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Throwback Madness: Round 3 / Game 1

1969 vs. 1961

Cincinnati Reds Photo by: Diamond Images/Getty Images

Team: 1969

Seed: 9

Record: 89-79, finished 3rd out of 6 team National League West division

Did this team matter?: Yeah, I think so, but in ways that had little to do with the team itself. First, 1969 was the last full season in Crosley Field, and was the 100th anniversary of the first pro team, and was the last season before the magical run of the 1970s. And it was the first season of divisional play, complete with expanded playoff opportunities, which a promising roster combined with deft roster construction by Bob Howsam (who would trade his starting left fielder, first baseman, and second baseman in the coming seasons to spectacular result), would soon take ample advantage of. I like to think of 1969 as the grainy prelude to the technicolor Big Red Machine.

Performances to remember: Tony Perez is always an interesting exercise in ambiguity for me. He was a very good player at his peak, he played for nearly forever (he ranks 28th in career games played), and the advanced metrics suggest that he is a below average Hall of Famer.

I do wonder, however, if Perez’s 1969 season played a hand in his career numbers being artificially low.

With the bat, Perez was excellent in ’69: 37 HR, 122 RBI .294 avg, pitcher’s era, 140 OPS+. He was the team’s full-time third baseman and had the embarrassing distinction of leading all NL 3rd basemen in errors committed. Errors are never good, of course, but Perez also led the same group in assists and double plays turned. Modern stats show Perez as an average third baseman, defensively. The following season, Perez committed even more errors (but was still roughly average). A couple years later, Lee May was gone and Perez moved across the diamond to be the team’s starting first baseman.

Obviously, team goals and needs are paramount, but I can’t help but wonder if the front office believed that the needed to move Perez off the hot corner due to his error total. Bottom line, he went from being an average-ish third baseman to an average-ish first baseman and lost about a win of replacement value in the modern WAR calculations. My question is whether he lost enough value through a premature move to 1st base to keep Perez from, say a career bWAR total of 60 (as opposed to his actual total of 54).

Wikipedia says: “(The season) consisted of the Reds finishing in third place in the newly established National League West, four games behind the NL West champion Atlanta Braves. The Reds were managed by Dave Bristol, and played their home games at Crosley Field, which was in its final full season of operation, before moving into their new facility in the middle of the following season.”

Uniform notes: The 1969 uniforms essentially matched the 1968 version, only with a centennial patch added. And this style would last through the 1971 season. After which would come a 20-year run of pullover-style jerseys. Akin to the comment earlier, this was the last link to the old world before Astroturf, polyester, and multi-purpose stadia.

My fashion-conscious, non-baseball-fan tween of a daughter says: “It’s plain and keeps repeating the same stuff.”

Team: 1961

Seed: 5

Record: 93-61, finished 1st out of 8 team National League. Lost World Series to Yankees in 5 games.

Did this team matter?: No? The ’61 Reds won about 10 more games than their runs scored vs. runs allowed ratio would have anticipated. And then were steamrolled by a historically great Yankees team, as though they were little more than a casual footnote. Or…yes? The franchise, by and large, had mostly been irrelevant since the early 1940s and taking advantage of good fortune can be a propellant towards a better future. This season not only represented a 26-win improvement over 1960, it also marked the kick-off of a stretch in which the Reds would be a winning team (pretty much every season) until the early 1980s. Also, in the midst of the Cold War, allowing the Yankees to prevail over the Reds was a nice prophetic touch.

Performances to remember: Jim O’Toole was the Reds’ best pitcher in 1961. 19-9 record, 3.10 ERA (130 ERA+), 252.2 innings. O’Toole was just 24 years old that season, and he hadn’t demonstrated a bankable track record to that point. That’s normal course of business for a 24 year old; my point is that the Reds probably didn’t enter the season believing that O’Toole was their #1 starter.

And what of it? You don’t jump from being 20 games below .500 to a pennant winner without collecting some good breaks along the way, and one of those breaks was that O’Toole was good, quickly.

Here’s the badass part. The Reds never really ran away with the pennant, meaning that they were in a bit of a standings dogfight for most of the summer. How do you use your surprise #1 during a surprise contending year? Four separate times (once each in June/July/August/September), the Reds inserted O’Toole as a reliever in between his scheduled starts. All four times, the Reds won the game, with O’Toole collecting a pair of saves along the way. Three of the four times, O’Toole pitched a gem in his very next start.

I like to remind myself that for all we’ve learned about the world (baseball or otherwise), we’re not necessarily smarter than we were in the grainy past. I don’t know how likely it would be that a modern team in a similar situation to the ’61 Reds would use their best pitcher like Fred Hutchison used O’Toole, but I’m also not sure that it wasn’t a brilliant move.

Wikipedia says: “The Reds were…the last team to win the National League in the 154-game schedule era, before going to a 162-game schedule a year later.”

Uniform notes: 1961’s uniforms married two pre-existing constructs, namely the pinstriped uniforms of the late 1950’s with the blue-backed wishbone C logo of the 1940’s and early 1950’s.

My fashion-conscious, non-baseball-fan tween of a daughter says: “This is the same thing as the other striped one but it has ugly sleeves and the number on the front again.”


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