The Anti-Greats: Day 1

The cyber-ink was not yet dry on the Top 100 Reds series when the call rang out: ‘Who are the worst 100’?

 

I intentionally kept most of the Top 100 series as positive as I could.  Over 1700 players have worn the familiar colors since 1890, and in carving out this relatively small slice of the 100 greatest, the players would by definition occupy the part of our brains labeled "Happy Reds thoughts.  Do not throw out".

 

Defining the worst is a whole lot trickier than doing the same for the best.  Generally speaking, the worst never even see the field.  Some, however, sneak through the cracks, and can be said to contribute fewer wins than some guy watching from the dugout.  Or some other team’s dugout.  Rarely is this the fault of the actual player.  Players have varying levels of natural ability; they age in ways that are sometimes predictable, sometimes not; they work hard at a very difficult game that most of us fail at before needing to shave on a daily basis.  Usually, more fault should be placed at the feet of the decision makers who traded for these players or signed them or continued to play them past the limits of supporting evidence.  The stats, however, are assigned to the guys on the field, and so this list is about them.  A celebration, if you will, of the bad times that help us really appreciate the good ones.

 

To give the exercise a bit more structure, I’ve selected 25 players in such a way that they might mirror the makeup of an actual roster.  In alphabetical order, I present the top 25 anti-greats, to be posted in daily blocks of five:

 

Name: Bill Bergen

Position: C

Played for the Reds: 1901-1903

Why he's here:  Bergen broke through to the majors as a 23 year old, and the intention was to allow aging catcher Heinie Peitz (#96 all-time Red) to transition to 2nd base.  Bergen's bat never allowed that to happen.  In three seasons as a Red, Bergen hit .191/.218/.238 for a stunning OPS+ of 33.  Bergen's top notch reputation as a defensive catcher kept him in the league for 11 years, but only three were with the Reds.  By 1903, despite Bergen's career peak season (518 OPS, 41 OPS+), Bergen had been relegated to a backup role, and Peitz was again the first string backstop.  After the season, Bergen was sold to Brooklyn.  His career batting average of .170 is the all-time low for any player with at least 2,500 at-bats, and he remains the only player in MLB history with at least 500 at-bats and an OBP under .200.  On the flip-side, he's ninth on the career catcher assist list, despite never being a true full-time player.

Role on the team:  Starting catcher

 

Name: Rocky Bridges

Position: 2B, 3B, SS

Played for the Reds: 1953-1957

Why he's here:  By 1952, Reds second baseman Grady Hatton (#61 all-time Red) was slowing way down, and the Reds had little depth from which to replace him.  The team was eight years removed from their last winning season, so they decided to make a splash, participating in a stunning 4-team trade in which the Reds received the 25 year old Bridges from the Dodgers, plus cash from the Braves.  All the Reds had to give up was young right fielder Joe Adcock to the Braves.  Bridges played in 346 games over 4+ seasons with Cincy, played above average defense at a variety of positions, and hit .241/.306/.283 (55 OPS+).  To prove his well-rounded abilities, Bridges also stole 8 bases over that stretch, while only being caught seven times.  Just a handful of games into the '57 season, the Reds placed Bridges on waivers.  The player for whom he was traded (Adcock) went on to play 14 more seasons (for a total of 17), and accumulated 336 career home runs and a lifetime OPS+ of 123.

Role on the team:  Utility infielder

 

Name: Ownie Carroll

Position: SP, RP

Played for the Reds: 1930-1932

Why he's here:  Ownie Carroll's career was generally unspectacular.  His career win-loss mark of 64-90 over nine seasons speaks for itself.  Carroll, however, owns a record which may never be broken: he was traded three times during his career, and each time the team that traded him received a future hall-of-famer in return (Waite Hoyt, Jim Bottomley, and Dazzy Vance).  Tellingly, each of the baseball immortals was past his prime at the time of the Carroll trades.  Carroll came to the Reds in 1930 not through a trade, but via purchase from the Yankees.  It was Carroll's third team of the 1930 campaign-a season in which he lost all seven of his decisions, and had an ERA over seven to match.  The Reds of the ‘30s were bad, but not hasty.  They eased into their usage of Carroll, giving him 14 innings in the remainder of the 1930 season, 107 in 1931, and 210 in 1932.  The team was rewarded for their patience, with Carroll leading the league in losses (19), while finishing 6th in earned runs allowed, 7th in wild pitches, and 1st in hit batsmen.  His cumulative Reds record was 13-29, and his ERA of 4.84 was good for an 80 ERA+. 

Role on the team:  #4 Starting pitcher

 

Name: Charlie Comiskey

Position: 1B

Played for the Reds: 1892-1894

Why he's here:  Comiskey is in the Hall of Fame, but not for his playing.  And Comiskey was a pretty decent player, but not for the Red Stockings.  The first baseman jumped from the St. Louis Browns of the American Association to Cincinnati after the 1891 season and, despite his recent streak of poor hitting, played in 141 out of Cincy's 155 games in 1892.  Comiskey rewarded their faith with a .227/.274/.290 line (71 OPS+), and it was by far his best season with Cincy.  In part-time duty, the next two seasons showed OPS+ marks of 40 and 41, respectively.  He still held up fairly well with the glove, and his legendary speed still showed signs of being present, but he simply couldn't get on base.  He retired to become a manager after the 1894 season.

Role on the team:  Starting 1st baseman, cheapskate owner

 

Name: Adam Comorosky

Position: RF, LF

Played for the Reds: 1934-1935

Why he's here:  At the end of the 1933 season, the Reds were at rock bottom.  The team had finished dead last for the 3rd consecutive season, and prior to that had finished 7th out of 8 teams in two straight seasons.  They hadn't topped 60 wins since 1929.  And while the Reds were pretty bad in all facets of the game, they were really bad at hitting, finishing 7th or 8th in the 1933 NL in every single major offensive category.  Figuring they therefore had a surplus of pitching, the team traded #2 starting pitcher Red Lucas (#26 all-time Red) and marginal outfielder Wally Roettger to Pittsburgh for Comorosky and 2nd baseman Tony Piet.  Piet was bad; Comorosky was worse: .258/.315/.312 (70 OPS+) in 1934, as the team fell further into the depths-registering their franchise-worst W/L percentage (.344, a mark that still stands).  For the 1935 season, the Reds took Comorosky's starting job away, and he justified their stance with a 68 OPS+, and a .953 fielding percentage (in the outfield!).  Comorosky did not play in the majors after 1935.

Role on the team:  Starting right-fielder

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