September 17, 1900: Reds shortstop Tommy Corcoran becomes one of baseball’s best detectives. From “Day by Day in Cincinnati Reds History” by Floyd Conner and John Snyder:
Reds shortstop Tommy Corcoran uncovers an elaborate sign-stealing apparatus during a game against the Phillies in Philadelphia. Corcoran was coaching at third base when his spikes caught a wire in the coaches’ box. Corcoran dug the wire out of the dirt, gave it a yank, and several yards of wire came out of the ground. Corcoran kept tugging, and traced the wire across right field to the Phillies’ locker room where Morgan Murphy, a reserve catcher for Philadelphia, was sitting with a telegraph instrument beside an open window. It was then learned that Murphy spied on opposing catchers and relayed their signals, via the wire, to the Philadelphia third base coach. A buzzer had been placed under the dirt, and by keeping his foot on it, the third base coach received signals which indicated whether the next pitcher would be a fastball, curve, or change of pace. This information was relayed to the batter.
“Total Baseball’s Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia” adds a little more to the story. Phillies catcher Murphy was using binoculars to see the catcher’s signs. Corcoran found the wire led to a small box buried under the third base coach’s box. The coach, usually Phillies utility man Pearce Chiles, would give a verbal cue to the batter as to the nature of the pitch. When Corcoran discovered the apparatus, the Phillies groundskeeper ran onto the field to try to keep Corcoran from discovering their secret.
Corcoran played 18 major league seasons, 10 with the Reds. At one point, he had played the most career games at shortstop. He and Reds second baseman Bid McPhee were considered to be possibly the best keystone combination of the 1890’s. Corcoran was definitely known more for his glove than his bat. His career batting average was .256 and he had 1135 rbi, but his career OPS+ was 74. He batted .249 in his ten years with the Reds.
The sign stealing episode was one of the more interesting events of the 1900 Reds. The team finished the season 62-77 in seventh place, 21 1/2 games behind the Brooklyn Superbas.
September 17, 1973: Pete Rose goes 2-5 and collects hits number 219 and 220 to break the Reds’ single season hit record of 219 set by Cy Seymour back in 1905. Rose doubled in the first inning off Houston Astros pitcher Dave Roberts to tie the record and and then delivered a run-scoring single in the fourth off Roberts to break the record. Rose goes to collect ten more hits before the season was over to total 230 hits for the season. The Reds lost this game to the Houston Astros, 5-2.
Rose is chosen Most Valuable Player for his 1973 season as he bats .338 with five homers and 64 rbi. His OBP is .401, his OPS is .838 (OPS+ 132). Rose finished in the top five in MVP voting five different times: he was second in 1968 when he batted .335 in the “Year of the Pitcher” to St. Louis Cardinal pitcher Bob Gibson (22-9, 1.12 ERA). He also finished fourth in 1969 (batted .348) and in 1976 (batted .323), and he finished fifth in 1975 (batted .317). He finished in the top ten five other seasons (1965, 1966, 1967, 1970, and 1981).
September 17, 1983: On Johnny Bench Night at Riverfront Stadium, Bench connects for a two-run homer and a single, but the Reds lose to the Houston Astros, 4-3. It was Bench’s last home run of his career, number 389 of his career. Bench’s last homer came in the bottom of the third inning with Paul Householder aboard and was hit off Astros pitcher Mike Madden.
For Bench’s last season, he batted .255 with 12 homers and 54 rbi, and OPS of .741 (OPS+ of 101). For his career, Bench bats .267 with 389 home runs, 1376 rbi, and 2048 hits. He was selected to 14 all-star teams and won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves for his defensive play at catcher.