The two most recent posts are chapters from my new book on the history of the Reds. Check out the preview post link in the intro to chapter 4 if you are new to the book. I will keep posting new chapters on a regular basis…well, semi-regular, as I complete them.
No new posts from me for a couple of weeks. But keep checking in to see what is new at the Reds Hall of Fame. Rick Walls and Chris Eckes will provide the details.
THIS IS THE FOURTH CHAPTER OF MY NEW BOOK, THE CINCINNATI REDS: PART II (1948–201X). THE PREVIOUS CHAPTERS AND AN INTRODUCTION ARE INCLUDED IN THE CATEGORY “FROM GREG RHODES’S NEW BOOK” ON THE LINK TO THE RIGHT. THERE IS A PREVIEW POST DESCRIBING THE PROJECT.
The seasons of the late 1940s and early 1950s flow together with a numbing similarity, and dear reader, if you are tired of following anemic teams that always seem to wind up in sixth or seventh place, win about 65 games, finish 25 games out of first, with a front office that seems incapable of doing anything productive, then please feel free to skip ahead a few seasons. Nineteen fifty-six might be a good year to bookmark. On the other hand, if you can hang in there for a few more years, you will follow the return of Joe Nuxhall to the Big Leagues, the rise of Ted Kluszewski as baseball’s “Hercules”, the somewhat bumpy road the Reds travel to integrating their lineup, how the club survived one of the worst managers in baseball history, and how the Reds became the Redlegs.
In movie lingo, this constitutes the trailer for the next few seasons, but for now, we must turn our attention to the main attraction of this chapter, the 1951 campaign.
In baseball history, 1951 comes down to the final at-bat of the regular season, in the third and deciding playoff game between the Dodgers and the Giants, the legendary “shot heard ’round the world,” Bobby Thompson’s heart-stopping home run at the Polo Grounds in the bottom of the ninth inning. “The Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant,” screamed Giant’s announcer Russ Hodges, and the Reds players, like most other fans, heard about it at home.
The Reds had been officially eliminated from the pennant race for nearly a month, during a disastrous 19-game road trip in late August and early September that saw them lose to every team. Every team. They visited all the NL cities, from St Louis to New York, suffered losing streaks of five and six games, and lost 15 times.
The road trip was a snapshot of the second half of the season. The Reds did not play well after the All-Star break. Luke Sewell’s boys were a surprising .500 club as late as July 20th, in fourth place, 11 games out of first. Realistically, no one expected the Reds to challenge for the pennant at that point, but a first-division finish and a .500 season would have been enough reason to break out the champagne. The Reds had not had a winning season since 1944, and the experts picked them for another sixth or seventh place finish. But they were 18 under .500 in the second half of the season, fell from fourth to sixth place, from 10 1/2 games behind to 28 out.
The Reds maintained respectability for so long due mainly to solid pitching. Unlike previous seasons, there were no big disappointments among the moundsmen. There was no dominant performer, either, but the staff ERA of 3.70 was second in the league. Raffensberger and Blackwell tied for the club lead in wins with 16, and they tied for the club lead in ERA at 3.44. Howie Fox finally had a winning season, at 11-8, and Herm Wehmeier’s ERA of 3.70 was the best of his career. Knuckle-baller Willie Ramsdell, spot starter Harry Perkowski, and rookie reliever Frank Smith also threw well.
It was the lack of offense that doomed the Reds. They were shutout 16 times. They scored three or fewer runs in 73 games. They finished dead last in the league in runs scored, last, in fact, in every major offensive category.
The shortcomings in the offense shouldn’t have come as a big surprise as the Reds’ brass planned for the 1951 campaign. There was reasonable hope that their two promising young sluggers, Kluszewski and Adcock, would continue to improve, but the other regulars hardly rated any enthusiasm based on past performance. Infielders Virgil Stallcup and Bobby Adams, outfielders Lloyd Merriman and Bob Usher, and the catching troika of Bob Scheffing, Dixie Howell and Johnny Pramesa had never shown any offensive talents beyond what you could expect of bench players. Connie Ryan at second, Grady Hatton at third and outfielder Johnny Wroystek were all capable of putting up numbers typical of a average position player, but other than Kluszewski, there was little “pop” in the Reds lineup.
General manager Warren Giles again made no significant moves to bolster the offense and that included any forays into the Negro Leagues. The Reds, proud pioneers in the recruitment of Latin players, professional baseball and night baseball, were laggards on integration. It had been four years since Jackie Robinson debuted, but the Reds, like the majority of clubs, had yet to integrate their roster. Heading into the 1951 season, only the Cleveland Indians, the St. Louis Browns, the New York Giants and the Boston Braves had joined Brooklyn in integrating their lineups.
As for the Reds offense in 1951, its promise was thus left to the fortunes of Klu and Adcock, and both were disappointments. After his breakout 1950 season, Klu took a step backwards. His average fell 50 points to .259 and his OPS+ fell from 124 to 83. And all this just as Colliers, a popular weekly magazine, ran a feature story on Big Klu in June christening him, “Baseball’s Hercules.”
Adcock started strong, and with Klu struggling, Sewell moved him into the cleanup slot in mid-May. But Joe suffered a sprained knee sliding into second base on June 5th, and missed the next three weeks. He faded over the last half of the season; in the last two months, he was a woeful 14 for 121, and he ended the season with an OPS+ of 77.
By season’s end, the only suspense for Reds fans was the future of Warren Giles, and it wasn’t because owner Powel Crosley had lost confidence in Giles. Despite the string of losing seasons, Crosley had complete faith in his man to run his club; he had elevated Warren to club president in 1946. But Giles had his sights on a new job opening: Commissioner of Baseball. The current occupant of the post, former Kentucky governor and senator, Happy Chandler, had resigned in the middle of the season after his bosses, the 16 major league club owners, refused to extend his contract for a second seven-year term. A screening committee began searching through some 400 names, and finally narrowed the field to five: Giles, National League president Ford Frick, Dr. Milton Eisenhower, president of Penn State (and brother of the future president), General Douglas MacArthur, and Ohio governor Frank Lausche. But despite the impressive pedigrees and credentials of the non-baseball men, Giles and Frick were the front runners, and the owners convened in Chicago at the end of September to choose the new commissioner.
Election required “yes” votes from 12 of the 16 owners, and with Giles and Frick each having a strong core of support, neither could muster enough backing. After nine hours of discussion, and 14 deadlocked ballots, Giles finally ended the impasse by withdrawing from the race, clearing the way for Frick’s election. Giles agreed to take Frick’s post as National League president. The transition from club executive to league executive was a smooth one for Giles, but for one issue. Giles was well-known for criticizing what he saw as poor umpiring. As the new head of the NL, he now directed the men in blue. He finessed that: “It’s a funny thing about umpires—a week ago I didn’t think we had a good one in the league—now they’re all great!”
Frick soon moved the Commissioner’s office to New York from Cincinnati, where Chandler had located it so he could be close to his Kentucky home. In fact, Happy was known to escort guests to his office windows, on the 26th floor of the Carew Tower, which overlooked the Ohio River, point south and note with Bluegrass pride, “Friends, look yonder. There, across the beautiful Ohio, lies the Promised Land.”
Giles, 55 and a widower, was raising a teen-age son when he became NL president, and did not want to move to New York. “I have my family, my property and most of my friends here, and…have found it is a swell town in which to live.” Giles might have also mentioned his grill. Warren’s cookouts at his Mount Lookout home were well regarded. He moved into the old commissioner’s suite, and for the next 18 years, ran the affairs of the league from the Queen City.
While Giles remained a Cincinnatian, his 15-year association with the Reds came to an end. Crosley had hired him as general manager after the 1936 season to succeed Larry MacPhail. Building on MacPhails’ foundation, Giles added several key players to the roster of the Reds in the late 1930s, including Bucky Walters, Bill Werber, Wally Berger, Jimmy Ripple and Joe Beggs, and a new manager, Bill McKechnie. His 1939 and 1940 Reds were the greatest team in club history until the era of the Big Red Machine.
Giles success in molding the Reds into World Champions earned him great respect throughout baseball, for winning in Cincinnati with its small ballpark, thin crowds and low payroll was thought by most to be impossible. By the late 1940s, Giles had become one of the most influential executives in baseball. His club no longer was championship caliber, and his most recent efforts to improve it had become almost counter-productive, but none of that tainted his reputation as an honest, loyal, and smart colleague. He may have lost his keen eye in judging talent, but he was still sought out as a thoughtful and perceptive baseball man. And, he looked the part, a portly, polished patrician. “Well-tailored, well-barbered and well-fed” wrote one scribe. “The silver-thatched punjab,” wrote another. He could work a room and host an event in the grand tradition of another Reds executive, Garry Herrmann.
His final salute to Reds fans came in advertisements he placed in the three Cincinnati dailies. “To all of you good fans in this vicinity, I want to express a sincere, “THANK YOU.” Many of you I know personally…there are however, many others—faithful grandstand and bleacher patrons—whom I can reach only in this manner. It is to you especially I say, “THANKS.” To this day, Giles is the longest-tenured GM in Reds history.
His departure might have created a serious void in the Reds front office, but Crosley immediately turned to Giles’ long-time assistant, Gabe Paul. Paul had come to the Reds with Giles in 1936, when Paul was just 24. Like his boss, Paul was widely admired throughout the league. One Chicago writer, admitted that Giles and Paul were the two most-liked executives. “Every baseball writer in America is secretly pulling for the Reds to win the National League pennant,” he said. “In our hearts, we have grown to respect Warren Giles and Gabe Paul, and to like them best of all. We hope they win.”
Crosley invited Paul to lunch a few days after Giles accepted his new job, and offered the GM post to Paul. Paul became Vice-President and General Manager, while Crosley stepped back into the role of club president.
At 41, Paul was one of the younger general managers in the game, and Giles, for one, thought that was what the Reds needed. “He will bring a more youthful enthusiasm to the job than I have had in recent years,” said Giles. Paul was eager to move. “We will trade anybody if we have a chance to get a player who will help us. When we open the 1952 season, perhaps you won’t recognize the club.” One thing wouldn’t change: Paul’s first decision was to re-sign Luke Sewell to a third year as Reds manager.
Old-Timers vs. the All-Time Reds
The National League celebrated its 75th season in 1951, and the Reds saluted the anniversary with an old-timers game on June 19. The last reunion game of any significance in Cincinnati had been 20 years earlier, and the 1951 affair drew considerable interest and a good crowd of 26,618. The three-inning exhibition, prior to a Reds-Dodgers night game at Crosley, featured twenty ex-Reds, divided into the “Old-Timers” and the “All-Time Reds,” managed by Bill McKechnie and Charlie Dressen.
The highlight was a home run over the left-field wall by Bucky Walters, perhaps taking out some of his frustration for his dismissal as Reds manager at the end of the 1949 season. Paul Derringer managed to plunk his former teammate Ival Goodman, to the amusement of both Derringer and Goodman and the big crowd.
The players had not forgotten their locker room ribbing skills. Hughie Critz took a look at the rotund Bubbles Hargrave and said, “The face is familiar, but I can’t say the same for the shape.” And Edd Roush could still run em down, delighting the crowd with an over the shoulder catch on a long fly ball. Heinie Groh showed up with his old war club, his famous bottle bat, the same one he had used in the 1922 World Series.
The tone for the evening was set when the first hitter, Bill Werber, hit a routine foul fly that Hargrave misplayed. PA announcer Dave Grote quickly noted, “The official scorer rules no error on the play.”
The rosters included four Cooperstown Hall of Famers: Roush, Chick Hafey, Eppa Rixey and manager McKechnie. There were thirteen future Reds Hall of Famers: Roush, Rixey, McKechnie, Derringer, Walters, Werber, Hargrave, Groh, Critz, Frank McCormick, Ival Goodman, and Rube Bressler. In addition, Noodles Hahn was on hand, but did not play, and Billy Myers and Ernie Lombardi were invited but could not attend.
The oldest participant was Dick “Doc” Hoblitzell, the Reds first baseman from 1908 to 1914. Doc, who had the unusual distinction of starting a dentistry practice during his years with the Reds, was 62.
Prior to the game, the players and Reds officials dedicated a 75th anniversary plaque at the Spring Grove cemetery gravesite of Charlie Gould, the manager of the Reds in the first National League season, and a member of the legendary 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings.
That was what one visitor to Tampa dubbed the Reds spring training site in 1951. Manager Luke Sewell employed a new pitching machine, and two inventions of his own, “Sewell’s Sweat Box,” and a wooden target for pitchers. The Reds had used a pitching machine in previous camps, but the “Overhand Joe” machine was a newer model, that the Dodgers had debuted a couple of years earlier. It was durable and simple to operate, and became the first pitching machine to be used at carnivals and other public venues. (Link here to Life Magazine story of Overhand Joe.)
The sweat box was designed to help pitchers break a sweat fast and stay warm. It sat over two mounds, and faced south, where the prevailing breezes were typically mild. Sheets of plastic enclosed the other three sides of the frame and kept out cooler winds that usually blew in from the north.
Finally, Sewell devised a low-strike target for his pitching staff. Sewell took a large board, covered it with heavy padding, and cut an opening 12 inches high by 20 inches wide where the bottom of the strike zone would be for a six-foot tall batter.
And to make sure his players had ample time to use the new gadgets, Luke banned golf from spring training.
Two New Additions to the Lineup
Powel Crosley added a couple of new names to the lineup late in the season, but these were athletes of the four-legged variety. Crosley’s good friend and horse breeder Dr. Eslie Asbury sold the Reds owner two brood mares, who produced a couple of foals, which Crosley named Lady Pace and Damocles. They began racing as two-year olds in the fall of 1951, and that raised the attention of new commissioner Ford Frick. Outgoing commissioner Happy Chandler said he would have likely taken action against Crosley, but Frick and new National League president Warren Giles, Crosley’s former employee, worked quietly behind the scenes. There was no rule about an baseball owner racing horses, just a long-time understanding that baseball and gambling would not mix.
Crosley had no more luck with his horses than with his Reds of the early 1950s. Neither won a race.
Before free agency and the rise in salaries, players often supplemented their incomes playing exhibition games, especially after the season in fall barnstorming tours. One player would organize a tour, invite several others to join him in what was always billed as an “All-Star” squad. The barnstormers would play for a couple of weeks in small and mid-size cities, often in the south, where the weather was warmer, and many fans had never seen major leaguers in action. Local semi-pro or amateur teams provided the competition.
In October of 1951, Ted Kluszewski and Howie Fox played with Harry Walker’s team, while Danny Litwiler organized a crew that included Ken Raffensberger and Frank Smith. Joining Walker’s tour was Cardinal’s broadcaster Harry Caray, who handled the public address chores, and as one account noted, “entertains the crowds with his accounts.” One can imagine.
In a game in Wiles-Barre, Pennsylvania, All-American Girls League pitcher Jean Marlowe pitched one inning against Litwhiler’s team and gave up two runs to the major leaguers.
Meanwhile at home in Cincinnati, on October 14, Herm Wehmeier played with a group of his high school and American Legion teammates, and struck out 17 members of a Cheviot, Ohio semi-pro team.
THIS IS THE THIRD CHAPTER OF MY NEW BOOK, THE CINCINNATI REDS: PART II (1948–201X). THE PREVIOUS CHAPTERS AND AN INTRODUCTION ARE INCLUDED IN THE CATEGORY “FROM GREG RHODES’S NEW BOOK” ON THE LINK TO THE RIGHT. THERE IS A PREVIEW POST DESCRIBING THE PROJECT.
Maybe the baseball gods would shine on new Reds manger Luke Sewell, after all. The day he signed to manage the Reds, in October 1949, the Sewells dined with Giles and Gabe Paul at the Beverly Hills club in Ft. Thomas, Kentucky. Afterwards, they played a little bingo, and Luke won a $600 jackpot (he donated half to the Cincinnati Community Chest, now United Way).
Giles and Reds fans could only hope Sewell could bring that kind of luck to bear on a Reds club that was desperate for a winning season. Sewell had managed to win the only pennant in St. Louis Browns history in 1944, and had somehow managed a winning record with those perennial losers in his six seasons at the helm. And Sewell had the bloodlines. His brother, Joe Sewell, had an outstanding career in the American League with the Indians and Yankees (and was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977). Distant cousin Rip Sewell was a three-time All-Star with the Pirates. The Sewells were Alabama boys; Luke grew up in Titus and graduated from the University of Alabama before starting his professional baseball career as a catcher. He was never much of a hitter, but in his 20 seasons he caught three no-hitters.
Sewell joined the Reds in 1949 as a member of Bucky Walter’s coaching staff and although he was not Giles’ first choice to succeed Bucky, Sewell had the advantage of knowing the players. And evidently Sewell thought the boys needed a little nudge when it came to training. In a “Happy New Year” letter to his new team, he admonished the players to shed any extra weight before reporting to Spring Training, and he asked his pitchers to start tossing 10 days before they reported.
If it were only that easy. The 1949 club had a below average pitching staff, an average defense, and perhaps the worst offense in the league. The Reds were last in slugging percentage, next to last in on-base percentage and next to last in runs scored. It was going to take more than conditioning and a spirited attitude to turn the Reds around. Yet the club made no significant moves in the off-season to shore up the offense, or strengthen the pitching. Giles did sell Johnny Vander Meer to the Cubs. The Dutchman was the last player on the Reds roster who was a member of the 1939-40 championship clubs. Vandy was 35, at the end of his career; his ERA hovered around 5.00 in 1949 and his record was a dismal five wins and 10 losses. It was a unfortunate final season in a Reds uniform for one of the most hallowed names in team history.
Giles remained committed to his core of home-grown talent, the crop of youngsters that the Reds had signed or developed in their farm system in the mid-1940s: Grady Hatton, Red Stallcup, Lloyd Merriman, Ted Kluszewski, Bobby Adams, Herm Wehmeier, Howie Fox. Giles summed up his approach talking about trade offers he considered for Fox and Wehmeier. “We have strung along with Wehmeier and Fox all their professional lives, believing from the day we first signed them that they possessed the natural ability to become consistent winners.”
Giles simply had too much patience. Wehmeier and Fox would never develop into consistent quality pitchers. Hatton proved to be a solid player, with average offense and defense. Out of this group of post-war prospects, only Ted Kluszewski would be a star.
As it turned out, the Reds farm clubs in 1950 was stirring with legitimate talent. Wally Post, Ed Bailey, Joe Adcock, Johnny Temple, Roy McMillan, Joe Nuxhall, and Frank Smith. But none were ready to help the major league club in 1950, except Adcock, who made the club out of spring training.
The Adcock development posed an interesting dilemma for Sewell. Joe, a native of tiny Coushatta, Louisiana, where his father was the town sheriff, signed with the Reds at the age of 19, and after three solid years in the minors, the Reds were ready to call him up. He provided some needed right-handed power to help offset a miserable record versus left-handed pitching that had plagued the Reds. The dilemma was that Adcock was a first baseman, and Ted Kluszewski had the toehold there. There was some talk that Adcock might push Klu off of first base, but early in the season Sewell tossed him a fielder’s glove and told him, “You’re playing left field tonight.” According to the 1951 Reds yearbook, Adcock was the fastest player on the roster, so he could cover the ground. But his lack of experience quickly showed. “The first ground ball hit to me should have been held to a single, but I had to chase it all the way to the fence,” Joe recalled. Adcock became the starting left fielder for the next three years, occasionally filling in for Klu at first base.
The other big question mark for the Reds in spring training—in fact it sometimes seemed like the only question—was the condition of Ewell Blackwell. The Reds and baseball experts generally believed that Blackwell was the key to the Reds 1950 season. Had he recovered fully from his shoulder problems of 1948 and his kidney operation in 1949? Could he return to his 1947 form when he was regarded as the number one pitcher in the league? How was Blackie’s arm holding up? How did he look?
Hearing these questions for the umpteenth time, a bemused Sewell responded to one writer in early April: “It gives me comfort to know there is at least one subject in this country that is creating more anxiety than the H-bomb, the cold war and the water shortage. In the space of a few weeks I have become the world’s leading authority on Blackwell…Nobody talks to me about anything else and I do have three or four other players here in camp.”
Blackwell missed three weeks of training due to an infected foot, but he looked stronger and had put on weight, although he still heard all those nicknames (“High Pockets,” “Young Bones,” “Broom Handle,” and “Skeleton” as well as the most famous, “The Whip”). But the experts weren’t convinced. The members of the Baseball Writers Association of America picked the Reds seventh in their pre-season poll. The great Red Smith, sports columnist for the New York Herald Tribune, picked them last, and explained, “Commissioner Chandler’s office is in Cincinnati. One city can’t have everything.” (Happy Chandler, baseball’s second commissioner, and former governor of Kentucky and United States senator had located his offices in the Carew Tower in downtown Cincinnati when he succeeded Commissioner Landis in 1945.)
The Opening Day starter was the workhouse of the 1949 staff, Ken Raffensberger, who had also started the ’49 opener. The rest of the Reds lineup was distressingly similar to the lackluster unit that started the 1949 campaign. The biggest change was Peanuts Lowrey in left field and big Walker Cooper behind the plate. The Reds lost the opener to the Cubs, 9-6. The high points were the weather (72º and sunny) and the upbeat sounds of organ music. Crosley Field became the second National League park (after Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field) to feature an organ.
But the organ player couldn’t hit and couldn’t pitch, and the Reds stumbled early, losing their first six games. And just to prove that was no fluke, after winning four straight, they then lost seven in a row. By May 20th, they were 6-19 and 10 1/2 games out, their worst start since 1934.
In early May, Giles made one move prior to the June 15th trading deadline, sending 35-year-old catcher Cooper to the Boston Braves for a player Sewell had been angling for, second baseman Connie Ryan. Ryan’s most famous moment in baseball had come the year before, in Boston, in a meaningless late-season game. As rain fell and skies darkened, the Boston players urged the umpire to call the game. Sensing no response, Ryan who was due up, ducked into the locker room, grabbed a rain coat, and wore it out to the on-deck circle. That got a response. The umpire didn’t halt the game, but he did eject Ryan and his rain coat.
The Ryan for Cooper deal was a puzzle. The Reds already had two second baseman, veteran Jimmy Bloodworth and utility infielder Bobby Adams. And they had little in the way of back-up catchers. Yet they made the move, and it had results distressingly similar to the Hank Sauer trade of the year before. Cooper was older than Sauer, but after the trade he put up very good numbers in 1950 and 1951, with OPS+ of 145 and 142. The 30-year-Ryan failed to hit the league average in Cincinnati, with an OPS+ of 88 in 1950 and a 98 in 1951.
The Reds could play small ball, however. In one memorable rally, the Reds scored a run on not one, not two, but three consecutive bunts. Ironically the Reds wound up leading the league in doubles, but once again finished last in home runs and slugging percentage, and next to last in runs scored.
The Reds finished the first half of the season 11 games under .500, and that included a 14-6 surge right before the All-Star break that lifted them out of the cellar. Despite a 10-game losing streak in August, they crept into sixth place after winning 17 of their final 31 games. All in all, they were 10 under in the second half, so it is hard to say they improved. Attendance certainly reflected the year’s struggles. The Reds wound up drawing 538,000, last in the league, an average of 7,000 per home game.
Grady Hatton at third base, and Johnny Wroystek in centerfield had solid years, as did Joe Adcock in his rookie season. As for Giles perennial prospects, Fox and Wehmeier, Howie had his first winning season (11-8), but Herm continued to struggle. He led the league in walks and finished 10-18. But as far as “next year” was concerned, the fans and the front office were delighted with Ewell Blackwell and Ted Kluszewski. Klu had his best year in his three seasons as a starter with an OPS+ of 124. He won the club’s triple crown with 25 home runs, 111 RBIs, and a .307 batting average.
Blackwell started slowly and finally regained his dominating form over the last three months of the season. “The Whip” led the team in the triple crown pitching categories with 17 wins, 188 strikeouts and a 2.97 ERA. He pitched two one-hitters late in the year. On September 2nd, he no-hit the Cubs through eight innings, before giving up a single in the ninth, and ten days later held the Dodgers to one hit (although he suffered a loss, 3-1). Over his last 14 starts, Blackwell won nine, lost four (including the one-hitter to the Dodgers), and threw 12 complete games. And somehow he managed to work in one save as well. He wound up making 32 starts and pitching 261 innings.
Blackwell may well have had one or two more starts, but another medical emergency intervened. On September 25th, he underwent an appendectomy and his season was finished, but there were no complications and his 1951 season was unaffected.
But, individual performances aside, there was no mistaking this 1950 season for a success. Sixth place and sixty-six wins was barely an improvement over seventh place and the 62 wins notched in 1949. This marked the sixth straight season the Reds had finished in the second division, and the anemic attendance couldn’t have helped Powel Crosley’s pocketbook. Luke Sewell, however, had earned his superior’s confidence; there would be no managerial change in the off-season. Maybe the wind would finally be at the Reds back in 1951.
Home Run Derby at Crosley Field
On June 26th, the Reds were in Pittsburgh preparing for an upcoming series when the Pirates hosted the Boston Red Sox in an exhibition game, that featured a home run contest between Pittsburgh’s Ralph Kiner and Ted Williams. Kiner out-slugged the “Splendid Splinter” that day and one appreciative member of the audience, Ted Kluszewski, was mighty impressed by Kiner’s show. “Wish I could hit ‘em like that,” Ted said admiringly.
On September 6th at Crosley Field, Klu got his chance. Prior to the Pirates-Reds game, Kiner and Klu squared off in a home run duel. A committee of home run “experts” judged each home run, and Kiner belted one an estimated 423 feet. But Big Klu was credited with a 440 foot drive. And another of his home runs struck high against the light tower in right-center field, or it would have been the longest of the night, according to sportswriter Tom Swope.
For his prowess, Klu picked up the winner’s purse of $100; Kiner got $25.
Ewell Blackwell struggled in 1948 and 1949 with a sore arm and a hard recovery from kidney surgery, and he had yet to regain his old form by the middle of the 1950 campaign. Yet none of that caused any concern among the National League managers and coaches who picked the pitching staffs for the annual All-Star Game. They wanted Blackie, no matter what his record was.
Blackwell’s intimidating sidearm delivery, with a fast ball that bore in on right-handed hitters, scared the bejesus out of many National League batters, and was especially fearsome to American League hitters, many who had never seen “The Whip” in action.
Blackwell pitched in six All-Star Games in his first six seasons, which is the record for pitching in the most consecutive All-Star Games. In his rookie season, he relieved in the fifth inning, pitched two and two-thirds innings and gave up two runs. Those were the last All-Star runs scored off of him.
He started and pitched three scoreless innings in 1947; he appeared in relief in his other four appearances, gaining a save in 1951, and earning a win in 1950 when he pitched the final three innings of a 14-inning win for the NL. He got the final two outs by inducing Joe DiMaggio to ground into a double play.
Blackwell could thank an American Leaguer for some of his success. Ted Williams and Blackie had played youth baseball together as kids growing up in California. When Ted saw Blackwell pitching in spring training early in Blackwell’s major league career, he noticed Blackwell tipping off a pitch. “He started his motion and as he came around from the side with the pitch, he showed me the palm of his hand. Like a flash the thought came to me: change of pace. It was, and I hit it pretty good. So after the game I told him abut it…” Blackwell made an adjustment. Ted might have had second thoughts after his old buddy struck him out in the 1947 All-Star Game.
Blackwell wound up with a 1.32 ERA in his 13 and 2/3 innings of All-Star work. He struck out 12, tied for fifth all time. One All-Star record he doesn’t hold is most strikeouts in one game. But it is still in Reds’ hands. The record is six, and it is held by Blackwell’s one-time teammate, Johnny Vander Meer.
In recent years, two players have earned the nickname of “Mayor” playing with the Reds, Tony Perez and Sean Casey. Any local politician was happy these two popular players with big personalities and winning smiles were never on the ballot. But there is one Reds player who truly does deserve the title of Mayor, and that is Johnny Wyrosteck, the Reds starting outfielder for five seasons, from 1948 to 1952.
Wyrostek (pronounced Wy-ROSS-tek, according to the Reds 1952 program), was signed by the Cardinals, made his debut with the Pirates in 1942, served in the Army for two years in World War II, and eventually was traded to the Reds for Eddie Miller.
Wyrostek is not so well-remembered today by Reds fans. But he made two All-Star teams (in 1950 and 1951) and finished in the top 20 in the MVP vote in 1948 and 1951. But he was a much better vote-getter in his hometown of Fairmont City, Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. After he retired in 1954, he returned home to the construction business. In 1967, he ran for Mayor and won, and was re-elected four more times, serving as Mayor of Fairmont City until his death in 1986, at the age of 67.
After last night’s All-Star Game, you might be wondering if the Reds position players will ever get another hit. Joey Votto is now 0 for 9 in four All-Star Games, Brandon Phillips 0-4, and Jay Bruce 0-3. The last Red to get a hit in an All-Star game was Scott Rolen in 2010. (And in case you are wondering, the last Red to get an extra base hit was Dave Concepcion who homered in the 1982 game. )
But before you start complaining about the lack of hits from the current crop of Reds All-Stars, consider that none other than Pete Rose hit just .212 in his All-Star appearances. Barry Larkin was just 2 for 19. Tony Perez hit the celebrated 15th-inning home run to give the NL a win in 1967, and then went hitless in his next eight All-Star at bats.
It’s a rare thing to do well in the All-Star game, but two Reds who have excelled are Johnny Bench and Ted Kluszewski. Bench has a .357 average, with three home runs—which ties him for 8th all time in All-Star history—and six RBIs. But Big Klu is probably our best All-Star hitter. In three games, he was 7 for 14 with three doubles and home run. That gives him a .500 batting average which ties for first all-time with Charlie Gehringer (to qualify, you need a minimum of 12 plate appearances). He is second in on-base percentage and third in slugging percentage (and for those of you who follow OPS, it means he is first all-time in All-Star OPS at 1.429).
On the pitching side, Aroldis Chapman has not allowed a run in his two All-Star appearances but hasn’t pitched enough innings to qualify for All-Star leaderboards. The last Red to pitch more than three innings in All-Star competition is Mario Soto who appeared in three games in the early 1980s, and allowed no earned runs in six innings, and struck out seven.
There are a couple of pitchers in the running for the best Reds All-Star hurler, including Soto, Johnny Vander Meer, (8.2 scoreless innings and 11 Ks), Bucky Walters who had an ERA of 2.00 in nine innings, and Ewell Blackwell. Blackwell gets my nod; he appeared in six consecutive games, from 1946 to 1951, which, if not the record for most consecutive appearances, is tied for it. And he pitched great, 13.2 innings, with 12 strikeouts and a 1.32 ERA. The odd thing when you look at his regular season stats, there were a couple of years in that stretch when he did not deserve to be picked, but I think that the NL managers of the day who chose the pitchers wanted Blackwell for his intimidating presence on the mound. Back then, only a few American Leaguers would have seen Blackwell pitch in spring training, but in those days before inter-league play, most had never seen him. And he was intimidating, with that big sidearm motion with those long arms and legs, it was hard to pick up the ball if you’d never seen him. Plus Blackwell was a tough SOB. He wasn’t afraid to throw inside, and there were a lot of right-handed hitters who wished they never had to faced the guy.
In December 1957, the Reds traded prospect Curt Flood to St. Louis for three minor league pitchers, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Actually, the full name of the third prospect was Franklin Delano Roosevelt Wieand, a 25-year-old starter who went by the name of the other Roosevelt, Ted. Unfortunately for the Reds, his names were far more memorable than his career. He only appeared in six games, with the distinction of having given up a home run to the first batter he faced in his major league debut in 1958, and a grand slam home run to the last batter he faced (in 1960, on his final major league pitch).
The Reds also had Calvin Coolidge on their roster for awhile in 1960…Calvin Coolidge McLish, a pitcher (who’s full name, seriously, was Calvin Coolidge Julius Caesar Tuskahoma McLish).
Will the Reds lavish the same swag on Homer? This was George Culver’s haul after his no-hitter in 1968 agains the Phillies. Culver, shown with his catcher Pat Corrales, received a set of tires, a TV, a commemorative photo of his no-hitter, and other gifts from the Reds and local businesses. Of course, George was making probably around $20,000 at the time.
You’ll hear this on the pre-game show tonite…
One for the record books, one for the ages last night as Homer Bailey threw just the second no-hitter in 25 years for a Reds pitcher, and Homer has both of them. The only ones since Tom Browning back in 1988. Homer missed equalling Browning’s perfect game by one walk. And Homer has now added to the Reds lore of double no-hitters…Johnny Vander Meer is of course the true king with his consecutive no-hit games.. But there are some other “double no-hit” milestones in Reds history. How about 1969 when Jim Maloney pitched a no-hitter against the Houston Astros at Crosley Field. And the very next night, Don Wilson of the Astros returned the favor and no-hit the Reds. Two no-hitters in two straight games. Even rarer, was the game of May 2, 1917, when Hippo Vaughn of the Cubs threw a no-hitter against the Reds, at the same time his opponent, Cincinnati’s Fred Toney, was also pitching a no-hitter. The Reds finally scratched out a couple of hits and a run in the 10th, and Toney finished his no-hitter in the bottom of the inning to give him the victory. This is the only time in baseball history two pitchers have thrown no-hitters through nine innings in the same game. And now Homer Bailey with his second no-hitter…Well, you can catch some no-hit history at the Reds Hall of Fame this weekend, stop by and visit with Jim Maloney this Saturday, all the details at reds.com, at the museum at GABP.
Wow! First time a Reds pitcher has thrown two no-hitters since the days of Jim Maloney. And of course, how fitting Homer does it in the year the Reds celebrate Johnny Vander Meer’s 75th anniversary of his consecutive no-hitters. This is the first Reds no-hitter at GABP. Ryan Hanigan becomes the third Reds catcher to catch two no-hitters (Heinie Peitz…yeah, I know, he’s an old-timer, and Ernie Lombardi who caught both of Vandy’s gems). And Homer does it on the week that Jim Maloney will be in town to appear at the Reds Hall of Fame. Check out the Hall of Fame web site — redsmuseum.org— for details. Think we will see Maloney and Bailey for a few photo-ops?
Here are my Reds Hall of Fame highlights that will be heard on the pre-game show the next few nights; we’re celebrating Johnny Vander Meer’s historic accomplishment of 75 years ago, his no-hitters in consecutive starts, a feat unmatched in baseball history. See the Vandy display at the Reds Hall of Fame and what better time than the game of June 15 at GABP; a free Double No-Hit poster to all those in attendance.
June 12: We’re celebrating Johnny Vander Meer’s double ho-hitters this week, its the 75the anniversary of his back-to-back no hitters, it all made Vander Meer an instant hero, a media sensation, but of course, like a lot of pitchers, his career got off to a slow start.Vander Meer had a great arm, a wicked fast ball, but not much control in the minor leagues…and during one stretch he was really struggling, although his pitches were just missing the strike zone. One evening before his next start, Vandy and his catcher nursed a couple of beers at a bar and tried to figure what adjustments to make, and at some point the two came up with a very simple solution….and so out to the ballpark they went, roused the groundskeeper and under the cover of darkness, dug up home plate, moved it three inches and put it back in the ground…they smoothed all the dirt out, and the next day, boy, was Vandy sharp…every pitch right on the corner of the plate…after the game, the boys moved the plate back, and Vandy had his confidence restored…be sure to join in the celebration of Vander Meer’s double ho-hitters…pick up your commemorative poster at the game on June 15th, and check out the Vander Meer display at the Reds Hall of Fame, you know where, at GABP.
June 13 We celebrate the 75th anniversary of one of the great accomplishments in baseball history these next few days, the double no-hitters of Johnny Vander Meer, It all started June 11 1938, at Crosley Field and Vandy then tossed another no-hitter in his next game against the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field. The Reds announcer at the time was Red Barber, and he called the first no-hitter in Cincinnati, but Red wasn’t on hand for the second one in Brooklyn. In fact there weren’t any broadcasters there. In the late 1930s, the 3 New York teams, the Dodgers the Giants and the Yankees, had an agreement not to put their games on radio…they were afraid it would hurt their attendance, and so there was no broadcast of the historic second no-hitter. But Red had no trouble later recalling that evening. As word of Vander Meer’s accomplishment arrived in Cincinnati that night in the form of news bulletins, fans began congregating in neighborhood saloons to celebrate the moment, and several decided to share their joy with the old Redhead, who had conveniently listed his phone number in the directory. Red was up all night answering calls from inebriated fans…It was the last time he ever listed his phone number. Well you can celebrate Vandy’s no hitters and you don’t have to stay up all night…pick up your commemorative poster at the game on June 15th, and check out the Vander Meer display at the Reds Hall of Fame, you know where…at GABP.
June 14: Johnny Vander Meer’s second no-hitter in 1938, the one that put him the record books happened 75 years ago, tomorrow night…the game took place in Brooklyn and it was the first night game in the history of Ebbetts field, the first night game ever played outside of Cincinnati …..and the common denominator with Cincinnati and Brooklyn was Larry MacPhail…who had been general manager of the Reds and oversaw the installation of lights at Crosley Field before joining the Dodgers. Now, under the glare of his new lights in Ebbetts Field, MacPhail beamed proudly as the game got underway, but by the fifth inning, no one was talking about the lights anymore, for Vandy was holding the Dodgers hitless. The rough and gruff MacPhail was not happy to be sharing the spotlight with the opposing pitcher mowing down his Dodgers on this glorious debut of night baseball in Brooklyn…especially a pitcher who had once been the property of the Dodgers!…As Vandy recorded out after out, MacPhail became more agitated, railing about the minor league manager who let Vander Meer go…..Of course, what MacPhail forgot to mention was that he was the one who had signed Vander Meer to a Reds contract after the Dodgers released him…what goes around comes around…and you should come around…to the Reds Hall of Fame where you can see the Vander Meer display…when? how about tomorrow night when you can also pick up your commemorative Vander Meer print, at the game, free to all fans, you know where, at GABP.
June 15 Johnny Vander Meer did the nearly imposssible 75 years ago today at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, June 15, 1938, throwing his second no-hitter in a row…and here’s an interesting footnote to that Brooklyn no-hitter, Vander Meer’s parents were on hand to see it..Johnny grew up in New Jersey, and after his first no-hitter, pitched in Cincinnati, his parents drove up to Brooklyn to congratulate their son on his Cincinnati no-hitter, and lo and behold, they watched him make history with his second one…his mother admitted, she couldn’t watch the last two innings…I turned my head away, she said, and prayed all the Dodgers would strike out….After the game, his parents made their way thru the boisterous crowd that had gathered around the Reds clubhouse…one excited fan who so badly wanted a souvenir, cut off the bottom half of Mr. Vander Meer’s tie. Yes, people wore ties to ball games back then. Afterwards, Johnny said he wished he had more time to explain it all to his father, an immigrant from Holland, who didn’t really know baseball, and was probably the only one at Ebbetts Field who couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about…and no doubt wondering why he was going home with half his tie missing. and Well, you don’t have to wear a tie to the Reds Hall of Fame, so come on in anytime, see the display on Vander meer’s no hitters, and much more when you visit the museum at GABP.
June 16 We’ve been celebrating Johnny Vander Meer’s great accomplishment this week, his no hitters in back to back starts 75 years ago. It all made Vandy an instant hero, and the 23-year-old didn’t have much patience for it…the morning after his second no-hitter, did he meet the press? Do Radio interviews? Heck no, Johnny went fishing, he had to get away from all the hullabaloo….Years later, Vander Meer of course embraced his accomplishment…he recognized just how special it was, and how it had put his name in the history books for all time, right up there with DiMggio’s 56 game hitting streak and all the other records that are considered unbreakable. In fact, Vandy was often asked if he thought anyone would break his record, and his answer: He could imagine someone tying his record…in fact Vandy almost saw his teammate Ewell Blackwell throw two straight no-hitters in 1947…but while Vandy thought someone might tie his record, he would then go on to say he couldn’t imagine anybody breaking it…3 no-hitters in a row? Well, you never say never, but I think Vandy was right…we’ll never see that record broken…. And if they did, well you know where we would celebrate it, at the Reds Hall of Fame of course, stop in see the Vander Meer exhibit and much much more when you visit the musuem at GABP.
June 11, 1938, 75 years ago today….a summer afternoon at Crosley Field….
This is the Hall of Fame hilite from today’s pre-game show:
We celebrate the 75th anniversary of one of the great accomplishments in baseball history these next few days, the double no-hitters of Johnny Vander Meer, It all started this June 11, 75 years ago, 1938, at Crosley Field on a Saturday afternoon at the old ballpark, a crowd of just 5,000 on hand…including a lot of kids from youth baseball programs, the knothole leagues of Greater Cincinnati…I talked with one of those knotholers a few years ago, who recalled being at VanderMeer’s great game…and the funny thing is that he had no idea he had just seen a no-hitter…The old Crosley Field scoreboard had no column for hits, so if you weren’t paying close attention or keeping score, you wouldn’t know what was happening…and like kids today, the knotholers at that game were a little restless, up and down from their seats, and when the game ended, on a ground out to third base, the knotholer was surprised to see the fans on their feet cheering. They were celebrating like it was the 7th game of the World Series, he recalled. Finally, he heard a fan yell something about Vander Meer pitching a no-hitter…and then it was time for the knotholers to yell too, to join in the wild celebration of what turned out to be just the first of VanderMeer’s two no-hitters….Well, you can join in the celebration too, pick up your commemorative poster at the ball game on June 15th, free to all fans, and see the VanderMeer exhibit at the Reds Hall of Fame…you know where…at GABP.