Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto's MVP and the 10 Greatest Seasons in Team History
When the Reds reached the postseason in 2010, it was as if a 15-year siege had come to an end in Cincinnati. At long last, an organization stuck in the trenches of the National League had crossed over the breach.
Joey Votto’s 2010 season will resonate in Reds lore as the end of an era of losing in Cincinnati, and potentially a signal of things to come for a young and talented core.
However, it also begs the question: in a Cincinnati Reds organization with such a storied history, where does Votto’s impressive third season rank?
10. Joey Votto: 2010
Turns out, Votto’s season barely makes the list. While his MVP award can’t be ignored, Votto didn’t lead the National League in any of the “big three” categories (BA, HR, RBI), nor did he distinguish himself defensively with any type of hardware. And, though Votto’s OPS was tops in the NL, he could only take his team so far until they ran into a brick wall called the Philadelphia Phillies in the first round of the playoffs.
A great season? Sure.
The best? Not even close. Read on.
9. Eric Davis: 1987
Now, some may contend that Davis doesn’t deserve mention on this list. After all, he played in just 129 games before getting injured and the Reds only managed a second place finish in their division. That being said, chalk this one up as a shout out to the younger generation of Reds fans.
Few who watched Davis in his prime could deny his undeniable, electrifying talent, and his 1987 season was a shining example. Before getting hurt, Davis amassed 37 home runs, 100 runs batted in, and a whopping 50 stolen bases. Sure, he didn’t win the MVP. However, given 30 more games, Davis would have finished the season as the first player ever to record 40 stolen bases and 40 home runs in the same season…
8. Barry Larkin: 1995
Though Larkin was recently denied in his first bid for the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, it will be a crime if, when it’s all said and done, he isn’t enshrined.
A 12-time All-Star, 9-time Gold Glove winner, and the last Reds player to wear the wishbone ‘C’ of captaincy on his jersey, Larkin ruled the ‘90’s as the game’s best shortstop. His crowning achievement came in 1995 when he led the division winning Cincinnati Reds with a .319 batting average and 51 stolen bases, earning him the National League MVP.
Larkin will go down as one of Major League Baseball’s all-time great shortstops, and it shouldn’t be long before the Hall of Fame voters make it official.
7. Johnny Vander Meer: 1938
Every once in awhile a player will pull off a feat so jaw dropping, so unbelievably awe-inspiring, that the rest of his statistics can kind of be glossed over. For me, that player is Vander Meer. Indeed, his career win total (119) won’t be generating any Hall of Fame buzz. However, it only took two of those wins to etch Vander Meer’s name on a permanent plaque in Cooperstown.
In 1938, Vander Meer pitched two (count ‘em!), two no-hitters IN A ROW, something no one had ever done before, and something no one has done since. In two games, Johnny Vander Meer became a baseball legend, so he deserves this spot.
6. Pete Rose: 1973
Before he was signing autographs in Las Vegas and dating Playboy models, Pete Rose was getting hits.
LOTS of hits.
In 1973, Rose wracked up 230 of them, good for a .338 batting average and a league MVP award. And, while Rose’s legacy will always be inextricably linked to his banishment from baseball for gambling, his 4,192 hits will likely never be topped. Rose is a Cincinnati folk hero, and ’73 was his best season.
5. Frank Robinson: 1961
Over the span of 21 seasons, Frank Robinson was, quite simply, a BEAST.
A Gold-Glover, 12-time All-Star, Rookie of the Year in 1956, and fearsome slugger, Robinson is the only player to win an MVP award in both the American and National Leagues. While his other MVP season came with the Baltimore Orioles in 1966, Robinson’s ’61 totals with the Reds (.323 BA, 37 HR, 124 RBI) were eerily similar to Votto’s from 2010 (.324, 37 HR, 113 RBI).
The difference? Robinson’s ’61 squad went to the Fall Classic. Oh yeah, and Robinson also hit at that clip for about 20 years. Pretty sure Reds fans would be overjoyed with even half that production out of Votto.
4. Bucky Walters: 1939
No Cincinnati Red has ever won the Cy Young award. Then again, they didn’t start handing out the award until 1956.
Suffice it to say that in ‘39, Bucky Walters would have been a LOCK. Walters led the league in win percentage (27-11), ERA (2.29), strikeouts (137), and complete games (31). Plus, while they weren’t yet handing out an award for best pitcher, Walters earned himself an MVP and the Reds won the National League.
3. George Foster: 1977
In 1977, George Foster turned in one of the greatest single performances in the history of Major League Baseball.
In a time where stats were achieved the hard way (read: naturally) and players’ heads weren’t twice the size of their bodies (see: Bonds, Barry), Foster piled up 52 home runs, knocked in 149 runs, and batted .320. While the Reds didn’t make the playoffs, Foster earned the National League MVP award and his single-season home run total remains the most in Cincinnati history.
(Did I mention this was before steroids??)
2. Johnny Bench: 1970 & 1972
Yes, I am cheating a bit here, as this is a twofer. However, in order to include both of Johnny Bench’s two MVP seasons on this list I’d have to leave someone else off, and let’s face it: the fact that Bench had two such impressive seasons so close together is a feat all its own.
In both seasons, Bench hit at least 40 home runs (45, 40), knocked in 125 or more runs (148, 125), and earned a Gold Glove for his work behind the plate. The fact that the Reds won the National League in both seasons, as well as Bench’s distinction as the best to ever strap on the catcher’s gear, make his best years an easy choice for #2 on this list.
1. Joe Morgan: 1975 & 1976
While we’re on the subject of “best ever”, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Joe Morgan.
A 10-time All-Star and 4-time Gold-Glover, Morgan set the gold standard at second base. In his 1975 MVP season, Morgan paired a .327 BA and .974 OPS with 67 steals, en route to a Cincinnati Reds World Series championship.
Not surprisingly, the only player who could match that type of balanced offensive output was, well, Joe Morgan. The very next year. In the second consecutive world championship season for the Reds, Morgan managed to build on his first MVP campaign, posting a .320 BA, 27 HR, 111 RBI, 1.074 OPS, and still managing to swipe 60 bags.
As with Bench, Joe Morgan’s single season bests (combined with his overall body of work and the success of his team) solidify his standing as the greatest to ever play his position, and undoubtedly one of the best of all time.