December 13, 1906: On this date, the Reds purchase pitcher Andy Coakley from the Philadelphia Athletics. Coakley becomes (and remains) the all-time Reds leader in career Earned Run Average.
Coakley was a five year veteran of the Athletics when the Reds purchased his contract (in Coakley’s first season–3 games–he played as Jack Mc Allister), compiling a 31-23 record with a 2.51 ERA (110 ERA+). His best season had been 1905 when he was 18-8 with a 1.84 ERA (145 ERA+) with his ERA placing fourth in the American League. He had slumped in 1906, going 7-8 with a 3.14 ERA (87 ERA+).
Coakley immediately joined the Reds rotation and regained his form, finishing the season 17-16 with a 2.34 ERA (111 ERA+) for a Reds team that finished the season in sixth place with a 66-87 record. The 1907 Reds were an inconsistent team and actually outscored their competition for the year, 526-519, despite their losing record. They had been shut out 21 times during a season of feast or famine offense. The bad luck caught up with Coakley in 1908 as he was 8-18, but with a 1.86 ERA, the eighth lowest seasonal Reds ERA in their history. Coakley was sold to the Chicago Cubs late in the season.
In Coakley’s two seasons with the Reds, he was 25-34 with a team record setting career ERA of 2.11 (116 ERA+). In second place on the Reds career ERA list is Fred Toney who pitched in the 1910’s and third is Dutch Ruether, a contemporary of Toney’s. Fourth and fifth are Coakley teammates Jake Weimer and Bob Ewing, respectively, giving you some idea of the depressed scoring and terrible fielding (many unearned runs) of the day. Sixth is modern day reliever John Franco (2.49), followed by more early 20th Century pitchers and modern day relievers. The first starting pitcher from post-1925 is Jose Rijo who is 15th on the list with a 2.83 ERA.
However, to put things in perspective, we can use ERA+. Coakley’s ERA+ plus while with the Reds was 116+, which is 21st on the all-time Reds list. The best ERA+ belongs to Franco (154) while Rijo is second at 139. Many turn of the century players are still there (the Reds were known for their pitching then), but they do drop down on the list (you can find the info here by scrolling down at the baseball-reference.com site).
December 13, 1934: The Reds make one of their best prospect acquisitions in their history by purchasing slugging first baseman Johnny Mize from the St. Louis Cardinals for $55,000. However, on April 14, 1935, they undo their superior acquisition by making one of the worst decisions in team history and return Mize to the Cardinals. Mize goes on to bat .312 with 359 home runs despite missing three years (ages 30-32) to World War II and is elected to the Hall of Fame.
The early 1930 were arguably the most dismal in Reds history, having finished last four seasons in a row (1931-34) after finishing next to last the two seasons before that. The 1934 Reds had finished 52-99, the most losses in team history (until the 1982 Reds), and had easily the worst offense in the league, averaging only 3.88 runs per game. Aging Hall of Famer Jim Bottomley (also previously acquired from the Cardinals) manned first base for the Reds in 1934, hitting .284 with 11 homers and a .763 OPS (106), far off from his best seasons with the Cardinals in the 1920’s.
The Reds took a flyer on Mize who was stuck in the minors behind slugger Ripper Colllins on the St. Louis Cardinal championship teams of the early 1930’s. Mize apparently won the Reds first base job out of spring training but was requiring surgery (different sources cite different injuries–I’ve seen both groin and knee cited) that would require him to miss months of the season. The Reds decided they didn’t want damaged goods and returned him to the Cardinals two days before the season was to start on April 16, 1935.
Mize had the surgery completed and set out about half of the 1935 season, but returned to play 65 minor league games and hit .317 with 12 homers. He won the Cardinals starting first base job in 1936 and hit .329 with 19 homers, 93 rbi, a .402 OBP and a .979 OPS (162 OPS+) as a rookie. Meanwhile, Bottomley bottomed out in 1935, hitting .258 with one home run and a .617 OPS (68 OPS+). Les Scarsella played first base for the Reds in 1936, hitting .313 with three homers and a .748 OPS (106 OPS+).
The Reds did rise to power in the late 1930’s and one of their leaders was line-drive hitting, slick fielding Frank McCormick who joined the team full time in 1938. But, wow, how many teams can say they rejected three Hall of Famers such as Mize, Christy Mathewson, and Babe Ruth.