First things first…the Reds were called the Redlegs during this time period. As the fear of Communism rose in the world, the Reds’ management felt it best to not be called the “Reds” during this time. The distinction was even more important during the 1961 World Series against the New York “Yanks.” (my Little League baseball team was the “Redlegs” as late as 1972–probably the same recycled wool uniforms”)
I think I know what the Reds were trying to do with this trade…the Reds were two years removed from their record-tying 1956 season when they hit 221 home runs and attendance soared past one million for the first time. The 1956 season had snapped an 11-year run of sub-.500 seasons, and they had finished third. Two years later (in 1958), the Reds finished below .500 again, and their power numbers dropped so they decided to get more pop. Their runs scored had dropped from 775 to 695 in those two seasons.
Third baseman Don Hoak, now 30, had dropped from 19 homers to 8; his batting average dropped from .293 to .261. Catcher-pinch hitter Smoky Burgess’s home run total dropped from 14-6 and they had an all-star catcher in Ed Bailey. Lefty Harvey Haddix, acquired the previous year from the Phillies for slugger Wally Post (another bat missing) had won only 8 games after six consecutive years of double digit wins. The Reds wanted to erase that memory, too.
Frank Thomas was a star at the time. At age 29, he had finished fourth in the MVP voting coming off a .281 season when he 35 homers and drove home 109 runs. He was a corner outfielder and corner infielder, who had played third base for two of the previous three seasons. Thomas had hit more than 20 homers for six consecutive seasons. He was a fan favorite in Pittsburgh, and for the Reds to get him, they had to give value…and they did give value in Hoak, Haddix, and Burgess.
Thomas tanked for the Reds…he wasn’t a third baseman by skill, but by lineup necessity. The Pirates had a star outfield of Roberto Clemente, Bill Virdon, and Bob Skinner, and didn’t have a third baseman. At first base was former Reds star Ted Kluszewski. They wanted Thomas’s bat in the lineup and the only place open was third base. The trade was Pirate’s gold…
Hoak became a key member to their 1960 World Championship team at third base. A natural leader (and boxer by training), he played four seasons for the Pirates and even finished second in the 1960 MVP voting. Burgess, one of the absolute best pinch hitters of all time, became the Pirates regular catcher and was named to all-star teams in four of the five seasons while playing in his 30’s. He batted .296 in six years with the Pirates. Haddix joined the Pirates and pitched six seasons for them, getting double digit wins his first three seasons with the Bucs. He also pitched the greatest game in major league history when he pitched 12 innings of perfect baseball (before losing in the 13th) to the MIlwaukee Braves. He was the winning pitcher in two games of the 1960 World Series.
The Reds got an aging Thomas, who slumped to .225 with 12 homers and was complete disaster at third base. The Reds did get more offense that season, increasing their runs scored total to 764 but it had a lot more to do with rookie centerfielder Vada Pinson than Thomas. The killer was that the Reds’ defense allowed 738 runs, a 107 run increase from the previous year. Thomas was so bad the Reds went and traded for another aging third baseman, Willie “Puddin’ Head” Jones from the Cleveland Indians…who traded Jones just four games after getting him in trade from the Philadelphia Phillies. Jones batted .249 with 7 homers in his last season as a regular.
Thomas was traded at season’s end to the Chicago Cubs (he played for eight teams in the next eight years) for relief pitcher Bill Henry, and outfielders Lee Walls and Lou Jackson. Jackson never played for the Reds and Walls batted 103 times for the Reds. Henry became a very good reliever for the Reds during the early-mid 60’s. Thomas had more good seasons. He hit more than 20 homers in three additional seasons, including a team high 34 for the expansion New York Mets. He played LF and 1B every other season of his career.
The other guys…well, starting pitcher Whammy Douglas never pitched a game for the Reds, career pinch hitter John Powers made 47 plate appearances for the Reds, and utility man Jim Pendleton played 65 games for the Reds. He didn’t reappear in the majors until 1962 when the expansion Houston Colt .45’s used him for 117 games in his last major league season.
By 1961, the Reds Cinderella World Series year, the Reds had no catching (Jerry Zimmerman batted .206 in 204 at bats, rookie Johnny Edwards batted .186 in 145 at bats, Bob Schmidt batted .129 iin 70 at bats, Darrell Johnson .315 in 54 at bats, and Ed Bailey .302 in 43 at bats before being traded). Burgess was an all-star, batting .303 with 12 homers. They had to trade for a third baseman in the offseason (Gene Freese was acquired for TWO starting pitchers, prospective all-star Juan Pizarro and Cal McLish), and the Reds had to play with two unproven starting pitchers Ken Johnson and Ken Hunt. If only they hadn’t made this trade, things would’ve been a whole lot simpler.
Oh…some trivia…Cal McLish’s given name is Calvin Coolidge Julius Caesar Tuskahoma McLish.
This was the last major trade of the Gabe Paul era, who resigned after the 1960 season to become GM for the expansion Houston Colt .45s. Bill DeWitt was hired away from the Detroit Tigers to take his place.