June 27, 1926: The Cincinnati Reds break loose for 18 hits, including five triples, and turn a triple play, while starting pitcher Pete Donohue fires a six-hitter as the Reds blitz the Pittsburgh Pirates, 16-0. The win gives the first place Reds a 2 1/2 game lead over the eventual champion St. Louis Cardinals.

The 1926 Reds may be the best Reds team that you’ve never heard of. They finished the season two games out of first place, but spent 85 days in first place. The last day they were first came on September 16 with only 10 days left in the season. They were never more than five games back, and never went under .500 for the year. They beat the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals 14 out of 22 games, but somehow lost to the sub.-500 New York Giants in 15 of 22 games. They had the league’s best offense (OPS+ of 103), the second best pitching (ERA+ of 109 behind the Cubs’ 119) and placed third in defensive efficiency (.698). Check out this list of personal accomplishments:

Second baseman Hughie Critz finished second in MVP balloting
catcher Bubbles Hargrave won the batting title at .353
Outfielder Cuckoo Christensen finished second for the batting title at .350
First baseman Wally Pipp tied for fourth in runs batted in with 99
Outfielder Edd Roush was second in doubles with 37
Outfielder Curt Walker was second in triples with 22
Pitcher Pete Donohue tied for first in wins with 20
Pitcher Carl Mays was fifth in wins with 19
Pitchers Pete Donohue, Carl Mays, Red Lucas, and Eppa Rixey were all in the top ten in WHIP (walk and hits per nine innings pitched)
Pitcher Jakie May was third in strikeouts with 103
Carl Mays was first in complete games with 24
Pete Donohue was first in shutouts with 5
Hargrave an OPS+ of 151
Top four outfielders OPS+ ratings: Rube Bressler 147, Christensen 135, Roush 123, Walker 122
Wally Pipp had an OPS+ of 107, too
They had six pitchers with 100+ innings pitched. Their ERA+: Mays 118, May 115, Donohue 110, Rixey 109, Dolf Luque 108, Red Lucas 101

At at time in which Babe Ruth was changing the game by slugging mammoth home runs, the 1920’s Reds were still productively using the deadball era offense. The Reds’ home run leader was Roush with 7, and the entire team hit 35 while Ruth was slugging 47 himself alone. The Reds led the league in OBP and were second in SLP despite no home run power. They were next to last in home runs, but they led in triples with 120 with triples being the normal power of the age; that is, until Ruth came along. Part of this was park related since Redland Field (later renamed Crosley Field) had huge dimensions, but the Reds didn’t hit homers on the road either at this time.

On this day, June 27, the Reds scored four times in the first inning, five in the third, four in the fifth, and three times more in the sixth to net their 16 runs. Roush, Pipp, and Frank Emmer all had three hits, while Chuck Dressen, Walker, Bressler, and Critz eachl had two. Walker, Bressler, Pipp, Emmer, and pitcher Donohue all had triples. Critz had a rare home run. Donohue gave up six hits in the game, walked two, and struck out no one in raising his record to 11-5 on the year. “Redleg Journal” (book by Greg Rhodes and John Snyder) reports that the Reds turned a triple play in the game.

Second baseman Critz is an interesting player, one of the most highly regarded second basemen of his time. He finished second in the MVP voting for 1926, fourth in 1928, and 17th in 1929. In 1930, he set the major league record by playing in 88 home games having been traded in mid-season from the Reds to the New York Giants. During his career (from 1925-34) he routinely finished in the top three second basemen in put outs, assists, and range factor, and five times led in fielding percentage. He was an excellent fielder at a time when fielding mattered. On the other hand, he was also among the league leaders in outs made each year and he posted a lifetime batting average of .268 with a lifetime OPS of .656 and a lifetime OPS+ of 73. He was a very poor offensive player, who received lots of credit for his defensive prowess.

But, the strength of this Reds team was it’s pitching staff. It was an experienced group, with four of it’s major players being age 30 or over. Donohue and Mays both pitched more than 285 innings, Luque and Rixey both pitched 233, and May and Lucas were from 155-170. No one else pitched more than 21 innings. Donohue and Lucas were the youngsters, 25 and 24 respectively. Rixey’s a Hall of Famer, Mays is a borderline Hall of Famer (killing Ray Chapman with a pitch is said to have held him out), Luque had possibly the greatest Reds pitching season of all time in 1923 (27-8, 1.93 ERA, 201 ERA+), Donohue was a three-time 20 game winner, Lucas three times led the league in complete games, and May was a quality swing man.

One more piece of trivia. Hargrave won the batting title and Christensen finished second, batting .353 and .350, respectively. Neither would qualify for the title today as players are now required to have 502 plate appearances to qualify (3.1 plate appearances times 162 games). During 1926, the requirement was to have played 100 games, and Hargrave played 105 and Christensen 114. However, Hargave only had 365 plate appearances as a catcher and outfielder Christensen had 385. Bressler batted .357, but played in only 86 games, but had 350 plate appearances himself.

Oh, and one last deadball era stat measurement that showed the style of game the Reds played. They led the league with 239 sacrifice bunts, 27 more than the runner-up Cardinals. Walker and Roush, two of their power hitters, finished in a tie for fourth in league leadership with 30 each and Critz finished seventh with 24.

And, yes, the Wally Pipp mentioned here is the Wally Pipp of Lou Gehrig fame, that is, the first baseman who became “ill,” missed a game, and Gehrig took his job while playing for the New York Yankees. The Reds purchased him from the Yankees after he became expendable. About Gehrig taking over at first base, Pipp is quoted to have said, “I took the two most expensive aspirins in history.” Pipp was a quality first baseman himself, having led the league in home runs twice, led in triples once, and had two 100 rbi seasons while with the Yankees. The season before losing his job to Gehrig, he batted .295 with 9 homers, smashing a league leading 19 triples, and had 114 runs batted in. He played his last three seasons with the Reds, driving in 99 runs in 1926.

The 1920’s Reds won no pennants for manager Jack Hendricks. He had taken over the manager’s job from Pat Moran who had led the Reds to the 1919 World Series title. Hendricks managed from 1924-1929, placing fourth, third, second, then fading to fifth twice, and then seventh with a subpar .429 won-loss percentage in his last season at the helm. At that time, the Reds entered possibly the worst period in the modern ball era. They finished eighth and last four consecutive years in the early 1930’s.