November 12, 1908: The Reds begin a month-long 12-game tour of Cuba, becoming the first Major League team to play there. On this first game, the Reds defeated the Havana team 3-1.
The Reds, who were 73-81 in 1908, won six of eleven games against local Cuban teams and lost once on the tour to the Brooklyn Royal Giants, a Negro League team also barnstorming in Cuba.
The real payoff for the team came through the names Armando Marsans and Rafael Almeida who played for the Cuban Almendares team. Marsans and Almeida later joined the Reds and made their National League debuts on July 4, 1911, becoming the first natural born Cubans to play in a National League game.
The Reds had been initializing pursuing third baseman Almeida, who only agreed to come if outfielder Marsans could come as an interpreter and play, too, since Almeida spoke very little English. Bringing Marsans was a good idea, too, since he was the better player. Almeida played three seasons for the Reds, batting .270 in 102 games as a part-time player.
Marsans became a very good player, finishing eighth in the National League in batting average at .317 (109 OPS+) and had 35 steals. In four seasons with the Reds, Marsans batted .300 with 96 steals in the deadball era (99 OPS+). Marsans jumped to the St. Louis Terriers of the Federal League in 1914 and the Reds sued Marsans for breach of contract. Marsans only played 45 games for the Terriers over two years before jumping back to the St.Louis Browns of the American League. In eight total major league seasons, Marsans batted .269 (89 OPS+).
Marsans and Almeida were light-skinned enough for the baseball establishment to allow them to play. According to “Redleg Journal” by Greg Rhodes and John Snyder, “the Reds issued a press release claiming that the two players were of aristocratic Spanish or Portuguese heritage, and didn’t contain a drop of ‘African blood.’ ” Not everyone believed the Reds and some fans apparently didn’t welcome the pair with open arms. The success of Almeida and Marsans later allowed the Reds to employ Cuban catcher Mike Gonzalez and star pitcher Dolf Luque within the next few years.
November 12, 1964: Popular former Reds manager Fred Hutchinson dies of cancer.
Hutchinson had been an American League all-star pitcher, compiling a 95-71 record for the Detroit Tigers with a 3.71 ERA over ten seasons, missing five seasons due to serving in World War II. He was named player-manager of the Tigers in 1952 at age 32 and suffered through three losing seasons, finishing 155-235. He was manager of the St. Louis Cardinals from 1956-58 with better results, going 232-220, including a second place finish in 1957.
Hutchinson joined the Redlegs in 1959 who were 35-45 under Mayo Smith before Hutchinson took over. The team improved to 39-35 under Hutchinson’s direction. Changing their name back to Reds for the 1960 season, the Reds stepped back to 67-87 for 1960, before the “Ragamuffin Reds” bounced back to win Cincinnati’s first National League pennant in 21 years with a 93-61 record in 1961 before losing in five games to the New York Yankees in the World Series.
The Reds became perpetual contenders under Hutchinson. The Reds were 98-64 in 1962, finishing in third place, and 86-76 in 1963 before Hutchinson was diagnosed with cancer in the offseason. A heavy smoker since his war days, Hutchinson vowed to keep managing while undergoing chemotherapy. He was 60-49 managing the Reds in 1964 before giving way to Dick Sisler to finish the season. The Reds tried to win the championship for Hutchinson, and were in first place with five games to go, but fell one game short. The Reds tied for second with the Philadelphia Phillies behind the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Reds were 443-372 under Hutchinson’s guidance, giving him a career record of 830-827. In Chris Jaffe’s book “Evaluating Baseball’s Managers,” Hutchinson is noted for his vast improvement as a manager over time. Jaffe’s analysis suggests that
Whenever possible, Hutchinson made sure his offenses had a platoon advantage. He liked to pinch-hit and have runners steal bases, but his teams rarely bunted. He used relievers about as often as most, but he rarely had them appear on consecutive days…the only prominent manager who began after World War II to never have a pitcher make 60 relief appearances in a season. He did not like to issue intentional walks….Hutchinson has a very good reputation when he managed….He was known as a strict but fair man, with no tolerance for lazy play.
In memorializing Hutchinson’s life…..from baseball-reference.com’s bullpen:
The Hutch Award has been awarded since 1965 to a player who exemplifies the courage and desire of Fred Hutchinson. The first recipient was Mickey Mantle. Bill Hutchinson, who diagnosed his brother’s condition, later founded the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle in 1975; it has become one of the world’s leading research institution in the field of oncology.
On December 24, 1999, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer named Hutchinson Seattle’s athlete of the 20th Century, ahead of Ken Griffey, Jr.
Hutchinson is the manager who gave a brash young second baseman, Pete Rose, a chance to start in the major leagues, jumping all the way from A Ball to become Rookie of the Year. He also found the magic to convert underachieving bonus baby Joey Jay into a two-time 20-game winner. I’m currently reading a book about Hutchinson, “Fred Hutchinson and the 1964 Cincinnati Reds” scheduled to be released in January, and there’s no question that the Reds players had the utmost respect for Hutchinson. His uniform number “1” was the first number retired in Cincinnati Reds baseball history.