December 6, 1921: On this day, the Cincinnati Reds trade possibly the greatest third baseman in their history to the New York Giants when they deal Heinie Groh for outfielder George Burns, catcher Mike Gonzalez, and $150,000. $150,000 today would be equivalent to $1.783 million dollars.
Groh was the best player on the Reds in the late teens, specifically 1918 and 1919. He was a slick fielding third baseman who set fielding records that stood for decades after he retired. He was also known for using a “bottle bat” that was perfect for slap hitting, the style of hitting for the Babe Ruth-inspired home run baseball became the rule of the day. In the offense challenged day of small ball, Groh led the National League in OBP in both 1917 and 1918 and led the league in OPS in 1919. He also led the NL in doubles in both 1917 and 1918.
However, in 1921 Groh wasn’t happy with his contract and started the season as a “hold-out” on the Reds, refusing to play for them without a new contract. From baseball-reference.com’s bullpen:
He held out for a pay raise at the beginning of the 1921 season and refused to play. As a result, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned him. Landis would approve Groh’s reinstatement only “on the express condition that Groh joins the Cincinnati team immediately and remains with it throughout the 1921 season.” Groh was back in the Reds lineup two days later.
From “Redleg Journal” by Greg Rhodes and John Snyder:
Groh signed only after an agreement that he would be traded immediately to the New York Giants. The deal was not consummated until after the season was over, however, because Judge Landis ruled it invalid and decreed that Groh must play for the Reds until the end of the season. Along with Edd Roush and Ray Fisher, Groh was one of the three prominent holdouts the Reds had to deal with in 1921.
While Groh was reinstated and Roush returned in time to play 121 games, Fisher was banned for life when he jumped his contract to become a baseball coach at the University of Michigan even after the Reds had given him permission to do so. Fisher went on to coach Michigan for 38 years, winning 10 Big Ten Titles, and one NCAA championship.
Meanwhile, Groh came back with a vengeance, hitting .331 in 97 games, the highest average of his career, and an .815 OPS (121 OPS+). The Reds finished 1921 in sixth place, 70-83, 24 games behind the first place Giants. The Giants, with Groh, finished first in each of the next three seasons, while the Reds climbed back into contention finishing in second place in 1922 and 1923 and remaining a first division team through 1926.
Groh played nine seasons for the Reds, batting .298 with a .772 OPS (130 OPS+). In 16 major league seasons, Groh batted .292 with a .757 OPS (118 OPS+).
Burns replaced Groh in the leadoff spot and hit well in three seasons for the Reds. Burns led the league in walks in 1923 and batted .275 for the three seasons, .719 OPS (90 OPS+). For his 15 year career, Burns hit .287 (114 OPS+). Gonzalez never played for the Reds, but did play 17 major league seasons, batting .253 (80 OPS+).
Franco had been with the Reds for six years, going 42-30 with a 2.49 ERA (154 ERA+) and 148 saves and had been selected to three all-star teams. He led the National League in saves with 39 in 1988. After leaving the Reds, Franco was 48-57 with a 3.19 ERA and 276 saves. For his 21 year career, Franco was 90-87 with a 2.89 ERA (138 ERA+) and 424 career saves. He pitched in 1119 games, all in relief. Brown never played in the majors.
Myers became the bullpen ace, the closer of the 1990 “Nasty Boys” relief corps of the Reds World Championship team. During 1990, Myers was 4-6 with a 2.08 ERA (193 ERA+) and 31 saves, finishing fifthin Cy Young voting. He struggled in 1991 and joined a major league starting rotation for the only time in his career, making 12 starts. He finished the season 6-13 with a 3.55 ERA (2-6, 3.45 as starter, 4-7, 3.65 as reliever). The Reds dealt him to the San Diego Padres following the 1991 season for IF-OF Bip Roberts and minor league outfielder Craig Pueschner.
Myers regained his all-star form and later led the league three times in saves with a high of 53 in 1993 for the Chicago Cubs. In 1997, while with the Baltimore Orioles, Myers finished fourth in both Cy Young and MVP voting when he went 2-3 with a 1.51 ERA and 45 saves. For his 14-year career, Myers was 44-63 with a 3.19 ERA (123 ERA+) and 347 saves in 728 games. In two seasons with the Reds, Myers was 10-19 with a 2.96 ERA (132 ERA+) and a 2.96 ERA.
Kip Gross did spend time with the Reds, too. In two seasons with the Reds, pitching as a swingman, Gross was 6-4 with a 3.62 ERA in 34 appearances. He spent parts of six seasons in the majors and was 7-8 with a 3.90 ERA in 73 games, 12 of them starts.