May 29, 1971: Geroge Foster is traded by the San Francisco Giants to the Cincinnati Reds for Frank Duffy and Vern Geishert.

June 12, 1973: Fred Norman is traded by the San Diego Padres to the Cincinnati Reds for Mike Johnson, Gene Locklear and cash.

The Reds were heavily favored to win the National League again in 1971. The only player they had lost from 1970 was ace starting pitcher Jim Maloney who did not win a game for them in 1970 anyway after damaging an Achilles tendon running the bases during a game. In retrospect, that torn Achilles may have been a precursor to the winter and Bobby Tolan’s injury. Tolan tore his Achilles tendon in a Reds’ basketball barnstorming tour in the offseason.

At first it was thought that Tolan would return at mid-season, so Reds manager Sparky Anderson began testing his existing roster trying to find centerfielders. Hal McRae and Pete Rose didn’t have enough speed, and Dave Concepcion didn’t have enough bat at the time. All spent some time starting some games in centerfield. Veteran pinch hitter Ty Cline was sent to centerfield for a stretch, but batting .196 with a slugging percentage of .206 didn’t make the grade either.

The Reds went deal hunting and found someone else’s failed prospect, Buddy Bradford. Bradford had played parts of four seasons with the Chicago White Sox, with his best effort being a .256 batting average, 11 homers, and 27 rbi in 1969. He was dealt to the Cleveland Indians for the 1971 season, which, in turn, traded him to the Reds after 44 plate appearances for infield prospect Kurt Bevacqua.
Bradford had all the tools, but couldn’t put them all together. With the Reds he hit .200 with 2 homers in 118 plate appearances before the Reds sold him back to the White Sox.

Reds GM Bob Howsam tried again…he traded 1970 pinch hitter Angel Bravo to the Padres for outfielder Al Ferrara. Ferrara had been a pretty good hitter for the Dodgers and Padres, but was strictly a left fielder. After one a poor fielding game in left field, Ferrara was quoted as saying “Who did you expect for Angel Bravo? Willie Mays?” (quote and lots of Foster trade info used here found in “Big Red Dynasty” by Greg Rhodes and John Erardi.)

The Reds tried yet again, and turned toward the San Francisco Giants who were stockpiling outfielders. As starters, the Giants had Ken Henderson, Bobby Bonds, and Willie Mays. On the bench and in the minors, the Giants had a ton of prospects including Dave Kingman, George Foster, and Bernie Williams. The Giants had young Chris Speier at shortstop and it’s thought they wanted some middle infield defensive reinforcement.

Meanwhile, Frank Duffy, a 1967 first round draft choice, had made the Reds out of spring training as insurance for Dave Concepcion who had started the year with an injury. Upon Concepcion’s return, the Reds sent Duffy to AAA Indianapolis and Duffy refused to report and demanded a trade (the Reds had three shortstops ahead of him in Concepcion, Darrel Chaney, and Woody Woodward). The Reds offered Duffy (and later added pitcher Vern Geishert) to the Giants and the Giants offered prospect Bernie Williams in return. The Reds were about to do the deal, when the Giants reneged. Foster had made the Giants team out of spring training, and was hitting .267 with three homers at age 22. According to “Baseball Dynasties” by Rob Neyer and former Padres front office insider Eddie Epstein, the Giants had discovered that his “military-draft physical report revealed that he’d been rejected for military service because of a high school back injury.”

The Reds took Foster and made him their centerfielder. With the Reds in 1971, he batted .234 with 10 homers (overall .241 with 13 homers). However, inside curve balls were death to Foster. He spent the majority of the next two seasons in the minors, before asking the Reds if he could see a sports psychologist. Turns out that the Reds didn’t know that Foster had been beaned twice while with the Giants and was literally frightened at the plate. The program seemed to work with Foster, who batted .282 with four homers in 17 games in late 1973.

Most people reading this know that Foster finally got his shot for fulltime duty in 1975 when Pete Rose moved to third base, but the job wasn’t automatically his. Dan Driessen, a first baseman-hitter by trade, was also given a shot, but Foster quickly won the battle and the true “great eight” of the Big Red Machine were now a unit.

Foster finished 1975 batting .300 with 23 homers. In 1976, he improved to .306 with 29 homers 121 rbi. His career year came in 1977, when Foster batted .320 and led the league with 52 home runs and 149 rbi, winning the Most Valuable Player award. In 1978, he continued to bombard the opposition, batting .281 and again leading the league with 40 homers and 120 rbi. He hit 20 or more homers the next three seasons for the Reds, giving him a Reds career record of .286 with 244 home runs and 861 rbi. In addition to his 1977 MVP, Foster finished 2nd in MVP voting in 1976 and third in 1981.

Foster was traded to the New York Mets for Jim Kern, Alex Trevino, and Greg Harris following the 1981 season. Foster entered a steep decline phase at that time and played his last major league game in 1986.

As for Frank Duffy, he played 21 games for the Giants who then traded Duffy and Gaylord Perry to the Cleveland Indians for starting pitcher Sam McDowell. Duffy was the Indians’ starting shortstop for six seasons. Geishert never pitched for the Giants. As far as Win Shares analysis goes, Foster earned 266 Win Shares for his career after joining the Reds; Duffy earned 54, making this trade another huge lopsided win for the Reds.

One major Reds acquisition took place in mid-season, 1973. The Reds were running out of starting pitchers. Since the beginning of the 1970 season, the Reds had lost Jim Maloney, Jim McGlothlin, Jim Merritt, Wayne Simpson, Roger Nelson, and Gary Nolan to injuries, and Don Gullett had missed a substantial period of time, too. The Reds needed starting pitching help, so they turned to a guy who seemed to be toughest on them: little (only 5-8) lefthander Fred Norman of the San Diego Padres.

Norman was 1-7 with a 4.26 ERA at the time of the trade; in fact, Norman’s career record was only 15-35 over eight major league seasons at the time. Norman had been signed by the Kansas City Athletics back in 1961, making his big league debut the next year at age 19. Norman was short in stature and had not established himself as a strike out pitcher. However, against the Reds, Norman had compiled a 6-2 record with a 3.20 ERA so the Reds went and traded prospect outfielder Gene Locklear and prospect minor league reliever Mike Johnson to get him (Johnson never had an ERA over 3.00 in the minors).

According to “Big Red Dynasty” (Rhodes and Erardi), the best line concerning the Norman trade was from Tony Perez to his wife Pituka after he read about the trade in the morning newspaper: “Give me some more coffee. I want to read this when I’m awake.”

But, it worked…and, most don’t know this, but Norman was so good in 1973 that he finished sixth in the Cy Young balloting despite having a composite 13-13 record. He had gone 12-6 with the Reds with a 3.30 ERA to pull his seasonal record even. For his Reds career, Norman went 85-64 with a 3.43 ERA over seven seasons to become one of the Reds’ most consistent starting pitchers. His best season was probably 1976 when he went 12-7 with a 3.09 ERA.

Locklear made the majors as a part-time outfielder over five seasons, batting .274 with 9 homers. Mike Johnson made 18 relief appearances for the Padres and was done.

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