August 13, 1931: Tony Cuccinello has an incredible double header day as the Reds sweep the Boston Braves, 17-3 and 4-2.
The early 1930’s Reds fans probably experienced the nadir of the club’s existence. From 1930-1934, and again in 1937, the team had a winning percentage of less than .400, with a high of 60 wins in those six seasons. They were typically outscored by nearly a run per game on average during this period despite being a team filled with future Hall of Famers….albeit aging future Hall of Famers playing out the string. In 1930, the Reds sported future HOFers Harry Heilman, George “High Pockets” Kelly, Eppa Rixey, and former Yankee great Bob Meusel (not in the HOF). 1931 brought back 38-year-old former Reds great HOFer Edd Roush; 1932 brought HOFer Chick Hafey; 1933 brought old-timer HOFer Jim Bottomley; a young Leo Durocher played during these years. But having aging HOFers don’t make for a great team if they are past their prime. The greats may bring in some fans, but winning is what fosters long term desired attendance figures.
Cuccinello was a young man with his rookie season coming in 1930 when he batted .312. He had an even better season in 1931 batting .315 with a Reds second baseman record of 39 doubles and he had 93 rbi. He was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers following the 1931 season for future HOF catcher Ernie Lombardi. It was a good trade for the Reds in getting future MVP Lombardi, but Cuccinello was good enough to play 15 seasons in the majors batting .280 with 884 rbi over those years. He finished second in the batting title race by one point in his last season in the major leagues in 1945 playing for the Chicago White Sox.
Cuccinello’s best day with the Reds came on August 13, 1931. In the first game, Cuccinello went 6-6 with four runs scored and five rbi. He had a triple, two doubles, and three singles, making a winner out of starting pitcher Red Lucas. Lucas was one of the best hitting Reds pitchers of all time and he collected three hits on this day, too, as did third baseman Joe Stripp. Stripp and Durocher both homered in the game for the Reds. Cuccinello was also the star of the nightcap, as his seventh inning three run homer, provided the winning runs in a 4-2 Reds win. It was Cuccinello’s second and last homer of the year. Si Johnson was the winning pitcher for the Reds in the second game.
A couple of notes about Lucas. Lucas played 15 major league seasons, eight with the Reds. He was a very good pitcher, going 19-12 with a 3.60 ERA in 1929, 157-135 for his career, and 109-99 with the Reds from 1926-33. Let’s just say Lucas earned his wins on some not-so-good Reds teams. Lucas was also a very good hitter and was frequently used as a pinch hitter. He batted .281 during his time with the Reds, appearing in 589 total games, but only 257 of them as a pitcher. He was 114-437 in pinch hitting appearances over the years (.281) with the pinch hits and pinch at bats being major league records for many years. His ability to hit allowed him to remain in games longer than most starting pitchers and at one point completed 27 consecutive games covering more than 250 innings pitched.
Johnson has a story to tell, too. According to “Redleg Journal” by Greg Rhodes and John Snyder, Johnson has the lowest winning percentage of any Reds pitcher with more than 100 career decisions. With the Reds, Johnson was 46-86 from 1928-36. Twice he led the major leagues in losses, going 11-19 in 1931 (3.77 ERA, 99 ERA+) and 7-22 in 1934 (5.22 ERA). Johnson finished his career 101-165 over 17 major league seasons with a 4.09 ERA which is an ERA+ of 93.
Johnson had his great moments. In 1933, he pitched two one-hitters within two weeks, both shutout wins over the Boston Braves who finished fourth that year. The second shut out improved his record to 5-3 with a 2.09 ERA. However, for the remainder of the season he went 2-15, finishing the year at 7-18 with a 3.49 earned run average Johnson was a slightly below average pitcher, pitching for a very much below average team.