By Glen Sparks
Forget about any other baseball team you may have heard of or read about through the years. That includes the 1927 New York Yankees. None of those teams, not one of them, was as good as the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings.
On May 4, 1869, the Red Stockings pummeled the Cincinnati Great Westerns 45-9 in what many call the “first professional baseball game ever.” The Red Stockings went on to compile a 57-0 won-loss record in ’69 against teams in the National Association of Base Ball Players, the forerunner of the National League.
English native Harry Wright organized the Red Stockings, managed them and starred in center field. Born the son of a professional cricket player in 1835, Wright left his homeland at the age of three when his dad took over as head groundskeeper of the old St. George’s Cricket Club in New York City.
Growing up, Harry played both cricket and baseball. He arrived in Cincinnati in March of 1865, the Civil War winding down to a bloody end back east. Harry Wright took over as head of the fledgling Cincinnati Base Ball Club in 1866.
Right away, Wright began working to turn his team into the game’s first dynasty. He sent invitations to veterans of the famed New York Knickerbockers club and other squads nearby squads, the Midwest being something of a baseball outpost at the time.
In 1869, the National Association Ok’d professionalism. The Red Stockings’ executive board members opened their thick wallets. Some players, including Harry’s brother George, a shortstop, were signed to deals seven times the average man’s wages.
The Red Stockings did not lose until June 14, 1870, in an 8-7 11-inning skirmish against the Brooklyn Atlantics. The club lost six times that year. By November of 1870, though, the Stockings board decided against paying for an team the following season. Those ballplayers were asking for too much money, the board said.
Harry Wright, eventually a Hall of Famer, just like his brother, left town. He went from working for the Cincinnati Red Stockings to working for the Boston Red Stockings, the forerunner of the Boston/Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves.
Later, Wright managed several other teams, including the Providence, R.I., Greys and the Philadelphia Quakers, the franchise that would later become the Phillies. His teams won six league championships, and Wright retired with an admirable .581 winning percentage.
By Glen Sparks
The story goes that scouts from the Cincinnati Reds were interested in a 34-year-old, hard-throwing right-hander named Orville Nuxhall. They signed his teenage son instead.
World War II was raging, and major league rosters had been depleted. Bob Feller, Jerry Coleman and others were off fighting the Germans and the Japanese. Teams needed ballplayers. But, would they really want a kid not long out of junior high?
The scouts first watched Joe Nuxhall pitch in a semi-pro game in the fall of 1943. Joe was 14 years old. They wanted to sign him then, but, Joe asked, could they please just wait until the Hamilton (Ohio) High School basketball season was over. Deal. On this date in 1944, young Joe—15 now, already a strapping 6-foot-2– signed a contract with the Reds.
Warren Giles, the Reds’ general manager, put together a plan. He would add Joe to the team but not until school let out in June. Uncle Sam was serious, though; we were right in the middle of the greatest conflict in the history of mankind. President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill were planning the invasion of France.
The Reds lost even more players to the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines in the spring of 1944. Giles had to fill his roster. He talked to the Hamilton High principal, who made the call. Joe Nuxhall could be in uniform on opening day.
Cincinnati Manager Bill McKechie waited a few months before getting Joe into a game. The pitcher made his debut on June 10, 1944, at Crosley Field, against the St. Louis Cardinals. He was 15 years, 316 days old. And more than a bit nervous. The Reds trailed 13-0 in the ninth inning when McKethie gave the signal for Nuxhall.
Later, Nuxhall would say, “I was pitching against seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders, kids 13 and 14 years old… All of a sudden, I look up and there’s Stan Musial and the likes. It was a very scary situation.”
The Cardinals’ first batter, shortstop George Fallon, hit into a groundout. Then, things unraveled. Joe gave up five walks, two hits and five runs before McKechie pulled the hook. Nuxhall spent the rest of the season in the minors.
But, the story gets better. Nuxhall worked his way back to the big leagues in 1952 at age 23. He pitched for 16 years, mostly with the Reds, compiling a 135-117 won-loss mark and a 3.90 ERA (102 ERA+). The Ol’ Lefthander, as they eventually called him, made a couple of All-Star teams and led the National League in shutouts with five in 1955.
Following his playing days, Nuxhall entered the broadcast booth. He was well-loved in the Cincinnati community until his death in 2007 at age 79. His long-time broadcast partner Marty Brennaman said, “Everybody had wonderful things to say about him. That was the essence of Joe Nuxhall.”
By Glen Sparks
“Bumpus” Jones peaked early.
The 22-year-old right-hander made his big league debut on Oct. 15, 1892, in Cincinnati. It was the last day of the regular season, the last time the pitcher’s box would be just 50 feet from home plate. Bumpus started for the Reds against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Jones, undoubtedly nervous, walked the first two batters he faced. He got out of the inning, though, and wiggled his way out of another jam in the second. Pittsburgh scored an unearned run in the third on a walk, a stolen base and a Bumpus error. Then, Charles Leander “Bumpus” Jones started to cruise. He still had not given up a hit, and he didn’t give up one in the final six innings. The Reds beat the Pirates 7-1 on Bumpus Jones’ no-hitter in his first game in the majors. Bumpus walked four and struck out three.
The fans cheered for their hero, a product of nearby Xenia, and Reds owner Charles Comiskey scheduled his sensation for a nifty postseason tour. He wound up and fired in front of crowds of 1,000 and 2,000 fans.
Then, the Tale of Bumpus Jones took a tricky turn. The 1893 season began, the mound was moved back to its current 60 feet, six inches, and a local newspaper reported that Bumpus was suffering from those dreaded “kinks” in his arm. Bumpus Jones was never the same.
Bumpus only won more game in the major leagues, and it was quite an improbable win at that. He somehow got the “w” when he walked six and gave up 12 runs. Fortunately, the Reds scored 30 times and held the Louisville Colonels to a dozen (all charged to Bumpus). Cincinnati had taken a 14-0 third-inning lead, and Bumpus was summoned from the bullpen to give starter Elton Chamberlain a rest. Chamberlain still had not pitched the minimum five innings to qualify for a win. Bumpus held the lead, but, really, no lead was safe with this wild-armed, one-game sensation.
In 28.2 innings with the Reds in 1893, Bumpus Jones gave up 37 hits and 23 walks. He struck out just six batters. His ERA zoomed up to a mountainous 10.05. He pitched in six games, started five and, incredibly, finished two.
By the middle of July, Bumpus Jones was an ex-Red. The New York Giants took a chance on the still-young hurler. Could Jones re-gain some magic in the Big Apple? It was not to be. In his first game, versus the Cleveland Naps on July 14 against the great Cy Young, Bumpus walked 10 and gave up six runs. And, that was that. Bumpus Jones never pitched again in the major leagues.
Baseball still beckoned. Bumpus pitched in the minor leagues, often with great success, for the next several seasons. One year, he went 27-13. He pitched for teams such as the Sioux City (Iowa) Cornhuskers, the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Gold Bugs and the St. Paul (Minn.) Apostles.
Bumpus Jones died June 25, 1938, following a stroke. His headstone in Cederville, Ohio, is marked that he was a “no-hit” pitcher. And, so he was. On Oct. 15, 1892, Bumpus Jones had his day.
By Glen Sparks
Edd Roush gave his Hall of Fame speech–finally–at age 69. Getting into Cooperstown wasn’t easy for the outfielder, who played 18 seasons and retired with a .323 batting average.
Roush first made it onto the ballot in 1936. He garnered just 0.9 percent of the vote. Less than one percent. This for a guy who not only hit .323 lifetime, but who also led the National League in batting in 1917 (.341) and 1919 (.321) for the Cincinnati Reds.
The Oakland City, Ind., product played with the Reds for 12 of his 18 seasons. In 1918, he topped the N.L. in slugging percentage (.455), OPS (.823) and OPS+ (151).
Roush retired with 2,376 hits, 1,099 runs scored, 339 doubles, 182 triples and an OPS+ of 126. He finished in the top 10 in batting average nine times and oWAR seven times. He hit at least .339 for six straight seasons, 1920-25. The 5-foot-11-inch, 170-pounder wielded a humongous 48-ounce bat, one of the biggest in history. In addition, some players and managers rated him the top defensive center fielder of the Dead Ball era.
It still wasn’t enough for the baseball writers. Roush’s vote percentage didn’t even hit double digits until 1947 (15.5). He got 14 percent the following season but dipped below 10 percent the following three years. The best showing for Roush on the regular ballot was in 1960, in his final year of eligibility, when he garnered 54.3 percent of the vote, or 20.7 percent less than what he needed. It looked like Roush would be shut out of Cooperstown.
The Veterans Committee, though, selected him for enshrinement two years later. What took so long–31 years after retiring—for Roush to make it to the Hall of Fame? Let’s take a closer look at his career.
One argument against Roush is that he missed a lot of games. He played for the money (imagine that!), and he admitted it. He showed up late for spring training, in part because he wanted to spend more time with his family, and his contract disputes weren’t always settled by opening day. Did some Hall of Fame voters remember this, and recall Roush as a malcontent? The press leaned heavily toward the ownership’s viewpoint in those days.
Some New York voters probably remembered Roush’s uneasy days early in his career with the Giants. Supposedly, Roush despised both the Big Apple and Giants Manager John McGraw, who frequently cussed at and chewed out his players. “That didn’t go with me,” Roush is quoted in a Society for American Baseball Research article written by Jim Sandoval. Things got so bad in upper Manhattan that McGraw shipped Roush to Cincinnati. Did the writers think that Roush couldn’t handle discipline?
Interestingly, McGraw—not quite through with Roush–reacquired the outfielder after the 1926 season. Roush probably wasn’t happy. McGraw probably didn’t care. The skipper told Roush, according to the Sandoval article, “You’re either going to play for me, or you’re not going to play at all.” (One can imagine Roush rolling his eyes and thinking to himself, “Here we go again.”)
Anyway, Roush hit .304 for the Giants in 1927 and .324 in 1929, with an injury-riddled 1928 (46 games played) wrapped in between. As a 37-year-old in 1930, Roush put up the Gone Fishin’ sign. He held out the entire season. (This was just a few months after the Great Crash of ’29, remember. Presumably, a bulk of Roush’s financial portfolio was in cash.)
In 1931, Roush returned to Cincinnati and to the Reds. He batted .271 in 101 games and called it quits. He coached for one season-1938—but he ran the Montgomery County, Ind., cemetery for 35 years and also served as president of a local bank for quite some time. And, the guy who held out from spring training so many times went down to Florida in March most years to talk baseball with Reds players like Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench.
Roush was most similar to players like Pie Traynor, Dixie Walker, Willie McGee, Joe Kelley and Paul Hines, some Hall of Famers, some not. He retired with just 14 Black Ink points (The average amount for a Hall of Famer is 27.) and 127 Grey Ink points (The average HOFer has 144.). Roush is rated the 36th best center-fielder of all-time, according to JAWS (Jaffe War Score System), a formula developed by sabermetrician Jay Jaffe. JAWS relies heavily on WAR performance; Roush’s career WAR was 45.2 with a seven-year peak of 31.5. His JAWS career score was 38.3, ahead of Hall of Famers such as Hack Wilson 37.3 and Hugh Duffy (36.9) but behind plenty of non-Hall of Famers (Jimmy Wynn, Willie Davis, Vada Pinson and Fred Lynn among others).
Roush lived another 25 years after being named to the Hall of Fame. He threw out the first pitch at the last game at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field, June 24, 1970. Joe Morgan called Roush “the best of us all.”
(Dazzy Vance rates this story. Hey, I named the blog after him.)
By Glen Sparks
Dazzy Vance was near the end of his career. He had spent much of the 1920s as one of the best pitchers in baseball. The 6-foot-2-inch right-hander for the Brooklyn Dodgers took home the National League MVP in 1924 and finished fifth in the voting in 1925. Vance led the league in strikeouts from 1922-28, topping out at 262 in ’24.
Now, it was 1934, though. The future Hall of Famer had lost some of the zip on his fastball and break on his curveball. The Dodgers let him go following a 12-11 year in 1932. Picked up by the Cardinals, he went 6-2 for St. Louis in 1933. On this day in 1934, the Cincinnati Reds purchased Vance’s contract from the Cardinals for $7,500.
The 43-year-old hurler pitched just six games for the Reds and made only two starts. He went 0-2 with a glum 7.50 ERA in 18 innings of work. He gave up 28 hits and 11 walks to go with nine strikeouts.
Not surprisingly, the Reds were unimpressed. They sent Vance back to the Cardinals later on in ’34. He actually pitched fairly well with the Redbirds, a 3.66 ERA in 59 innings, mostly in relief, to go with a 1-1 won-loss record. St. Louis won the World Series that season, and Vance pitched 1 1/3 innings in Game 4 against the Detroit Tigers, giving up one unearned run.
Vance pitched one more season in the big leagues before retiring. He spent the 1935 season back in Brooklyn where he had enjoyed most of his success. He compiled a 3-2 record with a 4.41 ERA in 51 innings as a 44-year-old.
In 1955, the writers elected Vance into the Hall of Fame with 81.7 percent of the vote. He had led the N.L. in ERA three times, wins twice and finished197-140 lifetime.
By Glen Sparks
I am starting a new set of quizzes. Each one will focus on a different team. First up is the Cincinnati Reds, a fitting choice. The Reds were the first professional baseball team, traced by some to 1869, just four years after the end of the U.S. Civil War. The answers are in bold at the bottom. Good luck!
- This ironman pitcher won 40 games to help the Reds secure the American Association pennant in 1882.
- This center-fielder led the National League with a .377 batting average in 1905, the first Reds player to win a batting crown.
- From London, Ohio, this Reds outfielder was one of the great base stealers of his time. He stole 81 bases in 1911, still a team record.
- This Reds outfielder led the team in hitting with a .357 batting average during the infamous Black Sox World Series of 1919.
- In 1938, this Reds left-hander enjoyed one of the greatest—and never since repeated—weeks in baseball history
- This Hamilton, Ohio, native made his debut as a Reds pitcher at the tender age of 15 years, 316 days.
- On a hot, humid day in Cincinnati, this Reds slugger tore the sleeves off his uniform before the game and went bare-armed up to bat.
- One of the hardest throwers in baseball, this right-hander won 23 games in 1963 and struck out 265 batters
- This most valuable infielder came to the Reds after the 1971 season in exchange for Lee May, Tommy Helms and Jimmy Stewart (the utility man, not the great actor).
- This former Reds’ hurler was once married to the daughter of Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal.
- Will “Whoop-la” White completed all 54 of his starts and went 40-12 for the ’82 Reds, who finished 55-25. In his career, the right-handed White completed 394 of 401 starts.
- James “Cy” Seymour. A .303 hitter lifetime, Seymour played for five teams in his 16-year career, including five seasons for the Reds. The left-hander also doubled as an occasional pitcher, going 61-56.
- Bob Bescher. Bescher led the N.L. in steals from 1909-1912 and had 428 lifetime thefts. Bescher also played for the New York Giants, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cleveland Indians.
- Alfred “Greasy” Neale. Neale also drove in four runs in the Series and scored three times. The 1919 Series, of course, is most famous because several members of the Chicago White Sox agreed to fix the games. The Reds won the best-of-nine match-up 5-3. “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, one of the accused conspirators, led all hitters with a .375 average. He was 5-12 with men in scoring position and drove in six runs.
- Johnny Vander Meer. The so-called Dutch Master went just 119-121 in his 13-year big-league career. The left-hander certainly was masterful, though, on June 11, 1938, when he no-hit the Boston Bees (late, the Boston Braves and now the Atlanta Braves) at home and four days later when he no-hit the Brooklyn Dodgers, in the first-ever night game at Ebbets Field. He is the only pitcher to ever throw back-to-back no-hitters in the major leagues. And, so, you may be wodering about his next start. Well, Vander Meer hooked up again against the Bees, this time in Boston. He had a no-hitter for 3 1/3 innings until Debs Garms broke it up with a single. Vander Meer, just 23, finished that sophomore season 15-10 with a 3.10 ERA (118 ERA+). He made four All-Star teams as a Red but also suffered many arm problems.
- Joe Nuxhall. Nuxhall gave up five runs in his Cincinnati debut on June 10, 1944, at Crosley Field against the Cardinals. He was sent down to the minors after the game and did not return to the big club until 1952. He eventually pitched 16 seasons in the majors, 15 of them with the Reds. He went 135-117 lifetime and made two All-Star teams. Nuxhall later worked as a Reds broadcaster.
- Ted Kluszewski. One of the strongest men in baseball, Big Klu said the heat and his large biceps inspired the wardrobe change in 1947. He said the tight sleeves on his uniform constricted his swing. Kluszewski made four All-Star teams and hit 279 career home runs with a .298 batting average.
- Jim Maloney. The hurler graduated from Fresno (Calif.) High School just a few years before the great Tom Seaver. Maloney won at least 20 games twice for the Reds and struck out more than 200 hits four straight years (1963-66). He led the N.L. in shutouts in 1966 with five. Maloney went 134-81 in 11 seasons with the Reds (1960-70) and 0-3 in his final year, 1971 with the California Angels.
- Joe Morgan. Besides Morgan, the Reds got outfielder Cesar Geronimo, pitcher Jack Billingham and utility players Denis Menke and Ed Armbrister in one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history. Morgan won the N.L. MVP in 1975 and ’76 and was elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 1990.
- Jose Rijo. Rijo compiled a 116-91 won-loss mark in a 14-year career that was marred by injuries. The right-hander retired after the 1995 season and attempted a two-year comeback in 2001 and ’02. He pitched mostly for the Reds, finishing fourth in the N.L. Cy Young voting in 1991 and fifth in 1993. Unfortunately, his additional claim to fame as Marichal’s son-in-law ended after he and Mrs. Rijo were divorced.
By Glen Sparks
Cincinnati Reds G.M. Bob Howsam made quite a trade on Nov. 29, 1971. He dealt first baseman Lee May, second baseman Tommy Helms, and utility man Jimmy Stewart to the Houston Astros.
He got back second baseman Joe Morgan, pitcher Jack Billingham, infielder Dennis Menke and outfielders Ed Armbrister and Cesar Geronimo. The Cincinnati fans and media went nuts. How could Howsan do such a thing???!!!
The Reds were coming off a disappointing 79-83 campaign in 1971, but they had won a pennant in 1970. This is a panic move!!! We’re giving away our starting first baseman and our starting second baseman!!!
Bob Hertzel of the Cincinnati Inquirer wrote this: “If the United States had traded Dwight Eisenhower to the Germans in World War II, it wouldn’t have been much different than sending Mays and Helms to Houston.” Whew.
Reds Manager Sparky Anderson begged to differ. Sparky said this to Howsan: “You have just won the pennant for the Cincinnati Reds.”
Certainly, the trade put the Big Red Machine into motion. Over the next eight seasons, the Reds finished first five times and second three times. They won three pennants and the World Series in ’75 and ’76.
Howsam deserves a good chunk of credit for the Reds’ run of success. We’ll find out Dec. 8 if the former executive will be going into the Hall of Fame. He is one of 10 nominees on the Golden Era ballot. Howsam, who died in 2008, needs 75 percent of the vote to get to Cooperstown.
Who was Howsam?
Howsam was born Feb. 28, 1918, in Denver, and served as a Navy pilot in World War II. He began his sports career as an executive with the Denver Bears, a minor league baseball team. The Sporting News twice named Howsam its Minor League Executive of the Year.
Hoping to bring Major League Baseball to Denver, Howsam helped start the Continental League in 1959. Founders wanted to create a third Major League. The plan flopped when three of the proposed cities got Major League teams. (New York welcomed the Mets, Houston gained the Astros, and the Senators moved to Minneapolis-St. Paul from Washington, D.C.)
Howsam needed a job. No problem. He, along with his brother, Earl, and dad, Lee, got into pro football. The three founded the Denver Broncos of the American Football League. The Broncos, of course, have become one of the NFL’s marquee franchises. Financial difficulties plagued the early AFL, though.
The Howsams got out fast; Bob returned to baseball. The St. Louis Cardinals hired him as GM in August 1964 when it looked like the Philadelphia Phillies would run away with the pennant.
Philadelphia collapsed, and St. Louis rebounded. The Cardinals beat the Yankees to win the 1964 World Series. In 1965, the Cards struggled and finished in seventh place. The ’66 team finished sixth; Howsam left for the Reds.
Howsam inherited many of the key parts to the Big Red Machine. Players like Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez, were already on the team. Howsam gets credit for strengthening a farm system that turned out standouts like Davey Concepcion, Ken Griffey and Ray Knight. He also gets credit for taking an aggressive stance in calling up young pitchers Don Gullett, Gary Nolan and Wayne Simpson to the majors.
Also, Howsam brought Sparky Anderson to Cincinnati. He fired Dave Bristol as manager and hired Sparky on Oct. 8, 1969. Cincy newspapers cried “Sparky Who,” but Anderson became a legend in the Queen City.
Then, Howsam made his two big trades. He pulled off the Joe Morgan deal, and he traded utility infielder Frank Duffy and journeyman pitcher Vern Geishert for George Foster. Morgan won the National League MVP in the championship seasons of ’75 and ’76. He later went into the Hall of Fame. Foster won the MVP in ’77 when he hit 52 home runs, the only player in the 1970s or ‘80s to reach the half-century mark in dingers. (Foster finished second in the 1976 MVP voting and would finish sixth in 1978.)
Howsam left his job as GM in April 1978, but not before he had acquired Tom Seaver from the Mets during the 1977 season. He did one more stint as GM for a season and a half following a disastrous 1982 campaign (62-100) and a wretched start to 1983. Howsam, long a critic of free agency, continued to emphasize player development.
The biggest move Howsam made in his second stint was the reacquisition of Pete Rose in August 1984 to serve as player-manager. The Reds finished in second place each of the next four seasons. (Of course, that move did come with some notable baggage.) Howsam retired for a final time July 1, 1985.
Summing it up
Howsam’s teams finished 1,369-1,050, a .566 winning percentage, in 15 seasons with St. Louis and Cincinnati. To put this in perspective, GM George Weiss went 1,612-1,356, a .541 winning percentage, in 19 seasons with the Yankees and Mets. His teams won 11 pennants and eight World Series.
GM Pat Gillick went 2,276-1,993, a .533 winning percentage, in 27 seasons with the Blue Jays, Orioles, Mariners and Phillies. His teams won three pennants and took home the World Series each time. Gillick’s teams advanced to the playoffs 11 times.
Weiss was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1971. Gillick was elected in 2011. Will this be the year that Howsam goes in?