Cincinnati Reds: The best draft class in team history

CIRCA 1973: Johnny Bench #5, of the Cincinnati Reds, at bat during a game from his 1973 season. (Photo by: 1973 SPX/Diamond Images via Getty Images)
CIRCA 1973: Johnny Bench #5, of the Cincinnati Reds, at bat during a game from his 1973 season. (Photo by: 1973 SPX/Diamond Images via Getty Images) /

Like every team, the Cincinnati Reds have had their fair share of hits and misses when drafting players. Since the MLB Draft was first instituted in 1965, the Reds have selected three players who would eventually be inducted into the Hall of Fame and live for baseball eternity in Cooperstown.

Over the past 56 years, when did the Reds front office significantly impact the club’s future through the draft? Oddly enough, it would be the first draft in Major League Baseball history held in New York City, June 8th and 9th in 1965.

The Reds first draft class was their best.

With the 16th overall pick in the draft, the Cincinnati Reds would select left-handed-hitting Bernie Carbo as its first-ever draft pick. During Carbo’s rookie season in 1970, he helped the Redlegs reach their first World Series since the 1961 season.

Appearing in 125 games, Carbo would slash .310/.454/.551 with 21 homers, a 1.004 OPS, and an incredible 164 OPS+ mark. Finishing second in the Rookie of the Year balloting, it appeared the team had found another cornerstone piece to build around the likes of Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, and Tony Perez.

Unfortunately, Carbo never lived up to the expectations of his fantastic debut. Following an awful 1971 season in which he hit just .219, Carbo was sent to the St. Louis Cardinals in May of 1972 after hitting an anemic .143 to begin his third campaign. However, Carbo and the Reds would famously cross paths again.

In what many baseball historians have called the greatest game of all-time, Carbo would get his revenge against the Big Red Machine in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. Now playing for the Boston Red Sox and facing elimination, Carbo would step to the plate, as a pinch hitter, with two on and two out in the bottom of the 8th inning with the Sox trailing 6-3.

After falling behind Cincinnati closer Rawly Eastwick 0-2, Carbo would send a 2-2 pitch over the centerfield wall in Fenway Park, tying the score and setting the stage for Carlton Fisk’s dramatic game-winning homer in the bottom of the 12th, forcing a seventh and deciding game.

Bernie Carbo would spend a nomadic 12 years in the majors ending his career with 96 home runs and .264/.387/.427 slash line while playing for the Reds, Cardinals, Red Sox, Indians, Pirates, and Brewers. Even though he didn’t have the career so many envisioned, Carbo will always be remembered in Reds Country.

Johnny Bench was drafted in the second-round of the 1965 MLB Draft.

The Reds second-round pick of 1965 would forever alter the course of the franchise. With the 36th overall selection, the club selected a high school catcher from Binger, Oklahoma by the name of Johnny Bench. There are no words to overstate Bench’s importance to the Reds.

Spending his entire 17-year career in the Queen City, Bench would earn 14 All-Star selections while collecting 10 consecutive Gold Gloves, 2 MVPs, and a Rookie of the Year award. Additionally, Bench won two World Series titles and was the 1976 World Series MVP hitting .533 with two homers and six RBIs in a four-game sweep of the New York Yankees.

Bench would be the first player drafted by the Reds to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. In 1989, his first year of eligibility, Johnny Bench received 96.4% of the vote taking, his rightful place in Cooperstown. Bench’s statue was unveiled September 17, 2011, welcoming fans as they enter Great American Ball Park.

Don’t forget about Reds outfielder Hal McRae.

Believe it or not, the Reds front office would select another player who would have an outstanding MLB career. Right-handed hitting Hal McRae was the team’s sixth-round choice.

McRae would spend parts of four seasons in Cincinnati; however, his career didn’t blossom until a November 1973 trade sent him to Kansas City. Playing 15 years in Kansas City, McRae would earn three All-Star selections while twice finishing fourth in the American League MVP voting.

McRae’s final season was in 1987, and he would finish his 19-year career with 191 homers, 1,097 RBIs, and an impressive .290/.351/.454 slash line. Trading away Hal McRae was not one of Cincinnati’s best decisions.

The Reds drafted two Hall of Famers other than Johnny Bench.

As I mentioned earlier, the Reds have drafted two other Hall of Fame players, and one of those, they selected twice. Hometown hero Barry Larkin was chosen by the Reds in the second round of the 1982 draft; however, he opted to pass on the Reds to play college baseball at the University of Michigan.

Nevertheless, the Reds were determined to get Larkin. With the fourth overall pick of the 1985 draft, the Reds selected Larkin once again, and the rest is history. The 12-time All-Star would win nine Silver Slugger and three Gold Glove awards in addition to the 1995 NL MVP.

Larkin was also a member of the Cincinnati Reds 1990 World Championship team and entered Cooperstown in 2012. The next statue unveiled outside of Great American Ball Park should be that of Barry Larkin.

The third, and to this point, final Hall of Famer the team has drafted is closer, Trevor Hoffman. A seven-time All-Star, Hoffman was selected in the 11th round of the 1989 draft. After spending two seasons in the Reds farm system, Hoffman was left unprotected in the 1992 expansion draft as the Colorado Rockies, and Florida Marlins were preparing to begin play.

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Hoffman appeared in just 28 games for the Marlins before being shipped to the San Diego Padres. As a member of the Friars, he would twice lead the National League in saves and would register 601 career saves over his 18-year career.  In 2018 he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.