This Day in Reds History: Original Red Stocking Cal McVey & what it meant to be major league in the National League's infancy

Cal McVey in 1874 - wikimedia.org

On this day in Reds history, Cal McVey, a member of the original 1869 Red Stockings, passed away.

On this day in 1895, former Red Pete Schneider was born in Los Angeles.

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On this day in 1900, the Reds defeat Cy Young and the Cardinals by a score of 15-7. Cincinnati's barrage of runs knocked Young out of the game early. Young had exited his last start early as well. It was the first time in his then 11-year career that Young had left early in two consecutive games.

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On this day in 1913, Hall of Famer and former Red Edd Roush made his major league debut with the White Sox at the age of 20.

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On this day in 1926, Cal McVey died in San Francisco at the age of 76. McVey played right field for the original Red Stockings in 1869 and was one of the players to follow Harry Wright to Boston in 1871 to form the team now known as the Braves. McVey returned to the Queen City in 1878 and '79, playing for the second incarnation of the Reds. After the 1879 season, McVey left the major leagues and began playing ball in California with the San Francisco Bay City club.

If McVey had continued to play in the major leagues, then I think there's a pretty good chance that he would be in Cooperstown today. He was still an excellent and fairly young player (29) when he left the majors. In his nine seasons in the National Association* and National League, McVey twice led the league in hits, RBI, and total bases while he once led the league in runs, doubles, and slugging average. He was a standout player.

At the same time, there was no way that McVey or anyone else could have foreseen the NL becoming the institution that it is today. In 1879, the NL was only four seasons old, and professional baseball was hardly a healthy organism. Additionally, the idea of a major league was not quite what it is today. By that, I mean that the NL at that time did not sit atop a well-defined structure of farm leagues, each in a distinct level. Rather, it might be best to think of the NL at that time as we think of the SEC or the Big Ten in college sports. People considered the NL to be the best league, because it had the best teams.

According to Jim Baker in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, newspapers at the time published polls that ranked the nation's best teams, ignoring league differences, much the same way that we now have the Associated Press poll for the top college football and basketball teams (p. 17). The list might be dominated by Big Ten or SEC schools, but you still see a MWC school every now and again as well. In fact, Bill James himself mentions in the aforementioned book that "sportswriters often insisted, until the mid-eighties, that the National League teams were no better than other teams" (p. 10). I imagine those discussions mirrored our own discussions on college conference strength --"No, it's ridiculous to say that the Big Ten is superior to the Big 12 as a football conference" and so on and so forth.

*The National Association was a precursor to the National League.

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On this day in 1942, former Red Fred Norman was born in San Antonio.

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On this day in 1952, former Red Harvey Haddix made his major league debut with the Cardinals. He played only one season in the Queen City and is best known to fans of all teams for his remarkable pitching performance on May 26, 1959 when he was a member of the Pirates. Pittsburgh played the Braves at old County Stadium in Milwaukee that night. The Braves' lineup featured two Hall of Famers, Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews. Milwaukee had won the pennant the previous season and would finish in second place in 1959, just two games behind the Dodgers.

Haddix was perfect through nine innings, but Milwaukee's Lew Burdette was pitching a shutout of his own. In the 10th, Haddix retired pinch-hitter Del Rice, Mathews, and Aaaron in order to keep his perfecto alive. The Pirates offense continued to struggle, but Haddix retired the Braves without trouble in the 11th and 12th to preserve his historic game. In the bottom of the 13th, Milwaukee's Felix Mantilla reached base on an error by Pittsburgh third baseman Don Hoak. The perfect game was over after 12 innings, but the no-no was still alive. Eddie Mathews sacrificed (!!) Mantilla over to second base, which led the Pirates to intentionally walk Hank Aaron. The next batter, Joe Adcock, doubled to right centerfield to score Mantilla and end the game.

For years, MLB listed the game as a perfecto as Haddix had completed nine perfect innings, but baseball changed the rules for a no-hitter in 1991 so that a pitcher had to record all outs, irrespective of the game's length (Wikipedia). Just a few years ago, Sports Illustrated ran a story on the game, declaring it to be "The Greatest Game Ever Pitched." I think you'd have a hard time finding many people who disagree with that claim. Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski played second base for the Pirates in the game, later saying, "Usually you have one or two great or spectacular defensive plays in these no-hitters, not that night. It was the easiest game I ever played in." The Braves' Bob Buhl later admitted that Milwaukee stole signs that night. The Braves' bullpen would relay the upcoming pitch -- fastball or slider -- to the batter via the placement of a towel. Hank Aaron was the only Brave who didn't use the signs coming from the Milwaukee bullpen (Chen).

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On this day in 1962, Frank Robinson hit a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the 10th inning to lead the Reds over the Dodgers, 7-3.

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On this day in 1963, former Red Kal Daniels was born in Vienna, GA.

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On this day in 2002, the Reds signed rightfielder Jose Guillen. He would have a big first-half for the Reds in 2003 before Cincinnati traded him to Oakland at the trade deadline.

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On this day in 2004, former Red Jeff Keppinger made his major league debut with the New York Mets at the age of 24.

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On this day in 2006, Norris Hopper made his major league debut with the Reds at the age of 27. He pinch-hit for reliever Scott Schoeneweis in the bottom of the eighth in a game against the Pirates. Hopper singled to left field in the at-bat for his first major league hit. The Reds defeated the Pirates that day, 5-1. Adam Dunn and Scott Hatteberg both homered for Cincinnati, and Aaron Harang struck out nine Pirates in seven innings en route to his 13th win of the season.

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