The Best of Times and the Worst of Times: Reds/Yankees

Is the greatest catcher Bench or Berra? Neither would be a bad choice.

Welcome to the start of another series here on Pinstripe Alley, "The Best of Times and the Worst of Times." In it, we will take a closer look at the Yankees' all-time franchise history against the club that they're currently playing against. With some foes, like the Red Sox, there will be a plethora of information on games against each other, but with others, like interleague opponents, there won't be as much to research. Regardless of the differences between such teams, the series should help us revisit unforgettable memories (both awesome and not-so-awesome) in Yankees history that have had dramatic effects on the franchise. By examining the teams' head-to-head history, perhaps something can be learned of which players to expect great things from in the future matchups.

Cincinnati Reds (and the team's scariest logo!)

Terrifying Reds logo

All-time regular season record vs. NYY: 6-5

All-time playoff record vs. NYY: 5-8 ('39 WS: 0-4; '61 WS: 1-4; '76 WS: 4-0)

The Yankees and Reds are two of Major League Baseball's premier franchises, and the Reds have a history that certainly does not seem shabby when compared to the Yankees. Both teams have their share of immortals in the record books. Yogi Berra and Johnny Bench are almost always regarded in the top two positions when discussing the greatest catchers; Bill Dickey and Ernie Lombardi are not far behind them either. Derek Jeter and Barry Larkin are also mentioned among the greatest shortstops, as are Phil Rizzuto and Dave Concepcion. While Cincinnati does not have all-time great outfielders like Babe Ruth, they had Frank Robinson and George Foster. While the Yankees don't have legendary second basemen like Joe Morgan, they had Tony Lazzeri and Joe Gordon. Pete Rose and Jeter are two of the greatest contact hitters to have played in the post-'61 Expansion Era. Neither teams have pitchers as famous as Cy Young, but names like Whitey Ford and Eppa Rixey are still n the Hall of Fame. The teams have played against each other in the World Series three times; the Reds ran into the Yankees' buzzsaw dynasties of the late '30s and early '60s in 1939 and 1961, respectively. Likewise, the Yankees were shut down by the incredible "Big Red Machine" of the mid-'70s in 1976. Similarities between the teams run deep.

The Best of Times

"The Great Snooze" and the '39 World Series: The Yankees and Reds met for the first time in the '39 World Series. The Yankees had won the last three Fall Classics in a row and had run roughshod over the American League, winning 106 games and the AL Pennant by 17 games. The Reds, meanwhile, won only their second NL pennant and made their first World Series appearance in 20 years (when they beat the 1919 "Black Sox" in a controversial series). Regardless, they still had terrific players like Lombardi and Frank McCormick (209 hits in '39), as well as 20-game winners Paul Derringer and Bucky Walters. The first game was a pitchers' duel between Derringer and Red Ruffing, a matchup that ended in a 2-1 Yankees win thanks to a Charlie Keller triple and a walk-off single by Dickey against Derringer in the ninth inning. Monte Pearson shut the Reds out in Game 2 as the Yankees beat Walters with a three-run third and a solo homer by first baseman Babe Dahlgren (who filled in all season for the dying legend Lou Gehrig).The series shifted to Crosley Field in Cincinnati, and the Yankees won 7-3 by smashing three homers against Reds starter Junior Thompson during his five innings of work. Manager Joe McCarthy decided to have Bump Hadley relieve Hall of Famer Lefty Gomez in the second inning despite a 2-1 Yankees lead, and he proceeded to throw eight innings of two-run ball to secure the win.

The Yankees finished the sweep in a hard-fought Game 4. The game was scoreless through six, but the Yankees broke the tie with two solo homers against Derringer in the seventh. The Reds rebounded and took the lead thanks to an error by Yankee third baseman Red Rolfe with three runs in the bottom half of the frame against Yankee reliever Steve Sundra, a rally keyed by RBI singles from shortstop Billy Myers and pinch-hitter Willard Hershberger (who tragically committed suicide in August of the next year). The Reds tacked on a fourth run in the eighth against Johnny Murphy and were poised to force the series to a Game 5 as they headed to the ninth inning with a 4-2 lead and Walters on the mound, but Keller and DiMaggio singled back-to-back to begin the frame. They both came around to score after Myers dropped a fielder's choice at second base and Gordon legged out an infield single toward third base. In the tenth, the Yankees added three more runs on a weird play that has since been dubbed "The Great Snooze." Frankie Crosetti walked and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, and Myers bobbled another ball at shortstop to allow Keller to reach first base. Joe DiMaggio singled to right to score Crosetti, and Keller scored as well after the Reds relayed a poor throw to the plate. The ball bounced right next to the catcher Lombardi, but he was dazed after Keller knocked Lombardi's head with his knee as he scored. The "snooze" enabled DiMaggio to score himself, and the Yankees won the game 7-4, although Murphy ran into trouble himself in the bottom of the tenth with the tying run at the plate and no one out following back-to-back singles. He retired the next three hitters (including Lombardi, seeking redemption), and the Yankees won their fourth World Series in a row. Keller would have likely been the World Series MVP if the award had existed; he hit ..438/.471/1.188 in the four-game sweep with three homers against the Reds' pitching. While the Yankees did not return to the Series in 1940, the Reds did and exacted revenge on the American League by beating the Detroit Tigers in seven games.

The Worst of Times

The Return to the Series and a Disheartening Realization: The Yankees made a dramatic return to the World Series in 1976 as Chris Chambliss smashed a solo homer against the Kansas City Royals to bring the Yankees back to the Fall Classic for the first time since 1964. Unfortunately, their return to prominence was interrupted by a machine- a "Big Red Machine" to be precise. The Reds were the defending World Series champions after beating the Red Sox the previous season to win their first title in 35 years. The Reds were looking to become the National League's first repeat World Series champions since the New York Giants of 1921-22. The Yankees, though a terrific team, did not stand much of a chance against the amazing Reds. Don Gullett outdueled Doyle Alexander in Game 1 5-1 to guide Cincinnati to a Series lead, and they took Game 2 at Riverfront Stadium 4-3 after Tony Perez hit an RBI single in the bottom of the ninth against starter Catfish Hunter to give the Reds a 2-0 lead in the Fall Classic. The Series shifted back to New York, and the Reds quickly jumped out to 4-0 lead in Game 3 after a three-run second inning against starter Dock Ellis sparked by a Foster RBI double. Dan Driessen added a solo homer in the fourth to give Cincinnati a four-run lead, and though the Yankees halved the lead to 4-2 against Reds starter Pat Zachry, the Reds added a couple insurance runs against relievers Grant Jackson and Dick Tidrow to give them a four-run lead and the win.

In the final game, the Yankees sent Ed Figueroa against Gary Nolan. They notched an early 1-0 lead thanks to a Chambliss RBI double in the second to score AL MVP Thurman Munson (who impressed all of baseball by hitting .529 in the four-game set). Unfortunately, Cincinnati took the lead after a three-run fourth inning capped by a two-run homer by Bench after a Foster RBI single. The Yankees made it a one-run game entering the ninth inning, but another dinger by Bench (this time a three-run jack against Tidrow) made it a 6-2 Reds lead, and back-to-back ground-rule doubles by Cesar Geronimo and Concepcion made the score 7-2 in favor of the Reds. Will McEnaney secured his second save of the Series by setting the Yanks down 1-2-3 in the ninth, and the Reds completed their dominating four-game sweep of the Yankees. Reds catcher Johnny Bench won the World Series MVP honors by hitting .533/.533/1.133 in the sweep with a double, a triple, and two homers, and by guiding the pitching staff to a 2.00 ERA in 36 innings in the Series.

Interleague

In their first matchup in 27 years, the Reds walked off on the Yankees in Great American Ballpark on June 3, 2003 with a Juan Castro RBI single against Antonio Osuna to score Jason LaRue in a 4-3 Cincinnati victory. The Reds took the interleague series in two out of three games after crushing Mike Mussina the next day for six runs on eight hits in 5.1 innings (courtesy of four homers). Although the Yankees won the third game 10-2 behind ten doubles and seven strong innings from Jose Contreras, the Reds made a strong statement against the eventual AL champions. The Yankees again lost two out of three against the Reds in 2008 after weak offensive outings against All-Star Edinson Volquez, Daryl Thompson, and the Reds bullpen. In 2011, the Yankees won their first series against the Reds in fifty years by taking two out of three games; after strong outings from Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia, it was a shame that a retread starter like Brian Gordon had to ruin the team's chance at a sweep by helping the Yankees lose the game 10-2. The Yankees have split the previous two games against the Reds, but one important fact to note since they began to play frequently in '08 is the following: in Yankee losses, 2010 NL MVP Joey Votto has gone 7/16 with two homers, while in Yankees wins, Votto has gone 2/14. The Yankees can win when they silence Votto, who is signed by the Reds to a long-term extension through 2023. He is the heart of their franchise and must be stopped in order to ensure victory.

Best Transaction for the Yankees

November 6, 1992: NYY traded OF Roberto Kelly to CIN for OF Paul O'Neill and 1B Joe DeBerry.

The trade was a swap of former All-Stars, plus DeBerry, though he never amounted to much in New York. O'Neill was an NL All-Star in '91, and Kelly was an AL All-Star in '92, but both players clashed with what their respective managers desired of them in '92. O'Neill was trained by Reds manager Lou Piniella to be a power hitter, but his power had sunk to 14 homers in '92 with a disappointing .246/.346/.373 triple slash. Kelly was one of the few bright spots on the Yanks in '92, but his .322 OBP disappointed manager Buck Showalter, who preached patience at the plate. Noticing O'Neill's potential, Yankees GM Gene Michael engineered the trade to bring O'Neill to New York, where he would play the nine seasons and win four World Series titles (achieving a .377 OBP along the way). Kelly only played a season and a half in Cincinnati and never became the player that the Reds thought they were getting.

Honorable mention: July 31, 2003- NYY traded SP Brandon Claussen and RP Charlie Manning for 3B Aaron Boone

Validated by the famous Game 7 walk-off homer in the 2003 ALCS, validating Boone's place in Yankees history despite only 54 regular season games and a mediocre .254/.302/.418 triple slash. Claussen and Manning never amounted to much in the pros, so the trade worked out.

Worst Transaction for the Yankees

December 12, 1989: NYY traded 1B Hal Morris and SP Rodney Imes for SP Tim Leary and OF Van Snider

There have not been too many egregious deals against the Yankees during their history with the Reds, but this trade ended up quite poorly for the Yanks. New York needed higher quality pitching after a poor pitching decade in the '80s, so they engineered a trade with the Reds for starter Tim Leary, who had pitched to a 2.91 ERA in Los Angeles in '88 as the Dodgers won the World Series. The Yankees gave up first-base prospect, who was stuck behind All-Star Don Mattingly at first in the big leagues. While Mattingly languished due to injury, Morris became a consistent hitter with the Reds, and he hit .305/.361/.433 over ten years in Cincinnati. Although he struggled in the World Series against Oakland, he helped the Reds win the 1990 NL pennant over the Pittsburgh Pirates by hitting .417/.500/.500 in the five-game NLCS victory. The Yankees would have struggled to fit Morris into their early-nineties lineup with Mattingly entrenched at first base, but Morris certainly could have helped them be less hesitant at playing it safe with Mattingly's heath.

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