Despite the existence of negative numbers, I would posit that the lack of baseball at all dwarfs the presence of bad baseball. The void is bigger than the disappointment, really. That said, since 2020 and the 2020 MLB season have so far been one of the worst combinations of year/season I can remember, it’s had me thinking about some of the other awful seasons in baseball history - at least ones that were bad for their own reasons.
Since Cincinnati has hosted baseball professionally longer than any city on the globe, that gives us ample sourcing to come up with the worst seasons and careers in Cincinnati Reds history, and that’s what we’re going to explore today. It’s an odd cadre of otherwise talented individuals, some who cut it elsewhere and not here, and some that simply saw their talents evaporate once they touched a Reds uniform.
Being a National League club means the Reds have obviously had scores of pitchers step into the batter’s box over time, but I’ve culled them from this list for that very reason - they’re pitchers. I’ve also put at least a semi-reasonable cap on PA, too, to exclude some of the folks who only got a quick cup of coffee and nary a real chance to show their true abilities with the Reds, as that would seem to be an unfair inclusion.
Reds, all of them, but unfortunate Reds at that.
First up, the 50 PA minimum club, one that includes a pair of former Reds who actually had rather lengthy big league careers but simply sputtered when given the chance in Cincinnati.
Bob Clark (1891)
Clark was the primary catcher for the 1889 Brooklyn Bridegrooms, a club that won handily the American Association with a 93-44 record before ultimately falling to the New York Giants 6 games to 3 in that edition of the ‘World Series.’ He was the secondary catcher for the Bridegrooms the following year when they again won the AA, that year ending with an odd tie opposite the Louisville Colonels in the ‘World Series’ after 7 games played.
In other words, Clark cut his chops as a big leaguer before the turn of the century, eventually playing 7 years as a pro. Unfortunately, his time with the Cincinnati Reds was positively awful.
He logged just 61 PA in his 1891 campaign with the Reds as backup to Jerry Harrington, and in that time he managed just 6 hits - all of them singles. 6 walks were the only thing that somewhat buoyed him, but his overall .111/.213/.111 line back left him with an ugly -4 OPS+, which is the worst in Reds history for a non-pitcher with more than 50 career PA in the uniform.
(Well, it’s tied for the worst...)
Eddie Miksis (1958)
Matching Clark’s -4 OPS+ is Miksis, who is also someone who led an otherwise cromulent big league career. Heck, that’s him in the picture above congratulating Hall of Fame teammate Pee Wee Reese after a Reese dinger, after all.
After spending a pair of years fighting for our country in WWII, Miksis returned to the game, also plying his trade with the same club as did Clark - Brooklyn, who at that point was calling themselves the Dodgers. He later spent time with the Cubs, Cardinals, and Orioles as part of a lengthy 14 year career, and while he was almost exclusively a utility player - only twice did he log more than 500 PA in any single season - anyone who carves out a big league career that long deserves a tip of the cap regardless.
His final season, though, came in Cincinnati, and was positively awful.
He got time at every position on the field other than pitcher and catcher, and it was likely that versatility was what kept him on the roster after he was signed in May of 1958, as the bat simply never showed up. He hit a woeful .140/.218/.140 in 59 PA, all good for a punchless -4 OPS+, too. He did manage to score 15 runs on the year, however, meaning he must’ve been something of a go-to pinch runner at that point of his career, but the 1958 season was the final one of his career.
Next up, the 100 PA minimum leader, one who you fans of the Reds recent rebuild will surely remember.
Arismendy Alcantara (2017)
A highly-touted former Top 100 overall prospect, Alcantara earned a roster spot on the rebuilding Reds under Bryan Price, largely due to his ability to handily glove things at most every defensive position if called upon. The bat, at times, had also shown some potential, and at just 25 yeard old on a club that was searching for short and long term answers all over the diamond, taking a flyer on him was certainly a reasonable decision at the time.
Unfortunately, it just never paid off for the Reds, and to date the 108 PA Alcantara got with the club in 2017 remain the last big league PA the former top prospect has received.
He hit a paltry .171/.187/.248 in 108 PA, with a staggering 38/2 K/BB ratio in the process. He socked a dinger, fortunately, the only dinger of his career outside the 10 he socked as a then-promising 22 year old with the Cubs in 2014. All told, it added up to an OPS+ of 12, the single worst of any non-pitcher Red who has logged at least 100 PA in their career with the club.
Finally, the 200 PA threshold.
Rollie Hemsley (1933; 1942)
Hemsley’s story is easily the most complicated one, due largely to both the overall success he had in his career and due to his Reds career being split into a pair of partial seasons nearly a decade apart.
By all accounts, Hemsley was a terrific defensive catcher, that reputation leading to him being a 5-time All Star selection over the course of his career. He played for 7 clubs and served in WWII before hanging up his cleats at age 40, played in a World Series with the Cubs in 1932, and even finished 9th in the AL MVP voting in 1935 ahead of such luminaries as Jimmie Foxx, Luke Appling, and Lefty Grove.
What Hemsley rarely did, though, was hit at all, and for some reason while with the Reds that trait shriveled up even more. The career .262/.311/.360 (74 OPS+) hitter simply fell apart in the uniform both in his 1933 stint as a 26 year old a few months removed from said World Series experience and later as a 35 year old just a year removed from an All Star campaign in Cleveland.
All told, Hemsley hit just .152/.187/.208 in 241 PA as a Red, never once cracking a dinger in their name. His 15 OPS+ is the worst in franchise history among players with at least 200 PA in the jersey, and a quick dive into his splits paints quite the interesting picture as to why.
For whatever reason, the Syracuse, Ohio native simply could not play with, or against, the club closest to where he was born.
Not only was the .483 OPS he owned in Crosley Field the single worst in his career in any park in which he played, but the .533 OPS he owned against the Cincinnati Reds in his 19 years as a pro was the single worst against any opponent he faced. 5 times an All Star with a Top 10 MVP finish to his name, and he could neither play with, nor against, the Cincinnati Reds - the original Bill Hall All Star he was not.