After winning 102 games and the NL Pennant in 1970 the Big Red Machine looked more like a little red riding hood. The '71 Reds were lost in the forest. Maybe it was pennant hangover ? Maybe it was complacency ? Or maybe it was the fact that the machine just wasn't firing on all 8 cylinders. Whatever the case, the Reds won 22 games less than the year before and finished 11 games out of the money. After losing their first 4 out of the gate the team won the next 3 and looked to have righted their ship, but a stretch of 7 losses in 8 game sunk their record to 4-11 and it just never got any better. So what went wrong ? Where do we affix the blame ? Lets start out with the fact that starting centerfielder Bobby Tolan and his .316 average was lost for the season thanks to a ruptured Achilles tendon injury that he sustained in an offseason pickup game. From there it got worse. Super rookie Bernie Carbo (.310 with a 1.004 OPS) saw his average drop .100 points and his OPS drop over 300 points. If that's bad enough reigning NL MVP Johnny Bench had an off year where he hit .238. If you need more evidence that the blame rests squarely on the bats add in Dave Concepcion going from .260 to .205. The pitching was actually a tad better than the previous season with the exception of 20 game winner Jim Merritt going from 20-12, 4.08 to 1-11, 4.37. To hammer home the fact that the bats let this team down lets look at ace Gary Nolan. In 1970 he was 18-7, 3.27. In 1971 he was 12-15, 3.16. There's your answer right there. Nolan was statistically better, yet won 6 less games and lost 8 more. On the surface Merritt looked like a complete disaster, but if you look closer his ERA was 4.08 when he won 20 went up to 4.37 when he won just one. Basically the Big Red Machine slugged him to 20 wins, which is why modern pundits feel that wins are not a accurate measurement of a pitcher's value. Now after reading this I wouldn't go crying a river for the fans at Riverfront. 1971 would be the only time the Reds would fall out of contention during the decade. In fact the best was yet to come (4 Div Titles, 3 Pennants, 2 Championships).
In total it took 12 cards to create this set. I love looking at the Reds card photos throughout the decade of Big Fros, Muttonchops and wild hair, because Cincy had strict rules on facial hair and hair length. By the Mid 70's they really looked out of place when compared to the rest of the league.
By mid May the Reds were starting to realize they needed offensive help. GM Bob Howsam must have thought he got himself a steal by shipping slumping spare part Angel Bravo for Al "The Bull" Ferrara. Ferrara himself had been slumping (.118), but after hitting .260 and .277 the previous seasons with some pop (14 & 13 HR's), all evidence pointed toward this being a great deal for Cincy. Unfortunately at the age of 31, Ferrara's bat had the speed of a guy who was 41. In 37 AB's for Cincy he hit just .182 and was given his unconditional release. In fairness, Bravo was horrible in San Diego, so neither team won or lost in this deal. This card is my favorite from this team set. I took his Padre photo and airbrushed it to look like a Reds uniform. I think it looks good enough to almost be real, but still phony enough that you would think it belonged in the set.
1971 would mark Plummer's first (of 7) season as Johnny Bench's backup. A career .186 hitter in Cincy, Plummer's true value was to give Bench a rest and carry his golf clubs. In 10 games during the '71 season he was 0-19. By the '72 season he would replace Pat Corrales, 6 years his senior, as the #1 backup.
Bradford was another May acquisition. The Reds, who needed someone to play the outfield, traded Kurt Bevacqua to the Tribe for Bradford, who hit just .200 with 2 homers in 79 games in Cincy. Considering he was a career .226 hitter his lack of production should not have shocked anyone. By season's end he found his way back to the South Side of Chicago where he amazingly eeked out an additional 5 years as a 4th or 5th outfielder. Statistically Bradford's 11 year career is completely un-amazing other than the fact that it lasted 11 years. After finally bottoming out of the majors he landed in the Japanese league and shocked no one by hitting .192. That marked the end of the road.
Sprague was a rule 5 draft pick of the Cardinals that was sold to the Reds after the 1970 season. He appeared in just 7 games (11 IP) for Cincy and did not allow a run. He would have an average 1972 seasons (3-3, 4.13) and was dealt to STL midway through a mediocre 1973 campaign. As luck would have it he injured his knee in 1975 after having his best season ever in Milwaukee (7-2, 2.39). After the injury he was never quite right and was out of baseball after the '76 season. His son Ed, Jr. had a fine 10 year career with the Toronto Blue Jays spanning the 1990's.
In 1971 Duffy gained more notoriety off the field than on it. On the field he hit just .188 in 17 games for the Reds. Off the field he and minor league pitcher Vern Geisheit were sent to San Fran in exchange for George Foster. San Fran was always in search of a middle infielder and Foster was an untapped talent sitting behind emerging superstar Bobby Bonds and the ageless wonder Willie Mays. To call this a lopsided deal would be an understatement, although Foster would take a few years to pay dividends. Then in the off season San Fran shipped him and Gaylord Perry to the Indians for rapidly declining Sam McDowell.
As previously mentioned Foster arrived at the end of May. The 22 year old showed flashes of brilliance (.234-10-50), but no one had any clue just what his potential would be. By 1974 the lightbulb went on and Foster was a key power source for the Reds for the next 8 years, including 3 years (1977-1979) where he dominated the NL in HR's and RBI. After playing out his option in 1981 he signed a lucrative free agent deal with the Mets, where he played 5 decent seasons, but was the brunt of the fan's ire, because the Mets weren't winning and his numbers were nowhere near the numbers he posted in Cincy. Of course in New York he didn't have guys like Rose, Morgan and Bench hitting in front of him. Sadly for him he slumped heavily in 1986 and was cut by the Mets in mid season, which meant he missed their magical championship run. All told in 18 seasons he hit .274 with 348 homers and 1,239 RBI's. His 52 homers in 1977 were the most by anyone in the decade.
After the 1970 season the Reds acquired Garrett from the Angels in exchange for their fading start Jim Maloney. Moving Maloney at that point is his career was the right move. Acquiring Garrett in exchange for him, wasn't. After going 5-6, 2.65 for the Angels in 1970 the Reds expected big things for the 24 year old. What the got was 0-1, 1.04 in 8 innings of work. In AAA-Indianapolis he was 2-1, 4.05 in barely 40 innings. The reds let him go and he wound up in Minnesota's AA-Charlotte affiliate and was less than spectacular and upon season's end he was out of chances.
In his only full season in Cincy veteran lefty bullpen guy Joe Gibbon did quite well. In 64 innings of relief Gibbon was 5-6, 2.94 with 11 saves, which was a pleasant surprise considering the fact that he was horrible the previous year in Pittsburgh. Gibbon's Renaissance was short lived and by the following season he was unable to get anyone out for both the Reds and then the Astros. At 37 his solid MLB career came to an abrupt end. Gibbon would finish up with a 61-55, 3.52, 32sv career record. The highlight of his career was winning the World Championship in 1960 for the Pirates in his rookie season.
21 year old Milt Wilcox (2-2, 3.32, 43IP) was a modest contributor for the Reds during the '71 season. He would not hit his stride until he arrived in Detroit in 1978, where he would become a key contributor (17 game winner) on the 1984 Tigers World Championship staff.
21 year old clean cut Ross Grimsley cracked the rotation and had a rock solid year (10-7, 3.56, 161IP). He followed that up with 2 more good seasons before the Reds tired of his act and shipped him to Baltimore where he continued to have success. Grimsley was of that generation of players who wanted to grow his hair out and wear facial hair. Both were taboo in the Cincy Reds world, but he still tried to push the envelope. He greatest season would be 1978 where he went 20-11, 3.05 with 19 CG's. He finished 7th in Cy Young balloting and was an All-Star selection. The following season he came crashing down to reality after arm trouble set in. He spent the next 4 seasons trying to get healthy, but his arm was never right. after taking off the entire '81 season he gave it one last try with Baltimore in '82, but it just wasn't there.
27 year old career minor leaguer Steve Blateric appeared in just 2 games (2IP) for the Reds and sported a huge 13.50 ERA. He would get 2 more cups of coffee (1972-NYY and 1975-CAL), but neither panned out. He did post an impressive 92-70, 2.82 minor league record spread out over 13 seasons with his finals season coming for Redwood in A ball in 1980.
The well traveled (5 teams in 9 years) Smith reached the end of the road in Cincy during the '71 seasons. Traded from the Cubs to Cincy for catching prospect Danny Breeden during the offseason, Smith hit just .164 in 55 at bats before being shown the door. Smith showed a lot of promise in his first two seasons (1964-65) with the Angels, but never again started more than 100 games in his career. After hitting .351 for the Reds AAA-Indianapolis affiliate he left the states and played tow successful seasons for Nankai in the Japanese league before retiring. Hist 1971 card was a BHNH issue that needed to be corrected since this would in essence be his last card issued.