January 1967: Bob Howsam is named Reds General Manager, hired from similar position with St. Louis Cardinals.
Within one year of trading Frank Robinson to the Orioles, Bill DeWitt sold his ownership in the Reds to a syndicate led by newspaper publisher Francis Dale (and including Bill DeWitt, Jr.). The syndicate hired Bob Howsam away from the St. Louis Cardinals to be their general manager.
After the 1967 season, Howsam began making changes. Slugger Deron Johnson had slumped in 1967, so Howsam traded him to the Braves for outfielder Mack Jones, first baseman Jim Beauchamp, and relief pitcher Jay Ritchie. As much as anything this trade opened a starting position for young slugging first baseman Lee May.
Centerfielder Tommy Harper had slumped that year and Howsam traded him to the Cleveland Indians for pitcher George Culver, first baseman Fred Whitfield, and minor league outfielder Bob Raudman. Culver was inserted into the starting rotation and fired a no-hitter in his only season as a rotation starter for any team.
Howsam essentially analyzed his team for a year and then began making wholesale changes. As players neared their 30th birthday, he would deal them at the first sign of slumping, especially if there was another young player being groomed behind them. Pitchers were held to short leashes, and Howsam began accumulating all the starting pitchers he could find. He would use his inside information from his Cardinal days to find talented players that were being under utilized, or were considered Ã¢â‚¬Å“overstockÃ¢â‚¬Â by their current teams.
One of the HowsamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s first trades had some air of public relations involved. In January, 1968, Howsam dealt outfielder Dick Simpson to the St. Louis Cardinals for young outfielder Alex Johnson. Simpson had been the prospect received in the ill-fated Robinson trade and had been used primarily as a defensive replacement. Simpson was out of baseball about 500 at bats after the trade.
Johnson had been a reserve for the Cardinals, and Howsam used his inside information to obtain one of the best natural hitters in baseball. Johnson was inserted into the Reds lineup and responded with a .312 batting average, finishing fourth in the league in the infamous Ã¢â‚¬Å“Year of the Pitcher,Ã¢â‚¬Â possibly the worst hitting environment in major league history. He finished sixth in batting average in 1969 at .315 and won the American League batting title in 1970 with a .329 batting average.
Johnson played 13 major league seasons, but played with 8 different teams and never spent more than two seasons with any major league organization. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s been documented as having some unstable behavior and was dealt often during his career. Whatever the case, Johnson gave the Reds two good seasons and then was included in a deal to the California Angels that brought the Reds long time star reliever Pedro Borbon, starting pitcher Jim McGlothlin, and minor league pitcher Vern Geishert. The Reds also parted with long time utility infielder Chico Ruiz in the deal.
Howsam also had insider information on reliever Borbon, having signed him to the Cardinals as a free agent in 1964. The California Angels had drafted him from the Cardinals in the Rule 5 draft, and Howsam obtained him for the Reds when the opportunity arose. Borbon became one of the best relievers in Reds history. He holds the team career record with 531 games pitched, is seventh in career saves, and third in career won-loss percentage. The rubber-armed reliever pitched more than 100 innings in six consecutive seasons, with 1973 possibly being his best year. He appeared in 80 games, that year finishing with an 11-4 record and a 2.16 ERA.
Jim McGlothlin was acquired for the Reds starting rotation, having been a 23-year-old all-star for the California Angels in 1967 when he went 12-8 with a 2.96 ERA and leading the league with six shut outs. Two losing seasons later found him in Cincinnati where he went 14-10 for the 1970 World Series team. Arm injuries began shutting him down and he only won 23 more big league games. McGlothlin died of leukemia in 1975.
Geishert never pitched for the Reds or in the majors again after 11 games with the Angels, but was included in the trade to the Giants for future Reds star George Foster in 1971. Ruiz had spent six years with the Reds, never batting more than 268 times. He played two seasons with the Angels in a reserve role before dying in an auto accident in February, 1972.