Thursday, February 28, 2019

Integration - i.e. to make whole

MLB Debut: July 21, 1959

Tigers Debut: June 6, 1958 

MLB Debut: April 22, 1957

MLB Debut: April 14, 1955

MLB Debut: September 6, 1954

MLB Debut April 17, 1954
MLB Debut: April 13, 1954

MLB Debut: April 13, 1954

MLB Debut: September 17, 1953
MLB debut: September 13, 1953

MLB Debut: May 1, 1951

MLB Debut: April 18, 1950

MLB Debut: July 8th, 1949

MLB Debut (with St. Louis Browns): July 17, 1947

MLB Debut: July 5, 1947

MLB Debut: April 15, 1947

Tom Alston and Bob Trice images courtesy of 

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Buck O'Neil, Major League Scout

In 1955, The Kansas City Monarchs were sold, and if the integration of Major League Baseball in 1947 wasn't the end, the sale of one the league's most prominent and prestigious franchises to new owners certainly seemed like it. Buck O'Neil was the Monarchs' long-time manager, and he was also the team's lead scout. The story goes that Buck discovered and signed Ernie Banks, but in some ways, the opposite was true. Before the 1962 season, he went to the team's owner P.K. Wrigley and recommended Buck for a coaching position. He had been a scout for the team since leaving the Monarchs, helping the team sign players that they otherwise never would have found. As the first African-American Coach in MLB history, Buck was part of the Cubs' "College of Coaches" a hare-brained scheme to rotate managers so that no one manager felt too much stress. Unfortunately, the carousel never stopped when Buck's turn should have come, and it would be until 1975 before another African-American would get the chance to manage a team.

Over a dozen players that O'Neil scouted had big league careers, and here are some of the most notable signings. (Ernie Banks was already in the Cubs organization when Buck O'Neil was hired as a scout, the story that Buck signed Ernie to his first Cubs contract has more art than history to it.) So was Billy Williams, though Buck did visit Billy one weekend during his minor league climb and convinced Williams to keep at it, he nearly left baseball before his debut!

Oscar Gamble was a wiry, shy kid that O'Neil scouted more or less by accident. He found Gamble playing a pick up game of baseball with some other teens while he was trying to find a different field to scout another player entirely. He found out from Gamble where his next official game would be, and returned to scout him properly. Buck said that he only needed to see one at bat- a fly out, no less - to see that he was a special talent. Buck was right - Gamble would go on to a 17 year career and 200 homers.

One of the last major signings that Buck made for the Cubs was a young outfielder by the name of Joe Carter. Carter had a much higher prospect profile compared to Gamble - Carter was the Sporting News' Collegiate Player of the Year in 1981. He was a 4 sport athlete in High School and as mentioned a standout College baseball player. On Buck's advice, the Cubs made Carter their first round pick in 1982. He would only spend 23 games in a Cubs uniform before being sent to Cleveland in a deal for Rick Sutcliffe. Carter would have a 16 year MLB career, including an unforgettable World Series Clinching homer in 1993. The 2 time world champion had over 2,100 career hits and 396 homers.

Lee Smith retired from baseball as MLB's All-Time Leader in Saves. He's been passed by many since, but Smith lays claim to being one of the games' best closers over from the mid 80s to mid 90s. Smith was scouted when he was just 17 from northern Louisiana, where he starred for his high school basketball team. He played on the softball team until his junior year, when the strength of his arm became apparent. He was drafted in the 2nd Round of the 1975 draft by the Cubs, and if not for the hefty $50,000 bonus offered by Buck, he may have opted to go to college on a basketball scholarship instead. Smith was a started for the first four years in the minors, but he found his calling in the bullpen for the Cubs. In 1983, he led the NL in Saves and had a 1.65 ERA striking out 91 batters in just over 100 innings. He made his first of 7 All-Star teams, and would save at least 25 games for the next 12 seasons. This past winter, he was selected by the Veteran's Committee along with Harold Baines to be inducted in the Hall of Fame.

One of the greatest base stealers of All-Time, Lou Brock was the most successful player in the big leagues signed by Buck O'Neil. A member of the 3,000 hit club, Brock was a tremendous outfielder as well. The 2X World Series Champ was a 6X All-Star and an 8X stolen base leader. Brock was a Junior in college when he attended a major league tryout in Chicago that was attended by both the White Sox and Cubs. The Cubs and Buck O'Neil convinced him that the path to the major leagues would be quicker on the Northside, so he signed with the Cubs. After hitting .387 in the Instructional League in 1960, he tore up Spring Training in 1961, hitting an even .400. The Cubs still wanted to season him a bit, so he homered on the very first pitch he saw as a minor leaguer in St. Cloud, MN - he'd win the batting title that year in the Northern League, and would be in Wrigley field in 1962. The pitching starved Cubs made a critical blunder in 1964, trading Brock to the Cardinals for Ernie Broglio, who had a recent 20 win campaign. It turned out that his best innings were behind him, and Brock's best were to come. The Cardinals were World Series champs in 1964, in which Lou hit .300 with a homer and 5 RBI. They'd win it all again in 1967, thanks in no small part to Brock's .414 average, 7 steals, and home run over 7 hard fought games.

Buck would be hired later in the 80s as a scout for the Kansas City Royals, and was even named the 1998 Midwest Scout of the Year, though the big name players were less frequent. His contributions to baseball went far beyond the boxscore as a player with the Monarchs, or as their Manager. He is of course best known as an unofficial ambassador of the Negro Leagues, featured in Ken Burns' Baseball documentary. The stories that Buck had been telling for decades finally reached a wider national audience and the country finally started to learn and remember the history that had been written all around them for the last century.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! The 1988 Topps Traded Set

There are some combinations of years (1988), teams (Dodgers) and players (Kirk Gibson), that seem forever linked together. The Topps Traded Set gives the collector the opportunity to get everything they remember all in the same place.

Four Hall of Famers in the set, including Roberto Alomar's rookie card. One of the newest members, Lee Smith makes an appearance, still in the prime of his career. Frank Robinson is managing again, now about to turn around a dismal Orioles team and lead them through a thrilling pennant race. Goose Gossage returns to the Windy City, this time with the Cubs.

The backs are once again a day-glo version of the base set, if the "T" on the card number wasn't enough of a hint, surely the bright colors will tip you off that these are from the Traded Set.

Lots of rookies in this set, including a young Brady Anderson, pre-sideburns. Rookie Cup Winners Buhner, Gant, Grace, Sabo, and Weiss have their Rookie Cards here in the '88 Traded set.

U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! These guys were on the '88 Gold Medal winning Olympic Team. All four were first round picks in 1988 as well.

Some of my personal faves from the set. A hilarious expression on Chili Davis' face. The A's and the Reds were loading up for a 1990 confrontation in the World Series. The Athletics were really aggressive in acquiring new players in the late 80s - they weren't shy about trying some things out.

After a big year in 1987, just one Twin in the 1988 Traded Set. It cost the Twins Tom Brunansky to get this guy, and man he just wasn't the right fit. Chuck Knoblauch fortunately came along soon after this in the draft to take over at second base.

Here are some salty ornery old baseball lifers, for ya. 

Yikes! That's some bad airbrushing, buddy! I mean, Buddy!

Monday, February 25, 2019

The 1990 Topps All-Star Rookie Team

Here they are - the Topps All-Star Rookie Team, selected "by the Youth of America" following the 1990 season and featured in the 1991 Topps set. 

I have completed the run of these up through 2018, specifically all regular issue cards that bear the All-Star Rookie Trophy.

Catcher - Sandy Alomar, Jr.
San Diego (N.L.) 1988 - '89; Cleveland (A.L.) 1990 - '00; Chicago (A.L.) 2001 - '02, 2003 - '04, 2006; Colorado (N.L.) 2002; Texas (A.L.) 2005; Los Angeles (N.L.) 2006; New York (N.L.) 2007

Last week I covered the hype machine that was Gregg Jefferies. Sandy Alomar, Jr. was the catching equivalent in 1990. He, like Jefferies, had been named Minor League Player of the Year multiple times. Combine that with a life spent around the ballpark with his dad as major league lifer, and a premium position, and you have a recipe for potential greatness. Alomar was blocked in San Diego by another tremendous young backstop, Benito Santiago. Cleveland swooped in and made a steal of a trade by getting lesser known infielder Carlos Baerga and Alomar in exchange for their impending free agent slugger Joe Carter. Carter would play well in San Diego, but it would just make him harder to re-sign. Alomar became a fixture in Cleveland for a decade behind the plate, being there for both of the World Series runs in the 90s. The start of his reign was a good one - finally delivering on the promise of several seasons in the Padres' system. He was the AL Rookie of the Year, hitting .290 with 9 homers and 66 RBI. This would be a bit over league average, but for a 24 year old catcher, you couldn't ask for more. He also won the Gold Glove for catchers in 1990, throwing out 34% of base runners trying to steal. Injuries would make his coronation as the game's best catcher a short lived one. He would have a resurgence towards the end of his run in Cleveland, making three straight All-Star games. Alomar would be the MVP of the 1997 Mid-Summer Classic, and even received a few AL MVP votes by the end of the season, for his role in taking Cleveland to the playoffs.In the 2000's, Sandy would extend his career as a backup and mentor to both catchers and pitchers alike. Alomar would go on to a long career in coaching, back again in Cleveland for the 2019 season.

Sandy's Rookie Card is in the 1989 Topps Set, Card # 648

Left Handed Pitcher - Scott Radinsky
Chicago (A.L.) 1990 - '93 , 1995; Los Angeles (N.L.) 1996 - '98; St. Louis (N.L.) 1999 - '00; Cleveland (A.L.) 2001.

Radinsky jumped from Single-A to the majors in 1990, the first pitcher to do that since Dwight Gooden. He beat cancer, joined a punk rock band, built a skate park on the site of the skateboarding Hall of Fame, and is just a "Rad" dude. In 1990, Radinsky became a quick fan favorite, and had a very good season coming out of the pen, setting up Bobby Thigpen for his then record 51 saves. Radinsky notched 4 saves of his own, pitching in 62 games as a rookie. 

His early punk band was from his high school and early minor league days, called Scared Straight. They were a Nardcore (Oxnard, California) group, and are reminiscent of other straight edge punk bands like Minor Threat:

Sound quality sucks, which I guess is exactly what you would expect for a late 80s punk LP, but check it out straight edge fans! Radinsky would continue his punk career and his lefty specialist career side by side. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma after the 1993 season, and underwent surgery and aggressive chemo treatment. He would return to pitching for the 1995 season, and would continue as a steady lefty reliever until 2001. He best seasons would come in Southern California with the Dodgers, pitching three straight seasons of sub 3.00 ERAs including a career high 75 games in 1997.

Scott's Rookie Card is in the 1990 Traded Set, Card # 99T.

Outfield - David Justice
Atlanta (N.L.) 1989 - '96; Cleveland (A.L.) 1997 - '00; New York (A.L.) 2000 - '01; Oakland (A.L.) 2002

I had a friend in High School that was popular, smart, good-looking, athletic, etc etc. We used to joke about how much we hated him. One of my other friends even made a website (a much more involved endeavor in those days) that would pop up with a different fact about our friend, like "Named to the 'A' honor roll 3 years running" followed by "I HATE THAT." It was very tongue in cheek. Dave Justice was the guy you "hated" in high school, but you know, still thought was a cool guy. Justice had a breakout rookie season, including a scorching hot 2nd half that resulted in 28 homers. He was the National League Rookie of the Year, and it was just beginning of a very successful career. Justice would be in the playoffs every season from 1991 to 2002 (excluding the 1994 Strike). He was a World Series champ with Atlanta in 1995, and the Yankees in 2000 - that post-season he was also the ALCS MVP. Justice had some controversy just before his first appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot, it was right around that time that the Mitchell Report was released. Justice was recovering from a shoulder injury, and had discussed HGH with Brian McNamee while he was the Yankees' strength coach. Justice claims that he then found syringes and pills in his locker from McNamee, but did not like the idea of needles, and disposed of the drugs without using them. He was also connected with Kirk Radomski, however Justice denied any contact with the former Mets clubhouse attendant. 

Dave's rookie card is in the 1990 Topps Traded Set #48T

Outfield - Larry Walker
Montreal (N.L.) 1989 - '94; Colorado (N.L.) 1995 - '04; St. Louis (N.L.) 2004 - '05

Are we looking at a future Hall of Famer? In 1990, Walker had 19 homers and 21 stolen bases, hitting just .241, but with a .326 OBP. Walker would never hit below .265 in another season. His career average was .313, OBP was .400. He was the NL MVP in 1997 with Colorado, leading the league in Homers, OBP, SLG, and total bases. Walker when healthy was a true five-tool player- he hit for power, average, stole bases, and won 7 Gold Gloves. If you take the ten players closest to Walker statistically, you'll find 5 Hall of Fame outfielders, and guys like Lance Berkman, Moises Alou, Ellis Burks, Jim Edmonds, and Matt Holliday. Contemporaries who all have at least a compelling argument or two in their favor. Walker was a 3 time batting champion, and a 5 time All-Star. Walker takes a beating for being successful in Coors Field, but the question that needs to be asked is really how big of a boost does it give a player? Over his career, Walker had over 2,100 hits, 383 homers, 230 stolen bases, 1300+ runs scored, and 1300+ RBI.

Larry's Rookie Card is in the 1990 Topps Set #757.

Outfield - Felix Jose
Oakland (A.L.) 1988 - '90; St. Louis (N.L.) 1990 - '92; Kansas City (A.L.) 1993 - '95; New York (A.L.) 2000; Arizona (N.L.) 2002 - '03.

Felix Jose is already in the Hall of Fame- in the Dominican Republic. He came up in 1988 with Oakland, but his best MLB season came in 1991 with the Cardinals. It was his lone All-Star appearance, and he hit .305 with 40 doubles and 20 stolen bases. He became an International sensation - Jose made a career in Korea, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and in the MLB from 1988 until 2009! In MLB, Jose had a .280 career average in 11 seasons. He would hit over 60 career homers in the Dominican Republic in Winter League play, and had several successful seasons for the Lotte Giants in Korea. In 1990, he split the season with Oakland and St. Louis, coming the Cardinals in the Willie McGee trade. Over 126 games between the 2 teams, he hit 11 homers and stole 12 bases.

Felix's rookie card is in the 1989 Donruss set, card #38

Second Base - Delino DeShields
Montreal (N.L.) 1990 - '93; Los Angeles (N.L.) 1994 - '96; St. Louis (N.L.) 1997 -'98; Baltimore (A.L.) 1999 - '01; Chicago (N.L.) 2001 - '02.

The speedy middle infielder is unfairly judged against the trade that sent Pedro Martinez to the Expos and DeShields to LA. The Dodgers alone should be to blame for underrating their young starting pitcher, but DeShields should not be at fault for that. Perhaps the pressure of LA was too much for him, as he hit just .241 over 3 seasons with the Dodgers. He would remain a speed threat, stealing 463 bases over his career. He led the National League in triples in 1997. DeShields would go on to a successful coaching career, spending several seasons as Manager for the Reds AAA farm club, and currently serves on the Reds' major league coaching staff. In 1990, DeShields hit .289, 28 doubles, 6 triples, swiped 42 bases and came in 2nd in the ROY Vote.

Delino's Rookie Card is in the 1988 O-Pee-Chee Set #88 and it's awesome!

Right Handed Pitcher -  Kevin Appier
Kansas City (A.L.) 1989 - '99, 2003 -'04; Oakland (A.L.) 1999 - '00; New York (N.L.) 2001; Anaheim (A.L.) 2002 -'03.

Appier is one of several great arms to come up through the Kansas City system in the 80s and early 90s. Saberhagen, Gubizca, Tom Gordon, and Kevin Appier all had excellent careers. Appier had a fantastic debut, pitching to a 12 - 8 record over 24 starts and a 2.76 ERA. He hurled 3 shutouts, with 2 of them coming in  back to back starts. After 10 successful seasons in KC, Appier would bounce around a bit among contending teams. He would reach the World Series in 2002 with the Angels and the team would win in 7 games over the Giants. For his career, he had an ERA+ of 121, 21% better than league average. He had a 169 - 137 career record, with 115 wins coming as a Royal. He is in the Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame. 

Kevin's Rookie Card is in the 1989 Fleer Update Set, Card #U-35

Third Base - Robin Ventura
Chicago (A.L.) 1989 - '98; New York (N.L.) 1999 - '01; New York (A.L.) 2002 -'03; Los Angeles (N.L.) 2003 - '04.

record scratch - <freeze frame> yup that's me, I guess you're wondering how I got here 

Hey, Nolan Ryan would probably beat the stuffing out of any of us if given the chance, there's really no shame in it! How did he get to this point? Ventura was a Gold Medalist on the 1988 Olympic Team, and a first round draft pick by the Chicago White Sox. In College, he had a 58 game hitting streak and was a 3 time All-American. In AA in 1989 he was a Southern League All-Star, and was called up to the majors for the last month of the season. In his first full season, he had 123 hits, the most by a White Sox Rookie since Ozzie Guillen. In his second season, Ventura won his first Gold Glove, reached 100 RBI and hit 23 homers. So, maybe by 1993, he had more confidence than the average person? All kidding aside, Ventura was an excellent fielder and developed a consistent power bat for 20+ homers each season. In 1999, Ventura hit one of the most memorable singles in Mets' history. It cleared the right field fence, but because he was mobbed by his teammates and never crossed home plate, he was only credited with a single for the game winning hit in Game 5 of the NLCS. For his career he'd have over 1800 hits, 1000+ walks, 1000+ runs, 1000+ RBI, and 294 homers.

Robin's Rookie Card was in the 1988 Topps Traded Set, Card #124T

First Base - Hal Morris
New York (A.L.) 1988 - '89; Cincinnati (N.L.) 1990 - '97, 1999 - '00; Kansas City (A.L.) 1998; Detroit (A.L.) 2000.

Hal Morris had an all-time great rookie season in 1990. He hit .340, among the highest averages for a rookie in the last 50 years. The Reds would sweep the A's in 1990 World Series. Morris had a tough series, but they wouldn't have made it to the series if not for Morris hitting .417 in the NLCS against Pittsburgh. Morris would continue to hit in the .300s throughout his career, finishing with a .304 mark. He had over 1,200 hits and drove in over 500 runs. Morris was the primary first baseman for 8 seasons, reaching the post season again in 1995, falling to Atlanta in the NLCS. Morris had a 32 game hitting streak that started in August of '96 and extended into 1997. Morris made a pair of All-Star teams, and after his playing career has served as a scouting director for various MLB teams, most recently the Dodgers from 2011 to 2016. 

Hal's Rookie Card is in the 1989 Donruss Set, Card # 545

Shortstop - Jeff Huson
Montreal (N.L.) 1988 - '89; Texas (A.L.) 1990 - '93; Baltimore (A.L.) 1995 - '96; Milwaukee (A.L.) 1997; Seattle (A.L.) 1998; Anaheim (A.L.) 1999; Chicago (N.L.) 2000 

Huson was in the right place at the right time- he was on the field for Nolan Ryan's 7th No hitter. He was a late entrant at 3rd base for Cal Ripken's 2,131st consecutive game. In 1990, Huson had a career year, 95 hits and 12 stolen bases. From 1988 to 2000, Huson played for 7 different teams, providing flexible defense all over the field. After his playing career, Huson became a color commentator for the Rockies.

Jeff's Rookie Card ins in the 1990 Topps set, Card #72

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Power Company - The 1956 Topps Cincinnati Redlegs Team Set

One of the fun things about a completed set is deciding how you want to organize it. I have the 1956 Topps set in a binder, sorted by team, in the same order that the teams finished in the 1955 Standings. In 1955, the Cincinnati Redlegs finished in 5th place in the National League with a 75-79 record.

The 1955 Reds (they went by the "Redlegs" from 1951 - 1958 in opposition to the Soviet Union - sort of the 1950's version of "Freedom Fries" in the cafeteria) were a team known for its big bats. Their last World Series appearance came before the second World War, and they'd be waiting until 1961 to get back. The addition of some key pitchers and a future Hall of Famer would vault them into 3rd place in 1956, and they would make a slow and steady climb into the first division after that. Here, they appeared on a NYC based television show "What's My Line?" a 20 questions game for a panel of wiseacres. 

The 1956 Topps set would include several players that came to the team mid way through the '55 season, or players that arrived before the 1956 season started, giving a better sense of where they were going, rather than where they had been. Cincinnati is known as the Queen City, even though the name of Cincinnati comes from The Cincinnati Society, a group of revolutionary war veterans. The Society is named after a Roman leader who seized power of the city state in a time of crisis, only to retire to a life of farming once the empire became stable. The Queen City nickname comes instead from a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who refers to the city "on the banks of the Beautiful River" as the "Queen of the West." By the 1950s, it was known as much for its Chili as its Architecture, the latter of which also garnered the city the nickname "the Paris of America."

The team's best hitter in 1955 would have been the best hitter for a lot of the National League that year- the hulking slugger, First Baseman Ted Kluszewski. He hit .314 with 47 homers and 113 RBI, while scoring 116 runs himself. His 192 hits led the NL, as did his 25 intentional walks.

1955 was his 3rd straight All-Star appearance, his 3rd straight season with 40 or more homers, 100+ RBI, 180+ hits, and was hitting over .300 for the 4th straight time. He would hit .298 for his career, with over 1,000 career RBI and 279 homers. He made the post season just once as a member of the White Sox in 1959. He hit .391/.420/.826 with 3 homers and 10 RBI in the 6 game series, which the Dodgers would ultimately win, no thanks to Ted. Kluszewski was also an adept fielder, leading the league in fielding pct 5 times, recording the most putouts and taking the most total chances as well.

The team's best pitcher in 1955 was a local hero, Ohio born Joe Nuxhall. He led the National League with 5 shutouts, and led the team with a 17 - 12 record over 33 starts. He was also used in relief, notching 3 saves. He would join Ted on the National League All-Star Roster in 1955 and 1956.

Joe is probably best known outside of Cincy for the two-thirds of an inning he pitched back in 1944. Nuxhall was signed that spring while many able-bodied men were participating in the Second World War, but Joe was not quite old enough to join up. Nuxhall's debut made him the youngest MLB player in history, at just 15 years old. His SABR bio has a good write up of the event, coming in to face a formidable St. Louis Cardinals lineup in the 9th inning of a rout.  That appearance would be his last for 8 years, but he would return to the Reds, and make two All-Star teams. After his playing days were over, Nuxhall was a regular contributor as a broadcaster for Reds games until his death from cancer.

One more Ohio local I wanted to mention, Springfield, Ohio's Brooks Lawrence. Springfield is where my dad grew up and where a good deal of his family can still be found (including my grandma, who is 95!). Lawrence had a much different career trajectory - he was one of the men who served in WWII, earning a Bronze Star for his efforts to repel enemy planes firing on his unit's position in the South Pacific. When he returned home from the war, he went back to school to earn his degree, and played for his college team as well as a local team on weekends. He earned a spot on Cleveland's D league team after showing up to a tryout. He worked slowly through the sometimes still segregated parts of the minor leagues, and nearly decided to give up baseball altogether when Cleveland traded him to a St. Louis farm club a step below the level he had been on. Persistence paid, and he was (along with teammate Bill Greason) the first African-American to play for the Cardinals. He dazzled as a Rookie, winning 15 games.

His best season would be 1956, in which he won 19 games and made his only All-Star game. Lawrence was an intellectual, and would often recite his favorite poems at the drop of a hat. One of those was "The Bridge Builder" by Will Allen Dromgoole:

The video above starts with the poem, and the rest is a documentary about an educator who was a contemporary of Brooks Lawrence, who could very well have had similar paths had Lawrence left baseball in the minors.

The 1955 Reds were a Big Red Machine in their own right - Kluszewski hit 47 homers, Wally Post had 40, Gus Bell had 27, and Smokey Burgess had 21. The middle infielders were not especially heavy hitters, but they did provide excellent defense.

Brooks Lawrence and Joe Black were new additions to the Reds pitching staff, Lawrence as a starter and Black in relief. Hershell Freeman was the best Reds' reliever in 1955, with 11 Saves and a low 2.16 ERA in 92 innings.

Ray Jablonski and Hal Jeffcoat would become major contributors in 1956 for the Reds, with Jablonski as the everyday 3rd baseman, and Jeffcoat as a Starter and reliever. He had been the Cubs' closer the year before, but served as a swing man with Hersh Freeman notching 17 saves in '56 for the Reds. Frank Robinson is missing from this set, he would be the 1956 Rookie of the Year, hitting 38 homers for the Reds and helping take the team to the next level. In 1961 he would be the NL MVP and the Reds would reach the World Series for the first time in over 20 years.