May 31–The 1981 season may have been one of the most disappointing seasons in Reds history. Not because of their play on the field; to the contrary, the Reds had baseball’s best record, 66-42, but were left out of the playoffs due to the “split-season” format necessitated by the player strike. The Reds finished second in both the first half and second half and were left out of the post-season championship run.
With free agency still being somewhat new, and the Reds not wanting to participate, they made several off-season moves post-1981. CF Ken Griffey Sr. was traded to the Yankees; LF George Foster was traded to the Mets; RF Dave Collins was granted free agency; 3B Ray Knight was traded to the Astros; C Joe Nolan was traded to the Orioles. SP Paul Moskau was traded to the Orioles in a separate deal, and RP Doug Bair was traded to the Cardinals. In return, we received an aging Cesar Cedeno, 3B Wayne Krenchicki, failed OF prospect Clint Hurdle, C Alex Trevino, RP Jim Kern, and two swing men, Bob Shirley and Greg Harris.
These deals were a huge net loss for the Reds. We fell from being third in the National League in runs scored per game at 4.30 to last at 3.36 runs per game. Despite a collapse by ace star pitcher Tom Seaver (5-13, 5.50 ERA), the Reds pitching remained nearly the same in effectiveness as the previous season. In 1981, they were eighth with a 4.07 ERA; in 1982 the pitchers ranked seventh with a 4.08 ERA. We found out that outfielders Paul Householder, Duane Walker, and Eddie Milner were not the prospects we thought they were. Gary Redus was still working his way through the minors. All but Householder were already at least 25 years old and were really past prospect status. We had no offense.
1982 started off bad and got worse. The high point of the season came in the third game when the Reds found themselves tied for second, one game out of first, after Frank Pastore hurled a four-hit shut out win over the Giants, 7-0. Within five days they were in last and remained there much of the season, finishing with a 61-101 record.
Frustrations exploded on the field on May 31st. Mario Soto was on the mound for the Reds on his way to a 14-13 record with a 2.79 ERA and 274 strikeouts on the year. Soto led the league this season in K/BB ratio at 3.86 and he hit only four batters all season. He hit two Philadelphia Phillies within three innings on May 31, 1982.
The Reds got off to an exciting start with Dan Driessen circling the bases for an inside-the-park home run to centerfield with Ron Oester aboard in the top of the first inning. The Reds lead stretched to 3-0 in the second when pitcher Soto doubled home Larry Biittner. The Reds made it 4-0 in the sixth when Driessen hit one out of the park for his second home run of the day.
Meanwhile, Mario Soto was cruising along. He retired the first 10 Phillies of the game, before former Red Pete Rose reached on a single. Soto then hit Mike Schmidt with a pitch before inducing an inning ending double play. Soto then retired the next five batters in a row before hitting Bob Dernier with another pitch. Through six innings of work, Soto had struck out seven, allowed one hit, no runs, no walks, but had hit two batsmen.
Veteran Ron Reed had taken the mound for the Phillies. Reed was as former starter with the Braves who was now a reliever for the Phillies. Overall, Reed pitched 19 major league seasons. In 19 seasons, he hit 50 batters. In the top of the seventh inning, with one out and trailing, 4-0, he hit Mario Soto with a pitch, apparently in retailiation for Soto hitting Schmidt and Dernier.
From “Day by Day in Cincinnati Reds History” by John Snyder and Floyd Conner:
“Soto started toward the mound, bat in hand, but he was restrained by his teammates before he could reach Reed. Dave Concepcion did get to Reed, however, and threw several punches. Concepcion, Reed, and Soto were all ejected from the premises.”
This all worked out well and good for the Phillies, for the Reds’ bullpen couldn’t hold the lead. Joe Price pitched two scoreless innings, striking out five of the six batters he faced, before the wheels came off in the ninth. Price got the first out in the ninth then walked Dernier. Rose flied out, then Schmidt singled and Gary Matthews walked to load the bases. Bo Diaz doubled to score two with Jim Kern coming in to relieve Price. Garry Maddux greeted Kern with a two-run single to send the game into extra innings.
The game remained tied until the bottom of the 15th. Bob Shirley was now pitching for the Reds and in his fourth inning of work, Dernier opened with a single to centerfield. Rose sacrificed him to second base. Schmidt was intentionally walked and Matthews flied to centerfield, with Dernier advancing to third base. Manny Trillo then reached on an error by Reds third baseman Johnny Bench with Dernier scoring the winning run and giving the Phillies the win.
Going from the best record in baseball in 1981 to last in the Western Division in 1982 cost veteran manager John McNamara his job after 92 games with the Reds being 34-58 at the time. McNamara was replaced by organizational solider Russ Nixon who finished the season 27-43 before overseeing a losing 1983 campaign (74-88). Vernon Rapp was named manager for the 1984 season.