If you visit the Cincinnati Reds’ Great American Ballpark, or their museum/HOF, you will notice that they lay claim to being the “first professional baseball team”, or you might hear them say something like they’ve played baseball continuously in Cincinnati longer than any other team. But, if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that both of these claims are a bit of a stretch. Yes, the first professional baseball team of any sort was established in 1869 as the Cincinnati Red Stockings. And, that team survived two seasons before disbanding after the 1870 season. A new team was founded in 1875, also named the Cincinnati Red Stockings, and were a charter member of the National League’s first season in 1876. However, after the 1880 season, that team was banned from the National League because they refused to close their stadium on Sundays, and their ballpark marketed beer, leading to the bankruptcy of the team. After not fielding a team in 1881 (other than some random assortment of players thrown together by a journalist, who went and played a weekend exhibition against a St. Louis team that wasn’t even recognized as a professional team), a newly reformed Cincinnati Reds franchise began play in 1882 as a part of the new American Association. This team was allowed to join the National League in 1890, and is the same franchise that is still playing in Cincinnati today. So, to lay claim to being the oldest team in baseball, or the longest-standing team in baseball is a bit of revisionist history, at best.
All that being said, there have been some fantastic players come through Cincinnati. They’ve retired 8 player’s numbers, and there are 8 players in the baseball HOF who primarily played in Cincinnati. They also have won 5 World Series titles (’19, ’40, ’75, ’76, & ’90), and have been National League champions 4 other times (’39, ’61, ’70 & ’72). They’ve had 10 different players win the MVP, and 7 Rookie of the Year winners, but they’ve never had a Cy Young winner (though, one of their MVP’s is Bucky Walters, who won the MVP as a pitcher before the Cy Young award existed in 1939). So, here are the top 5 to come through Cincinnati:
#5 – Joe Morgan (’72-’79). Morgan’s total statistics are impressive – 2,517 hits, 689 stolen bases, 268 home runs (held the record for most by a second baseman when he retired). But, what many don’t realize, is that outside of a 6-year run when he was excellent (batting in the middle of a lineup filled with HOFers), he was a mediocre batter at best – a .706 OPS in 13 full seasons. But, it’s those 6 years in Cincinnati that propelled him onto this list. In 8 seasons with the Reds, Morgan was an All-Star every year. He won the Gold Glove 5 times, and (most importantly) won the MVP in back-to-back seasons in ’75 and ’76. On the Reds’ all-time lists, he ranks 2nd in OBP (.415 – passed just this season by Joey Votto), 4th in OPS (.885), 10th in runs scored (816), 5th in walks (881), 2nd in stolen bases (406), 4th in adjusted OPS+ (147), and 9th in runs created (919).
#4 – Barry Larkin (’86-’04). Larkin spent his entire career in Cincinnati. You certainly have to respect him for that, since the Reds only made 2 postseason appearances in his 19-year career. Players today would have been asking to be traded, or signed with another team at their first opportunity. But, Larkin wasn’t that kind of guy. Had he not played during the same era as the greatest defensive SS in history (Ozzie), then he likely would have won more than the 3 Gold Gloves he did. He still was an All-Star 12 times, and won the Silver Slugger at shortstop 9 times. And, he won the ’95 MVP, leading Cincinnati to the postseason. He ranks 3rd all-time on the Reds’ runs scored list (1329), 2nd in hits (2340), 2nd in doubles (441), 9th in HR (198), 6th in RBI (960), 3rd in walks (939), 3rd in stolen bases (379), and 2nd in runs created (1381).
#3 – Pete Rose (’63-’78, ’84-’86). Simple accumulation of statistics doesn’t impress me – which is why Rose is this far down the list (and almost even further down). Yes, Pete Rose leads all Cincinnati Reds in history in runs scored (1741), hits (3358), doubles (601), walks (1210), and runs created (1805); and yes, he’s 4th on their all-time RBI list (1,036). But, all of those can mostly be attributed to the fact that he also leads all Reds players in plate appearances – and, it isn’t even close, as the 2nd place player trails Rose by more than 2,700. He isn’t in Cincinnati’s top 30 in OPS, even though he’s tied for 8th in OBP (.379). So, when you start comparing Rose’s production on an at-bat by at-bat basis, he just doesn’t stack up to some of the other players in Reds history. Yes, Rose was an excellent player, but let’s not make him out to be more than he was: a primarily singles hitter, who drew a lot of walks, and managed to stay healthy longer than anyone else. Rose did, however, win some awards along the way – Rookie of the Year in ’63, MVP in ’73, and he won 2 Gold Gloves and appeared in 17 All-Star games.
#2 – Frank Robinson (’56-’65). Robinson had some really good years left in him after he left Cincinnati (in particular his Triple Crown & MVP year in ’66 in Baltimore), which is why his trade to Baltimore is considered one of the most lopsided deals in history (especially since Robinson was just 30 years old at the time). But, in his 10 years in Cincinnati, Robinson was absolutely dominant. His average season looked like this: .303/.389/.554/.943, 32 HR, 101 RBI, and just 79 K’s. In 10 seasons in Cincinnati, Robinson led the league in OPS 3 times, doubles once, and intentional walks 4 consecutive years. He won Rookie of the Year in ’56, MVP in ’61, a Gold Glove in ’58, and appeared in 6 All-Star games. And, even though he only played 10 seasons in Cincinnati, he still ranks 5th on their all-time OBP list (.389), 1st in SLG (.554), 2nd in OPS (.943), 5th in runs scored (1043), 9th in hits (1673), 7th in doubles (318), 2nd in HR (324), 5th in RBI (1009), 8th in walks (698), 2nd in adjusted OPS+ (150), and 4th in runs created (1208).
#1 – Johnny Bench (’67-’83). 1968 Rookie of the Year; 1970 MVP; 1972 MVP; 10 consecutive Gold Gloves from ’68-’77 (led the league in caught-stealing pct. 3 times – career .991 fld. pct.); 13 consecutive All-Star games from ’68-’80 (14 total); retired with the all-time record for most home runs by a catcher (389); 4 National League pennants, and 2 World Series rings. All in Cincinnati. And, when his name came up for the Hall of Fame, he received the 3rd highest percentage of votes at that time in history (96.42%). Bench is considered by many to be the greatest catcher in the history of the game – and, there’s little room for argument, in my opinion. After 17 seasons in Cincinnati, Bench ranks 4th on their all-time runs scored list (1091), 5th in hits (2048), 4th in doubles (381), 1st in HR (389), 1st in RBI (1376), 4th in walks (891), and 3rd in runs created (1239).
That’s how I rank them. What did I get wrong? Tell me in the comments below.