Who was the opening day second baseman for the Reds’ 1961 World Series team?
If you check baseball-reference.com or any baseball research journal, you’ll find the name Don Blasingame listed as the Reds’ second baseman. Blasingame was the Reds’ leadoff hitter that year, hitting a “robust” .222 with with a .286 OBP and a .573 OPS. (Don’t fret; the World Champion Yankees leadoff man was second baseman Bobby Richardson who batted .261 with a .295 OBP and a .610 OPS, finishing 24th in the MVP voting. It was fashionable at the time.)
Blasingame was a known quantity, having spent 5+ years in the majors as a starting second baseman, but he didn’t even start the year with the Reds. Yet the Reds needed him so badly that early in the 1961 season, they traded an all-star catcher, Ed Bailey, to get him, leaving the Reds with an untested catching group of rookie Jerry Zimmerman (age 26, batted .206), rookie Johnny Edwards (age 23, batted .186), Darrell Johnson (age 32, only 106 previous Major League games, batted .315 in 54 at bats), and Bob Schmidt, acquired along with Blasingame (age 28, 310 Major League games, batted .129). This group combined to catch a very good pitching staff which included young stars Jim O’Toole, Joey Jay, Jim Maloney, and veteran knuckleballer Bob Purkey.
The Reds obviously wanted some infield help.
The popular Johnny Temple had been the Reds’ second baseman for most of the 1950’s before being traded to the Cleveland Indians in what baseball-reference calls the first inter-league trade in Major League baseball history. Temple was dealt for first baseman Gordy Coleman, pitcher Cal McLish, and the Reds new second baseman for 1960, Billy Martin.
Well…that turned out badly. Martin had joined the Yankees in 1950 and had already made a name for himself as a hustling, all-out, ill-tempered second baseman. While the Reds in 1960, he was involved in two major on-field brawls. One happened on May 15, 1960, in the first game of a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Phillies. With the Reds trailing, 9-1, in the 8th inning, Redleg pitcher Raul Sanchez hit three of the first four Phillies. Phillies manager Gene Mauch rushed the mound from the dugout to duel with Sanchez. The benches emptied, with the most vicious battle apparently occurring between Martin and Phillies pitcher Gene Conley (who also played five seasons with the Boston Celtics in the National Basketball Association). The Reds lost the game 14-3, and Sanchez was released four days later.
On August 4, Martin punched Cubs pitcher Jim Brewer in the face at Wrigley Field, with Brewer suffering a fracture of the orbit around his right eye. Brewer had brushed Martin back with a high inside pitch, forcing him to the ground. Martin swung at the next pitch, with the bat slipping from his hands and landing about 15 feet from the mound. Martin went out to get his bat, the men had words, and the fight was on. The Cubs won the game, 5-3, and Martin was suspended and fined. Two weeks later, the Cubs and Brewer sued Martin for $1,040,000 in damages. Martin’s response: “How do they want it? Cash or check?” The claim was settled six years later, with the payment rumored to be between $10,000 and $25,000. (Information on these brawls can be found in Redleg Journal, by Greg Rhodes and John Snyder)
So, after batting .246 in 103 games, the Reds were done with Martin. Youngster Elio Chacon‘s .181 in 49 games didn’t inspire the Reds to count on him for 1961 either. Martin was sold to the Milwaukee Braves.
The Reds played Eddie Kasko at 2B for many of the games late in 1960, but they had other plans for him. Formerly a shortstop with the Cardinals, the Reds moved him to back to shortstop for the 1961 season from third base where he had played most of 1960. After selling Martin to the Braves, they also traded the National League’s original Gold Glove shortstop, Roy McMillan, to the Braves, too. In return, the Reds received starting pitchers Jay and Juan Pizarro, who they flipped to the White Sox for the new Reds third baseman, slugger Gene Freese.
After all that, the Reds were still left without a second baseman and we’re back to where I started at the beginning of this post. Who was the Reds opening day second baseman in 1961?
They went to minor leagues and found a Pirates farmhand, Jim Baumer, who they selected in the 1960 Rule 5 draft. Baumer was named their new second baseman.
Baumer had been signed by the Chicago White Sox in 1949 as a “bonus baby,” which meant he had to stay on the Major League roster for the entire year. He appeared in 8 games, going 4-10 with a double and a triple. He then spent the next 11 seasons in the minor leagues in the White Sox and Pirates organizations. His career minor league batting average was .279 over 12 seasons (counting 1962) with approximately 98 homers (some minor league stats were incomplete).
Baumer started the first four games of the 1961 season for the Reds at second base, six of the first nine, and eight of the first 13. The Reds were in the midst of a nine-game losing streak, having fallen to 5-8 after an April 27 loss to the Cubs (they lost two more after that), and Baumer lost his job. In his 10 games with the Reds, covering 25 plate appearances, he was 3-24 with no walks, no runs, no RBI.
On May 10, Baumer was traded to the Detroit Tigers for veteran first baseman/pinch hitter Dick Gernert who batted .302 with seven RBI in 40 games with the Reds. Gernert went 0-4 as a pinch hitter in the 1961 World Series vs. the Yankees before being drafted by the Houston Colt .45’s in the expansion draft. He was released during the 1962 season and played two more years in the minors before retiring. Baumer played in the minors for the 1962 season before he, too, retired from baseball. Baumer had his best minor league season after being traded to the Tigers, batting .310 with 12 homers in the thin air of Denver, Colorado, playing for future Reds GM Bob Howsam.
But, wow, what an opportunity for Baumer that didn’t pay off, after toiling all those years in the minors. It was a gamble by the Reds, a desperation move that didn’t pan out. The closest recent Reds example I can think to compare with this move was the coronation of Jeff Jones as the Reds starting rightfielder at the beginning of the 1983 season. Jones was promoted all the way from Single A baseball at age 25 to begin the year as the Reds’ Opening Day rightfielder. Jones batted .227 with three doubles over 16 games and 58 plate appearances before being returned to the minors where he batted .187 for AAA Indianapolis and .235 for AA Waterbury. Jones had hit .301 for Single A Cedar Rapids with 42 home runs in 1982 which was what gained the Reds’ attention. He played 1984 and 1985 in the minors before retiring from baseball, too.
But, you know what? They lived the dream…and there’s two trivia answers for you.