1981 is a season many Reds fans want to forget. While it wasn’t as tragic and heartbreaking as the pennant race of 1964, this race left Reds fans embittered and angry. The Cincinnati Reds posted the best record in baseball that year. But because of a work stoppage of 50 days, the Lords of Baseball decided to “split” the season into halves. 38% of the season had been lost. In a vote of National League teams, three voted against that concept; the Reds, Cardinals and Phillies. Those who weren’t contending wanted to start off fresh after a bitter strike. “We may as well not open our gates if this isn’t adopted,” whined one NL GM.

What happened to the Reds was this: in the first half of the season, they finished ½ game behind the Los Angeles Dodgers with a 35-21 record. In the second half of the season, they finished second again with a 31-21 record, this time 1 and ½ games to the Houston Astros. Their combined record was 66-42, the best overall in baseball. Yet they didn’t make the playoffs. The Cardinals had a similar fate; they had the best overall record in the NL East, yet didn’t make the playoffs, finishing second each half to the Montreal Expos and then the Philadelphia Phillies.

To Redleg Nation, this was a travesty. It was a bad joke. But there was nothing to be done. The playoffs started and the Reds were absent.


Top 5 Movies of 1981 (according to me)

Das Boot

History of the World, Part I

On Golden Pond

Absence of Malice

Escape from New York

Best Sports Movie of 1981

Chariots of Fire

Top 5 Albums of 1981 (according to me again)

Tattoo You (The Rolling Stones)

Escape (Journey)

Ghost in the Machine (The Police)

October (U2)

Songs in the Attic (Billy Joel)

Reds Manager

John McNamara

Going into the Season

In 1980, the Reds finished with an 89-73 record, good for a third place finish 3 and ½ games behind Houston. Reds fans were optimistic and looked forward to another good season. Cincinnati had won the NL West in 1979, contended in 1980 and there was no reason the Reds didn’t look to be in the thick of things in 1981.

The First Half

A slow start ultimately doomed the 1981 Reds. They started off with a 14-14 record  before going on an 8-game winning streak that brought them to within three games of LA. Another 7 game winning streak (that finished the first half of the season) got them to that ½ game deficit. Tom Seaver beat the Mets and former Reds hurler Pat Zachery by a 5-2 score the day before the strike started.

The Second Half

On September 30, the Reds were just ½ game behind Houston but they dropped their next three games; Nolan Ryan shut them down in a 7-1 Astros win, then the Braves won consecutive games by 11-5 and 4-3 scores. Mario Soto pitched a gem against the Braves the final day of the season, tossing a one-hit shutout and striking out 9 but it was too little, too late.

Foster and Seaver anchored this 1981 team. Foster was the only Reds player in double figures in home runs (22) and he led the team with 90 runs batted in. He was clearly the Reds MVP that year. Dave Concepcion was second in RBI’s and batted .306 with 5 homers and 67 runs knocked in. Johnny Bench, in his last season as a catcher, played only 52 games due to a broken ankle. He was batting .340 at that time. He batted .309 for the season but hit only 8 homers and drove in 25 runs.

Seaver was superb, posting a 14-2 record a 2.54 ERA and he finished second in the Cy Young Award voting. It was his last great season as a pitcher. Soto emerged as a quality starter, posting a 12-9 record and a 3.29 ERA. Bruce Berenyi (9-6) was a solid starter for McNamara and Tom Hume was 9-4 with 13 saves for the Reds.


Few knew it, but this was going to be the Reds last winning season until 1985. Worse, the 1982 Reds would post their worst record in history. After the season, penny-pinching Reds GM Dick Wagner traded Foster and Ken Griffey and Dave Collins left via free agency. Bench was moved to third base and (egad!) Alex Trevino became the Reds new catcher. Seaver had his worst season ever in 1982 and Wagner’s prize acquisition, Cesar Cedeno, was just a shell of the player he once was.

In a fitting end to an abysmal baseball season, three Dodgers “co-won” the MVP Awards for the 1981 World Series in which they beat the Yankees in 6 games. And teams like the Reds and Cardinals never got a shot and shared the same fate. It would have been interesting to see what a three-man rotation of Seaver, Soto and Berenyi would have done in the playoffs that year. But we’ll never know.

Up Next: Heartbreak Hotel – 1964