Picking Nits

The older you get, the more baseball you’ve probably watched, and with this fact comes a great responsibility, a solemn task that all fans of the game undertake. You can’t resist it; it’s in the fans DNA. Of course I’m talking about… picking nits, mulling the obvious, and sifting through the past.

Thom Brennaman has a habit that most announcers possess, in that he speaks with authority on a subject (in this case “baseball”) consistently enough to please most listeners, but occasionally he states a fact as an absolute truth when in reality it’s not even remotely true. This past weekend, it was the time honored statement that the Cincinnati Reds were the oldest team in baseball, which is no where near the truth.

They do hold a distinction that is unique: they were the first all professional team.

They were in the original National League, but were expelled for selling beer and other liquid refreshments favored in those days for daily intake. The current version of the Reds trace their legacy to the old American Association (AKA The Beer and Whiskey League) founded by former Enquirer sportswriter O.P Caylor in the early 1880’s.

For those interested, the oldest teams in professional baseball are listed below.

Chicago Cubs			1876 (NL)  
Atlanta Braves		        1876 (NL) 
St. Louis Cardinals		1882 (AA)  (NL) 1892
Pittsburgh Pirates		1882 (AA)  (NL) 1887
Cincinnati Reds		        1882 (AA)  (NL) 1890
San Francisco Giants		1883 (NL)
Philadelphia Phillies		1883 (NL)
Los Angeles Dodgers		1884 (AA)  (NL) 1890

Obvious Off-day Observation.

The current Reds shortstops have combined for the worst OPS for the position in the National League, but fear not — they are still better than the Royals! In case you are wondering this is what stink looks like in a slash line:

256 ab’s – .234/.281/.273/.554

To measure this, we’ll look at the last 60 years of Reds SS listed by worst OPS delivered in a full season.

	  YEAR     OPS      AVG      OBA      SLG      AB     
Reds      1983     .583     .233     .303     .280      528   
Reds      1953     .591     .233     .290     .302      557   
Reds      1963     .595     .235     .270     .326      565   
Reds      1954     .621     .250     .308     .313      588   
Reds      1984     .628     .245     .307     .320      531   
Reds      1950     .632     .251     .276     .356      483   
Reds      1985     .645     .252     .314     .330      560

How well have the Reds SS usually hit? Compared to the Cubs and Braves (who, by the way, are the two “oldest” team in MLB), we see a wide difference in batting talent from the SS position. The Cubs have had 18 and the Braves have had 22 shortstop seasons in the same time span with an OPS worse than the Reds 7th-worst OPS in the list above.

Concerning the Reds current situation, I’m certain many will reply that the glove is what matters, and they are correct it is the most important tool in the shortstop’s bag. Now if the Reds SS crew gave this slash line with the stick in 600 AB — .230/.276/.313 — I’d hope that they were a plus 21 in Runs Allowed with the glove, like Ozzie Smith was the year he put up those numbers.

Something has to give with Cincinnati’s current situation. However, let us note that the options are few when it comes to SS. Either the cost is prohibitive or you have to develop from within, which the Reds were capable of doing for the time frame between 1950-2004.

Sifting through the past

It’s the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Reds team who lofted the NL Championship flag for that season.

It’s safe to say that this is a forgotten bunch that somewhat resides in the shadow of not only the Big Red Machine, but also the Ted Kluszewski-era Redlegs. Not to say this team didn’t have some mojo, it just seems to be forgotten more than remembered. Also of note was that this was the the first year after the Crosley ownership and only the second ownership group in franchise history to be from outside the area. It was also the last season of the original 8 NL teams that survived the contraction scenario of 1899.

What’s fun to see is how strange the game was aligned geographically after the Dodgers and Giants moved west. For instance, in 1960 the NL had one team (the Phillies) east of Pittsburgh and the American League had one team west of Detroit and four teams east of Pittsburgh. Expansion would rectify that imbalance and 1961 was an AL expansion year as the Angels and the Senators came in and the original Senators moved to Minnesota to try and even out the obvious.

Meanwhile the new ownership group in Cincinnati was trying their best to cobble together a winner and by winter’s end, the predictions had to be made. The team was not picked to go very far by all the scribes across the nation. One truism was the constant lament heard in Cincinnati since the 1950’s: if the pitching comes through… well you know the drill. In digging through some old periodicals, I ran across some items that should interest all Reds fans.

Sports Illustrated had this to say about the Reds chances:


The young pitchers. Except for Purkey, Red starters are kids: Jim O’Toole (24), Jay Hook (24), Joey Jay (25), Jim Maloney (20). This quartet started 85 NL games among them last year, won only 34, and they won’t be helped this year by the shaky infield. But they are a talented group; if they come through en mass, Manager Fred Hutchinson will have a first-division club.


Crosley Field (30,274 capacity) is smallest National League park, but it has two claims to permanent fame: no other park has had a ballplayer row a boat over its center-field fence (Lee Grissom did it when the Ohio River flooded in 1937); and the first major league night game was played here in 1935. Field is near Union Terminal, draws large out-of-state audience, especially from the South. New expressway runs to within few blocks of park. Parking near field improved (6,000 spaces). Refreshments include bratwurst, mettwurst, fried shrimp and 16-ounce lemonade (Cincinnati leads league in lemonade sales). Dugouts are air-conditioned (home team also has heat). New screen in left keeps homers from denting cars parked between ball park and adjacent laundry. No more will cry go up as well-tagged ball leaves stadium: “It’s over the laundry!”


18 Responses

  1. earl

    Do you think that the Bats putting Valaika at short some in the last couple of weeks might indicate the Reds are considering giving him some time there?

  2. pinson343

    The Reds are pretty much always called the oldest team in baseball, because of what Chad mentions – they fielded the first all-pro team in 1869, the Cincinnati Red Stockings. They were 80-0.

    That team was not the same franchise as our beloved Reds, so, strictly speaking, the Reds are not at all the oldest franchise in baseball. But who cares ?

    As the “first professional baseball team” the Reds were honored for many years with opening the ML season, until espn and Bud Seling put an end to it.

    It was a great tradition, it even ticks off a lot of non-Reds fans that this tradition was taken away from the Reds. The myth can become more important than the exact history.

    • Chad Dotson

      The Reds are pretty much always called the oldest team in baseball, because of what Chad mentions – they fielded the first all-pro team in 1869, the Cincinnati Red Stockings.They were 80-0.

      I agree with everything you said…just wanted to point out that I didn’t actually write this post.

  3. pinson343

    @Chad Dotson: Ooops, sorry Brian. I love your post, I’m just now writing up some of my memories of the ’61 Reds.

  4. pinson343

    The 1961 Reds will always be my favorite team ever, I was 10 years old and on top of the world when the “ragamuffin Reds” won the NL pennant after being picked by all to finish 6th in the NL. (Out of the 8 teams, the Cubs were a reliable 7th and the Phillies a certain 8th.)

    Their winning that pennant turned out to not be such a fluke, as they were a good contending team right thru 1965 (before trading Frank Robinson).
    They had better pitching than the Ted Klu-ear Reds, who only had the one good season in 1956.

    They were led of course by MVP Frank Robinson and their great speedy CFer, Vada Pinson, who batted .343 that season. Gordy Coleman and Gene Freese supplied additional power, and Jerry Lynch had 5 PH HRs, one of which clinched the pennant.

    But they surprised everyone because of their pitching. Jay, Purkey, and O’Toole all had outstanding seasons. And co-closers Jim Brosnan (RHed) and Bill Henry (LHed) each had 16 saves, the total of 32 was a lot then. Manager Fred Hutchinson knew how to close out a game.

    The team is largely remembered for having one of the worst defensive IFs of any pennant winning team. Eddie Kasko was OK at SS, the rest of the IF was leaky, to put it mildly.

  5. Brian Erts

    I believe the team is the oldest professional team, the oldest “club” distinction.

    Just not the oldest NL team.

    That’s why it’s picking nits!

    The 61 team really wanted a big season from Don Blasingame, unfortunately it was the beginning of his end, but they did it. It must have been amazing, one of my favorite teams is the 1972 Tigers, because they were mine and I too was ten.

    In fact if I could bottle the love I had for baseball that year I’d be a rich, rich man.

  6. pinson343

    @Brian Erts: Yeh, at 10 you’re old enough to know what’s going on in baseball and young enough (at least back then) to feel it’s one of the most important things going on. The summer of ’61 was the most memorable summer of my early youth.

  7. pinson343

    PS My “baby sister”, now a doctor in San Francisco, was born in April 1961. This new member of the family was a constant source of fascination, I didn’t even know where babies came from.

  8. pinson343

    @Brian Erts: The veterans on the team loved Don Blasingame, part of the reason they didn’t like the rookie, Pete Rose, who took his job in ’62. Pete of course hung with the 2 guys who were friendly to him – Robby and Pinson.

  9. RedBlooded

    There is one perk that the Reds get(or I guess technically the city of Cincinnati gets) for being the first professional team. And it is a BIG one. And really much more important than starting the season first. The Reds always open the season at home. No other team gets that. And espn and Bud Selig were part of putting an end to the Reds opening the season first but Marge Shott was given the option of opening the season first but she chose not to mess with the opening day parade, festivities, etc. Marge made a lot of bad decisions but that may not have a bad call.

  10. pinson343

    Not sure where to post this. Volquez’ line for the Bats was not so impressive tonite, but he probably pitched well enough for his next start to be with the Reds.
    Six and 2/3 innings, 5 hits, 1 run (earned), 4 walks, 2 Ks.

    The 4 walks and 2 Ks do not impress. He threw 112 pitches, and 3 of the walks were issued in the 6th and 7th, one of them with first base open. In the 7th he walked the opposing pitcher.

    Don’t really know what to make of it – did anyone see him ?

  11. Swatch

    Of minor interest…

    Today’s incarnation of the Reds is actually the third.

    The original Cincinnati Red Stockings team of 1869 folded after 1871 and the core of the team, the Wright brothers (not those Wright Brothers) moved to Boston to form the core of the team that would eventually become the Boston Red Stockings, later renamed the Boston Braves, the Milwaukee Braves and finally the Atlanta Braves.

    The second team lasted but five years and were the ones who got banned for not upholding the sabbath and selling beer.

    Finally, in 1882, the Reds you know and love were formed.

  12. ken

    Speaking of the ’61 Reds, is Brosnan’s Pennant Race a worthwhile read? Ball Four seems to transcend generations and remain popular, but I rarely hear about Pennant Race.

  13. Brian Erts

    I like Pennant Race, it’s tame compared to Ball Four, it does show how “small” the game was compared to even 10 years later. And it gives you a nice look at the Reds players you might have not heard too much about. Give this article on SI a read to see if you might be interested.


    His 1st book The Long Season is also very good.

  14. pinson343

    @ken: I’ve read both. The Long Season is a better book, groundbreaking and better reviews, etc. Pennant Race is more fun to read as a Reds fan. A cinderella story, of course, and there’s much more about the Reds, their players, and Hutch.

    Brosnan BTW did the writing entirely by himself. He later became a radio broadcaster, not for sports, very articulate.

  15. pinson343

    In short, The Long Season is more acclaimed. Pennant Race is more a book for Reds fans.