July 16, 1902: The Reds sign outfielders Cy Seymour, Mike Donlin, and Joe Kelley, late of the American League’s Baltimore Orioles, to join Sam Crawford and Dummy Hoy and give the Reds possiby the best collection of outfield talent in their history.
The American League was called the Western League and was one of the best minor leagues through 1900. In 1901 the Western League renamed itself the American League proclaiming itself a major league with the hope of restoring the family and gentlemenship element to baseball. The National League games had become rather rough, dangerous to the umpires, full of profanity, alcohol, and gambling. The American League and it’s president, Ban Johnson, desired to have a clean game, but needed players. They decided to raid the National League of it’s players by paying more than the $2400 salary cap the NL had for each player. The AL began offering as much as $4000 per season to entice established NL stars such as Cy Young, Jimmy Collins, Nap Lajoie, and John McGraw to jump to the new league (info from “The Cincinnati Reds” by Donald Honig).
John Brush, owner of the Reds and the guilty party who traded Christy Mathewson to Brush’s future team, the New York Giants, still had controlling interest in the Reds in 1902 despite having already purchased the Giants. Brush joined another ownership group which bought the American League franchise rights to the Baltimore Orioles (later became the New York Highlanders and eventually the Yankees). Upon buying the Baltimore team, Brush and crew released their best players who were eventually signed by National League teams. Released included future Hall of Famers McGraw, Joe McGinnity, and Roger Bresnahan as well as three players signed by the Reds: Seymour, Kelley, and Donlin (info from Honig’s “The Cincinnati Reds”). In fact, according to “Redleg Journal” (by Greg Rhodes and John Snyder), Donlin was in jail at the time of his signing. In March, Donlin had been sentenced to six months in the slammer for assaulting an actress and her escort. (Donlin was a vaudeville entertainer who sometimes missed extended periods or entire seasons because he made more money on Broadway and in Hollywood than playing baseball.)
At the time of the signings, the Reds were mired in a virtual tie for sixth place among eight teams, with a 30-40 record, 24 1/2 games behind the superb Pittsburgh Pirates (of Honus Wagner fame). The Reds had spent most of the season in seventh place through July 15, but rebounded to go 40-30 after their new acquisitions, the second best record in the National League over that span. They never got closer than fourth, but the Reds ended the season in the NL second in scoring behind the Pirates and in the middle of the pack when in pitching runs allowed per game. They finished the season at 70-70, in fourth place, 30 1/2 games behind the Pirates who finished the season 103-36.
The trio joined two future Hall of Famers already on the Reds. Young 24-year-old rightfielder Sam Crawford was already one of the best hitters in the game, having set the modern major league home run record with 16 in 1901, a Reds team record that stood until 1930. In 1902, Crawford batted .333 with 43 extra base hits, including a major league leading 22 triples. Crawford was second in the league in batting average, second in slugging percentage, and third in OPS. For his career, Crawford placed second in batting average four times, second in slugging percentage five times, second in OPS twice and third in OPS five times. Crawford holds the Major League record for career triples with 309, which may be a major league record that may never be broken. He also holds the major league record with 51 inside the park home runs. Crawford had been purchased from a minor league team by the Reds in 1899.
Veteran Hall of Fame first baseman Jake Beckley, who happens to be the most “similar” player to Crawford using Bill James’s “similarity scores,” manned first base Beckley led the 1902 Reds in hitting at .330, which was fifth in the league. Beckley was fourth in slugging percentage and fifth in OPS. Beckley still holds the major league career record for put outs. Beckley begain his career with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys (now Pirates) and was signed as a free agent by the Reds in 1897. He played seven years for the Reds, batting .325 with an OPS+ of 128. Beckley is third in all-time career batting average for the Reds. Despite being in baseball’s Hall of Fame he is not in the Reds Hall of Fame, even though the best seven seasons of his 20 year career came in Cincinnati.
Dummy Hoy, at age 40, had been enticed to jump from the Chicago White Sox before the season began. It was his 14th and final season, but he batted .290 in 72 games with an OPS+ of 129. John Dobbs was in his second major league season and he was batted .297 (OPS+ of 110) for the Reds in 1902. Hoy and Dobbs were the guys “jobbed” by the new signings. Hoy retired and Dobbs was sold to the Chicago Orphans (now Cubs).
Their replacements included were Hall of Famer Kelley, Seymour, and Donlin. Joe Kelley was a leftfielder, whose best days came with the National League’s Baltimore Orioles of the 1890’s. Kelley was a power-speed player who regularly finished in the top ten in triples. He was nearing the end of the line, and played more first base in the last days of his career with the Reds, but not until 1905 after Beckley had been sold to the Cardinals.
“Turkey Mike” Donlin was in jail when the Reds signed him at age 24, but he batted .287 for the Cincinnati team after his release. Donlin placed second in batting average the NL the next two seasons playing for the Reds with averages of .351 and .329. His career batting average is .333.
Cy Seymour was a pitcher in the 1890’s, whose wildness brought on the nickname “Cyclone”. He won 25 games on the mound for the 1898 New York Giants, who loved his bat and moved him to the outfield. He had led the majors in walks (as a pitcher) from 1897-99 with walk totals of 168, 213, and 170. He also twice led the majors in strikeouts with 156 and 239. As a hitter he was even better. In 1902, after joining the Reds, Seymour batted .340 and put up a monster year in 1905, possibly the best single offensive season by a Red. He set the Reds team record by batting .377, to lead the majors, as well as leading the major leagues with 219 hits, 21 triples, 121 rbi, total bases, slugging percentage, on base percentage, and OPS at .988. He led the National Legue with 40 doubles, but placed second to teammate Fred Odwell with eight home runs (Odwell had nine), one home run short of being the Reds only batting Triple Crown winner. Seymour was sold to the Giants after a slow start in 1906, but batted .320 for the Giants after the trade.
It was a good thing the Reds had these hitters for they also sported two terrible hitters in their lineup. Catcher Bill Bergen is considered to be the worst fulltime hitter in major league history. He batted .180 for the Reds in 1902 on his way to career batting average of .194 in 11 major league seasons with an OPS+ of 21. He had a terrific arm and finished in top five in assists in nine major league seasons. At shortstop was Tommy Corcoran, a veteran shortstop known for his glove and not his bat (career OPS+ of 74). He was in his sixth season with the Reds. The Reds used young star Harry Steinfeldt at third base, who batted .278 in 1902 and .312 in 1903 before joining the future World Champion Chicago Cubs. At second base was catcher Heinie Peitz who enjoyed his best season as a hitter. Peitz regularly played catcher in 14 of his 16 major league careers, but batted .315 as a second baseman in 1902.
Pitching wise the Reds had Noodles Hahn, who went 23-12 with a 1.77 ERA for his fourth consecutive outstanding season. The rest of the pitching staff, though, was average and Hahn couldn’t pitch every day.
The Reds felt they were in a position to be contenders, but were then dealt a HUGE blow to the franchise. In the postseason of 1902, the American League enticed Crawford to sign with the Detroit Tigers for a reported $3500 which was more than the Reds were paying. Crawford took the deal, but then the AL and NL finalized a peace treaty. With peace in the air, Crawford signed with the Reds, too, and to settle the peace, the powers that be awarded Crawford to the Tigers since he had signed with them first. The loss was devastating to the Reds, who just traded away Christy Mathewson a couple of years before, too.
The Reds did finish third in 1903, but began fading quickly, and became a second division team until 1918. In 1919, they won their first World Series.