Retired Number Series: Cincinnatti Reds

by Theo Gerome

This post can also be seen at Hot Corner Harbor here.

July brings with it the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, and Barry Larkin, a more-than-worthy player, finally saw his name added to Cooperstown yesterday. With the history and importance of such an event, it seemed natural to focus on his team next in the Retired Numbers Series.


Notes on the Numbers
Some quick notes on the stats: the two most prominent stats I used are similarly named. Both are called WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. They both try to account for every part of a player’s game, including, but not limited to: offense, defense, position, and playing time. So, it is a counting stat, like hits or home runs (with the small difference that bad seasons can actually decrease your WAR, if you are worse than a replacement player). WAR credits a player with how many wins they have provided to their team. They aren’t perfect, but for my purposes (a single number showing roughly how good a player has been), they work perfectly.

There are two major sites that provide WAR, Baseball-Reference (henceforth called bWAR) and Fangraphs (fWAR). The two are mostly the same, with the biggest difference coming from the different fielding stats the two use. Fangraphs has a fairly good summary of what makes up WAR and how it is calculated (for those wanting a more general summary, the introduction works just fine). Pitching is slightly different: Fangraphs’ WAR for pitchers only goes back to 1974, so for my purposes, I stuck to just bWAR for them.

The Already Retired Numbers
The Reds have retired eight numbers for nine players in their extensive history. The first number they retired was the second retired number in the history of the game; however, it did not remain retired. Willard Hershberger’s number 5 was retired in 1940, one year after Lou Gehrig became the first player with a retired number. Unfortunately, like Gehrig, there’s a tragic back story to the event; Hershberger was the first and only player to commit suicide during the season. His number was un-retired in 1942. Hershberger played for the Reds from 1938 to 1940, and was worth 2 bWAR and 2 fWAR.

The team’s first permanently-retired number was 1, in honor of manager Fred Hutchinson. In his six seasons as manager (1959 to 1964), he had a 443-372 record (.544 winning percentage) and a pennant (which came in 1961 in a drastic turn-around from the previous year). His number was honored in 1965 following his death from lung cancer.

The first player to have his number retired was Johnny Bench, almost 20 years later in 1984. In his seventeen year career (1967 to 1983), career-Red Bench was worth 71 bWAR and 82. This marked the permanent retirement of number 5.

Cincinnati waited until 1998 to retire any more numbers, when they suddenly retired three more. First, in May, was Frank Robinson. Number 20 was honored on his behalf in May that year, in honor of his decade with the team (1956 to 1965) which saw him post 62 bWAR and 66 fWAR. In his 21-year career, Robinson was worth 107 bWAR and 116 fWAR.

The following month, the team honored Big Red Machine second baseman Joe Morgan. In his eight years in Cincinnati, from 1972 to 1979, Morgan wore number 8 and accumulated an astounding 61 bWAR and fWAR. His 22-season career, which spanned from 1963 to 1984, was worth 104 bWAR and 108 fWAR.

Then, for the third month in a row, the Reds retired a number, this time first baseman Ted Kluszewski. Klu played with the team from his start in 1947 to 1957, wearing 18 and racking up 30 bWAR and 31 fWAR in the process. His playing days would continue until 1961, and saw him total 31 bWAR and 34 fWAR.

Tony Perez had his number added to the Reds’ list of honorees following his 2000 election to the Hall of Fame. Sixteen of his 23 seasons, including his first and his last, came with the Reds across two terms (1964 to 1976, then 1984 to 1986). Those sixteen seasons included 44 of his 51 bWAR and 57 of his 68 fWAR. Perez wore 24 with the Reds.

In 2005, the team retired their second number for a manager, in this case, number 10 for Sparky Anderson. Anderson managed the team from 1970 to 1978 and won two World Series, four pennants, and 863 games against 586 losses (a .596 winning percentage).

Finally, in 2007, the team retired the fourth number for a player from the Big Red Machine, Dave Concepcion. Concepcion was a career Red who wore number 13 and played from 1970 to 1988. He was worth 34 bWAR and 45 fWAR.

Compared to the League
There are more or less three areas I can look at when comparing a team’s retired number situation: I can look at the players’ career value versus their value with the franchise exclusively; I can look at fWAR versus bWAR; and I can look at the team’s median versus average (to se if it’s just one or two players affecting the totals).

The Reds were the first team I looked at twice; once with Hershberger’s number included, and once without. With Hershberger’s number accounted for, the team averages were brought down-the team consistently rated in the third quartile (meaning just below average) in standards. Meanwhile, their medians hovered around the halfway mark of all teams. However, removing Hershberger bumped almost all of the team’s cutoffs into the second quartile, or just above the league averages. This result seems more realistic, especially since the team un-retired Hershberger’s number. Basically, the team has above-average requirements for retiring a player’s number.

Also, the Reds have nine retired numbers, tying them for fifth-most all-time. Tied with them are the Astros, Pirates, Braves, and White Sox.

So Who’s Next?
And now the fun part: what numbers might the Reds retire next? The place to start speculation would be with the numbers that the team has already decided not to give out anymore. Cincinnati has given out number 14 to only one player since Pete Rose retired, and that was to his son. They have refrained from retiring his number due to his ban from baseball, which makes the issue a little more complicated. I’m not positive if the team is fully in control of this move or if there’s outside pressure from the league, there will likely need to be some sort of shift before the team honors Rose. Either his ban will need to be lifted, he’ll need to make the Hall, he’ll pass away first…anything to shake up the current status quo, which seems to be at a standstill. Both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference list Rose as the team’s all-time leader in WAR, with 76.2 bWAR and 87 fWAR. He spent 19 of his 24 seasons in Cincinnati (1963 to 1978, 1984 to 1986). For his career, he was worth 76.7 bWAR and 91.4 fWAR.

The other number the Reds are holding out of circulation is, of course, 11, on behalf of Barry Larkin. I really can’t imagine why it hasn’t already been retired. He’s been out of the game since 2004, and they’ve already passed several milestones other teams use to retire numbers (namely, the years immediately after said player retires, said player appearing on the Hall of Fame ballot, and the year said player is inducted into said Hall). I would imagine his number will be retired next year, or 2014 at the latest, as he’s more than deserving. In any case, Larkin spent his career with the Reds (1986 to 2004), and is ranked third in team history by both methods, with 67.1 bWAR and 71 fWAR.

Both ranking methods are also identical in the rest of their top fives, with Johnny Bench second, Frank Robinson fourth, and Joe Morgan fifth. However, while Fangraphs has Tony Perez sixth, B-R instead has Bid McPhee (Fangraphs has McPhee seventh, though, still as the top non-retired number player; Perez rates eighth on B-R, if you were curious). McPhee is a Hall of Fame second baseman who played before the turn of the century. He played his entire career with the Reds (1882 to 1899), and was in fact an eight year veteran when the team finally joined the National League (they had been in the American Association prior to that). In his career, McPhee was worth 48.3 bWAR and 51 fWAR. The biggest factor hindering any recognition for McPhee is that he never actually wore a number, meaning they have nothing to retire. This hasn’t stopped other teams, but I’m not sure the Reds are quite on the same level as, say, Roger Hornsby or Christy Mathewson.

Both sources agree that Vada Pinson immediately follows McPhee. While playing with the Reds from 1958 until 1968, the center fielder accumulated 45.4 bWAR and 49 fWAR (for as good as he was with the Reds, his final seven years were unfortunately much less notable). In his favor, Pinson played in the 1960s, an era that has been kind to retired numbers. However, in this case, it probably would have been more advantageous for Pinson to have had his career a decade later, as the team seems much more inclined to honor players from the Big Red Machine Years. At this moment, Pinson may get his number retired. His case is a little less than a toss-up; he played during a time frequently remembered with nostalgia throughout baseball, and the team may decide on a whim to honor him; there would really be nothing wrong with doing so. However, he was better at defense (something that frequently gets overlooked) and was overshadowed by both teammate Frank Robinson and the Reds teams that followed. He is a reasonable retired number candidate, but not the most likely to be honored, and his odds decrease drastically with each passing year.

Speaking of a the Big Red Machine, there is another notable member (besides Rose) who has yet to be honored with the others. Left fielder George Foster arrived in Cincinnati in 1971, and played there for the next ten years after that. In that time, he was worth 37.9 bWAR and 45 fWAR. Fangraphs has him tenth in team history, while Baseball-Reference has him just miss the top ten (by 0.4). The team has definitely shown love for the Big Red Machine era-Rose and Foster would represent the sixth and seventh members of the with their numbers honored, if both make it. And with the retirement of number 13 five years ago, it shows the team is still open to retiring numbers from the seventies. Foster may not be a lock like Larkin or Rose, but I like his chances.

Both lists have third baseman Heinie Groh and center fielder Edd Roush in the top 12, and they have similar cases, so I’ll cover them together. The two were long-time teammates; Groh (1913-1927) played in Cincinnati from 1913 to 1921, while Roush (1913-1929, 1931) played there from 1916 to 1926 and again in 1931. Groh was worth 39.1 bWAR and 45 fWAR in his time there, while Roush was worth 38.3 bWAR and 44 fWAR. And, of course, neither wore a number, which severely hurts their cases. If Bid McPhee is already unlikely, I can’t imagine Groh or Roush being any likelier.

It’s quite the drop off from those two to the next Reds hitters, so now is probably the time to switch to another method. Topping the team pitching leaders is Noodles Hahn, who played for Cincinnati from 1899 to 1906. Part of that huge 44.0 bWAR total is due to the large workloads pitchers threw at the turn of the century, and I can’t imagine the fact that he only pitched eight years total will help his case. Also, he (again) didn’t wear a number, which is another negative. The only real positive I guess I can see is his nickname-on the off chance he does make it, I would love to see “NOODLES” on the outfield wall at Great American Ballpark. I don’t think that’s happening, though.

Eppa Rixey, second on the pitcher list, actually stands a much better chance. He’s a Hall of Famer, so he is still remembered to an extent. He also spent a reasonable amount of time as a Red (thirteen years, from 1921 to 1933), and was good in that time as well (38.5 bWAR). He even wore a number, meaning we don’t have to worry about that. In this case, though, his number may still be a negative; Rixey wore 18, which has since been retired for Ted Kluszewski. It wouldn’t be the first time a number is retired for two players, but it does seem a little redundant. On top of that, you may notice that he hasn’t played in nearly seven decades, so he isn’t exactly at the forefront of most people’s memories. He’s more likely than a few of the other players I’ve covered, but I still wouldn’t call his odds favorable.

After him is a trio of now-largely forgotten hurlers from many years ago: Bucky Walters (1938 to 1948 with the Reds), Dolf Luque (1918 to 1929), and Frank Dwyer (1892 to 1899). They have, in order, 36.6, 36.2, and 35.1 bWAR, meaning they were all of more or less similar value. Walters was the only one of the three to wear a number, so his case is slightly better, I suppose. Even then, though, his case rests almost entirely on three to four good years, and not a ton else. As a whole, though, I would say this group probably has odds lower than even Noodle Hahn’s chances.

I really only covered those three players so that I could get to the sixth pitcher on the list, Jose Rijo. Rijo is the only pitcher left on the list that I can see with a reasonable chance. His career was recent enough that he’s still well-remembered. Rijo pitched with the team from 1988 to 1995, with a two year comeback in 2001 and 2002. That timeframe saw pretty much all of his career value, with 34.8 bWAR. It’s worth noting that, although he’s sixth among Reds pitchers, he also has over 500 fewer innings than anyone above him, meaning his time with the team was that much more valuable. Add in his 1990 World Series heroics and you have a very interesting candidate. I would say Rijo’s case is comparable in likeliness to Foster’s at least, maybe even a little better since his career is fresher in everyone’s memory.

There were a few other batters I figured I should at least bring up before I move on. Ken Griffey, Sr. spent twelve years in Cincinnati (1973 to 1981, 1988 to 1990) and was above average while there (23.9 bWAR, 27 fWAR). I don’t think being a member of the Big Red Machine will hurt, either. I do think that, with Foster and Rose still unretired, though, Griffey is, at best, third in line just in players from the ‘70s. As mentioned, those two would make seven retired numbers from the run in the ‘70s. Is there room for an eighth from those teams? I’m not exactly convinced.

On the subject, Eric Davis was above average for the 1990 Reds, and in his nine years on the team, totaled 28.8 bWAR and 30 fWAR. Those are sort of borderline numbers, but I think that Larkin and Rijo would be honored before him. A third person from that era would need a lot of fan support to get his case seriously considered, I guess. That’s the only thing I can think of for him.

In a similar position is Adam Dunn. I associated him with the Reds for a long time, so I figured I should include him. B-R doesn’t like him (particularly his fielding), giving him 14.8 bWAR for his eight years. Fangraphs, meanwhile, has him at 23 fWAR for that time (while losing something like 7 WAR for his awful defense). I know defense counts, but it’s not totally his fault he was playing out of position for all that time. If Dunn makes a run at 500, or even 600, home runs, we may start discussing his Hall chances. That could make things interesting at least, although there’s a big “if” or two in there. To make things even more interesting, Dunn shared his number (44) with Eric Davis.

Also, I feel like I should bring up Ken Griffey, Jr. He will definitely make the Hall, and he will definitely get his number retired in Seattle. He did also spend a rather long time in Cincinnati (2000 to 2008). Will that be enough to see him be honored? I really doubt it. I figured it was worth mentioning, though; his return to his dad’s team was very hyped up, and retired numbers sometimes are driven more by sentiment and hometown ties than actual performance (see, Nolan Ryan in Texas, or Wade Boggs in Tampa). Still, I just can’t see this one happening. Junior’s time as a Red was worth 11.3 bWAR and 12 fWAR.

That pretty much just leaves the current players. The obvious place to start is Joey Votto. Since starting in 2007, the first baseman has put up 25.1 bWAR and 28 fWAR. Added to that, he’s under contract for the next twelve seasons, meaning he has plenty of time to add on to that. I would say he’s far-and-away the most likely present-day Red, to see his number honored some day.

Brandon Phillips is less of a sure thing. He beat Votto to Cincinnati by a year, and has since been worth 19.5 bWAR and 26 fWAR. He’s several years older than Votto (31, to Votto’s 28) though, and his peak hasn’t been as good as Votto’s. Phillips is signed through 2017, though, so he has plenty of time to build up his value with the team. Only time will tell.

Jay Bruce is much younger than either, at 25, and already has some decent seasons under his belt. His first five seasons have been worth 9.3 bWAR and 12.6 fWAR, and he’s under contract until after 2016 (with an option in 2017), meaning he has time. However, he’ll have to step up his production a little. He’s yet to substantially build off his breakout 2010 season, a must if he’s to make a strong case for himself.

Johnny Cueto is a similar age to Bruce (26), and has comparably successful (11.2 bWAR and 11.3 fWAR since 2008). He’s looked like an ace so far this season. However, two things to be wary of: pitchers are particularly to sudden changes in fortune due to things like injury, and Cueto is only guaranteed to be a Red through 2014 (at the moment). He’s promising, but very far from certain.

After that is a host of young players worth mentioning, for the sake of thoroughness. Aroldis Chapman, Devin Mesoraco, Mat Latos, and Mike Leake are all 24 have varying degrees of success to date. I would put Chapman, then Mesoraco as the favorites from that group, just based on the wisdom of people who rate prospects. Zack Cozart and Todd Frazier may be on some Reds’ fans minds as well. The two are rookies, but both are actually older than that group that I just mentioned (Cozart and Frazier are 26). With such late starts, I can’t see them becoming serious contenders for retired numbers.

So, In Closing…
As of right now, the players that I think are most likely to get their numbers retired by the Cincinnati Reds in the future are, in order:

Barry Larkin-11
Pete Rose-14
Joey Votto-19
Jose Rijo-27
George Foster-15
Brandon Phillips-4
Jay Bruce-32
Johnny Cueto-47
Vada Pinson-28
Ken Griffey, Sr.-30
Adam Dunn-44
Eric Davis-44
Eppa Rixey-18
Aroldis Chapman-54
Devin Mesoraco-39
Mat Latos-55
Mike Leake-44
Ken Griffey, Jr.-30/3
Bid McPhee
Todd Frazier-21
Zack Cozart-2
Heinie Groh
Edd Roush
Bucky Walters-31
Noodles Hahn
Dolf Luque
Frank Dwyer

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