Every baseball season is like a Christmas present. Languishing in the corner, waiting to be opened, every fan loves to pick up that present and shake it softly, wondering what it contains and if it is indeed that one gift they have been waiting for. This series looks at prior seasons in the Reds history in ten-year increments, examining the good, the bad, and all the other things that might make a season interesting, because no matter how good or bad your team is there will be a story to tell once the season is in the rearview mirror.
1933 – The real estate-trading board game, Monopoly, is invented in the United States
The Reds finished with a .382 winning percentage, the 6th worst in franchise history, the 7th being the 2022 team.
League-wide, it was a depressed year for offense and the Reds scored a scant 496 runs. It was the 2nd lowest offensive showing since the 1908 season, before there was cork in the ball. This roster was also comprised of the oldest players in Reds history, the average age over thirty.
Who was Arriving?
In 1932, the Cardinals had eleven minor league affiliates, the most in MLB. The Reds had only one, in the lower minors. It would not be rude nor incorrect to say that the Reds were “resource challenged” player-wise. Therefore, they had to obtain players through scouting, cash purchases or trades and would often turn to the Cardinals for resource refreshers. It was through this relationship that the 1933 team ended up with two starters who had played in three of the last five world series.
Jim Bottomley and Chick Hafey are in the Baseball Hall of Fame but are arguably overrated post-career. Quality players in their youth, by their thirties they produced a little above average but were not the men you would build a championship around. Hafey was obtained by the 1933 Reds in a cash deal, which Cardinals GM Branch Rickey preferred because for every cash deal a portion was set aside for Branch and, with 11 minor league affiliates churning out players, it made sense to move some bodies and make some cash for the Cardinals and the Rickey household.
Hafey was also the Reds’ first All-Star representative and the first player to have a hit in the annual contest. As a Red, Bottomley never achieved the success he’d had with the Cardinals and was traded to the St. Louis Browns after the 1935 season. By 1937, he became the team manager, replacing a local legend and a future Reds manager, Rogers Hornsby.
From November 1932 to December 1933, the Reds made 15 deals with MLB teams. Nine of those deals were with the Cardinals wherein the Reds gained an older player and sent cash to the Cardinals who continued to place at the top of the standings while the Reds placed at the bottom.
Who was Exiting?
The 1933 team had two hurlers over the age of forty, 42-year-old Eppa Rixey, in his final season of a Hall of Fame career, and 49-year-old Jack Quinn, who for years was the oldest player in MLB. Quinn was one of the last spitballers, whose work habits were grandfathered in when the sloppy pitch was banned after the 1920 season. Quinn began his career in 1909 in the American League with New York, way before they were Yankees. He also played in the Federal League and again in the American League in the 1920’s. The Reds had never had a pitcher over the age of forty until the early depression years. Their next one would come during WWII, and another wouldn’t come along until 2006.
Who was Having a Cup of Coffee?
Though the Reds often took older players in deals with the Cardinals, there was one instance when they ended up with the better player. It occurred because an off-season hunting accident affected the Cardinals middle infield and entering the 1933 season, the Cardinals brass knew they needed a shortstop.
The 1933 Reds had a swift fielding shortstop with a weak bat, who also happened to be a baseball pariah from his days playing in New York City. Leo Durocher was not yet the baseball figure that would be known far and wide twenty years in the future, but he was a Red, could field, and was an asset that Rickey wanted. Durocher had a special affinity for Cincinnati; he appreciated the nightlife of Covington and the generosity of owner Sidney Weil, who had bonded deeply with the mercurial Durocher. Nonetheless, the game is a business, and the deal eventually went down with the Reds receiving Paul Derringer as the prize. Derringer had an ERA+ of 104 with the Reds and still went 7-25 with little or no support. As a result of this deal, a chance arose for the man who would take Durocher’s place, 23-year-old Otto Bluege.
National League .266/.317 /.362/.679
After Durocher was traded, the shortstop job was handed to Otto and he tried his best but failed miserably. Otto Bluege had 324 trips to the plate in 1933, then never played another MLB game. His OPS+ was a woeful 53, the same as Leo Durocher’s in 1930 and Don Blasingame’s in 1961, and even ten points better that Tommy Helms’ in 1970. Yet Durocher, Blasingame and Helms played into their 30’s, but Otto Bluege?
Out of the game at age 23.
Who was Managing?
On November 10, 1932, the Cincinnati Reds announced that Donie Bush was hired as manager for the 1933 season.
“No bed of roses awaits the new manager here… He falls heir to a run-down team, with little financial backing and a quick-to-criticize public.”
~ The Lewiston Daily Sun
As a player, Bush was a lightweight at bat and a known glove man. He did walk an inordinate number of times, leading the American League in free passes five times.
Like basketball’s Larry Brown, Donie Bush was willing to take a challenge at any level. He moved around a lot managing four MLB teams, two in each league, and three AAA teams, including one stint as an owner. Born in Indiana, Bush’s career centered around the Midwest, save some time in the nation’s capital. He is the only man who could claim to have managed both Walter Johnson and Ted Williams. Bush Stadium in Indianapolis was named after him, home of the Indianapolis Indians from 1931 to 1996.
There is not much to say about his brief stay in Cincinnati, other than he was likely happy to leave when the chance arose.
Who was Running the Business?
“I believe this is the best baseball city of its size in the country, and I am sure that the fans will appreciate my sincere efforts to give them a winner.”
~ Sidney Weil 4-15-30
At age 21, Sidney Weil’s father gave him a single share in the Cincinnati Reds, valued at $1,000. Almost two decades later, in 1929, Sidney Weill owned 43 shares of the Cincinnati Reds, which at the time were valued at only $50 per share. During a mid-September trip to Redland Field, Weil had a conversation with a friend about purchasing the Reds. Weil, a wealthy auto dealer, had wanted to buy the team in 1925, targeting Joe McCarthy as the manager, but the opportunity had passed before he could capitalize on it. This was still a dream for Weil and, following the discussion, he decided to see what it would take to make it a reality. Within a week, with help from minority owner Gus Hilb and his personal brokers, Weil was fast at work looking for ways to purchase as many of the 6300 shares spread about town as he could—overpaying at $210 per share. In the end, Weil had spent $650,000 on 3200 shares, making him the largest shareholder. Within ten days, Weil bought-out directors Walter Frielander, James Orr, and Maurice Pollack. On September 25, 1929, it was reported that Weil would soon succeed C.J. McDiarmid as the president of the team, replacing every member on the board except Louis Widrig, who owned the 2nd largest amount of stock and bought 700 additional shares during Weil’s buying spree to ensure that he would still have decision making power for the franchise.
1933 began with an announcement that the Reds Board of Directors would no longer be comprised of five individuals and would instead become a team of three. This announcement, in the wake of longtime shareholder Louis Widrig’s death, highlighted the barebones structure of the Reds operation. The three directors were Weil’s attorney Maurice L. Galvin, his nephew Joe Meagher and, of course, Weil himself, who ran the daily operation from his office in the Keith Building on Walnut Street.
As the team’s resources shrank, Weil cut corners to save money and reduce the struggle for it. One such tactic was holding onto contract offers until February, believing a short window before the player reports for spring training would dissuade them from engaging in a lengthy back and forth on terms. That spring, Weil enlisted three players to drive his car to Tampa, “It not only gets me a car in Florida but saves me the cost of train fare for three players.”
1933 was the Reds and Weil’s Waterloo. Nothing went right and the average age of the team was over 30, the oldest in the National League. Per usual, opening day produced the largest crowd with 25,305 fans filling Redland Field. Unfortunately for Weil and the Reds, the team would draw only ~193,000 more for the rest of the season and would remain mired in the bottom of the standings, finishing in last place for the third straight season. Meanwhile, Weil’s personal debt and the team’s debt piled up. League-wide, attendance was down, and the city of Cincinnati’s unemployment rate was a steady 25% for the second straight summer. Weil’s take on his situation was simple and resigned, “Baseball is a sport which depends entirely on the revenue at the gate for its support. I have discovered in my three years in baseball that the only way a club can make money is to have a winning team, a losing team will not draw big crowds at any price.”
Due to increasing debt, Weil’s 3100 shares of the Reds were held as collateral by the Central Trust Banking Company. On November 6th, they obtained control of the Reds as Sidney Weil surrendered his stock to the bank, stepped down from his role as team president and relinquished his position on the board. In the end, Weil accrued losses close to $600,000 and led the team to a record of 235-379, leaving the team in an almost untenable position to compete moving forward. The man tasked with guiding the Reds out of their current state of chaos was Leland Stanford MacPhail, who was named Team President the day of Weil’s resignation. MacPhail’s first task was to straighten out an older team with limited assets. His second goal was to find a new and better owner, with deep pockets.
What was the Attendance?
218,281, the lowest attendance since 1918. It was the peak of the Depression, everyone was out of work, and the team was losing over 90 games for the fourth straight year. It was likely the last place anyone would want to spend what limited funds they had. It was as low as the Reds had ever been.
Any Hall of Famers?
Leo Durocher, Jim Bottomley, Eppa Rixey, Chick Hafey, and Ernie Lombardi
In 1933, beer returned to baseball stadiums as Prohibition was repealed after Franklin D. Roosevelt was sworn in. All the teams, save Washington and the Pennsylvania teams (Blue Laws), participated gladly, welcoming any revenue. The fans were happy to oblige, even if the beer was only 3.2% alcohol.
You can read about the 1923 Reds season from this series here.
Interesting stuff Brian, though a bit sad. I’m guessing the business of baseball was rough on a lot of teams during the depression. How and when did things start to turn around, with the Reds winning a World Series just 7 years later?
I think the industrialist, Powell Crosley, was the savior of the Reds franchise for Cincinnati on at least two occasions: one was in the early thirties during the Depression when the club was bankrupt or near so, and the other was in the late fifties when California was opened to MLB. There was considerable talk on the sports pages of the three local newspapers that the Reds might be the NL representative in NYC replacing the departing Giants and Dodgers.
Reds getting over-the-hill Cardinal players and loose 90+ games a year for multiple years. Guess the more things change, the more things stay the same.
Imagine what the comments on RLN would have been like in that era! Current FO looks like profligate spendthrifts compared to the Weil years.