Several Reds players appeared on the most recent ESPN Hall of 100, the networkÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s list of the one hundred greatest players of all time. HereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s my general post on their rankings. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve previously covered Barry Larkin (#75), Pete Rose (#38), Griffey Jr. (#35), Johnny Bench (#26), and Tom Seaver (#22). The numbers in parentheses reflect the player ranking on the ESPN list.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“An old 30.Ã¢â‚¬Â That phrase sends chills up the spine of any Reds fan. Those are the words of former Reds general manager Bill DeWitt who traded away one the greatest Reds ever over a feud. In December of 1965, DeWitt shipped the legendary Frank Robinson (#20) to the Baltimore Orioles for pitchers Milt Pappas and Jack Baldschun and outfielder Dick Simpson. The trade is likely the worst in the history of the Reds franchise.
Because of that ill-advised trade, Frank RobinsonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s career in Cincinnati is more known for its unfortunate end than RobinsonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s incredible talent and accomplishments. As far as relationship analogies go, Robinson is the one that got away.
Robinson grew up in Beaumont, Texas, the same hometown as Jay Bruce. After moving to California, he played high school basketball with Celtics legend Bill Russell and baseball with future teammate Vada Pinson before signing with the Reds in 1953 as a seventeen year old. That is one impressive high school athletic program.
After a few years in the minor leagues, Robinson debuted for the Reds in 1956, hitting 38 homeruns on his way to the National League Rookie of the Year Award. He also led the league with 122 runs scored and played in the first of his twelve All Star games. His rookie season was a sign of things to come as Robinson would continue to develop into a prolific hitter.
Robinson played ten seasons with the Reds (1956-1965). During his Reds career, he hit 324 homeruns while batting .303/.389/.554. He won the MVP in 1961 and finished in the top five in MVP voting two other seasons with the Reds.
While Robinson won the MVP in 1961, his best season came in 1962 when he slashed an otherworldly .342/.421/.624. Robinson hit 39 homeruns while knocking in 136 runs and scoring 134 runs of his own. His 8.2 WAR that season tied for the highest WAR total of RobinsonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s career.
A prolific slugger, Robinson hit at least 30 homeruns in seven of his ten seasons with the Reds. He never hit less than 21 homeruns. He has the second most homeruns in the history of the franchise. Robinson was such an enforcer that pitcher Jim Bouton said when Ã¢â‚¬Å“Going over the hitters it was decided that we should pitch Frank Robinson underground.Ã¢â‚¬Â
That might have been the best strategy. In 1966, the season after the Reds traded him, Robinson won the American League MVP for the Orioles. He continued to be a good offensive player late into his 30s, and his runs created score (wRC+) was at least 120 (100 is average) in every season in which Robinson played at least 100 games.
Robinson would end his baseball career as one of the greatest players ever. He hit 586 homeruns, currently 9th best all time. He also accumulated 104 fWAR, 18th best all time among position players. His career wRC+ of 153 is better than Joe Dimaggio, Honus Wagner, and Mike Schmidt. Robinson retired as a player after the 1976 season.
Robinson also made an impact on the color barrier in the sport. He became the first African-American manager in Major League Baseball in 1975 when he was a player/manager for the Cleveland Indians. RobinsonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s managerial presence paved the way for Bill Lucas to become the first African-American general manager for the Atlanta Braves in 1977.
Unfortunately, Robinson has seemingly never gotten over the trade from the Reds and his feud with DeWitt. Even though he played more seasons with the Reds than any other team, Robinson chose to wear the Oriole hat when he entered the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982.
The Reds have tried their best to patch things up with Robinson. He was elected to the Reds Hall of Fame in 1978. The Reds retired RobinsonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s No. 20 jersey number. When Great American Ball Park opened in 2003, the Reds built a statue of Robinson in Crosley Terrace. Regardless of any mistakes or perceived injustices, the Reds have recognized the greatness of Frank Robinson and emphasized his role on some of the great Reds teams of the 1950s and 1960s.
Robinson continues to have an impact on the game. He recently accepted a position as a senior adviser to the new baseball commissioner, Rob Manfred. His voice remains influential in the game he has given his life to. And thankfully, his professional baseball life began as a Cincinnati Redleg. While the end of RobinsonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s career in Cincinnati was sour for all involved, his playing days in Cincinnati were as sweet as they come.