November 1, 1937: Former Reds starting pitcher Benny Frey commits suicide after spending a season without baseball.
Frey had been with the Reds from the end of 1929 through 1936, except for one month that he spent with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1932. Frey was the most effective player on the 1934 Reds when he went 11-16 with a 3.52 ERA (116 ERA+). His WAR (wins above replacement) for 1934 was 4.0 on a 52-99 team that finished in eighth and last place, 42 games behind the Cardinals.
Frey had gone 22-11 with Nashville of the Southern League in 1929 when the Reds brought him to Cincinnati to finish the year 1-2 in three starts. He was placed in the rotation for the 1930 season and went 11-18 with a 4.70 ERA and completed 14 games. Frey didn’t strike out many batters; he struck out 179 batters total in eight major league seasons and 1160 innings (1.4 K’s/9 innings), pitching to contact and relying on his defense. Unfortunately for the poor Reds teams of the early 1930’s, that means Frey allowed 1415 hits in those 1160 innings leading to a lifetime 4.50 ERA and a career 52-99 record.
Frey was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals the day before the 1932 season began along with first baseman Harvey Hendrick (.315 with one home run and a 120 OPS+ in 1931) for slugging future Hall of Fame outfielder Chick Hafey. Hafey was a premier slugger of the late 1920’s, taking advantage of the lively ball to average .340 with 42 doubles, 24 homers, 110 rbi, .397 OBP, .612 SLP, 1.012 OPS (150 OPS+) for the Cardinals from 1928-31. Hafey was a contract holdout and the Cardinals dealt him to the Reds. Unfortunately for the Reds, Hafey’s health and eyesight failed right at that moment and he had two sinus operations that year and was never the same player again. The Reds purchased Frey back from the Cardinals after he made two starts for St. Louis and the Reds re-purchased Hendrick one month later, too.
Frey hurt his arm sometime during the 1936 season and refused a minor league assignment for 1937, instead choosing to return to his home in Michigan to recuperate. He apparently became more and more despondent over his circumstances and committed suicide in his sister’s home by carbon monoxide poisoning by running a hose from his exhaust into his car.
The late 1930’s Reds had at least four players who committed suicide, three of them successfully. Hendrick, who was traded with Frey, committed suicide at age 43, seven years after his playing days ended. He was a .309 hitter in two seasons with the Reds and played eleven major league seasons with a career batting average of .308 with a 113 OPS+. Reds catcher Willard Hershberger committed suicide during the 1940 Reds World Championship season and his teammate, Reds Hall of Famer Ernie Lombardi, later attempted suicide (unsuccessfully) after his playing days were over. Lombardi was a teammate of all three players. To add to these players’ dramas, Hershberger’s father had committed suicide as did the the shoe store owner who found Hershberger in his hotel room in 1940.
November 1, 1988: Reds third baseman Chris Sabo is named National League Rookie of the Year.
Sabo batted .271 with 11 homers, 44 rbi, 40 doubles, and 46 steals in his rookie season and was named to the National League all-star team. Most of his damage came in the first half of the season when he batted .312 with 10 homers, 32 doubles, and 28 steals with an OPS of .877. The 26-year-old rookie tailed off the second half of the season (.216, 1 homer, .526 OPS), but his overall performance won him the award ahead of closest challenger Cubs first baseman Mark Grace.
Sabo was one of the more popular players in Reds history, known for his hustle that Reds manager Pete Rose nicknamed “Spuds” after a dog named “Spuds McKenzie” from a well-known beer commercial at the time. He wore “rec specs” instead of normal eye glasses which became sort of a trademark of Sabo’s. He was an integral member of the 1990 Reds World Championship team, batting .270 with 25 homers and 81 rbi. His best season came in 1991, when he hit .301 with 26 homers and 88 rbi. In the Reds 1990 postseason, he batted .368 in ten games, with three home runs. In the World Series alone, Sabo batted a whopping .563 with a 1.611 OPS (.611 OBP and 1.000 slugging percentage) as an offensive star for the World Champions.
Sabo was a late blooming rookie, not reaching the major league until age 26. He played nine major league seasons, four of them with more than 400 plate appearances. He batted .268 with 116 career home runs and 120 career steals. He left the Reds as a free agent following the 1993 season and played for four teams over the next three seasons, including a return to the Reds in a part-time role for the 1996 season. He was suspended for seven games in 1996 for using a corked bat, but batted .254 in 54 games for the Reds before retiring.
According to Wikipedia, Sabo maintained that he never corked a bat:
His final season was in Cincinnati in 1996. His homecoming did not go as well as he had hoped. In July of that season, Sabo shattered his bat which was filled with cork. As a result of the incident, Sabo received a seven-game suspension.
Sabo maintains that he had never corked a bat in his life. He claimed that the bat in question belonged to another player (whom he would not name). He argued that his performance that season (3HR in 52 games) was hardly “an endorsement of the cork industry.”
Sabo was inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame during the 2010 season. The ever-popular Sabo was selected to three all-star teams during his career.