher, four times with the Reds Raffensberger finished in the top for fewest walks per nine innings.

Poland was a reserve catcher who batted about 20 times for the Reds before being released. Lakeman was a reserve catcher who batted last than 300 times after leaving the Reds.

The Gus Bell acquisition was a huge deal to the Reds and their fans. Bell was a fine defensive player, who was remarkably consistent with the bat. He made the All-Star team in 1953-54-56-57, and batted between .282 and .308 in each of those years. He drove in 100 runs in four different years and once homered three times in a game.

Bell was a family man, and became available from the Pirates after he insisted on bringing his family on road trips. The Pirates were so angry they sent him to the Pacific Coast League and then dealt him to the Reds.

With Ted Kluszewski hitting homers, Bell was a secondary power source, hitting more than 25 homers for the Reds three times with a high of 30. He’s the father of major league player (and former Red) Buddy Bell and the grandfather of David Bell and former Red Mike Bell. Gus Bell was with the Reds through 1961 when they left him unprotected in the expansion draft and the upstart New York Mets selected him. With the Reds he batted .288 with 160 home runs.

Cal Abrams was a singles hitting outfielder who played a few more seasons in the bigs; Gail Henley was an outfielder who batted 35 times in the big leagues, and Joe Rossi was a one-season backup catcher who never played for the Pirates.