Look, first of all, when the Reds carve out their Rushmore, they’ll need to be sure they also write the Queen City’s name on the thing. Is it nn-n-t? Nn-n-tt? N-nn-t? N-nn-tt? N-n-t? N-n-tt? Who can keep it straight? At least with Mississippi, there’s a rule for the consonants in the follow-on syllables: always use two and stick an i between them.
But I digress. Our topic today is The Reds’ turn in our ongoing Friday Mount Rushmore series. Seems pretty easy to guess what faces contemporary fans would blast into rocky edifice. Billy Hatcher, Billy Hatcher, Billy Hatcher, and Billy Hatcher. When you bat .750 in the World Series you win its MVP and never have to buy a drink in Ohio again AMIRIGHT? Well, no, maybe we could make room for Jose Rijo who was the actual winner of the 1990 World Series MVP with a sparkling 0.59 ERA in his two starts. So Hatcher, Hatcher, Rijo, Hatcher.
I suspect that today’s fan has forgotten both of those fellows and is likely to want the faces of Barry Larkin and Johnny Bench up there too. I’d bet there’s even a fair amount of Pete Rose partisans too. (God knows why. I mean, have you seen him on Fox baseball telecasts? A-Rod’s a smart guy, but Rose makes him look like a Rhodes scholar…and I don’t mean Arthur Lee Rhodes either.) And I’d bet we’d round it out with a little Joseph Leonard Morgan action. Now that I think about it, all four of those Redlegs were baseball TV personalities. Larkin on MLB network, Rose as mentioned (with perhaps the weirdest live blooper ever), Little Joe infamous for his many fireable offenses as an ESPN commentator, and Johnny Bench for The Baseball Bunch. What, you’d forgotten about the Bunch? (My favorite episode appears to encourage stationing brick walls in the middle of the infield, which the Yankees actually implemented from 1995 to 2014.)
Of course, the Reds Mountain Flushmore is pretty gruesome. There’s Rose, of course, as well as bigoted slur-tossing, Hitler apologizing, and penny-pinching owner Marge Schott. Former GM Bill DeWitt isn’t as bad as those two, but assessing Frank Robinson as “not a young 30” and dealing him was, in a word, stupid. Like titanically stupid. And Eddie Cicotte. You know, because of the plot to throw the World Series, which tarnished the Reds’ championship.
But enough of this. We have rules here, unlike the spelling rules in Cincy, and the rules for a given team’s Mount Rushmore are thus: They spent their whole career with the team, and they finished among the top four in BBREF’s WAR for their career among such players.
Queen City Fire-Engine Tinted Hosiery Mount Rushmore
Of course, we can’t include the likes of Rose (who has the most WAR in a Reds’ uniform of any MLB player ever with 77.8), Morgan, Frank Robinson (obviously), nor Billy Hatcher under our ruleset. But a couple fellows we’ve already mentioned make the grade.
Johnny Bench (74.9 WAR): That’s a pretty good catcher. If you asked me, and you didn’t, Bench was probably the single most important member of the Big Red Machine. How many teams have their catcher batting cleanup? The team started with a massive advantage over everyone else in the NL. The guy played more often than the typical catcher, hit like a first baseman, played outstanding defense, and was above average in handling pitchers. Now about that last one. Game-calling and pitcher handling have been studied by Max Marchi, and I rely on his findings. But I suspect that Bench, in tandem with Sparky Anderson, helped manage the Reds’ staff. The squad didn’t truly have a stud pitcher until it swapped for Tom Seaver in 1977. Anderson seemed to juggle a patchwork and injury-prone rotation with the fastest hook in the league, and you don’t do that by arguing with your catcher about whether a guy has anything left in the tank. But that’s just my guess. The Reds went to the big dance with Joe Morgan, and they went without him. Ditto George Foster. They didn’t go to the World Series with Tony Perez until Bench arrived. Same for Rose. You get my drift.
Barry Larkin (70.2): On the field, the only thing Larkin couldn’t do with consistent greatness was hit for power. The one year he hit 30 homers, he won an MVP. However, the one weakness in his game was a propensity for injury. I blame it on the hard turf at Riverfront Stadium, but whatever the reason, he missed more time than Johnny Bench usually did. That’s the only thing that kept him from being Derek Jeter with a good glove.
Bid McPhee (52.4): McPhee is probably remembered best today as the last important infielder to eschew a glove. He didn’t really need it anyway because he was an outstanding gloveman. Er, handman. Uh, let’s just say he had great hands. But he was on the first team in franchise history (1882 in the then-major American Association), and he stuck around for 18 years. He probably could have hung on longer if he’d wished to. He was still an average player at age 39. Probably his hands hurt. By the way, McPhee is among the least likely players to lead the league in home runs. His eight paced the AA in 1886, and represent 15% of his career 53 roundtrippers.
Now some of you are breathlessly anticipating our final selection. You’re thinking, hmm, it’s not Bruce Beryeni, nor is it Pokey Reese…. You’re probably thinking: DAVE CONCEPION! But no. At least not for now. It all depends on the future of:
Joey Votto (51.4): For all the absolutely lame talk in the area papers about how Votto doesn’t drive in enough runs (what is this, 1960-friggin’eight or something?), Votto has for years now been the axle around which the Reds’ offense turns. When he hits, their offense works, when he doesn’t, it doesn’t. The reason why is this simple: .424. That’s Votto’s career on-base percentage through July 24th when I’m actually writing this article. If you go to a Reds’ game, there’s roughly a 42% chance that Joey Votto will reach base in a given plate appearance. Think about what the means to an offense. The average hitter in Votto’s leagues has a .332 on-base percentage. If an average player bats 600 times during the season, he’ll be on base 199 times. Votto would reach 254 times. Votto bats third for the Reds, almost always does. So Votto, batting third, gets on 55 more times in front of your cleanup hitter than the average batter would. Fifty-five freaking times. Once every three games, your badass cleanup hitter will get one more shot to hit a bomb with at least one runner aboard. Stick that in your RBI pipe and smoke it.
So, now Dave Concepcion and his 39.9 career WAR. After him it’s a long way down to Long John Reilly (a teammate of McPhee’s) and his 24.4 WAR.
For my own little Mount Redsmore, I’d go in a couple other directions. First off, I have a little man crush on Heinie Groh. Yeah, that came out wrong, didn’t it. First off, I’m a retrospective fan of Heinie Groh’s. He’d make my Reds rock wall of fame. I’ve also always dug Jose Rijo. Man, like just one or two more seasons, and he’d be a HoMEr. Same goes for another odd-ball choice of mine, long-time Red Mario Soto. Last, of course, I’d reserve for Schottzie II. Schottzie I was overrated.