Joey Votto and the International Treasures

Looking abroad...

Baseball is an international game. And the Cincinnati Reds are an international team. A quick look at the download stats for my Reds podcast reveals a listenership that stretches across the world. Certainly, most of our downloads come from the United States, but we get significant numbers of downloads from Belgium, Australia, and Japan…and we’ve even seen activity from places like Poland, Philippines, India, and Kazakhstan. We even got one lonely download from Iran!

Earlier this week, a dumb tweet got me thinking (as it often does). Here’s the culprit:

You see what I did there? They were talking about top-rated American red wines and I pretended they were talking about baseball players! I will never fail to be impressed by how hilarious I am.

(Editor’s note: This is why none of you should ever follow me on Twitter. You’ll only be disappointed.)

As I was in the process of crafting that simply perfect tweet above, I quickly ran through the best players on the current Reds and realized that many of the best players on the roster were born outside the United States. In recent decades, obviously, the major leagues have expanded scouting networks worldwide, and opportunities for foreign-born players to play in MLB have exploded.

Frankly, the Reds have always been behind the curve in this area, as in so many others; the club’s signing of Shogo Akiyama last year meant they were the last team in MLB to employ a Japanese-born player. On the other hand, you could put together a pretty good all-time Reds team from foreign-born players. And that was the thought experiment in which I inevitably engaged after that classic tweet above.

So here are my thoughts, noting at the outset that these are players who are listed at Baseball-Reference.com as having been born outside the United States:

C: Benito Santiago, Puerto Rico. Perhaps I’m cheating here, as Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the US, and Santiago only played 170 games for the Reds. But Santiago had a really good career, making five All-Star teams, winning three Gold Gloves and four Silver Sluggers.

1B: Joey Votto, Canada. Duh.

2B: Leo Cardenas, Cuba. Okay, I’m definitely cheating here. Cardenas played a grand total of three games at second base, all in his final season at age 36. For nine seasons in the 1960s, Cardenas was a brilliant shortstop for our Redlegs, a four-time All-Star (five, if you include his later selection as a Minnesota Twin), who also won a Gold Glove in 1965. On my international team, he’ll have to play second base because…well, see below.

3B: Tony Perez, Cuba. Not much needs to be said about Perez, right? Hall of Famer, seven-time All-Star, the heart of the Big Red Machine. Born in Camaguey, Cuba.

SS: Dave Concepcion, Venezuela. Nine-time All-Star, five Gold Gloves, two Silver Sluggers, and a Cincinnati Red for the entirety of his big league career. Overshadowed by the Hall of Famers on the Big Red Machine, Concepcion feels underrated to me outside Cincinnati. One of the few Reds to be named Captain, Concepcion is a Reds legend.

OF: Harry Wright, United Kingdom. The center fielder (and manager) of the original 1869 Red Stockings. Also the best cricket player in Cincinnati history.

Shin-Soo Choo, South Korea. Only a Red for one season, but it was a good one (4.6 WAR, .285/.423/.462). Wish we could have seen him in Cincinnati for more of his career.

Cesar Geronimo, Dominican Republic. Four Gold Glove awards as the center fielder of the Big Red Machine. Reds Hall of Famer.

SP: Dolf Luque, Cuba. Most people just don’t realize how good Luque was for the Reds in the 1920s. Maybe we’ll talk about him more in a future installment of The Riverfront. Until then, take a look at his BR page. He was a star.

Jose Rijo, Dominican Republic. Too many great internationally-born Reds pitchers to limit it to just one selection, so I picked a starting rotation. Rijo has to be included, obviously. The star of the 1990 World Series, Rijo was among the league’s best starting pitchers for pretty much the entirety of his career with the Redlegs.

Tony Mullane, Ireland. A pre-1900 star for the Reds, he once won 33 games in a season (and lost 27). Has the all-time MLB career record for wild pitches. Later became a cop in Chicago, and was working the beat during the 1919 World Series in which Cincinnati played Chicago.

Mario Soto, Dominican Republic. A three-time All-Star who finished in the top ten of NL Cy Young voting four times. One of the few shining stars for the bad early-1980s Reds. Oh yeah, and he was also my first “favorite player” as a youngster.

Johnny Cueto, Dominican Republic. You all remember him. Cueto was so good. I still miss him.

RP: Aroldis Chapman, Cuba. Made four All-Star teams in six seasons with Cincinnati. That’s nearly impossible to do as a reliever, but I’m sure you remember why he accomplished it. Almost unhittable when he was at his best, none of us will ever forget the electricity at Great American Ball Park when he entered a close game in the late innings.

I wish I could have found a spot for Eugenio Suarez (Venezuela) and Larry McLean (Canada), a name you’ve probably never heard, but he was a pretty good catcher for the Reds from 1906 to 1912. And I’d love for Akiyama to work his way onto this team over the next couple of years.

In fact, I’m guessing this list will look completely different in twenty or thirty years. So here’s my pledge to you, dear reader: I promise I’ll rewrite this piece for The Riverfront in 2051.

Blast From the Past

That’s my brother on the left; he lived in China for more than a decade. This photo was taken on March 16, 2008, outside of Wukesong Olympic Baseball Stadium in Beijing, China, after a Padres/Dodgers exhibition game. My brother’s comment to me: “They love the Big Red Machine in China.” (Or perhaps the Hiroshima Carp.)

What I’m Reading

C. Trent Rosecrans: The Reds lack a closer. Two men want the job. The manager? He just wants wins

James Rapien: Mock Draft 3.0: Bengals Continue to Build Around Joe Burrow

Wick Terrell: How these Cincinnati Reds got in The Best Shape of Their Lives [TM]

Doug Gray: How will the Reds split time between Stephenson and Barnhart?

What Chad’s Watching

Busy week, but not as busy as this graphic makes it appear. Tenenbaums and Dazed and Confused were background movies while I worked on other things.

Nomadland will be nominated for Best Picture when the Oscars are announced. Starring Frances McDormand — who just may be the best working actor in the world these days — and directed by Chloé Zhao, it follows the “van life” journey of a sixty-ish woman after losing her job and home. Highly recommended.

The Bad and the Beautiful, starring Kirk Douglas and Lana Turner, is an inside-Hollywood movie about the rise and fall of a ruthless film producer. Completely mesmerizing. Highly recommended.

They Live By Night is from one of my favorite genres (noir) and is the first movie from one of my favorite directors (Nicholas Ray). The quick description: An escaped convict, injured during a robbery, falls in love with the woman who nurses him back to health, but their relationship seems doomed from the beginning. Good stuff. Recommended.

Finally, The Godfather. I introduced my son to this classic over the weekend. Important moment in the life of a budding cinephile.

The World’s Most Dangerous Reds Podcast

RNR #362: Betting Big on the Established and Familiar!

Chris Garber and I discussed everything you need to know about the Cincinnati Reds now that spring training has begun. Including some sweet Willie Bloomquist content!

Also, we talked shortstop again. It’s kinda required at this point.

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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Thanks for subscribing! The Riverfront is designed to be a place we can explore the experience of being a sports fan in a city that often seems to break our hearts. I want to investigate the things that bring us together as a community, instead of the constant drumbeat you hear elsewhere about the things that divide us.

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If you have any comments, or just want to argue with me about anything I’ve written, feel free to shoot me an email at dotsonc@gmail.com. The best comments will be featured in a future newsletter.