Baseball is just down the road and it’s The 4th of July.
Do we dare say things are getting back to normal?
The 4th is my favorite holiday of the year. Part of it is because I’m a Veteran of 32 years in the military. Other reasons are baseball, cooking outside, fireworks, and yes, living in the greatest country on Earth.
The Cincinnati Reds have survived, in no order, a Great Depression, two World Wars, a “police action” (Korea), a debacle (Vietnam), recessions, political scandals, inflation, lines at the gas station, assassinations, terrorist attacks, and far too many wars in Southwest Asia. Now, it’s a pandemic.
For a while – in 1990 – the Reds had American flags on their sleeves as a patriotic gesture of support for those involved in what was dubbed ‘Desert Storm.’ Reds owner Marge Schott caught some flak for mistakenly saying she supported our troops in the “Far East”, not the Middle East and she made that verbal blunder for maybe a variety of reasons.
But this article is about three Reds games that occurred on July 4th that I am fond of remembering. I was at one of those games at Riverfront Stadium. The other two I caught on radio and television. But they stand out for a variety of reasons and may bring back some names from Reds history that you might have forgot about.
July 4, 1967
The Reds had bounced back from a dismal 1966. That was their first year without Frank Robinson and when they had Don Heffner as their manager. And they had the talents of Milt Pappas, Dick Simpson and Jack Baldschun – all imports from Baltimore in a trade for Robinson. Despite that (sorry, being sarcastic) they were extremely mediocre, but 1967 was promising under new Manager Dave Bristol with rising stars Tony Perez and Lee May, established stars like Pete Rose and Jim Maloney, and a young pitcher named Gary Nolan.
On July 4, Nolan (6-2) took on the St. Louis Cardinals who were in first place and 3.5 games ahead of Cincinnati. Nolan and Cardinal rigth-hander Larry Jester hooked up in an old fashioned pitchers duel at one-year-old Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Neither team scored in the first eight innings. But in the 9th, Pete Rose led off with a base hit and Deron Johnson doubled him in to give Nolan and the Reds a slim 1-0 lead.
Bristol kept Nolan in the game. After Nolan quickly got two outs, Curt Flood singled and Roger Maris drew a walk to bring up Orlando Cepeda, who would go on to win the Most Valuable Player Award that season. But on that day, Nolan finished his shutout by getting “Cha Cha” to fly out to Vada Pinson in center field. Nolan fired a three-hitter, improved to 7-2 and lowered his ERA to 2.08.
Dick Simpson actually played right field that day and batted eighth in the order. He was batting a whopping .198 after going 0-3 but he did draw a walk, which would have been encouraging to sabermetric fans of that era.
The Cardinals would go to win 101 games and the World Series. San Francisco finished in second place, 10 ½ games out. The Reds were fourth with an 87-75 record, one-half game behind the third place Chicago Cubs.
Deron Johnson, who drove in the game winning run that day, is often overlooked in Reds history. A muscular right-handed 6’2, 200 pound first baseman, Rose swore that Johnson “hit the ball harder than anyone.” He peaked for the Reds in 1965 when Johnson drove in 130 runs. His stats went down after that but he rejuvenated his career with the Phillies and reached the World Series with the Oakland A’s in 1973. In Johnson’s career year with the Reds, he gave credit to Frank Robinson, who batted cleanup ahead of him in the order. The 1965 Reds were one of the best offensive teams in Reds history.
July 4, 1980
The defending NL West champion Reds were 6 games behind the Houston Astros heading into this game. And it looked to be a tough chore for Cincinnati on that night because Nolan Ryan was going to pitch for the Astros against Reds lefty Charlie Leibrandt. The big story was that Ryan was gunning for his 3000th strikeout and he got it when he fanned Cesar Geronimo.
But the Reds rocked Ryan after that, chasing him in the 5th inning after he gave up six runs. And Leibrandt threw a complete game four-hitter in an 8-1 Reds win. Charlie didn’t walk a batter and struck out six. It had to have been one of the better starts of his career. The only run he gave up was a home run by Reds killer Cesar Cedeno in the 7th inning.
The offense came from two strange sources; Junior Kennedy drove in a pair of runs, as did Leibrandt. Dan Driessen hit a home run and Dave Collins swiped a pair of bases.
Cesar Geronimo (The Chief) was also the victim of Bob Gibson’s 3000th strikeout six years before. “I was in the right place at the right time,” said Geronimo about his fate at being the 3,000th strikeout to a pair of Hall of Famers. But Geronimo was a part of The Great Eight and one of the best center fielders in the history of the Cincinnati Reds.
Playing second base for the Astros that night was Joe Morgan, who was batting .236 after going 0 for 3.. His replacement with the Reds, Kennedy, had a good game but was gone shortly afterwards.
Dave Collins had a great three-year stretch for Cincinnati. A leadoff switch-hitter, Collins was the fastest player on the team and filled that void after Rose left for Philadelphia.
July 4, 2010
Drew Stubbs had a career-day against the Cubs. He launched three home runs in a Reds assault that included seven homers at Wrigley Field in a 14-3 Reds victory over pitcher Ted Lily and Chicago. The first-place Reds had a 47-36 record. Mike Leake (6-1) was the beneficiary of the offense, pitching six solid innings. My guy Jay Bruce didn’t do much that day, going 1 for 4 with a walk. Jay was my favorite Red on that team and to this day is one of my favorite Cincinnati Reds.
I had high hopes for Stubbs but it never worked out. He was fast, tall, athletic but couldn’t hit on a regular basis. His batting average after that game was just .240 and despite his playing a good center field, Stubbs never worked out for the Reds.
As you all know, 2010 was a special year for Cincinnati. They won the NL Central and were a solid team for the next three years until free agency and disastrous trades doomed the franchise to years of mediocrity.
I had high hopes for Leake, too. He captivated Reds fans with his early success but Leake eventually left the Reds and he became a journeyman pitcher for several teams. But for a brief time period, he was part of a dominating starting rotation that Reds fans were not used to – Cueto, Bailey, Latos, and Leake were a solid four pitchers that could be counted on.
That rotation was one of the best I’ve ever seen by the Reds. Joey Jay-Bob Purkey-Jim O’Toole were dynamite in the early 1960s. Ditto for Gary Nolan-Fred Norman-Jack Billingham-Don Gullett during the Big Red Machine days.
But the 2010-2013 Reds were the last great Reds team in a multi-year span.
Here’s hoping the next one starts in 2020.
Four things the Reds need in 2020
A good start, for a change.
A breakout year for Nick Senzel. Let Nick be Nick.
Innovative thinking by David Bell – especially using Lorenzen.
A comeback year for Trevor Bauer.
If those four things happen it could be a special year in a bizarre situation. It’s just 60 games. Go all out to win. Put pressure on the other team.
Have a Great Fourth of July.