At Tuesday’s All-Star Game, the Reds unveiled their Franchise Four—the four greatest Reds players ever. But comparing players across generations is a complex and somewhat frivolous task. It’s often apples to oranges. For instance, Reds outfielder Edd Roush batted .351 in 1923, but no one would call him the greatest Cincinnati hitter of all time. And what would Roush’s average have looked like if he had played in 1968, when the National League batted a combined .243? Or for that matter, how many more home runs would someone like Johnny Bench have hit at Great American Ball Park, where a routine fly ball often lands three rows into the outfield seats?
Admittedly, the inconsistencies from league to league, park to park, and era to era are part of the beauty of baseball. But if we’re going to compare players, we might as well do it right. This list was created to ensure that apples are compared only to apples, and oranges to oranges.
Here are The Reds Franchise Four of each era.
Dead-ball Era: 1901-1919
It’s considered the beginning of modern baseball, but it would hardly resemble the game we know and love today. For starters, entire games were usually played with only one or two baseballs. Today, the average life of a major-league baseball is seven pitches. Furthermore, the spitball wasn’t outlawed until 1921, meaning pitchers could spit on, scuff up, or mangle a ball in any way they pleased, making it much more difficult to hit. Runs were scare, home runs rare. In 1908, the Chicago White Sox won 88 games and finished only 1.5 games back of the pennant. As a team, they hit a combined three home runs.
Heinie Groh (1912-1927)
Career: .292, 180 SB, 1,774 H
Groh was the leader of Cincinnati’s 1919 world championship team, and is widely considered the greatest third baseman of the dead-ball era. He led the National League in on-base percentage, doubles, and hits in 1917 and in on-base percentage, doubles, and runs in 1918.
Miller Huggins (1904-1916)
Career: .265, 1,003 BB, .382 OBP
Huggins is best remembered as the manager of the New York Yankees Murderers’ Row teams of the 1920’s that won three World Series titles, but is in the Hall-of-Fame as a player, too.
Joe Kelley (1891-1906)
Career: .317, 443 SB, .402 OBP
Another Hall-of-Famer, Kelley strung together 11 consecutive seasons with a batting average of .307 or better. He served as player-manager of the Reds from 1902 to1905.
Edd Roush (1913-1929, 1931)
Career: .323, 2,376 H, 981 RBI
In 1919, Roush led the league with a .321 batting average as the Reds captured their first World Series. It was his lowest batting average in 10 full seasons with Cincinnati from 1917-1926. Roush used a 48-ounce Louisville Slugger to hit 30 inside-the-park home runs.
Live-ball Era: 1920-1940
The dead-ball era ended with a bang (or shall I say crack of the bat?) and gave way to the offensive outburst of the 20’s and 30’s. The spitball was banned and balls were replaced at the first sign of wear. Babe Ruth hit 54 home runs in 1920, and 59 more in 1921. Just a couple seasons prior, Philadelphia’s Gavvy Cravath led the National League with eight long balls.
Chick Hafey (1924-1935, 1937)
Career: .317, 833 RBI, 164 HR
Hafey played five seasons for the Reds, and in 1933 was elected to Major League Baseball’s first-ever all-star game. He recorded the first hit in the NL’s 4-2 loss.
George Kelly (1915-1930, 1932)
Career: .297, 148 HR, 1,020 RBI
High Pockets Kelley, as he was known (apparently because he was tall?), batted .293 or better in each of his four seasons with Cincinnati after being dealt to the New York Giants in exchange for Roush.
Ernie Lombardi (1931-1947)
Career: .306, 190 HR, 990 RBI
Lombardi owns the distinction of catching Johnny Vander Meer’s back-to-back no hitters, just four days apart in June of 1938. In the same season, Lombardi batted .342 to capture the batting title as well as the MVP. He hit .319 in 1940 to lead the Reds to their second World Series victory.
Eppa Rixey (1912-1917, 1919-1933)
Career: 266-251, 3.15 ERA, 1,350 SO
Rixey pitched nearly 5,000 career innings and led the NL with 25 wins in 1922. Though baseball had transitioned to a more hitter-friendly era, Rixey allowed just a single home run in 301 innings pitched in 1921. His 179 career wins as a Red still stands as the club record.
War/Integration Era: 1941-1960
The war years left baseball without many of its best players while post-war years brought on the racial integration of the sport.
Paul Derringer (1931-1945)
Career: 223-212, 3.46 ERA, 1,507 SO
Derringer won 20 games on four occasions for the Reds, and his 161 victories in a Cincinnati uniform are the most in franchise history for a right-hander.
Ted Kluszewski (1947-1961)
Career: .298, 279 HR, 1,028 RBI
“Big Klu” led the NL with 49 home runs and 141 RBI in 1954 while striking out only 35 times. I’m pretty sure Adam Dunn struck out 35 times in a game once. Kluszewski batted .300 or better in seven of his 10 seasons in Cincinnati.
Frank McCormick (1943-1948)
Career: .299, 1,711 H, 954 RBI
McCormick played eight full seasons for the Reds from 1938-1945. He led the league in hits three times, and in RBI once. He was named NL MVP in 1940.
Frank Robinson (1956-1976)
Career: .294, 2,943 H, 586 HR
Robinson is the only player to win both the NL and AL MVP, the latter coming after he was foolishly traded to Baltimore in 1966. He won the triple crown in his first season with the Orioles and was a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.
Expansion/ Free Agency Era: 1961-1989
The ’60s ushered in a second dead-ball era of sorts, which culminated in 1968 (the year of the pitcher) when Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski won the AL batting title with a .301 average, and St. Louis pitcher Bob Feller led the NL with a 1.12 ERA. The mound was lowered and the strike zone reduced, and offense returned in the ’70s, where it was met by free agency.
Johnny Bench (1967-1983)
Career: .267, 389 HR, 1,376 RBI
Bench was named Tuesday to the Reds’ Franchise Four, as well as one of Major League Baseball’s four greatest living players. He’s a 14-time all star, 10-time Gold Glover, two-time NL MVP, and is widely considered the greatest catcher of all time.
Joe Morgan (1963-1984)
Career: .271, 2,517 H, 268 HR
Another member of the Reds’ Franchise Four and another member of the Big Red Machine. Morgan was named NL MVP in each of the Reds’ back-to-back championships seasons of 1975 and 1976 and is a 10-time all star and five-time Gold Glover. He led the league in OBP for three consecutive seasons from 1974-1976.
Pete Rose (1963-1986)
Career: .303, 4,256 H, 746 2B
He might be banned from baseball but he’s not banned from this list. 4,256 is the number to note for the 17-time all-star and 1975 World Series MVP.
Tony Perez (1964-1986)
Career: .279, 2,732 H, 379 HR
All he did was drive in runs. Perez tallied 90 or more RBI for 11 consecutive seasons from 1967 to 1977, including a career-high 129 in 1970. He was a seven-time all star and the1967 All-Star game MVP.
Wildcard/Steroid Era: 1990-present
Eric Davis (1984-2001)
Career: .269, 282 HR, 349 SB
One of the most exciting players of his time, Davis possessed a rare combination of power and speed. Along with Rickey Henderson, he’s one of two members of the 20/80 club. He was a three-time Gold Glover and two-timer Silver Slugger.
Ken Griffey Jr. (1989-2010)
Career: .284, 630 HR, 1,836
His best seasons were behind him when he joined the Reds, but that swing itself is enough to get on this list.
Barry Larkin (1986-2004)
Career: .295, 2,340 H, 379 SB
The fourth member to the Reds’ Franchise Four and the 1995 NL MVP. Larkin batted .300 or better in five consecutive seasons from 1989 to 1993, including .342 in 1989. He’s a three-time Gold Glover and nine-time Silver Slugger.
Joey Votto (2007-present)
Career: .308, 178 HR, 595 RBI
This hasn’t exactly been the most star-studded era for the Reds, so an MVP award is enough to make this list. But Votto would be a consideration in any era. The first baseman is an on-base machine, with 668 career walks and a .415 OPB.