The offseason is dark and full of terrors. The Reds are sitting at home again in October for the sixth consecutive season, and it’s kinda shitty to be honest. Playoff baseball is a drug and these playoffs have been no exception. It would be even better with the Reds in it, though. Unbelievable take from a Reds blog, I know.
To help pass the time until Opening Day 2020 rolls around, we planned on posting some hypotheticals, questions, and discussion topics to the social media pages in order to keep talking about our favorite team. The topic that struck me today was one I had seen before, but wanted to pose the question to Reds fans: Which former Reds player do you wish played his entire career in Cincinnati?
I was surprised to see the amount of different responses that we got to this tweet. Even though the Reds haven’t been good in a while, people are willing to talk about the past any time of year, and the discussion is still going on in the replies. (Someone mentioned Kevin Gregg. What a time that was in Reds Country.) We’ve had a ton of names thrown out there, and I wanted to take a stab at ranking the best ones.
First off, I wanted to add in some of the names that a ton of people suggested but didn’t make the cut. Paul O’Neill, Tom Seaver, Pete Rose, Deion Sanders, Tony Perez, Dave Parker, Aroldis Chapman, Shin Soo Choo, Edwin Encarnacion and Sean Casey were all mentioned, and they definitely would have had an impact in the entirety of their careers. I wanted to try and cut it down to the best five players and scenarios.
Honorable Mention – Ryan Lavarnway
The journeyman catcher was signed by the Reds this summer after they lost all three of their catchers mid-season this year and needed someone to back up Juan “Juanny Bench” Graterol until one of the main catchers could return to action. Enter Ryan Lavarnway. He got his first start in two years on July 19th and absolutely RAKED. He went 3 for 4, hit a pair of dingers and racked up 6 RBI. We don’t need to talk about the rest of the game, but Lavarnway became a Reds cult hero in the blink of an eye. Maybe it’s just because we love catchers here in Cincinnati. Anyway, Ryan Lavarnway earned his way into franchise lore forever with this game.
#5 – Christy Mathewson
While Christy Mathewson only pitched one game for the Reds in his career, the New York Giants legend went on to manage the club for parts of three seasons before giving way to Heinie Groh in 1918. Some fans believe the Reds originally had Mathewson’s rights and traded him to the Giants for star pitcher Amos Rusie, but this article from J. Scott Sewell on Red Reporter shows that there was never a mention of Mathewson being moved from the Reds to the Giants. Either way, having a legend on the mound for the Reds in their early years might have changed the fortunes of the franchise forever. He took the then hapless Giants to four World Series and won one in 1905 where he pitched three complete games and didn’t allow a run! He also won two pitching triple crowns. He probably could have added at least one ring to the Reds’ trophy case.
#4 – Scott Rolen
Kyle brought up an interesting name, and it’s worth a look at some of his statlines from his years before coming to Cincinnati. Willie Greene, Aaron Boone, Ryan Freel, Joe Randa, Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Rosales all played third base during Rolen’s time in Philadelphia and St. Louis, but none of those guys won Rookie of the Year, seven Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger or went to five All-Star games in that span. Scott Rolen didn’t get enough appreciation during his time in Cincinnati and having him here in the 1999-2000 seasons would have been huge for those two teams that were close to the postseason. Maybe the Reds don’t have a terrible end to the Carl H. Linder era with Scott Rolen manning the hot corner.
#3 – Johnny Cueto
After the Reds’ wild card appearance in 2013, the club decided to extend Homer Bailey over Johnny Cueto. It made sense at the time because of Cueto’s previous injury history and Bailey only having one year left on his deal before the contract was signed. The next year, Cueto won 20 games and had a 2.25 ERA, getting an All-Star nod and finishing second in Cy Young voting. Bailey had a decent 2014, but the injuries started soon after and he was never the same pitcher again. Cueto won a World Series with the Royals in 2015 and then got paid by the Giants, but if the Reds had chosen him over Bailey he might have been able to extend their playoff runs. Could you imagine a rotation for next year of Cueto, Castillo, Bauer and Gray? I’m salivating at the thought of it. If he didn’t get hurt in the 2012 postseason … well, that’s a story for another time.
#2 – Ken Griffey Jr.
I originally tweeted out the Junior picture, and I believe that The Kid would have been amazing if he had been in Cincinnati for his entire career. He originally broke in with the Mariners in 1989. Could you imagine how awesome that 1990 team would have been if you added a 20-year-old Junior to it? That team might have won multiple rings in that decade. Everyone knows how injuries derailed Griffey’s career in Cincinnati, but Griffey and the 90s Reds would have competed with the Braves every year for the NL pennant. We were able to enjoy his 500th and 600th home runs with Junior in a Red uniform, but you can’t help to think about all of those possibilities I mentioned. It’s also a damn shame that Junior didn’t win a ring in his career. He would have won at least two if his entire career was in Cincinnati.
#1 – Frank Robinson
Milt Pappas wasn’t really that bad in Cincinnati. In parts of three seasons with the Reds he posted a 4.04 ERA and earned 5.7 WAR. Those numbers aren’t anything to be extremely mad about, but no Reds fan who was alive during that day will ever forgive Pappas for being the main return in the trade that sent fan favorite Frank Robinson to Baltimore. Reds brass thought Robinson wouldn’t be able to produce any more after his age-29 season and dealt him to the Orioles for the player equivalent of a bag of balls. In 6 seasons in Baltimore, Robinson had a .944 OPS and won the AL MVP the YEAR AFTER he was traded away. He also stuffed it down the Reds’ throat when his O’s beat Cincinnati in the 1970 World Series. I can’t really say how “The Judge” would have fit into the early Big Red Machine, but just imagine if he had been able to stay for that run. Do the Reds win another World Series? Maybe two more? We’ll never know.
Did I miss anyone? Comment on the blog or send us a tweet @ATBBTTR if I messed this list up.