“Loyalty to any one sports team is pretty hard to justify, because the players are always changing, the team can move to another city. You're actually rooting for the clothes, when you get right down to it. You know what I mean? You are standing and cheering and yelling for your clothes to beat the clothes from another city.
“Fans will be so in love with a player, but if he goes to another team, they boo him. This is the same human being in a different shirt; they hate him now. Boo! Different shirt! Boo!”
Over the years, I’ve been low-key obsessed with discussions of Reds uniforms. Best home uniform? 1967. Best road uniform: 1995. Feel free to disagree; many love the Big Red Machine version, and I understand that sentiment.
Similarly, I’m always interested in the uniform numbers handed out to players. Every time #17 gets assigned to a new player — this year it’s Kyle Farmer — I think to myself, “Hey, that’s Chris Sabo’s number!” Same with #44, which belongs to Eric Davis or Adam Dunn (or Mike Leake, if you happen to be Leake’s mother).
So let’s begin a review of Reds history looking through the lens of uniform numbers. We begin, of course, with #1.
Uniform #1 was retired in 1965 in honor of legendary Reds manager Fred Hutchinson. Hutchinson pitched ten effective years for the Detroit Tigers before retiring as a player, but the last year and a half of his time with Detroit, he served as player-manager — beginning at the tender age of 32. He had managed three years in Detroit and three in St. Louis (winning the NL Manager of the Year award in 1957, after leading the Cardinals to a second-place finish) by the time he was named manager of the Reds midway through the 1959 season.
Hutchinson succeeded Mayo Smith, who also wore #1, as Cincinnati’s skipper. Smith was in his first year as Reds manager, but the club was only 35-45 at the All-Star break when management decided a chance was necessary. Smith was fired and replaced by Hutch, and the Reds almost immediately improved. Hutchinson managed the team to a winning record in the second half of the season, but the Reds faltered to a 67-87 mark the following year.
Hutchinson began writing the first lines of his legend in 1961. The Reds were in bad shape as a franchise at that time. It had been two decades since they won a World Series, and in the meantime, they had only finished within 12 games of first place once. Cincinnati was the only National League team that didn’t appear in a single World Series over that 20-year period.
That changed in 1961, when the “Ragamuffin Reds” shocked the baseball world by winning the National League pennant. Hutchinson then led the Reds to competitive seasons in 1962 (98-64) and 1963 (86-76). Then came 1964.
The 44-year-old Hutchinson managed the 1964 season while fighting inoperable lung cancer. He was forced to leave the team for extended periods while undergoing treatment, but he led the club from the dugout as often as he was able. His inspirational story became national news, especially since the Reds competed until the very end; they lost on the last day of the season to finish one game out of first.
Hutchinson died a month after the season ended, but his fame only grew. Sport magazine named him “Man of the Year.” The Reds retired his number the following season and, to this day, the Hutch Award — “honoring perseverance in the face of adversity” — is presented annually to a Major league player.
Though #1 belongs to Hutch from now on, thanks to its retirement, he may not even have been the best manager to wear #1 for the Redlegs. “Deacon” Bill McKechnie is a Hall of Fame manager who piloted the Reds from 1938 to 1946. Only one manager in Reds history has managed more winning games than McKechnie (Sparky Anderson (#10), as I’m sure you guessed).
McKechnie was a soft-spoken “player’s manager” who had actually managed the Pirates, Cardinals, and Braves before taking over in Cincinnati. He took three of those teams — Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Cincinnati — to the World Series.
He took over the Reds in circumstances similar to those of Hutchinson two decades later. The Reds had been mostly terrible since winning the 1919 World Series, and they finished in last place in 1937. GM Warren Giles and owner Powel Crosley convinced McKechnie — already a well-respected manager — to take over the Reds, and they immediately bumped up to fourth place in 1938. The following two seasons, McKechnie’s Reds — led by pitching greats Paul Derringer, Bucky Walters, and Johnny Vander Meer, plus Hall of Fame catcher Ernie Lombardi — won the National League pennant and, in 1940, the Reds won their second World Series.
McKechnie was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.
The first player to wear #1 for the Reds was the Kansas-born George Grantham. “Boots” Grantham was given that number for the simple reason that he was the primary leadoff hitter in 1932, when uniform numbers were first issued. Grantham had been a fairly effective big leaguer for ten seasons with the Cubs and Pirates before being purchased by the Reds at age 32. Playing mostly second base with Cincinnati, he hit .262/.345/.382 in 213 games. After the 1933 season, Grantham was traded to the Giants for the immortal Glenn Spencer, who never played a game for the Reds.
Another Hall of Famer (besides McKechnie) wore #1 for the Reds: “Sunny” Jim Bottomley, who had spent 11 productive years as a slugger with the Cardinals before coming over to the Reds in a trade before the 1933 season. Bottomley didn’t wear #1 initially, since Grantham was his teammate in 1933 (Bottomley wore #3 that year). The following season, Bottomley claimed #1 and over the next two seasons hit .273/.312/.391 with 12 HR and 127 RBI in 249 games as the Reds’ first baseman.
Bottomley never reached the same heights with Cincinnati as he had seen in St. Louis, and before the 1936 season, he was traded to the Browns for Johnny Burnett…who never played a game for Cincinnati. (There seems to be a trend here.) Bottomley was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1974.
No other players distinguished themselves while wearing #1. Gilly Campbell was a catcher who wore three different uniform numbers in his three-year Reds career (1, 19, 35), and hit only .268/.384/.345 in 89 games while wearing #1 in 1936. Gus Brittain and Dee Moore both wore #1 during 1937. Brittain batted six times in his two-month big league career, striking out three times, but he did collect one single. After Brittain was sent packing, Moore took over the uniform number as well as Brittain’s spot as the backup catcher for the 1937 Reds. Moore played in seven games, batted fifteen times, and posted the sterling slash line of .077/.200/.077.
At that point, the Reds must have decided that they weren’t doing any favors to players by giving them #1, so it was only issued to managers from that point forward. Of the six managers who wore the number, only Hutchinson and McKechnie had much success. After Deacon Bill, the number was given to Johnny Neun, who led the Reds to 117 wins and 137 losses before being fired in August of 1948.
Bucky Walters was one of the best pitchers in Reds history (when he wore #’s 31 and 56), but he also managed the Reds. In 1948, after Neun was fired, Walters became player/manager of the Reds (the last player/manager for the franchise until Pete Rose in 1984), but he continued to wear his customary #31 for the rest of that season. When he retired as a player, he switched over to #1 for 1949, but led the Reds to a miserable 61-90 record — and seventh place — before being replaced by Luke Sewell for the final three games of the season.
Birdie Tebbetts managed the Reds from 1954 to 1958, during which time the Reds went 372-357. Though he had a winning record, the Reds never finished higher than third during his tenure, but that third place finish came in an exciting season. In 1956, Tebbetts’ Reds were 91-63, and they remained in the race all the way until the end, ultimately finishing two games back. For his efforts, Tebbetts was named NL Manager of the Year. Eventually, the stress of managing became too much to bear, and Tebbetts resigned mid-way through the 1958 season.
One year later, Fred Hutchinson was hired, and the Reds were on their way to the most successful two-decade run in franchise history.
By the Numbers
Number of times #1 has been issued: 11 (5 players, 6 managers)
Longest tenured: Bill McKechnie (8 seasons, 1235 games), Fred Hutchinson (6 seasons, 816 games)
Best single seasons: George Grantham, 1932 (.292/.364/.412, 6 HR, 39 RBI), Bill McKechnie, 1940 (100 wins, World Series Champs)
Career statistical leaders: Home runs (Bottomley, 12), RBI (Bottomley, 127), batting average (Bottomley, .273)
What I’m Reading
C. Trent Rosecrans: Still feeling new to Cincinnati, Nick Castellanos trying to find fit, production
Geoff Hobson: Leapin' Lemar's Hall Case: Deion Before Deion
Justin Williams: ‘He just hit a wall’: Details on David DeJulius and another opt-out for Bearcats ($)
What Chad’s Watching
Busy movie week for me. I won’t say much other than I recommend every movie on the list above. Four of these — To Kill a Mockingbird, Good Will Hunting, Coming to America, Dead Poets Society — were rewatches, but three of the four are among my all-time favorites. (I watched Coming to America in anticipation of the sequel, which arrives this week.)
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a screen adaptation of an August Wilson play that is available on Netflix right now. It is notable for being Chadwick Boseman’s final role, and it is absolutely his best performance, in my opinion. Wow.
Finally, Ran, the latest in my attempt to work my way through director Akira Kurosawa’s filmography. (I’ve now seen ten Kurosawa films.) There is a reason this one is among his most critically-acclaimed. It’s an epic, telling the story of King Lear through samurai. Highly recommended.
The World’s Most Dangerous Reds Podcast
Bill Lack and I dive into all the news that is emerging from Cincinnati Reds spring training, including manager David Bell’s choice of a center fielder, heightened expectations for Eugenio Suárez and Joey Votto…and a discussion of Bell’s job security.
We talk about the Cincinnati Reds — for better or for worse — every single week on RNR. Join us for free by subscribing everywhere you find dangerous podcasts. Or any other podcast, really. And you can support the podcast here.
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