November 2, 1881: The American Association is founded to compete with the National League. The motto for the league is “Liberty to All” with founding members the Cincinnati Red Stockings, Philadelphia Athletics, Brooklyn Atlantics, Louisville Colonels, Pittsburgh Alleghenys, and the St. Louis Brown Stockings.
The American Association will become known as the “Beer and Whiskey League” and is a backlash to many of the principles of the National League. The American Association has decided to promote baseball as entertainment in opposition to the somewhat “staid” ideology of the NL. The AA decides to allow Sunday baseball, alcohol sales, low ticket prices, and a carnival atmosphere.
The AA also forms somewhat in revenge to the NL. Phladelphia, Louisville formerly the Louisville Grays), and Brooklyn (formerly the Hartford Dark Blues) had all been original National League franchises in 1876 when the NL was formed. All had left the NL for various reasons. Philadelphia and the New York Mutuals had been expelled from the league for not completing the first NL season when they found they were out of the race. Louisville quit the league after several of their players were expelled for throwing baseball games in 1877 in baseball’s first gambling scandal. St. Louis also resigned from the league after signing a couple of those same expelled players and finding out they couldn’t play. Hartford-Brooklyn quit because they couldn’t draw enough fans. Cincinnati had been expelled for leasing their ballpark on Sundays and selling beer and alcohol.
Representatives of these cities weren’t happy with not having major league baseball teams so they created a viable league that competed with the National League, implementing rules changes along the way that have led to many of our current rules.
The first meeting didn’t work out so well with only Cincinnati sportswriter (and future manager) O.P. Caylor and partner Justus Thorner, former president of the National League Reds, showing up for the meeting. According to the book “The Ballclubs” by Donald Dewey and Nicholas Acocella, Caylor and Thorner were directed to a Pittsburgh representative where…
“…they concocted a preposterous plot: To each of the clubs that had thought so little of the idea of establishing a new league, they sent a telegram implying that each recipient was the only one that had failed to show up, and inviting them all to a second meeting a the Hotel Gibson in Cincinnati. Amazingly, the ruse succeeded and the AA was formed at a subsequent meeting at the Hotel Gibson in Cincinnati.”
By the time the AA began play in 1882, the Baltimore Orioles joined the league, the Brown Stockings became the Browns, and Louisville changed it’s nickname to the Eclipse.
November 2, 1960: Bill DeWitt is named Vice-President and General Manager of the Cincinnati Reds.
DeWitt was a baseball lifer, having started his baseball career selling soda in St. Louis’s Sportsman’s Park. At age 14 he began working for famous General Manager Branch Rickey and St. Louis Browns, moved to the St. Louis Cardinals, later bought and sold the Browns, and then worked for the Browns, Baltimore Orioles, New York Yankees, and was president of the Detroit Tigers before coming to the Reds. DeWitt bought the Reds in 1962 before selling them in 1968. Today, DeWitt’s son, Bill DeWitt, Jr., is owner of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Immediately upon coming to the Reds, DeWitt added his touches to the Reds talent foundation started by Gabe Paul in the 1950’s. Within six weeks, DeWitt had sold Billy Martin, traded Roy McMillan and traded for Joey Jay and Gene Freese. About six weeks later he traded Joe Nuxhall to the Kansas City Athletics (he brought Nuxhall back in 1962). DeWitt continued to build the Reds farm system which led to the fantastic Reds farm system of the 1960’s.
DeWitt is probably best known for trading away Frank Robinson to the Orioles. It was an absolutely terrible trade for the Reds, one of many ill-advised trades that negatively affected the Reds championship opportunities (check out Part 1 and Part 2 of what could’ve been). At the same time, DeWitt kept the talent pipeline active and many of the Big Red Machine players came as a result of DeWitt’s efforts.
The Reds had finished an injury riddled 1993 season with second base being shared by Bip Roberts (.240), Juan Samuel (.230), and Jeff Branson (.241). Roberts was hurt, Samuel was at the end of the line, and Branson was never really much of a hitter. Roberts and Samuel both left for free agency following 1993. As for the Reds starting pitching, Jose Rijo was outstanding in 1993 (14-9, 2.48 ERA, 163 ERA+), but he was the only Reds starter with an ERA+ of greater than 91 and the 91 was posted by Tim Belcher who had been traded at midseason.
The Reds attempted to answer these two issues with the trade for Boone and Hanson. Boone was as similar player to Reds manager Davey Johnson in his playing days, an offense-first second baseman with a better than average glove. In 1973, Johnson set a new major league record by hitting 43 home runs as a second baseman after having only 69 total in his career in the eight seasons before. He had also won three Gold Gloves at the time. Bret Boone didn’t hit 43 home runs in one season as a Red, but in his final season in Cincinnati he became a genuine offensive threat when he batted .266 with 24 home runs and 95 rbi in 1998, incidentally winning his first Gold Glove that season. In the next few seasons, Boone became a feared slugger with the Seattle Mariners with seasons of 37 and 35 home runs and leading the American League with 141 rbi and a .331 batting average in 2001. Boone won four Gold Gloves.
Hanson was a former 18 game winner with the Mariners (1990, 18-9, 3.24 ERA), who had two consecutive losing seasons for the Mariners. He may have been the key player for the Reds in the trade, but injuries limited him to five wins in 1994 before leaving as a free agent. He came came back to win 15 for the Red Sox before suffering through a 13-17 season in Toronto as he neared the end.
The Reds gave up two quality players in the deal in catcher Wilson and reliever Ayala. Ayala had been 9-11 with a 5.38 ERA for the Reds. Over the next six years, Ayala was 28-33 with a 4.63 ERA (101 ERA+) in 358 appearances. Wilson went on to play 12 seasons as a Seattle catcher, batting .262 in 14 major league seasons.
The moves helped the Reds finish in first place in both 1994 (66-48) and 1995 (85-59) as Boone became a great double play partner with all-star shortstop Barry Larkin. The 1994 Reds infield of Hal Morris at 1b, Boone at 2b, Larkin at SS, and Tony Fernandez at 3b may have been one of the most impressive infield defenses in Reds history.