Where Have All the Reds Gone?

No, not the Cueto-Phillips-Votto Reds, and not the Rose-Morgan-Perez Reds, but the players named for their hair color – the guys called Red. This nickname, once very common in baseball and in American society in general, has apparently fallen out of favor.

Scanning Baseball-Reference.com, it becomes clear that there have been dozens of major leaguers nicknamed Red, but very few of them have played in the past 50 years. It’s not that redheads have disappeared from the game, it’s just that their nicknames have changed. Daniel Staub was better known as Rusty, and in Montreal was also dubbed Le Grand Orange, but he was never called Red. More recently, Bobby Kielty carries the nickname Ronnie Mac in honor of his vague resemblance to the red-haired corporate mascot Ronald McDonald. Many others in the major leagues in recent decades have sported red locks, but none answers to the name Red.

Here is a starting lineup of players nicknamed Red:

P: Urban Faber (1914-1933)

Red Faber is one of two Hall of Fame pitchers nicknamed Red, Charles Ruffing being the other. In a 20-year career with the White Sox, Faber had a 3.15 ERA and won more than 250 games. His best years were in the early 1920s, when he twice led the league in ERA and once led the league with 352 innings pitched. He remained an effective hurler into his mid-40s, if not quite the inning-eater he was as a younger man. In contrast, Red Ruffing is considered a marginal member of the Hall. Most of his 273 career wins came on very strong Yankees teams, and his career ERA+ of 110 is good but not elite. Honorable mention goes to Leon Ames, the deadball era pitcher for the Giants, Reds, and Cardinals, whose 1.23 career WHIP is lower than Faber’s and Ruffing’s.

C: Robert Wilson (1951-1960)

Red Wilson gets the nod over John Kleinow (1904-1911) and Charles Dooin (1902-1916), as much for his being one the few Reds to have played as recently as 1960, as for his on-field performance. Mostly a backup to Frank House and Lou Berberet in Detroit, Wilson only once played as many as 100 games in a season. For his career, he batted .258 with an OPS+ of 87. Kleinow and Dooin were no better as hitters; each had a 71 OPS+.

1B: Ralph Kress (1927-1946)

Okay, Red Kress was mostly a shortstop and a very good one, but while there have been some very good red-haired first basemen (Mark McGwire, for one), there have been no standouts named Red. In his long career, Kress played all positions except catcher; he even made four pitching appearances, throwing 9.1 innings. His 162 games at 1B (most of them in 1933 with the White Sox) qualify him to take this position in the all-Red lineup. In ’33, he batted .248, somewhat below his career .286 average. His best years came earlier with the St. Louis Browns, when he batted .300 or better in ’29, ’30, and ’31.

2B: Albert Schoendienst (1945-1963)

Is there anything not to like about Red Schoendienst, the career Cardinal? A Hall of Famer, Schoendienst’s playing days started in 1945, and except for a couple brief stints as a player and coach for other teams, his entire professional life has been spent with the St. Louis organization. A nine-time All-Star, he was a good hitter (.289 BA) and a graceful middle infielder. Now a vibrant 88 year-old, he moves more nimbly than many ex-ballplayers half his age. As manager in the 1960s, he led St. Louis to a championship in 1967 and an NL pennant in 1968. He even arranged for his wife to sing the national anthem at World Series games. Not least among his charming features, when Schoendienst dons the St. Louis uniform, his 12-letter last name horseshoes ‘round his frame, the leading S and trailing T reaching down somewhere near his floating ribs.

3B: Robert Rolfe (1931-1945)

Red Rolfe was the starting third baseman for the Yankees from 1935 through 1941, earning his way onto the All-Star team in four of those seasons. In his best year, 1939, he led the AL in hits, doubles and runs while posting a 130 OPS+. He walked 526 times in 5405 career PA, contributing to a respectable .360 OBP. Being a selective hitter, he would fit very nicely into the modern game, except for his nickname of course.

SS: Maurice Shannon (1915-1926)

With Red Kress holding down first base, Red Shannon is the natural choice to take the field at shortstop, although to be honest he had a less than spectacular career. A .259 hitter, Shannon’s best season came in 1920, when he hit .288 in 62 games with Washington. Perhaps telling is that the Senators took the opportunity to trade Shannon mid-season at the height of his hot streak. Following the trade, he batted .170 with the Philadelphia Athletics and would play only another 20 games in the majors in subsequent seasons.

OF: Emile Barnes (1927-1930), Wade Killefer (1907-1916), John Murray (1906-1917)

Red Barnes’ brief stay in the majors started well enough. He batted .305 for Washington in 1928, his first full season, but success would be fleeting. In his two remaining seasons he provided less than replacement value (-1.5 WAR).

Red Killefer was a speedy player who twice led the league in being hit by pitches. In 1915, his best season as a player, he collected 151 hits while playing strong defense in the outfield for Cincinnati. Killefer’s major league days were just the start of his baseball career. After playing, he spent many years as a coach, manager, and team executive in the minor leagues.

Red Murray was a deadball era star who unfortunately has very little name recognition today. By far the most productive all-Red outfielder, Murray was a starter in the outfield for seven of his ten years in the big leagues, leading the NL in homers in 1909 as a member of the Giants. In 1908 with the Cardinals, he finished in the top five in the major leagues in both home runs and stolen bases. In 1909, he did so again, becoming one of only three players to have accomplished this feat twice in the modern era. The other two have much more familiar names: Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner.

Oh, and if the team needs a broadcaster, who else but Walter Barber?

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