Before the 1961 season started, Reds General Manager Bill DeWitt made a trade and acquired a third baseman by the name of Gene Freese. He acquired Freese from the Chicago White Sox for Cal McLish and Juan Pizzaro.

This one was a steal. DeWitt’s trade was a big part in the Reds success that year. Freese had a solid season, playing in 152 games, batting .277, hitting 26 homers and driving home 87 runs and the Reds won the National League pennant.

But in many ways, that trade symbolizes a 65-year old problem with the Cincinnati Reds. During that time span, the Reds have never had a long term solution to a third base problem that has consistently plagued them.

The success of the Reds from 1961-1990 is well documented; three World Series championships, six National League pennants, six NL West titles and baseball’s best record in 1981. Since 1990, well, it’s not so hot. Still, throughout that era, the third base problem has persisted. It was fixed for two or three years, then it cropped up again.

Let’s start with Freese. After his fine 1961 season, he was injured in 1962, playing in just 18 games and gone by 1964. Deron Johnson had a fabulous 1965 season at third base (.287 with 32 home runs and a league-leading 130 RBI’s) and was gone by 1968. Tony Perez held the job and had a Hall of Fame bat but fell short defensively. He was moved to first base when Lee May was traded after the 1971 season.

That trade brought us Denis Menke for a couple of mediocre seasons. Dan Driessen followed him but was never the same at third base defensively after he blew a play in Game 5 of the 1973 playoffs against the Mets. Remember John Vukovich, nicknamed “balsa”? So frustrated was Sparky Anderson with Vuckovich’s bat, he pinch hit for him in the second inning of a game at Los Angeles with the bases loaded (Driessen popped up as a pinch hitter). Finally, Sparky pulled the trigger and moved Pete Rose to third base. But Rose was a stop gap solution for the long term problem. He filled the third base position and got George Foster’s bat in the lineup. Four years later, Rose left via free agency.

Ray Knight was pretty solid for three seasons before he was traded to the Mets. Then came the failed Johnny Bench experiment at third.

Do you see a pattern developing?

Young phenom Nick Esasky had a good third baseman’s name but never worked out. Buddy Bell was a great third basemen during the prime of his career. Unfortunately, he came to the Reds near the end of his career. Chris Sabo electrified Reds fans in his rookie season and was the third baseman for the 1990 champs. He played third for six years in Cincinnati, a longevity standard seldom seen by Reds fans.

The list seems endless. Aaron Boone played a good third base for a couple of years. Edwin Encarnarcion was a third baseman for four years and is one that got away from the Reds by the trade that brought in Scott Rolen. The ex-Cardinal held third base down for a couple of seasons. So did Todd Frazier.

The Reds trade to fix this a few times, in their defense. Bob Howsam offered Tony Perez to Kansas City for George Brett and to the Yankees for Greg Nettles. He was turned down both times– which is how we eventually wound up with Woody Fryman.

But now, there seems to be some hope. His name is Nick Senzel.

I’m not sure what fancy footwork the Reds brain trust has in mind for Senzel, who the Reds drafted #1 earlier this summer. They may move him to another position. He has good speed and a great bat. He’s doing very well at Dayton right now (Class A) and many project Senzel making it to Cincinnati by 2018—if not sooner.

But if left alone to refine his craft, make the adjustment to the grind of minor league baseball and polish up his defense at third base, Nick Senzel has the potential to be the first long term solution at third base for the Reds in our lifetime.

Think about that.

I’m not a scout nor an expert. I only watched this kid play two games recently in Davenport. He knocked in five runs those two games (three-run homer, bases loaded walk and a sacrifice fly). He looked patient at the plate. He looked and acted like a pro. And brother, he’s got a quick bat.

Before the first game, I was on the field watching him take batting practice. I wasn’t the only one.

His teammates were watching, too.

35 Responses

  1. Shchi Cossack

    The Nick Senzel bandwagon is loading up fast. He’s going to have to continue to produce at a very high level in AA during 2017 if he has a chance to crack the 25-man roster during 2018, but with that bat, he could be the man to do it.

  2. Gaffer

    Would you say the Reds experience at third base is pretty typical of modern baseball? What team keeps the same players more than a few years? Other than a few odd examples, like Jeter or Votto, very few teams keep people long.

  3. Chuck Schick

    With the exception of short stop, where they basically had 2 guys for a 34 season period, the 3rd base conveyer belt seems fairly common. Obviously, some positions have had less turn over than others, but how many 3b have they had relative to all other positions?

    • Gaffer

      Like CF for example. I think we can be happy that the 3B production has been good despite the turnover.

  4. MrRed

    I think some folks above have touched upon a basic reality. No team, even one of the greatest (BRM) is going to be flawless or without holes for one season, let alone several seasons. The Reds have had some capable 3rd basemen over the years. Perhaps no body was legendary. And although we *might* be inclined to lament the fact that we haven’t had a franchise fixture at the position for as long as anyone can remember, you have to admit, the fact that they had a run of Cardenas, Concepcion and Larkin for a couple of generations at the most difficult position to fill more than compensates for a lack of stability at 3rd.

    I have high hopes for Senzel too. He’s the most promising 3rd base prospect since…(gulp)…Brandon Larson.

      • MrRed

        It pains me to mention it too. But the Reds have to catch a good break somewhere, right?

  5. Gaffer

    Cubs getting Aroldis for a top 30 shortstop prospect! I really want to curse, so badly. This team is so ridiculously dumb. They give away one of their best assists for next to nothing for no real reason. They had no reason not to trade him last July, then no reason to trade him at the height of his uncertain personal situation. It’s like they don’t understand values at all!

    • seadog

      Could not say it better. Has to go down as the worst move in my lifetime. And I am 50

    • greenmtred

      If the trade happens, there’s a possibility that the Cubs are getting fleeced. The prospect has to become a good MLB player, but, as many here have said, Aroldis pitches 70 innings a year, and costs a lot of money. Not your point, I know. In the Reds’ defense, they couldn’t have anticipated the domestic violence incident.

      • MrRed

        Having said that, there doesn’t appear to have been a very good reason to forego trading Chapman at last year’s deadline (when there were rumors of getting a strong return from the D-Backs) or to have waited until this year’s deadline after he rebuilt his trade value. Their deal with the Yankees felt underwhelming at the time and I can’t help but feel even more so considering the team had alternatives.

    • ohiojimw

      There were 11 million reasons the Reds made the deal on Chapman they did when they did in conjunction with the pending DV sanctions, the extent of which were unknown at the time..

      • MrRed

        In the big picture though, Chapman’s salary should not have weighed into when he was traded; it’s a relatively small portion of the overall payroll (and after other trades) that the Reds could afford to pay rather than jettisoning him when they did. At the time of the trade with the Yanks, criminal sanctions were not in play. It was only whether and to what extent MLB would sanction him. And even then, nobody was speculating a bigger penalty than what he ultimately got.

        You can debate the wisdom of carrying a reliever with Chapman’s salary on a club destined for last place. But, Chapman had value at last year’s trade deadline and it was reasonably certain he could regain it again in time for this year’s deadline.

        Overall, it was just a bad calculation on the part of the Reds.

      • Dewey Roberts

        As I have said in other places, the main strategy that seems to be driving the Reds “rebuild” or “reboot” or “whatever it is” is MONEY. In other words, it is a salary dump. And because that is so important to the Reds, other teams know they are in a bind. Thus, the Reds trade from a position of great weakness. Oh, yes, they get pieces but most of those so-called pieces will never see Great American Ball Park. Or, if they do get a call up somewhere along the way, they will not stay long or be very productive.
        I am glad the Reds had 11 million reasons to trade Chapman. I hope they enjoy losing seasons and empty ball parks as the salary dump continues and the replacement pieces linger in the minors with little hope of ever being major league players.

  6. TR

    It’s a long time ago (late 40’s-early 50’s), but the Reds had a good third baseman, for seven years or so, in Grady Hatton. Solid on defense and a 250. hitter. As I recall he was a favorite of broadcaster, Waite Hoyt.

  7. cupofcoffee1955

    John, thanks for the article. I did not realize the merry-go-round at third base all these years. Yes, I’m hoping Senzel is the answer for these Reds. Also, I like your picture with Reptar.

  8. indredsfan

    I think i speak for all Reds fans in saying “THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE”. Also, in a very less significant tone, thank you for the article. Redleg Nation shows itself again as a site that is both interesting and educational for the common fans. Kuddos to the editors.

  9. seadog

    I actually think just the opposite. Stability has been an issue. But think about this. Three current/ex Reds right now in the MLB. I am including Duvall. He is a 3rd baseman, the Reds are, just not smart enough to play him there. Look at the stats right now of Duvall/Encarnacion and Frazier. 1 stat…Home runs…28/27 and 23. It is just poor management of “Assets”. Stupidity really.

    • Michael

      Does Emcarnacion even play 3rd at this point? He was released twice afterr the reds traded him. That makes the whole league stoogies, not just the reds as you portray it.

    • greenmtred

      Encarnacion doesn’t play third (he never could, but he tried). Duvall plays left well and, evidently, doesn’t play third well. The Reds have needed a left fielder for longer than they’ve needed a third baseman, so I wouldn’t take Duvall’s situation as evidence of stupidity.

    • concepcion13

      Edwin Scissorhands was a disaster as a third baseman. He was brutal. Watching him try to field a grounder was like watching a farmer trying to kill a snake with a stick. He had no other position to play while he was here & even though long term he’s had better offensive numbers than Rolen ever did on Cincy, I still make that trade every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

      • Tom Diesman

        And we haven’t progressed much as he made errors at lesser rate than Eugenio is this year and Duvall did in the high minors. So come on Senzel, who now has 5 E in 19 Games at Dayton.

        GS E GS/E
        Encarnacion 481 78 6.2
        Suarez 82 15 5.5
        Duvall Minors 363 99 3.7
        Duvall AA 88 18 4.9
        Duvall AAA 94 21 4.5

        I said when Encarnacion was dealt that he’d be hitting 20+ homers a year for long after Rolen hung them up. Too bad we had no place to play him, and even worse we got so little in return for him.

      • Mike

        i wish we had the DH in the NL. Then this would not have been an issue.

        On a random side note why does everyone seem to forget that he was released twice after 2010 season. Edwin did not immediately become a star when he went the Blue Jays. Almost every team in MLB had a shot at him twice in the off season of 2010 and there were few takers.

  10. Steve Checkosky

    Nice article. Interesting, informative and well written. Thanks.

  11. ohiojimw

    It appears the Reds have largely used 3B as defacto designated hitter spot even before there was an official DH. The fact they were so strong at SS the entire time (add Leo Cardenas to the list in front of Concepcion and Larkin) no doubt made it easier to use this philosophy. It would be interesting to see if other teams have used a particular position this way over a long haul.

  12. Chris

    My take is that the Reds have been pretty blessed to find so many productive – if short-tenured 3bs.

    I looked to see how many teams had had 3bs play 1000 or more games in their uniform AND make an all-star team (1961-present). The Reds, of course, have had zero. Only seven teams had more than one:

    1 Baltimore Orioles Melvin Mora / Brooks Robinson
    2 Chicago Cubs Aramis Ramirez / Ron Santo
    3 Detroit Tigers Brandon Inge / Don Wert
    4 New York Mets Howard Johnson / David Wright
    5 New York Yankees Graig Nettles / Alex Rodriguez
    6 Oakland Athletics Sal Bando / Carney Lansford
    7 Washington Nationals Tim Wallach / Ryan Zimmerman

    But when you rank the teams by OPS (flawed but the best I can do), the Reds ranked 11 (of 30) in production from the 3b spot, and 3rd in Runs Created.

    Here’s a really crazy thing — I searched to see which team had the most third basemen with (1) at least 200 games played and (2) WAR > 0. Guess who had the most? The Reds, with 17 different guys:

    Buddy Bell / Aaron Boone / Jeff Branson / Dan Driessen / Edwin Encarnacion / Nick Esasky / Todd Frazier / Gene Freese / Willie Greene / Deron Johnson / Ray Knight / Wayne Krenchicki / Denis Menke / Tony Perez / Scott Rolen / Pete Rose / Chris Sabo

    These numbers are for novelty purposes only, but I think this means they’re getting good production out of the spot, even though they haven’t had any real continuity.

  13. Michael E

    To borrow a line from the show dancer turned owner, Rachel Phelps, in Major League “Don’t worry, they’ll blow it” in response to the poor GM observing the Indians might win one game.

  14. pinson343

    Fun article, a lot of memories.

    Freese was a key to the 1961 team. It’s known sometimes as “the team that won a pennant with a leaky IF”. Freese at 3rd and Gordy Coleman at 1st had good power numbers to help the Reds win the pennant but were both liabilities on defense.
    Freese had limited range and a penchant for throwing the ball into the stands from 3rd base. Coleman moved like a beached whale. I remember from Jim Brosnan’s book Pennant Race about that season, somebody in the bullpen referring to Coleman’s lack of coordination at first base and saying “Someday he’s going to kill somebody.”
    Blasingame was old at 2nd, about to be replaced by Pete Rose.
    Eddie Kasko was decent but just a bridge between Roy McMillan and Leo Cardenas.

  15. pinson343

    Pete Rose was asked to play 3rd base at the beginning of the 1966 season so that rookie Tommy Helms, who was better at 2nd base than Rose, could play 2nd. Rose made it clear he didn’t want to and was horrible over the first 16 games, ending that experiment.

    Then came THE BIG FIX (Foster in LF, Rose at 3rd base) in 1975. Rose was all in at that point to playing 3rd base to help the team. He admitted that he had not really tried to learn 3rd base in 1966.

    The only down side to the move that made the ’75-76 Reds jell was Rose’s defense at 3rd base, which was referred to as the Achilles heel of an otherwise great team.
    At that point he was a better OFer, and was not quick at 3rd. But the real problem was his throwing arm – at that point he’d (permanently) strained his right shoulder (or something in that area) and admitted he’d lost strength. I remember some costly throwing errors during the 1976 regular season.

  16. pinson343

    Esasky, an an inconsistent power hitter could play 3rd base, but the Reds moved him to LF and first base when they picked up Buddy Bell.
    Bell was close to the end of his career but was good with the Reds in 1986 and ’87 before he got old in 1988.

    Esasky used to pound the Braves and eventually they traded for him. He then developed vertigo, and they couldn’t get rid of it. Poor guy had to retire that way.

  17. sandman

    We could’ve had Frazier longer had mgmt not been hellbent on trading him. I heard Frazier offered several deals to stay.

  18. ODB

    Ray Knight was traded to the Astros for Cesar Cedeno.