View Full Version : Reds History - Third Base

06-11-2007, 09:39 AM
For a franchise that has been around since the beginning of professional baseball the Reds have a few odd quirks in their history that display a major hole in their teams makeup over the numerous eras that the game has morphed through.

In fact this season weíre getting first hand look at the trouble this hole has caused, Iím not speaking of the bullpen, thatís been a nice facet of the Reds game over the years, current team excluded of course. What Iím talking about is the complete and utter lack of any firm history at the third base position for the Reds, this season the play of Edwin Encarnacion highlighted the volatility of the position in the teamís history. His slow start, his demotion his recent splurge of fantastic play both on the field and at the dish.

So letís start with Eddie E, his performance last year as a batter was a highlight to another up and down season in the land of the seven hills and factoring in his age we see that he produced the 5th best Runs Created per game for a 25 year old (and younger) third baseman in the teams history.

OBA vs. the league average
SLG vs. the league average
1 Harry Steinfeldt 1903 7.76 .045 .119 25
2 Grady Hatton 1947 6.47 .027 .042 24
3 Tony Cuccinello 1930 6.28 .010 -.012 22
4 Grady Hatton 1946 6.17 .031 .054 23
5 Edwin Encarnacion 2006 6.03 .016 .031 23
6 Willie Greene 1997 5.84 .011 .034 25
7 Tony Perez 1967 5.39 .007 .111 25
8 Nick Esasky 1985 5.17 .004 .077 25
9 Dan Driessen 1974 4.93 .012 .021 22
10 Lew Riggs 1935 4.90 -.006 -.022 25

Thus when his sub .600 OPS and fielding gaffes added to the recent skid I was once again led to ponder what was wrong with third base in the Reds history?

Was it bad luck, poor scouting, or worse yet have the Reds just been unlucky in finding a world-class third sacker?

In the Bill James Historical Abstract, James goes into great detail recanting the woes of the Dodgers to find a third baseman over the years, he touches the great White Sox washout between Willie Kamm and Robin Ventura and tells of the Mets woes in finding a steady contributor at the hot corner since their inception in the early 1960ís.

What he doesnít touch on is the Reds utter and complete lack of a history at 3rd base, at least one that isnít fraught with odd tales, odd balls and converts. Even Rob Neyer (unknowingly) notes the lack of solid candidates for the Reds all time team (in his Big Book of Baseball Lineups) when he names Billy Werber as the Reds #2 third sacker of all time. Werber played a grand total of 399 games as a Red in three seasons, as many as Leo Durocher did, a man most forget was a Red much alone a player on some of the worst Reds teams of all time. In Reds history both are tied for 136th in games played by non-pitchers, hardly enough time spent to be considered as an ďall timeĒ Red.

Simply put the Reds history at 3rd base is a freak show, a Carney act that is a wonder to look at in several different ways, to start Iím going to look at games played as the first benchmark. Thatís where I got my first surprise, and by compiling a list of the top ten Reds 3rd basemen in games played I found a whole other laundry list of minutia that interested me.

Below is the list of the top games played in by Reds 3rd sackers, since they entered the American Association in 1882.

1 Heine Groh 955 .106
2 Hick Carpenter 892 -.021
3 Chris Sabo 818 .056
4 Harry Steinfeldt 806 .001
5 Tony Perez 792 .138
6 Grady Hatton 758 .006
7 Arlie Latham 696 -.020
8 Aaron Boone 668 .007
9 Babe Pinelli 648 -.078
10 Pete Rose 645 .100

To start weíre going to look at the number of games played, 1000 games played and divided by 154 would be 6.5 seasons, the Reds are led by Heine Groh (a converted 2nd basemen) and his games played stands at 955 games.

The Reds are the only franchise that isnít an expansion team that doesnít have a 3rd basemen with 1000 games played. In fact some franchises (Giants, Phillies, Yankees and Red Sox) have three players with at least 1000 games played at 3rd base. A few teams even have players with 2000 games played at third base.

But not the Reds, they have a leader who last played for the team in 1921, 86 years ago, a player who in classic Reds fashion became too expensive to keep and thus was sent off to a team in a bigger city, with the biggest checkbook.

Even furthering this madness is the fact that the Reds have only three players that exceeded 100 games played at 3rd base 6 times in their Reds career, and none have played since the spitball was abolished.

T1 Hick Carpenter 6
T1 Heine Groh 6
T1 Harry Steinfeldt 6
T4 Arlie Latham 5
T4 Grady Hatton 5
T4 Tony Perez 5
T7 Chris Sabo 4
T7 Bobby Adams 4
T7 Lew Riggs 4
T7 Pete Rose 4
T7 Chuck Dressen 4
T7 Babe Pinelli 4
T7 Aaron Boone 4

GAMES > 100

T1 Graig Nettles 17
T1 Brooks Robinson 17
T1 Gary Gaetti 17
T4 Mike Schmidt 15
T4 Wade Boggs 15
T4 Eddie Mathews 15
T7 Tim Wallach 14
T7 Buddy Bell 14
T7 Eddie Yost 14
T10 Pie Traynor 13
T10 Ron Santo 13

Thatís just a taste of the guys in the top of that list, and then above it, thatís the best the Reds have offered.

But back to the 1000 games list, the one that shows the complete and utter lack of history (well superduperstar longevity and all that sort of history, a type that seems everyone else who played in 1899 has.) As I mentioned earlier, James covers the futility of the Chisox, Dodgers and Mets in finding a long term answer at third base, well hereís their top 3rd basemen in games played.

1 Howard Johnson 1054 .093
2 Wayne Garrett 883 -.027


1 Robin Ventura 1254 .054
2 Willie Kamm 1170 -.014
3 Bill Melton 835 .060

1 Ron Cey 1479 .085
2 Adrian Beltre 966 .015
3 George Pinckney 821 .034

All eight players in the above lists played more games at third for their team then the Reds 3rd place player in games played (Chris Sabo)

Thatís just the tip of the craziness in the Reds list, so Iím going to run through them and weíll start with the top of the Reds list, though most of these players are forgotten each represents a man that played in an era of major league baseball that had its own distinct style and usually the third basemen in most cases helped redefine and further define that style of play.

Starting off weíll go with the team leader in games played at third

Heine Groh 955 4152 .380 .400 1.62

Groh alone stands facing the pitcher instead of sideways. And Groh steps forward to meet the ball just as the old timers used to do. Any batting example set by Pop Anson is good enough for some one to follow.

Groh gives a very plausible argument in favor of his own peculiar method. He says, "By standing facing the pitcher, you can see both foul lines, watch the pitcher's windup motion better and follow the ball better. These things are very important. In addition, by standing in that way, the batter unconsciously steps forward to meet the ball. When he swings, the force of the swing itself carries him toward first base and really gets him into his stride.

Heine Groh, the only Reds 3rd basemen listed in Bill James top 100 3rd basemen list in his Historical Abstract (#20) Groh was a converted 2nd basemen (79% of the games he played as a Red were at 3rd) and his conversion was chiefly made because his quickness was needed at third, which from 1900 (or so) and up had become a more mobile position, one that demanded the pleasure of quick hands and quick feet as the player was often called on to field the eras constant stream of sacrifice bunts that occurred as each team generally played for 1 run. Heineís run as the Reds third basemen was accented by his fine hitting, his approach was a punch and Judy style that attacked the ball with short, swift swings. He struck rarely and walked twice as much. From 1917-1919 Groh had an OPS .130 above his position. Along with Edd Roush Heine was the Reds best hitter and a major cog in the championship team of 1919. Like many Reds he looked to profit off the teams new found wealth and proceeded to have several salary disputes with the team over the next two years. In June of 1921 the Reds sold Heine to the Giants, he was a hold out and the Giants where willing to meet his price. This deal was killed by Judge Landis as being too money oriented and beneficial to the rich team (Bowie Kuhn much?) and ordered the teams to revisit the deal after the 1921 season if they still would like to.

In grand fashion Heine played his years out in the Cincinnati are and is buried at the Spring Grove Cemetery. Still the Reds best third baseman, 81 long years later.

Second on the list is one of the greatest anomalies of the Reds (and perhaps the games long and storied history) In this case we are talking about Hick Carpenter, the man who played third for the team when they were in the American Association.

Hick Carpenter 892 3858 .293 .335 -.42

Like Heine, Hick was on a championship team (1882 Reds) unlike Heine Hick played without a glove and unlike almost every man in the history of the game Hick played over 1000 games at 3rd base, despite throwing with his left hand.

He was the man Mike Squires aspired to be, in fact heís the only lefty to play as a regular at third and the fact that the Reds boast a list that has a lefty 3rd sacker as number two in games played who last played for them 118 years ago really highlights to me that the position has been a void on most of the Reds teams throughout the years.


1 Hick Carpenter 1059
2 Lefty Marr 129
3 Roger Connor 111
4 Bill McClellan 58
T5 Willie Keeler 44
T5 Spud Johnson 44
7 Jack Leary 37
8 John Cassidy 17
9 Mike Squires 14
10 George Decker 10

Of course in the era that Hick played errors were more common then hits are today, being left handed likely didnít mater as much then as now, but we must note that Hick averaged 59 errors a year at third as a Red, about 1 every 1.85 games. So impress your friends with this tidbit, get Hicks name out there, he owns quite an accomplishment and Reds fans should celebrate it.

1988-1993 1996
Chris Sabo 818 3332 .328 .447 0.53

Spuds, now thatís a dated imageÖ the dog actually, not Sabo. Perhaps Chris is the last Red to really go by a nickname to the fan base, I could be wrong though. Sabo burst on to the scene in 1988, the 26-year-old spring training surprise really won over Charlie Hustle himself and after that the whole Reds nation fell in step. This comes with a herring, note his age when he hits the big leagues, that coupled with his limited range and lack of walks make his career as a Red (and a MLB) brief and bright, this includes being the 3rd man on the list to have the pleasure of being the man who played 3rd for a Reds championship team.

His career can be highlighted with four points.

1. Appears as a ďHotĒ Prospect in the seminal scouting tome ďDollar Sign on the MuscleĒ
2. Steals the third base job from Buddy Bell, wins rookie of the year award, appears as a pinch runner in the 1988 AS Game in Cincinnati.
3. Has back to back seasons with more then 60 EBHís and a .800 plus OPS
4. Hits the free agent market fails, returns to Cincinnati and gets caught corking his bat, Chris was out of the game at age 35, and last seen in a crazy commercial.

Harry Steinfeldt 806 3272 .324 .368 -.29

Another oddity on the Reds list as far as Iím concerned, Harry spans two eras of National League baseball, but his greatest legacy is that he is the answer to an age old trivia question. ďWho played third with Tinker, Evers and Chance?Ē By then Harry was a Cub, so we wonít bother with his career then, Iím interested in his Cincinnati showing. From the look of it he was not adapt at the dish, but in the field he was said to be quick and one of the new style third sackers who were being challenged by the bunt more and more each year. Harry predated his baseball career as a performer in a minstrel show, blackface and all. As a Red he was one of the first players to engage the club in yearly salary disputes, a tactic that eventually led him to be traded to that great role as the answer in a trivia question, a feat better then most can claim I guess.

Tony Perez 792 3383 .350 .494 1.75

In 1966 Lee May hit .345 at Buffalo, Tony Perez was thought of around the league as being ďa part time playerĒ He was though manager Dave Bristolís favorite player (It was Dave who called Tony ďThe Big DogĒ) Perez was also then strictly a 1st baseman, but May was as well. Neither would likely end up in the outfield, during the winter meetings in 1966 no team would offer new Reds GM a package he felt worthy of Perez, even despite his part time label. On May 9th 1967 Deron Johnson the Reds third basemen pulled his hamstring, Tony Perez crossed the diamond and held down position through Johnsonís return and then the next 3 years. Tony was a brutal third sacker compiling the most errors for a third basemen in all of baseball from 1967-1971.

1 Tony Perez 123 .946 2.82
2 Ron Santo 112 .956 3.09
3 Joe Foy 92 .941 2.85
4 Ken McMullen 86 .966 3.32
5 Doug Rader 83 .950 2.94
6 Aurelio Rodriguez 81 .955 3.06
7 Mike Shannon 80 .938 2.55
8 Sal Bando 79 .961 2.86
9 Brooks Robinson 73 .972 3.26
10 Paul Schaal 71 .944 2.66

The move to Riverfront and its carpet coupled with the need for speed found the Reds choosing Perez over May and moving Perez to 1st, but once again beginning the search for the third baseman that would redefine the Reds tattered history at the hot corner. Tony ended up listed as Bill James 14th greatest 1st sacker of all time I his Historical Abstract, it looks like the Reds not only moved the right guy, they kept the right player.

Grady Hatton 758 3135 .355 .395 0.35

Post war baseball in Cincinnati was certainly not anything to pine about or to celebrate. Grady was there for the whole ride, seriously look at the mess he participated in:

1946 6th 67 87 .435 30
1947 5th 73 81 .474 21
1948 7th 64 89 .418 27
1949 7th 62 92 .403 35
1950 6th 66 87 .431 24.5
1951 6th 68 86 .442 28.5
1952 6th 69 85 .448 27.5
1953 6th 68 86 .442 37

Youíve never heard of Grady Hatton?

Maybe the above is why.

Grady was smallish compared to todayís player and walked more then he struck out, he had some pop in an era that many also did. He is perhaps the first Reds third baseman who does have a bigger bat then glove.

Arlie Latham 696 3214 .361 .355 0.28

A baseball legend, from the 1880ísÖ and another 19th century player who makes the Reds top ten. Arlie is probably responsible for the creation of the coaching box, the coaching profession and the knowledge of baseball in England (he was hired by the King to teach him the game) A man who also played without a glove Arlie holds the all time record for errors at third with 822, the next player has 614. Prone to playing the actor Arlie would wildly wave his leg in the air when a hot liner screamed by him, for years this was known as ďDoing a LathamĒ His presence on the team came at the same time as the Reds switch to the National League as he paired well with his former Browns teammate and Reds Manager Charles Comiskey.

Aaron Boone 668 2667 .334 .450 0.10

Aaron Boones career can be described in the following bullet points.

1. Called up to replace his brother who is sent down.
2. Becomes third generation player (Ray/Bob/Aaron/Brett)
3. Played in the same game with brother and the Larkin Brothers
4. Plays ever single game for father in 2002
5. Traded the next year

Other Boone notes: Aaron never met a high fastball he didnít want to address, he was athletic and fun to watch, unless he was on a bad streak, then taunts of daddyís boy seemed follow him in the Reds chat rooms and blog postings, until he got expensive he was fine. Iíve seen worse players and Iíve seen better ones as well. Boone like Sabo a late bloomer, and it looks like heíll flame out earlier too.

Babe Pinelli 648 2544 .333 .355 -1.48

No era of baseball produced more hitting then the 20ís and the 30ís (except perhaps the 1890ís) if you scan most teams assist leaders youíll note patterns that might give you an idea about the way the offense was acting during that era. Hereís and example:




4.19 24274 9.88 13.25 3.13 3.19 0.98




4.48 61546 9.25 13.04 6.53 3.44 1.90

Aside from the home run onslaught (that adds to that increased slugging percentage) the biggest difference in the pitching line is the increased strikeouts in the modern age compared to the 20ís and 30ís. Itís from these extra outs we get the larger assists totals for the infielders during that era.

In 1922 Heine Groh was a Giant 9again) and Babe Pinelli was the Reds new 3rd basemen, that year he had 350 assists, or about 2.24 a game. This is still the team record to this day, also only the 77th best in MLB history since 1900. This is pretty telling about the history of the position for the Reds, Pinelli was out of the game by the age of 31. He later returned as an umpire and gained his greatest recognition in the game in blue. His last game behind the plate was the 1956 perfect game in the World Series, he umpped in the field the final two contests and then retired to the Bay Area. His call of strike three to Dale Mitchell in that game also has become a trivia question that is often thrown out there in the form of, What umpire umpped his last game in the 1956 World Series Perfect game.Ē This question is false in the form that it wasnít Babes last game umpiring, just his last game behind the plate.

1966 1975-1978
Pete Rose 645 2983 .388 .434 1.95

By the start of the 1966 season it was evident that Peter Rose was not going to make his hay in major league ball by playing second base, his lot was in his bat and that was what he really brought to the table. New manager Don Heffner had an idea, he would move Rose to third, Deron Johnson to first and insert rookie Tommy Helms at second, improving the team defense at both corners and up the middle. A grand idea, except Pete didnít like it. He felt uncomfortable there and begged his way back to second, Helms played 3rd that year. He won the rookie of the year award that season and moved back to second the next season. Rose found his way into the outfield, and Heffner was fired.

Nine years later Sparky Anderson wanted to get George Foster in the lineup, he tried the same thing that Heffner had in 1966. This time it took, now itís a chapter in the Reds history, one that often eclipses the earlier one. Pete ended up his first stint as a Red as a poor fielding third sacker with limited range, playing on carpet nonetheless. For his career he played the flowing positions as a Red this many times:

1264 - Outfield

629 - Third

627 - Second

194 - First

So, thatís the Reds players that live in the top ten of games in games played at third, just in case youíre keeping score at home Edwin sits at 212 games played at third base, he recently passed both Deron Johnson and Johnny Bench, by the end of the week heíll have passed Danny Driessen. Pretty telling about the types of players the Reds have tried to shoehorn into the position, even the bottom of the list is plugged up with converted first basemen and catchers.

I for one ainít surprised.

06-11-2007, 10:50 AM
After reading this, I realize that the acquisition of Scott Rolen by the Reds in 2002 (remember those speculations?) would have had historical significance. He's working on his 11th season of 100+ games at third, and two more after this one would put him in the top ten all-time in that category.

He's played about 600 games for the Cardinals since they got him in '02 and would've made the the Reds all-time top ten this year. At only 32 years old, he could've had a shot at becoming the franchise's all-time leader in games played at third base.

06-11-2007, 11:17 PM
Great stuff, WOY.

A few additional thoughts:

1.) I can't imagine that *any* franchise has had wild success in putting good third sackers on the field. The position has evolved over time, from nimble bunt fielders, to statuesque hard throwers, to speedy rangy guys, and more recently to sluggers in the 1990s and 2000s. When the market needs change that substantially over time, there may be a lag in identifying talents that meet the current needs. Plus, the current archetype of a good 3B is a rare mix of talents--great throwing arm, quick reactions, good hands, sturdy footwork, and a power bat.

2.) With that said, I think one could make a good case that we are currently in the Golden Era of third basemen. Seriously. Rolen, Wright, ARod, among others. I can't recall there ever being more talent at third than there is today. I'm sure several here could prove me otherwise.

3.) You referenced lefties playing third base--when did that go away? After the deadball era? And what precipitated the move?

I think I understand the downside of playing a lefty at third. The big negatives would be that lefties could field fewer bunts cleanly and make fewer plays in the hole. And the extra half-step in throwing to first or second base might increase the infield base hits.

On the other hand, keeping a lefty at third would have the substantial benefit of saving extra-base hits down the line--that can't be said for keeping a lefty at short or second. Moreover, you would most likely add another lefty bat to the lineup, which would provide a platoon advantage for the offense.

How was the decision made, over time, to exclude all lefties at third? Were studies done on this back in the day, i.e., the cost of having a lefty at third outweighs the benefits? Or was this imperious baseball knowledge that evolved over time and was passed down from generation to generation (e.g., the catcher always bats eighth, or catchers must catch righthanded). Is this a Moneyball inefficiency here, or am I overthinking?

[probably the latter]

06-12-2007, 07:11 AM
2.) With that said, I think one could make a good case that we are currently in the Golden Era of third basemen. Seriously. Rolen, Wright, ARod, among others. I can't recall there ever being more talent at third than there is today. I'm sure several here could prove me otherwise.

The 1960s was a good era for third basemen. The Orioles's Brooks Robinson's prime was during that decade, and the Braves's Eddie Mathews was still very good in the first part of the 1960s. Robinson and Mathews are in the HOF, and two other third basemen, Ron Santo of the Cubs and Ken Boyer of St. Louis, should be.
While he wasn't much of a fielder, the Phillies's Richie Allen, as he was then known, had some monster years with the bat while primarily being a third baseman in 1964-66. As WOY noted, Tony Perez was another big hitter who played third from 1967 through 1971. The Giants's Jim Ray Hart was yet another good bat, poor glove, stationed at the hot corner in the 1960s. Frank Malzone was a good third baseman for the Bosox, Pete Ward had a few good years for the Chisox, and Sal Bando came up as a third baseman near the end of the decade for the A's. The Twins played Harmon Killebrew at third base some; while he wasn't much with the glove, he was a HOF hitter.

06-12-2007, 08:30 AM
The Reds sure have had their share of journeyman, stopgaps, and can miss "can't missers" for third basemen.

Jablonski, Freese, Boras, Deron Johnson, through to Knight, Krenchicki, Esasky, etc and etc.

Goes to show that EdE, if healthy and productive, could be the best Reds All-Time 3rd Baseman.

06-12-2007, 08:35 AM
How was the decision made, over time, to exclude all lefties at third? Were studies done on this back in the day, i.e., the cost of having a lefty at third outweighs the benefits? Or was this imperious baseball knowledge that evolved over time and was passed down from generation to generation (e.g., the catcher always bats eighth, or catchers must catch righthanded). Is this a Moneyball inefficiency here, or am I overthinking?

[probably the latter]

Think of the natural throw of the right-hander - it's much more cleaner, and all one motion.

The southpaw third sacker would have to spin completely around, back facing the runner while throwing. Extra time would mean extra advantage to a runner.

Watch Scott Hatteberg on a throw to second sometime. As a righthanded first baseman he has to spin completely around. Same theory.

You'd rather have a lefthanded first baseman and righthanded fielders.

The theory of Left-handed catchers is that they are more prone to run into right handed batters, which is a majority of the hitters.

06-12-2007, 12:25 PM
There was also a good run of third basemen between 1976 and 1985. Those ten years featured two of the three greatest third basemen ever, Mike Schmidt and George Brett. A third future HOF third baseman came along in 1982, Wade Boggs.
Other third basemen of note during that time included Bill Madlock, who would win four batting titles between 1975 and 1983; Graig Nettles, a slick fielder who was one of three thrid baseman who lead the league in HRs during the 1970s (Schmidt won three of his eight HR titles during the 1970s, and Bill Melton won a HR title in 1971); and Darrell Evans, a vastly underrated player, who would lead the AL in HRs in 1985.
As WOY noted, Pete Rose wasn't much of a fielder, but during his four years as the Reds third baseman he was essentially a player who would play every game and give you around 30 win shares a season, an outstanding total.
Ron Cey was a quality third baseman and a guy who always seemed to be coming up with a clutch hit to beat the Reds. I know the concept of "clutch hitting" is questioned, and maybe my memory of Cey is faulty, but I used to hate to see him come to the plate.
I should have added Carney Lansford to the list of third basemen of note between 1976 and 1985; while not a great player, he did win a batting title while with Boston in 1981.

06-12-2007, 12:32 PM
Between the 1905 and 1906 seasons the Reds literally gave away Steinfeldt and Orval Overall to the Cubs. During the 1905 season Noodles Hahn blew out his arm and in the middle of the 1906 season Cy Seymour was sold to the Giants.

It took the franchise 12 seasons to recover.

The Groh trade quite possibly cost the Reds the 1923 pennant, plus it apparently cursed the 3B position for the franchise.

06-12-2007, 12:33 PM
I can't imagine that *any* franchise has had wild success in putting good third sackers on the field.

Here's the best run from what I can figure the A's last 40 years

1 Sal Bando 1468 6086 .359 .418 1.20
2 Carney Lansford 1203 5046 .343 .404 0.35
3 Eric Chavez 1166 4777 .350 .489 0.90
7 Wayne Gross 729 2598 .336 .387 0.11

The A's top 5 since 67


1 Sal Bando 1446
2 Eric Chavez 1122
3 Carney Lansford 1096
4 Wayne Gross 719
5 Scott Brosius 398

You referenced lefties playing third base--when did that go away? After the deadball era? And what precipitated the move?

I'll say it vanished in the 1880's more so, that's the era that the bunt is first introduced as well as the era that basemen began to play off the bag more (that includes 3rd and 2nd too) and as heath said the fielding of the bunt (which was just gaining steam in that era) meant that the extra move that a LH thrower must incur probably was seen as something to avoid.