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The Red Stockings were charter members of the National League in 1876 but dropped out in 1881 because the NL banned beer sales at ballparks. They reappeared in the more liberal American Association in 1882, retaining only two players from the 1880 team, and captured the AA pennant on the strength of Will White's 40-win season and the best fielding in the league. They continued to contend in the AA until the franchise was switched to the NL for the 1890 season in an attempt to bolster the league's defense against the Players' League challenge. The club declined after that season and was sold by John T. Brush in 1902. He became famous later as the owner of the more lucrative Giants. The new owners were a group of city political bosses who named colleague August "Garry" Herrmann club president, a role he held until blindness forced him to retire in 1927. He was also the third member of the National Commission as long as that body existed. In 1905 Cy Seymour won the team's first batting title with a .377 average that still stands as the club record.
The Reds won their first NL pennant in 1919, only to have the Black Sox scandal taint their World Series victory. The team was built around Heinie Groh and Hall of Famer Edd Roush. A strong team, they were in contention through the end of Herrmann's tenure. Sidney Weil took over the club after Herrmann's resignation, but he was a victim of the Depression. Radio magnate Powel Crosley wanted to ensure the team would stay in town and bought the club in 1935, two years after Weil had had to turn over the club to the Central Trust Company, the bank that had held it for Weil after his financial collapse. Crosley was persuaded to buy by GM Larry McPhail, whom the bank had hired. McPhail's innovative style led to the first night game in 1935 and a thriving minor league system developed by Frank Lane. When McPhail resigned in mid-1936, Warren Giles took over. The club won back-to-back pennants in 1939-40 and beat Detroit in the 1940 World Series. Stars on the club included Hall of Famer Ernie Lombardi, 1939 MVP Bucky Walters, 1940 MVP Frank McCormick, Paul Derringer, and Johnny "Double No-Hit" Vander Meer, who had pulled off his famous feat in 1938. The team contended through the end of WWII, but then fell to the second division. A bright spot on the weak post-war teams was feared sidearm pitcher Ewell Blackwell, who became the only man to pitch in six consecutive All-Star Games.
Giles was named NL president in 1951 and was replaced as Reds GM by Gabe Paul, who built a slugging team featuring Ted Kluszewski. At about this time the club began to call itself the Redlegs, due to the association of "Reds" with "Communists" during the Senator Joe McCarthy years. The Redlegs almost won a tight three-team race in 1956, but finished third, two games behind the Dodgers. They tied the NL HR record with 221 that season and Birdie Tebbetts won Manager of the Year honors.
Bill DeWitt succeeded Paul after the Reds had sunk to a 67-87 record in 1960, and DeWitt did a masterly job, instantly rebuilding the team with a series of brilliant moves and trades. Led by MVP Frank Robinson and ace Joey Jay, the team won a surprise pennant in 1961 under the direction of manager Fred Hutchinson, who would tragically die of cancer during the 1964 race. The season was chronicled in Pennant Race by pitcher Jim Brosnan, who had written The Long Season about the 1959 campaign.
The Reds were often contenders through the rest of the decade. The team was purchased in 1966 by a group headed by Francis Dale after rumors of a move. DeWitt's reputation was tarnished by the ill-advised trade of Robinson to Baltimore in exchange for Milt Pappas, and DeWitt was replaced by Bob Howsam in 1967. Sparky Anderson was named manager in 1970 and immediately won the NL pennant. The decade of the "Big Red Machine" was at hand. Featuring Rookies of the Year Johnny Bench (1968), Pete Rose (1963), and Tommy Helms (1966), other superstars such as Tony Perez, Davey Concepcion, and Lee May, and the young arms of Gary Nolan, Don Gullett, and Wayne Simpson, the team dominated the NL with 102 wins. With the addition of George Foster (acquired in exchange for Frank Duffy), Joe Morgan, Jack Billingham, Tom Seaver, and Ken Griffey, the offensive powerhouse won six division titles in the 1970s, with four NL pennants and back-to-back World Championships in 1975-76. They averaged 95 wins a season in the decade, and only in 1971 did they finish below second place. Bench was named MVP in 1970 and 1972, Rose won in 1973, Morgan took consecutive awards in 1975-76, and Foster won in 1977 with league-leading totals of 52 HR and 149 RBI.
John McNamara replaced Anderson as manager in 1979, and the Reds lost the LCS. The aging team dropped to third in 1980, and although it had the best record in the NL in the strike-split 1981 season, second-place finishes in both halves left the club out of postseason play. The Reds collapsed to last place in 1982 and 1983, with the emergence of Mario Soto as the staff ace the only high point. Howsam, who had moved up to club president, returned to the GM role in 1983, and brought back Rose to manage the team at the end of 1984. That year, colorful Marge Schott, who made her money in used cars, assumed control of the team. The Reds went on to finish second four years in a row (1985-88). The team played 1989 under the cloud of controversy regarding Rose's gambling. (JFC)