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What if the Reds did not trade Frank Robinson?

What if the Reds did not trade Frank Robinson?

This is the first in a series of articles that will explore intriguing 'What If?' scenarios in Reds history.

Frank Robinson

What Happened? On December 9, 1965, the Reds trade perennial All-Star outfielder Frank Robinson to the Baltimore Orioles for pitchers Milt Pappas and Jack Baldschun and outfielder Dick Simpson.

Background: The 1965 Reds finished eight games back in the pennant race. Boasting the league's most productive offense, many pointed to pitching problems as the culprit in the Reds' failure to capture the league flag. What had been one of the league's best staffs in 1964 (when the Reds were eliminated from pennant contention on the season's final day) had become one of the league's worst staffs in 1965. With no qualified replacements in the farm system, general manger Bill DeWitt determined that he would have to go outside of the organization to get the pitching help he needed.

While the Reds lacked young pitching talent in the organization, they had a plethora of talented young position players that were vying for playing time, chief among them infielders Tommy Helms and Lee May.

Bill DeWitt saw the Orioles as a logical trading partner. The Baltimore Orioles were as deep in young pitching talent as the Reds were in position players. Perhaps the most talented of their crop of young pitchers was Milt Pappas, a 25-year-old right-hander who had already been named to two All-Star teams and who had won between 10 and 16 games in each of his eight full major league seasons.

Being something of an adherent to the philosophies of Branch Rickey, DeWitt believed that it was better to trade a player a year too early rather than a year too late and was also suspicious of a player's ability to produce past the age of 30. Of the Reds starting position players, Frank Robinson was the only one on the cusp of turning 30. And so it was that the Reds offered Robinson to Baltimore for a package that included Pappas, Baldschun (a solid relief pitcher) and Simpson, young outfielder. After briefly balking at the prospect of trading three players for one, Orioles general manager Harry Dalton agreed to the deal.

Aftermath: The Reds sink from fourth to seventh place in 1966, posting their first losing record since 1960. In Baltimore, Frank Robinson wins the American League Triple Crown by leading the circuit in batting average, home runs and runs batted in, is named the league's MVP and the Orioles win the World Series. The trade is considered one of the worst in baseball history.

What if Frank Robinson is not traded?

If Robinson were still in right field in 1966, the league's most productive offense would have remained intact from the year before. Of course in 1965, the Reds lead the league in runs scored per game and could only manage a fourth place finish. Although the trade did not have the desired effect of significantly improving the pitching staff, there is little reason to believe that returning the 1965 staff intact would have resulted in any significant improvement either.

The Robinson deal created a spot for Tommy Helms at third base and Helms performed well enough in 1966 to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award. The next year, Lee May emerged as a productive first baseman, which prompted the Reds to shift Tony Perez to third base, move Helms to second and put Pete Rose in the outfield. If Robinson were still ensconced in right the arrivals of Helms and May might have been delayed and Pete's move to the outfield might not have taken place when it did.

Each of these players at the positions they assumed after the Robinson trade were crucial to the Reds' 1970 pennant. And the success enjoyed by Helms and May in their careers made possible the trade that brought Joe Morgan and other key components of the back-to-back World Championship clubs of 1975 and 1976 to the Reds. In addition, while Pappas under performed as a Red, the club eventually traded him for Clay Carroll, Woody Woodward and Tony Cloninger, players who helped the Reds to the 1970 pennant and, in Carroll's case, the 1972 pennant and 1975 World Championship as well. And Dick Simpson was eventually traded for Alex Johnson who was later traded to the Angels in a deal that brought Pedro Borbon to the Reds.

Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, Jack Baldschun and Dick Simpson? On the surface, the trade will always look bad but when viewed as Frank Robinson for Clay Carroll, Pedro Borbon, Woody Woodward, Tony Cloninger and the possibility of the Joe Morgan trade, the deal looks quite a bit better. If Robinson had never been dealt, these players may never have been Reds and the Morgan deal (arguably the greatest trade in Reds history) might never have taken place.

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