The Cincinnati Reds report to Spring Training in 20 days, and hopes are high that the team can put last season behind them and return to the excellent play that has marked most of the last five seasons. No matter how good this 2015 team turns out to be, though, they’ll be hard-pressed to match the excellence brought to the Riverfront nearly 60 years ago by Frank Robinson, Number 20 on our Countdown Team.
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The Reds signed Robinson as an amateur free agent in 1953, and just over three years later he was in the Big Leagues to stay. From 1956 through 1965, Robinson hit 324 home runs with 1009 RBI, 1673 hits and 1043 runs. For good measure, F. Robby threw in 161 stolen bases, and his slash line of .303/.389/.554 was downright Ruthian. As measured by OPS+, Robinson was a full 50% better than the average outfielder during his decade with the Reds.
Despite this production, and despite a 151 OPS+ in 1965, Reds’ general manager Bill DeWitt decided that Robinson was an “old 30” and traded him that off-season to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for Jack Baldschun, Milt Pappas and Dick Simpson.
Robinson responded in emphatic fashion, with his bat, by winning the American League Triple Crown, and he went on to become a legend in Baltimore, as well.
Pappas turned in a couple of decent seasons for the Reds, but the other two were classic throw-ins, and all were gone by the time Cincinnati was ready to win in the 1970s.
Robinson went on to become the first black manager in the Major Leagues, and he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1982.
Maybe, if the Reds are lucky, Joey Votto can find some of that elixir that helped “old” Frank Robinson crank out some of his best seasons in his early 30s.