August 26 has some remarkable moments:
August 26, 1887: Reds Hall of Fame second baseman Bid McPhee hits for the cycle in a 19-11 Red Stockings loss to the Baltimore Orioles. The loss dropped the Red Stockings from second place into third place, 18 games behind the American Association league leading St. Louis Browns. The Louisville Colonels moved into second place on this day, with the fourth place Orioles 20 games behind the Browns and two games behind the Red Stockings.
The Red Stockings bounced back the next day to route the Orioles, 15-2. In this game, Hugh Nicol set a club record by walking five times and adding a single. At the time, it took five balls to earn a walk, not four like in today’s game.
This Red Stockings team finished the season in second place, 14 games behind the Browns. The Red Stockings finished fourth in the league, averaging 6.6 runs per game, but the strength of the team was pitching. The Red Stockings led the league with a 3.58 ERA and allowed the fewest runs per game at 5.48 (notice the two UNEARNED runs per game average). The Red Stockings finished second in fielding percentage at .916.
The team featured two star pitchers, Elmer (Mike) Smith and Tony Mullane. Both were 30-game winners, the 19-year-old Smith finishing 34-17 and leading the league with a 2.94 ERA (148 ERA+). Mullane was 31-17 with a 3.24 ERA (134 ERA+). Both had “MVP” seasons with Smith having a Wins Above Replacement (WAR) rating of 11.4 and Mullane was 8.7. (8+ is considered MVP level, 5+ all-star, 2+ starter, 0-2 reserve, <0 is replacement level).
Smith won 22 for the Red Stockings the next year at age 20 in 1888, but left organized baseball after the 1889 season. He returned as a star outfielder with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1892. There is no record of him playing minor league baseball in between. He is 68th on the career list in OBP with a .398 figure. As a pitcher, he was 75-57 with a 3.35 ERA (113 ERA+); as a hitter, he batted .310 with a lifetime OPS of .831 (126 OPS+). He is one of the best "two-way" players that have played the game.
Mullane was recently inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame. He has the second most career wins (284-220 career record) of any 19th Century pitcher not in MLB’s Hall of Fame. Nicknamed "Apollo of the Box" for his abilities from the pitching mound, he was also a team jumper who was eventually suspended by the American Association for jumping to four teams within four years. That year’s suspension quite likely cost Mullane a chance at 300 wins.
McPhee is a 2000 inductee into MLB’s Hall of Fame as a second baseman. He played his entire 18 years with Cincinnati, including every season of the American Association’s existence. He played barehanded and was possibly the last known “regular” player to adopt using a glove in the field. Still, he regularly led the league in fielding percentage, and when he started using a glove in 1896, he set a league fielding percentage record that lasted 20 years.
One of my favorite baseball quotes comes from McPhee, and it’s all about using a glove:
“The glove business has gone a little too far. True, hot-hit balls do sting a little at the opening of the season, but after you get used to it, there is no trouble on that score.”
For his career, McPhee batted .272 with 2258 hits and 1072 rbi. He holds the Reds career triples record with 189. To hit for a “natural cycle”, a player must hit a single, double, triple, and home run in that order. McPhee’s was just the opposite: he hit a home run first, then a triple, then a double, and finally a single.
McPhee’s keystone mate was shortstop Frank Fennelly, who batted .266 and led the team with 97 rbi. His best season was 1885 when he batted .273 and led the league with 89 rbi. The Red Stockings’ infield of John Reilly, Hick Carpenter at third base, McPhee, and Fennelly played together for four years (1885-88) and is thought to have been the longest continuous infield of the 19th Century.
August 26, 1913: Reds’ rookie pitcher Chief Johnson pitches a three-hitter but loses 1-0 to Christy Mathewson and the New York Giants. Fred Merkle triples in the seventh and scores the only run of the game.
Johnson is a little known Reds pitcher with a lot of drama surrounding his career and life. Johnson signed with the Reds for a $1650 yearly contract, but the Reds raised it to $2250 midseason. Known to be at least 1/4 Native American, Johnson’s nickname became “Chief,” but he apparently didn’t like it. His teammates said he would only answer to “Johnny” or “Big Murph” for he said his real name was “George Howard Murphy” and that he was raised by a family named Johnson after his father’s death. He barnstormed with the Nebraska Indians before becoming a professional at age 27.
Johnson finished his rookie season 14-16 with a 3.01 ERA (107 ERA+). It looks like the Reds gave him another raise to $3200 and he pitched one game for them in 1914, but then he jumped to the Kansas City Packers of the newly formed Federal League for $5000. According to baseball-reference bullpen, he was the starting pitcher for the Packers against the Chicago Whales in the first game ever played at Chicago’s new Weeghman Park (now Wrigley Field). From baseball-reference.com:
Johnson pitched one game for the Cincinnati Reds in 1914 before jumping to the 1914 Kansas City Packers in the ongoing battle between the Federal League and Organized Baseball. He was the starting pitcher for the Packers against the Chicago Whales in the very first game played at Weeghman Park (later known as Wrigley Field) on April 23, 1914. At the close of the second inning, however, he was served legal papers by his former club. The “Johnson Case” became one of many legal battles between the Feds and O.B. Missing half the season before the injunction was lifted, Johnson pitched for the Packers for both seasons of the Feds’ existence.
Johnson only played through 1915, apparently having problems with alcohol and his weight and was sometimes suspended by his manager. After retirement, he barnstormed and ran medicine shows in the midwest, selling herbal “Native” medicines. His demise was unfortunate:
On June 11, 1922, Johnson was in Des Moines, IA for a medicine show. According to news reports, he he attended a dice game later that evening when an argument over money came up. Johnson got into a fight with another man at the game, and was shot to death during the altercation. Johnson reportedly was killed in an argument over two and a half dollars worth of alcohol. Three men and a woman were arrested within days and charged with his murder. Charges were reduced in the case, and newspapers reported Johnson as having been drunk and out of control, though the information was based only upon statements made by defendants. His body was returned to his Nebraska home, where he was buried with tribal honors.
The 1913 Reds finished the season seventh of eight teams with a record of 64-89.
August 26, 1929: The Reds lose to the Chicago Cubs, 9-5, on a freak inside-the-park grand slam home run in Chicago. From “Redleg Journal” (by Greg Rhodes and John Snyder):
“In the eighth inning, with the score tied 5-5 and the bases loaded with Cubs, Norm McMillan hit a Rube Ehrhardt pitch down the left field line. Reds left fielder Evar Swanson saw the ball hit an open gutter running along the base of the stands, then lost sight of the ball. He looked in and around the gutter and began to wonder if the horsehide disappeared into thin air. The frantic Swanson spotted the jacket of Cubs pitcher Ken Penner, who was warming up in the bullpen. The Reds outfielder shook the jacket, but still failed to locate the ball. By this time, all of the runners had crossed the plate, and the search was called off. At the start of the ninth inning, Penner entered the game and put on the jacket for the trip from the bullpen to the mound. As he placed his right hand in the sleeve, he found the baseball that Swanson had been looking for in vain.”
The loss dropped the sixth place Reds into seventh place where they would finish the season, 33 games behind the Cubs. Swanson was one of the fastest players in baseball at the time and finished the season batting .300. He played MLB for five seasons, batting .303 with a .376 OBP. Swanson played in the National Football League from 1924-27 before joining baseball at age 26. According to baseball-reference.com bullpen Swanson “ran around the bases in 13.3 seconds in 1932, a record which apparently has never been broken.”
Ehrhardt finished the year 1-2 with a 4.74 ERA in 24 appearances. For his career, Ehrhardt was 22-34 with a 4.15 ERA. Kenner, the relief pitcher whose jacket hid the baseball, only pitched in only five games for the Cubs that year and only nine major league games for his career.
August 26, 1979: Tom Seaver shuts out the New York Mets, 8-0, to win his 11th consecutive game.
Seaver allowed four hits, walked no one, and struck out five in the contest to raise his record to 13-5. He had started the season 2-5, but won 14 of his last 15 decisions to finish 16-6 with a 3.14 ERA and he led the league with five shutouts. Seaver also contributed a two-out two-run double in the eighth inning to give the Reds a 4-0 lead in this game versus the Mets. He had two hits on the day. Against the Mets for his career, Seaver was 5-3 with a 2.28 ERA with an incredible WHIP of 0.931 and a K/BB ratio of 3.29. As a batter, against the Mets he hit .355 with a .923 OPS (only 35 plate appearances). His overall lifetime batting average was .154 with a .429 OPS. I think he liked playing against his former team.
The win kept the second place Reds 1/2 game behind the division leading Houston Astros. The Reds eventually passed the Astros and won the National League Western Division by 1 1/2 games. They lost the 1979 NL Championship Series in three games to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The offense was led by George Foster who batted .302 with 30 homers and 98 rbi in only 121 games (155 OPS+).