June 11, 1968: Milt Pappas is traded by the Cincinnati Reds with Ted Davidson and Bob Johnson to the Atlanta Braves for Clay Carroll, Tony Cloninger and Woody Woodward.

October 11, 1968: Bobby Tolan is traded by the St. Louis Cardinals with Wayne Granger to the Cincinnati Reds for Vada Pinson.

November 21, 1968: Jim Merritt is traded by the Minnesota Twins to the Cincinnati Reds for Leo Cardenas.

Through 1968, Reds GM Bob Howsam continued to remold the team into his vision. He continued on his mission to improve the Reds’ pitching staff, trade players near the 30 year age mark, and to eliminate the fans’ angst about the departed Frank Robinson.

Bobby Tolan, like Alex Johnson and Pedro Borbon, was acquired using Howsam’s Cardinal insider information. Tolan and Johnson had been stuck behind Lou Brock, Curt Flood, and Roger Maris in the Cardinal outfield. Howsam obtained Tolan, along with reliever Wayne Granger, in a high profile deal for all-time Reds great Vada Pinson.

Many felt that Pinson was on his way to a Hall of Fame career, and is still considered an outside veteran’s committee choice. After a brief cup of coffee with the Reds in 1958, Pinson took the National League by storm in his rookie year, batting .316 with 20 homers and 84 rbi, leading the league in plate appearances, in runs (131), doubles (47), and he collected 205 hits. Pinson was essentially robbed of a Rookie of the Year award by Giants great Willie McCovey’s abbreviated rookie year. McCovey played only 52 games, but batted .354 with 13 homers and 38 rbi in that timeframe.
Pinson had slumped in 1968, batting .271 with five home runs, far less than the performance of Pinson’s early years with the club. While it may not seem so today, that was actually better than league average (103+ OPS), but it was a definite sign that Pinson was in decline as he had been one of baseball’s premier hitters for a decade. Pinson collected more than 200 hits four times, 100 or more rbi twice, 100 or more runs four times (90 or more runs eight times), with his highest batting average (.343) coming in the Reds 1961 World Series year. He hit 186 homers with the Reds over 11 years and 96 triples.

A recurring hamstring injury began slowing Pinson and he was traded to the Cardinals at age 29 under a similar premise of the Frank Robinson trade engineered by Bill DeWitt. Both DeWitt and Howsam believed in the policy that it’s better to trade too soon that too late, and that age 30 was typically the age that players would enter their decline phase.

This time the Reds were right, and Pinson began a slow decline over the next seven years. Meanwhile, Tolan was a huge talent biding his time in St. Louis. Tolan had the ability to hit for average, power, speed, and was a good centerfielder. He made an immediate impact on the Reds, batting .305 with 21 homers, 10 triples, and 93 rbi in 1969 and followed that season with his career year. In 1970, Tolan batted .316 with 16 homers, 34 doubles, 80 rbi, and led the league with 57 steals. Many Reds had career years in 1970, including Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, and Bernie Carbo, but the speedy centerfielder was on the verge of superstardom himself when an unfortunate accident betrayed him and the Reds.

At the time, the Reds’ players would form a basketball team and “barnstorm” local townships for basketball exhibitions. Tolan tore an Achilles tendon in one of these exhibitions and was sidelined for the entire 1971 season, the only season from the 1970’s decade that the Reds finished under .500. Tolan never fully recovered from his Achilles injury, and then misplayed a fly ball into a three base error in seventh game of the 1972 World Series. After Tolan began having disagreements with both management and his teammates, Howsam decided to move him after the 1973 season to San Diego in exchange for starting pitcher, Clay Kirby. It was an exchange of star players entering the decline phases of their careers. Tolan went on to play in parts of five more seasons in the major leagues.

Kirby, whom Howsam had drafted as a GM for St. Louis, had been on the verge of pitching stardom for the Padres. He was removed from game while once hurling a no-hitter (he allowed no hits, but did allow one run and lost the game) and once struck out 15 in one game. Over five years with the Padres, Kirby had compiled a 52-81 won-loss record with a 3.73 ERA, including an 11-7 versus the Reds. Kirby went 21-15 over two seasons with the Reds before finishing his career with a 1-8 mark in Montreal. Kirby died of a heart attack at age 43 in 1991.

Granger, another of Howsam’s former Cardinal farmhands, became a vital part of the 1970 Reds World Series team. Upon joining the Reds, Granger became the Reds number one guy from the bullpen, and set league records at the time with 90 pitching appearances in 1969 and 35 saves in 1970. Not a strikeout pitcher, Granger was still successful in his relief role, but the high use adversely affected him and he was traded to the Minnesota Twins after three successful years with the Reds for lefthanded reliever Tom Hall. In three years with the Reds, Hall went 21-7 with a 3.21 ERA out of the bullpen before being dealt to the New York Mets.

After another slow start in 1968, Howsam decided it was time to move Milt Pappas off the Reds roster, too. Pappas did not win the hearts of Reds’ fans, but still had tremendous talent. For that reason, Howsam packaged Pappas along with reliever Ted Davidson and utility infielder Bob Johnson to the Atlanta Braves for future Reds all-star and mainstay reliever Clay Carroll, starting pitcher Tony Cloninger, and shortstop Woody Woodward. Davidson pitched four games and Johnson batted less than 200 times for the Braves.

Carroll, nicknamed the Hawk for his hook-shaped nose, became a big time, fast balling reliever for the Reds. He broke teammate Granger’s save record when he recorded 37 saves during the 1973 season. Carroll is third in Reds history with 486 games pitched and third in career saves. Carroll pitched more than 90 innings in a season nine times with the Reds. His postseasons were exceptional. Carroll has a lifetime 1.39 ERA in over 22 games and 32 inning pitched.

Carroll was traded to the Chicago White Sox following the 1975 World Series in exchange for lefty reliever Rich Hinton and pitched parts of the next three seasons.

Tony Cloninger is best known as the only pitcher to hit two grand slams in the same game (while with the Braves). A very good hitting pitcher, Cloninger had also hit two homers in a game just two weeks prior; what’s lost here was that he also was a former ace for the Milwaukee Braves having gone 24-11 one season with a 3.29 ERA. Arm trouble had erased his effectiveness, and he went 27-33 in four years with the Reds before being traded to the Cardinals for second baseman Julian Javier. Cloninger only pitched 17 innings for the Cardinals before leaving baseball.

Woody Woodward was acquired as a slick fielding, no-hit shortstop who spent a couple of years with the Reds. He shared time with young prospect Darrel Chaney in 1969, and Woodward and Chaney split time with future Reds shortstop Dave Concepcion in 1970. Woodward’s only career homer came as a Red in 1969.

The collection of Reds’ shortstops (plus another prospect in Frank Duffy) made long time Reds shortstop Leo Cardenas expendable at the end of the 1968. While Gary Nolan had proven to be quite the young pitching stud, arm trouble began developing due to the over use of his young 18 year old arm. Howsam wanted more pitching help and found it in Minnesota by trading Cardenas to them for lefty Jim Merritt. Merritt had already found success as a Twin, winning 37 games as a twin by age 25, including a 13-7 mark with a 2.53 ERA in 1967. Merritt continued to win as a Red and became an unlikely 20 game winner, going 20-12 for the Reds in 1970 despite having a 4.08 ERA and finishing fourth in the Cy Young Award voting.

Cardenas was a four-time all-star himself, a Gold Glover who had once hit 20 homers in a season. However, he had reached age 29, and shortstops historically have aged more quickly than most other position players. Cardenas played well for about three more seasons, but was a shadow of himself in tthe last four years of his career.

What the season ending stats don’t show is that Merritt’s ERA was 3.12 on July 6 before fatigue set in. But overuse of his arm to this point also was taking it’s toll. Merritt’s 1971 was a disaster as he finished the year 1-11 with a 4.37 ERA, and he was traded to the Rangers for third string catcher Hal King before the 1972 season.

So, in two years as GM, Bob Howsam had remade the Reds outfield by trading away Tommy Harper and 29 year old Vada Pinson, and replacing them with Alex Johnson and Bobby Tolan, and then traded Alex Johnson to make way for young prospects Hal McRae and Bernie Carbo. He traded 28 year old Deron Johnson to make way for Lee May and dealt away 29 year old shortstop Leo Cardenas to make way for at least one of three young shortstops in Darrel Chaney, Dave Concepcion, or Frank Duffy. He had Johnny Bench promoted to be his catcher, having traded away 29 year old all-star defensive specialist Johnny Edwards to open a path. Only Pete Rose, Tony Perez, and Tommy Helms remained in the lineup from before 1968.
As for the pitching staff, Howsam remade the starting rotation by dealing Milt Pappas and acquiring Jim McGlothlin, Jim Merritt, and Tony Cloninger, to work alongside all-star Jim Maloney. Howsam nearly retooled the entire bullpen with the acquisitions of Pedro Borbon, Wayne Granger, Tom Hall, and Clay Carroll…and he promoted Wayne Simpson and Don Gullett from the minors…all in a little more than two years at the helm.

And he hired Sparky Anderson to be his manager. The Big Red Machine was now mechanized.