May 19, 2013
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Friday, September 07, 2012
20,000 days ago, the Cardinals made a great trade. Or, if you’d rather, 20,000 days ago the Reds made a terrible trade. It was a trade that helped make a 1960s dynasty.
On Dec. 5, 1957, the Reds traded a 19-year-old prospect named Curt Flood to the Cardinals for three players: Marty Kutyna, Willard Schmidt, and Ted Wieand. If you’re unfamiliar with that trio, you’re not missing that much.
Kutyna was a minor league pitcher who never did make it to the majors with the Reds, though he later did briefly for the A’s and Senators. That puts him ahead of Wieand, who threw 6.1 innings in his entire major league career (though all with Cincinnati). Schmidt was the only real big leaguer in the trade, but his career was winding down by the time of the trade. He pitched in relief for two years for the Reds and was pretty good in one of them, thus becoming the prize catch for Cincinnati in the trade.
Flood, on the other hand, became a three time All-Star who received modest support in MVP voting a half-dozen times and was the greatest defensive outfielder of his generation. And the Cardinals would get virtually his entire career, during which he helped them win three pennants and two world titles in the 1960s.
So yeah, it was a bad trade. Cincinnati clearly felt Flood was expendable, though he was actually a part of a tremendous pipeline of talent for the Reds. They had a scout in Oakland who plucked all the finest African-American talent there. If things had worked out differently, the Reds could have had a decade of a great outfield made up entirely of black players from Oakland.
The first leg was already in place—the first and greatest of their Oakland finds, Frank Robinson. He belted 38 home runs in his 1956 rookie season and never looked back. Three years later, the Reds would debut Vada Pinson in the outfield, and he went on to a lengthy career that saw him top 2,700 hits. So the Reds could’ve had the Oakland trio of Pinson, Robinson, and Flood.
Except that it was Pinson who made the Reds feel that Flood was expendable. Pinson and Flood were both center fielders, so why did the team need both? Sure, they could just move one over to a corner position, but the team didn’t feel they had two new outfield slots to play with.
Cincinnati already had Gus Bell, who hit 25-30 homers a year with an average around .300 most years from 1953-56. He’d had a down year in 1957, but he was still fairly young, turning just 29 a few weeks before the Flood trade. He should bounce back, right?
Wrong. Bell got old a little early it turned out. From age 28 onward, he never was that great, though the Reds could afford to keep him on the team for a few years because Pinson and Robinson gave them such nice production from the other slots.
It’s an interesting what-if, though. It’s especially interesting when looking at 1964. That year, the Cardinals won the NL pennant by just a game over two rival teams. Flood was a big part of that, as he led the league with 211 hits while playing center field. One of the teams finishing a game behind the Cardinals was, of course, the Reds. Their non-Oakland outfielder was Tommy Harper, who hit .243 with no power. (To be fair, Flood had no power, either.) The difference in their bats was at least a game, and Flood’s defensive was worth even more than that.
Yeah, it’s an interesting what-if, but if you’re a Reds fan it isn’t necessarily a fun one.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary.” Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d prefer to just skim over things.
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Orioles 10, Yankees 6: Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. Six homers for the O's, two from Mark Reynolds. It's the third time Reynolds has hit multiple homers against the Yankees in a week. Yankees pitchers are going to be telling spook stories about this guy to their kids at night.
Nationals 9, Cubs 2: Ho-hum, another Adam LaRoche homer and another lopsided win by the Nats over the Cubs. And some chippy business too. Coaches Jamie Quirk and Bo Porter jawed at each other. Then Lendy Castillo threw a ball at Bryce Harper's legs and it was an eject-a-palooza.
Braves 1, Rockies 0: That's a clown way to lose a game, bro.
Marlins 6, Brewers 2: Josh Johnson struck out seven in seven innings, allowing two runs. It's cute that the Brewers are talking about being in the wild card race, by the way.
Rangers 5, Royals 4: Michael Young must've known I was talking smack about him this week. The game-winning RBI single in the 10th. If he keeps that up his OBP may break .300 soon and then I'll really be eating crow.