SI Vault
Robert Creamer
July 16, 1956
After 11 lean years in the second division the Cincinnati Redlegs, loaded with sluggers, are hungrily looking to that rich pennant gravy
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July 16, 1956

The Cincinnati Story: Power Power Power!

After 11 lean years in the second division the Cincinnati Redlegs, loaded with sluggers, are hungrily looking to that rich pennant gravy

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Previously, however, the Cincinnati management had remembered perhaps too fondly their World Championship Reds of 1940—a team of brilliant pitching, excellent fielding and sound but not overwhelming hitting, a team, in other words, in the classic John McGraw-National League tradition. Under Paul the 1940 team was as fondly remembered as ever, but as a symbol of bygone glory rather than as an example to follow. Times change, and the resurgence of the National League was the direct result of its invasion of the American League's power monopoly Gabe Paul went looking in the same direction. He, too, wanted a lineup loaded with home run hitters.

They are not, needless to say, easy to find. But Paul, through patience, sharp trading and good scouting, found them (starting in 1952, the Redlegs have hit over 100 home runs a season for four straight years). And under the intelligent handling of Manager Birdie Tebbetts, whom Paul hired after the 1953 season, they've developed into outstanding major league players.

Wally Post was a Redleg rookie prospect as far back as 1949. He had another trial in 1951 (when he hit .220), another in 1952 (he hit .155) and yet a fourth in 1953 (.242). Post is a broad-shouldered Ohio farm boy with facial contour that resembles an Indian. He strikes out an awful lot, but he hits home runs remarkably far and often. Paul stayed with his power, and in 1954 Post became a Redleg regular, though he batted only .255. Last year he finally burst through. He batted .309, hit 40 home runs and was the talk of the league. Together, he and Kluszewski hit 87 home runs to rank as the best one-two punch in baseball. Their total was just two less than the 89 the 1940 World Champions hit as a team. Post this year started well but then went into a wild-swinging slump that saw his home runs stop and his batting average sag into the .230s. Now, though, he is starting to hit again. In one game last week he and Kluszewski and Gus Bell teamed with sudden violence to beat Vinegar Bend Mizell and the St. Louis Cardinals. The United Press reported: " Mizell clung to a 2-0 lead until the sixth, when Wally Post clouted his 15th homer over the center-field fence. Gus Bell followed with a single, and Ted Kluszewski slammed his homer into the right-center bleachers. The homer...put Cincinnati ahead to stay."

Bell, the third man in this volatile trio, was obtained from the Pittsburgh Pirates in what must stand as the worst trade Branch Rickey ever made. Gabe Paul gave Rickey Catcher Joe Rossi and Outfielders Gail Henley and Cal Abrams for Bell in October 1952. Bell promptly hit .300, .299 and .308 in his first three seasons with the Redlegs, drove in more than 100 runs each year, was named to the National League All-Star team twice and made it again this year. Rossi never played another major league game, Henley appeared in only 14 and Abrams, after batting .286 for the Pirates in 1953, was traded on to Baltimore in 1954.

Paul should have his fellow baseball executives wary by now for, although Frank Lane has the reputation, Paul ends up with the ballplayers. Thirteen of the men currently on the Redleg roster were acquired from other major league clubs, including such key men as Bell, Burgess, Starting Pitchers Brooks Lawrence (who has a brilliant 12-0 record) and John Klippstein, Relief Pitcher Herschell Freeman and Power Hitters Ray Jablonski and George Crowe. Paul acquired Lawrence from Frank Lane for Jackie Collum, a handy but hardly brilliant left-handed relief pitcher. He got Jablonski, a pitcher and $50,000 from the pre-Lane Cards for Relief Pitcher Frank Smith in a trade remarkable for the fact that Paul 16 months later bought Smith back for only $15,000.

But the Redlegs are not solely a trade-built club. A farm system, in operation before Paul moved up to head the club and vastly enhanced since by the sound direction of Bill McKechnie Jr., has produced such outstanding major league players as McMillan, Temple, Bailey, Pitcher Joe Nuxhall and the 20-year-old rookie outfielder, Frank Robinson, all of whom are members of this year's All-Star team. And down on the farm in his first year in organized ball is the 18-year-old outfielder Curtis Flood, who brings a broad, beaming smile to Manager Tebbetts' round red face whenever his name is mentioned.

"Three years," Tebbetts says of Flood's minor league apprenticeship. "Three years at the outside, and then you'll see a real major leaguer."

When McMillan and Temple are in action it's hard to believe that there has ever been a superior partnership at second base. One play in a vitally important game last week caught the essence of their skill. With the Reds leading the Milwaukee Braves 2-1 in the seventh inning, Temple raced far to his right to stop what seemed to be a certain and damaging base hit. Without hesitating at all, he flipped the ball to an alert and waiting McMillan and breathtakingly turned the hit into a stunning double play that completely killed Milwaukee's hope for victory. That ended the Braves. The Reds held their slim 2-1 lead to the end of the game, Pitcher John Klippstein winding it up by striking out three men in the ninth. The last man to face him, with the tying run on first, was the slugging Ed Mathews. Klippstein threw two good low outside fast balls for called strikes and then pumped another fast ball down the middle, a little inside, and Mathews fanned. It was a stirring end to a memorable game.

Jimmy Dykes, the Redleg coach who began his major league career in 1918, said: "I've been in baseball 40 years and you'd think I'd be used to it. But a game like that, that does things to you. That was a beautiful game."

The people are flocking into Crosley Field this year because of games like that and because of extravagant high-scoring games completely unlike it. They come into town from hundreds of miles away ( Gabe Paul said a spot-check survey revealed that 59% of the fans who attend games at Crosley Field live outside Cincinnati). One man seated in the stands behind first base at a game last week said he had come up 100 miles from Russell, Ky. He didn't seem to think anything much about traveling that far to see a ball game.

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