The Cincinnati Reds were the first professional baseball team. By the 1901 season, which many consider the advent of “modern” baseball, the Reds had been around for nearly four decades. The franchise continues to uphold its long tradition, which includes fielding great players.
In this list, I select the nine players who were the greatest as Reds. Eight of them are members of the Reds Hall of Fame.
9. Vada Pinson, CF
In high school in Oakland, Vada Pinson was mostly interested in playing the clarinet and art. He was a progressive young man. He was also on the baseball team where two of his teammates were Curt Flood and Frank Robinson. All three of the young ballplayers went on to be All-Stars in the National League, and in most ways, Pinson is the least remembered.
Too bad, because Pinson was as smooth on a baseball diamond as Miles Davis was on the trumpet. A fantastic blend of speed and power, as well as instinctive grace in the outfield, Pinson was an All-Star and a Gold Glove winner in his first three seasons.
When Pete Rose arrived on the Reds in 1964 as an overly intense, cocky rookie with a crewcut, it was Pinson and Robinson who befriended him, paving the way for a new era in Cincy baseball.
YEARS WITH REDS: 1958-1968
STATS: .286, 256 HR, 305 SB, 2,757 hits, 1961 Gold Glove
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8. Edd Roush, CF
Back in the 1910s, baseball was much different. The players traveled by train, wore smelly wool uniforms, and fielded a well-worn ball on fields covered with stones the size of ham sandwiches. Those were the days we call “The Deadball Era,” and that’s when Edd Roush was a star center fielder for the Redlegs.
Roush almost always refused to sign his contract each spring, holding out because (1) he was obsessed with money, and (2) he hated Spring Training. It didn’t matter: Roush won two batting titles and hit .323 — the highest figure for any Reds batter who had at least 3,000 plate appearances.
REDS: 1916-1926, 1931
STATS: .323, 379 HR, 268 SB, 2,376 hits
7. Joey Votto, 1B
Probably the weirdest player of his generation, Votto is a hitting savant and a loner who would rather arrive 15 minutes before game time than take batting practice. The weird works: “The Big Read Machine” has the highest on-base percentage in Reds history (.415), and he’s drawn at least 100 walks in a season six times.
STATS: .299, 336 HR, 1,087 RBI, 2061 hits, MVP, Gold Glove
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6. Frank Robinson, RF/1B
One of the most important ballplayers who still frequently gets overlooked. Robinson was a proud, strong black athlete who fought against stereotypes in the game. He was the first black manager in both the American and National Leagues. He paved the way for minorities to hold important jobs in the front office and at Major League Baseball headquarters, where he was an executive several times in a historic professional baseball career that stretched from the 1950s to the 2010s.
Oh, and he was one of the best players to ever grace the diamond. The MLB Hall of Famer won the Triple Crown in 1966. This was after he averaged 32 HR and 101 RBI in his Cincy career. He was a daring baserunner, a fearsome batter who stood almost on top of the plate and dared pitchers to throw inside, and he was a superb fielder. He was about as close to being Henry Aaron as anyone ever was, but he’s not as famous, which is too bad. “Robby’ helped lead his teams to four pennants and a title. He hit 586 home runs when home runs were much harder to come by, and he was the first man to win the MVP in both leagues.
STATS: .294, 586 HR, 1812 RBI, 2943 hits, 204 SB, 2x MVP, Triple Crown
5. Tony Pérez, 1B/3B
The first member of the Big Red Machine on this list, Pérez was the acknowledged leader of that great Reds team which won two titles in the 1970s. His teammates affectionately called him “Big Dog” or just plain “Doggie.” The Cuban spent the first 13 and last three seasons of his Hall of Fame career in the white-and-red of Cincinnati. His home run in Game 7 of the 1975 World Series was a key hit that helped the team to its first title in 35 years.
REDS: 1964-1976, 1984-1986, 1993 (manager)
STATS: .279, 379 HR, 1,652 RBI, 2,732 hits
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4. Barry Larkin, SS
Early in his pro career, Larkin injured his arm in a throwing contest at the All-Star Week festivities. The next season team owner Marge Schott, who rarely had a bad idea she didn’t act on, somehow resisted her urge to trade the shortstop. Larkin batted .342, and following four seasons over .300, a few years later he won the MVP Award when he batted .319 with 15 homers, 51 stolen bases, and a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger. Barry outlasted Marge and spent his entire career with Cincinnati — his hometown team.
STATS: .295, 198 HR, 2,340 hits, 379 SB, MVP, 3x Gold Glove
3. Joe Morgan, 2B
Simply the greatest second baseman in baseball history. When the Reds acquired “Little Joe” from Houston at the 1971 MLB Winter Meetings, it completed the foursome that led the Reds to three pennants in the next five years. Morgan earned the nickname “Little General” because though he was 5-7 and about 160 pounds, he was the unquestioned leader on the field for Cincinnati. He won the MVP in 1975 and again in 1976.
STATS: .271, 268 HR, 2,517 hits, 689 SB, 2x MVP, 5x Gold Glove
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2. Pete Rose, 2B/3B/OF
Remembered now mostly for his permanent ineligibility from MLB due to a gambling scandal, Rose deserves to be remembered for the many things he did on the field.
The man who became known as “Charlie Hustle” never walked anywhere on the diamond, and he was often running over opponents. He won the 1973 NL MVP, and also earned three batting titles. How much space do we have to review his Hall of Fame achievements? There are the 10 200-hit seasons, 10 100-run seasons, a record of 3,562 games played, and 4,256 hits, which set an all-time MLB record that still stands. Most importantly to the proud Pete, he played in more winning games than anyone in history and helped the Reds and Phillies to titles.
Asked once how much he loved to play, Pete said, “I’d walk through hell in a gasoline suit to play baseball.”
REDS: 1963-1979, 1984-1986, 1984-1989 (manager)
STATS: .303, 4,256 hits, 2156 runs, MVP
1. Johnny Bench, C
For 12 interesting and often uncomfortable seasons, Bench shared the locker room with Rose, who was in some ways his polar opposite. Pete was a Cincinnati kid starring for his hometown team. It was said that the grandmas loved Pete and the young women loved Bench. It wasn’t that simple, but it is true that Bench was the most important cog in the Big Red Machine.
No catcher in baseball history compares to Bench, who won his first MVP when he was 22 and his second when he was 24. He hit more homers than any catcher ever had, he had a great swing, and he handled the job of calling and catching a game as well as anyone has.
One general manager said, “Every time Bench throws, the rest of baseball drools.”
STATS: .267, 389 HR, 1,376 RBI, 2,048 hits, 2x MVP, 10x Gold Glove
AP Photo/Jeff Dean