Whether you celebrate the Reds from a starting date of 1869 (first full professional team), 1882 (first year in the American Association), or 1890 (first year in the National League), you have to be somewhat amazed by the longevity of the Cincinnati team and the events within those years. A 2019 version of a uniform from the past is great, but knowing what was occurring when those uniforms were first worn is history, and knowing your history is a big part of being a baseball fan, so we’ll try to cover a bit of what was happening when these uniforms debuted.
Welcome to the “C” logo with a colored background. In 1939, the Reds had two home jerseys. One had the name “Reds” contained within the heart of the letter “C”. The other one, featured today, had the word “Reds” extending to the edge of the C. Here’s a good example on the HOF site “Dressed to the Nines”
4/17/1939, Opening Day
Johnny Vander Meer gets the start against the Pirates and lasts 2.2 innings. Bucky Walters comes in and takes the loss. In a rare turn of events, the opening day crowd is not one of the top five games attended in 1939. In fact, it’s not even in the top ten, landing at the #12 slot for the Reds.
Team’s Record that Season
95-59, 1st place
The season was pure pleasure for the diehards in Cincinnati. Twenty years a bridesmaid is a long time to go in an 8-team league. After the debacle of the Weil ownership and the incredible run of futility in the early part of the decade, 1939 would be etched into many of the locals’ memories as the year that the Reds finally paid them back for their patience.
981,443– Second in the league
The 1939 Reds drew more fans to the park than any other season in the franchise’s history, with 3 dates that drew 40,000 plus, 11 that topped 30,000, and 24 that garnered 20,000 plus. A common lament heard about town, and reported in the local papers, was how hard it was to get tickets to the park after years of easy access to seats.
Reds Manager – Bill McKechnie
Billy Martin was smaller than most big leaguers and couldn’t hit the ball as hard either. He was a favorite of most of his managers and was regularly lauded as having superior baseball sense than most players. Once he became a coach, it was widely thought he would eventually manage somewhere and succeed. Once he got the chance, he took two teams to the Division title and was fired soon after. Eventually he caught on with a team that had been down for a while and was poised to make a run at the pennant. All of this applies to Bill McKechnie as well.
However, Martin liked Scotch and McKechnie was Scotch. His parents emigrated from Scotland and were strict Presbyterians. McKechnie could even recall wearing a kilt to school as a young boy. You know you’re rolling along in the right lane when Branch Rickey admires you as a man as much as a baseball man. McKechnie was a personal favorite of Frank Chance when he played for the Yankees; who said, “He’s the only guy here who knows what’s going on.”
After winning the NL Pennant with the Pirates, McKechnie lost a personality battle with former Pirates skipper Fred Clarke who had been assigned to sit on the bench by the owner. As a Cardinal manager he took the team to the World Series and was demoted to the AAA club the following season. Once he found stability, he was able to apply his theories and methods to the game. In twenty years of managing he only finished in last place once. In the age of the screamer and the tough guy, McKechnie was called the “Deacon” and was known for having the firm guiding hand of a leader of men.
Using this approach, he was able to produce fine ball teams known for having stand up guys, where selfish play was not tolerated. With the Reds he became the first man to win the pennant with 3 teams. How did he do it? By applying one basic tenant—prevent runs. His teams were known for their defensive play and the 1939 team would have a FIP of 3.94 and an ERA of 3.24. His second basemen were regularly converted shortstops and he used light-hitting Harry Craft as the everyday centerfielder, a superior flycatcher that had not been seen in Cincinnati since Edd Roush’s prime. He leaned on veterans for some of his simpler needs. He liked veteran pitchers and he liked to address current problems as fast as he could with seasoned players.
This love of defense and veterans would eventually drag the franchise down. After the two consecutive first place finishes, run creation would become scarcer. None of his teams ever led the league in HR’s and fixing that problem would become as hard as fixing pitching has been for the Reds in the 21st century.
The 1939 Reds went with a set lineup. Of the eight regulars who had more than 200 PA’s, six of them had been acquired via trade or a cash purchase. The team’s top two starting pitchers logged over 300 IP and were picked up via trade as well. Their first baseman, who led the league in batting average and RBIs, was signed as free agent after failing to catch on with all three New York teams. Late in the season, to shore up an outfield with little depth, the team picked up Vince DiMaggio (known more for being Joe’s brother and striking out at a prodigious rate) and Al Simmons.
Thirty-seven players took the field for the team in 1939—seventeen were 30 or older, and only eight were under 25. In short, the team was an old team. Eight players played more than a hundred games and only Harry Craft was under age 28. The window for winning was opened briefly, and the Reds were able to climb through it in both 1939 and 1940. It did, however, close quickly after that.
Best Red Batter: Ival Goodman and Frank McCormick
I can’t decide, Goodman has the rate stats and McCormick, the traditional RBI and Batting Average. Frank led the NL in average and RBI; Goodman was the slugger of the two, the first man to hit 30 HR for the Reds, which he did in 1938. The Reds weren’t the last MLB team* to have a player hit 30 HR in a season and it took having to move the plate out to allow that to happen. What Goodman excelled at was hitting triples. From 1935 to 1939 he hit 70 triples, the most in the NL and 40 more than the league average, leading the league twice in that span.
Crosley Field Dimensions
- LF: 339
- CF: 400
- RF: 377
- LF: 328
- CF: 387
- RF: 366
Goodman’s 1939 season was a tad behind Joey Votto’s 2011 season:
*The Pirates first 30 HR season was 1947. In the AL the Senators didn’t achieve it until 1957 and the White Sox had to wait until 1970.
Best MLB batter: Johnny Mize
Johnny Mize is somewhat forgotten in today’s game. When he retired in 1953, he had some pretty tasty numbers:
- #6 in HR’s with 359 #86 Today
- #7 in OPS with .959 #14 Today
- #7 in SLG% with .562 #11 Today
From 1937-1940, Mize had some serious company as far as OPS was concerned (1000 PA’s to get in the club):
Mize missed three full seasons during World War 2 and returned to the game in 1946 with this batting line .337/.437/.576/1.013 in 445 PA’s. Mize was a big man by then, 6’2” and probably around 240 pounds. Leo Durocher was now the New York Giants manager and aging sluggers were not what he wanted on his roster. Even though the team had slugged a MLB record 221 HR’s in 1947 (Mize had 51), Durocher, like many other skippers, wanted to have his own roster and he promptly began to trade and sell assets to build the team he wanted.
At the end of the 1949 season Mize was dealt to the New York Yankees whose manager, Casey Stengel, always enjoyed employing LH pinch hitters as well as platooning. In Mize he found both. Mize would have a fantastic season for the Yankees in 1950, mainly facing RH’s he pounded the league for a .329/.412/.729/1.141 line in 305 PA’s. He would win four rings as a Yankee, retiring at the age of 40. Mize was a wonderful hitter who walked more than he struck out and had some world class power. He’s the only player who played after 1935 to have over 800 walks, less than 600 K’s with a slugging % over .500.
Best Red Pitcher: Bucky Walters
One of the caveats that McKechnie secured from Warren Giles when he signed to manage the Reds was that there would be ample funds to acquire the players the team needed to succeed. The main area that needed improvement was the pitching, and during the 1938 season McKechnie found his first target, Bucky Walters. Walters was a converted 3rd baseman who by the age of 27 had played under 200 games in the infield for three organizations.
Moving from the league’s worst pitchers park to the league’s best helped Walters; moving from a team with poor defense to a team with superior defense helped as well. In 1939 and 1940 Walters was the best pitcher in baseball, winning the MVP in 1939. Throwing an array of pitches (sinker/slider/fastball/curve), Walters faced over 2400 batters in the two pennant-winning seasons, leading the league in ERA, Wins, Innings Pitched and Complete Games. His WAR of 8.2 would lead the league by more than two games, and his 6.5 1940 season would also find him just a shade behind the leader’s 6.7.
Best National League Pitcher: Bucky Walters
Aside from being the best pitcher in the league, Walters was perhaps the best athlete of all pitchers in the game. A highly conditioned athlete, Walters is quoted as saying, “I never take any advice from Old John Barleycorn, but I smoke too much, I think, especially in the off season when I get a little fidgety.”
Three things about Bucky Walters:
- Walters was an exceptional hitter for a pitcher and, outside of Red Lucas, Walters is the best hitting pitcher in Reds team history.
- Walters was an excellent fielding pitcher, a tool he took full advantage of. During his peak pitching years (1938-1945), Walters led the NL in assists with 464 in 275 games, or about 1.68 assists a game.
- Bucky Walters played Professional Basketball in the early 1930’s for the Philadelphia Elks, who did battle in the Eastern Basketball League. A shade over six feet, Walters was the team’s center. The game was a tad different than it is today, even different than it was in the 1950’s. In 1930 the Elks played in the league championship against an all-Jewish team (The SPAHS – South Philadelphia Hebrew Association), taking the championship game 38-36. The game story reported that “Bucky Walters was a tower of strength at center and this advantage in jumping gave the Elks the ball on numerous occasions.” Also of note is the SPAHS founder Eddie Gottlieb would later become the first coach and GM of the Philadelphia Warriors. Today the Rookie of the Year award in the NBA is officially called the “Eddie Gottlieb Trophy.”
Cincinnati Population: 455,610
Clocking in at #17 on the list nationally, right in-between Minneapolis and Newark, New Jersey. California had 205 fewer reported people than Ohio in the 1940 census.
Team Media Sources
When Larry McPhail took over the Dodger GM duties, one of his first decisions was to break the agreement the New York teams made to avoid radio broadcasting. He highlighted this move by offering Reds broadcaster Red Barber the job, a larger audience, and a salary of $8,000. To replace Barber, WSAI hired Roger Baker who had worked previously in Buffalo. Baker would be heard on the airwaves until 1945. Harry Hartman would leave WCPO in 1942.
Meanwhile, WCKY decided to get into the baseball business and brought ex-Yankee pitcher Waite Hoyt in to man the mic. Hoyt had cut his teeth the prior year in Brooklyn working with Red Barber and doing pregame shows. Burger Beer would hook its wagon to these broadcasts and together Burger and Hoyt would be the voice of Reds Baseball for over two decades. Hoyt had a unique style of calling the game in past sense. It was never, “The ball is laced down the line and is bounding into the corner”. Instead it was, “The ball was laced down the line where it bounded in the corner.” Hoyt might be the best ex-player to do play-by-play, as opposed to the more common analyst role that most ex-players were given.
1939 might be the best year for films in history. Gone with the Wind, Wuthering Heights, Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith goes to Washington, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Gunga Din, and Stagecoach are among the great films that came out that year. In music, Benny Goodman’s trumpet player, Harry James, decided to start his own band and took a chance on a young singer from Hoboken named Frank Sinatra, who signed a two-year contract that paid him $75 a week, $60 more than he was making as a singing waiter.
Television was introduced to the world at the 1939 World’s Fair at Flushing Meadow in New York City. Of course, there was a catch. Television, to RCA, was an extension of the Radio, an extension that could be added as a component to a large RCA radio set. To inform the public before the fair, RCA released an informative brochure to show the common folk about this great new piece of the future. In the RCA exhibit building, executives and technicians went to great lengths to convince the visitors that they were not being duped, that this indeed was the next big thing. Others in the TV game were GE, Westinghouse, and the Reds owner Powell Crosley’s company representing DuMont.
1939 in Television:
- May 17 – The first baseball game, Princeton University vs. Columbia University, is broadcast by television
- August 26 – The first Major League Baseball game is telecast, a double-header between the Cincinnati Reds and the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field
- September 30 – The first televised college football game, Fordham University vs Waynesburg College, at Randall’s Island, New York
- October 22 – The first National Football League game is televised. The Brooklyn Dodgers vs. Philadelphia Eagles at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn
- Phil Spector – Record Producer
- Phil Niekro – Knuckleballer
- Sigmund Freud (born 1856)
- Zane Grey (born 1872)
The last year of the decade seems to be somewhat significant for the Reds over the past 100 years, likely nothing more than coincidence…or is it?
- 1919 – Reds win first World Championship
- 1929 – Sidney Weil buys team, one week later loses most of his assets on Black Friday
- 1939 – Reds win first NL Pennant in twenty years
- 1949 – Reds try to cling to the past by making Bucky Walters full-time manager and fail
- 1959 – Reds fire Mayo Smith mid-season and hire Fred Hutchinson who leads and inspires better than most
- 1969 – Last full year at Crosley…as well as Dave Bristol’s
- 1979 – Big Red Machine swan song, their last Division title
- 1989 – The sad ending of the Pete Rose era
- 1999 – The Reds win 96 games, don’t make playoffs and score more runs than any other modern Reds team
- 2009 – In Dusty Baker’s 2nd season the team goes with their youth: Votto, Bruce, Stubbs, Bailey, Cueto, Volquez—all major players, all younger than 26