During the eight years I pitched for the Reds, we finished in the first division only once, but I usually managed to win more games than I lost.
- Red Lucas
Charles Fred "Red" Lucas was the best pinch-hitter in the National League during his career and one of the great pinch-hitters to ever play for the Cincinnati Reds. In his career that spanned from 1923-38, Lucas registered 114 pinch-hits and held the record for most hits in the Major Leagues for almost a quarter of a century later until Smokey Burgess and Jerry Lynch, both of whom once played with the Reds, surpassed the 114 mark.
Four different times, Lucas led the National League in most pinch-hits in a season. His best season was 1930 when he appeared in 68 games as a pinch-hitter with 15 pinch-hits. He compiled a .281 lifetime batting average and walked (124) almost as often as he struck out (133).
Stranger than fiction, Red Lucas was a pitcher, not a position player. And he was a very good pitcher for a very weak ballclub. During his eight years with the Reds (1926-33), the Reds were last three time, seventh place twice, fifth place twice and only once in the first division -- second place in 1926. Red pitched right-handed but turned around to hit as a lefty.
Lucas defined the word "workhorse." In 1929, he pitched 28 compete games, the most in the league. He again led the NL in complete games in 1931 and 1932. Between Aug. 13, 1931, and July 15, 1932, Red pitched a remarkable 250 consecutive innings over 27 games without being relieved, a streak difficult to imagine ever being repeated. In 1931, he walked only 39 batters in 238 innings. The Reds bullpen was so weak, a tired Lucas was considered better than any reliever.
Lee Allen, in his classic book The Cincinnati Reds, writes that Lucas, the son a Tennessee farmer, "often walked five miles to get a chance to pitch amateur ball, improving his control en route by throwing rocks at trees, birds and various other rural objectives." When his father became a gun powder worker in Nashville, Tenn., Red began his baseball career in the low Minors in 1920 and moved up to Nashville in the Southern Association at the end of the 1921 season. He won 20 games there in 1922 and was signed by the New York Giants, but Giants manager John McGraw consider the 5-foot-9 Lucas too small to become a big-time pitcher and sent him in 1923 to the San Antonio club in the Texas League, where he had a good 18-9 season.
Sold to the Boston Braves, he spent the 1924 season as a relief hurler and a reserve infielder. After six games with the Braves in 1925, Red was sold once more, this time back to the Minors -- to the Seattle club in the Pacific Coast League. Finally, he began to draw attention with a 9-5 record and 2.82 ERA.
Seattle president Charles Lockard sent a letter to Reds president Garry Herrmann offering Lucas to the Reds, writing, "Not only is he a good pitcher, but has batted over 500 percent. Only last week, he went to bat as a pinch-hitter on three different occasions against San Francisco and hit a home run on each trip, one with the bases loaded and again with two men on. He is a great hustler and will make good on any Major League club."
In 1926, Red began his nine-year stretch with the Reds, with an 8-5 season. The next year, 1927, he won 18 gamesm including a one-hit, one-walk victory over Brooklyn while facing the minimum 27 batters. He performed well in extra-inning games, defeating the St. Louis Cardinals, 5-4, in 17 innings on April 25, 1928, and won over Roy Parmelee of the New York Giants, 1-0, in 15 innings on July 16, 1933.
After winning eight of 10 games in 1928, Lucas suffered a broken arm when he was struck by a ball during batting practice and won only five more games that season. Perhaps his best season was 1929, when he went 19-12, led the league in complete games and pitched 210 innings.
On the Fourth of July that year, Ray Kolp directed insulting remarks to hard-hitting Chicago Cubs outfielder Hack Wilson. Wilson, after hitting a single and receiving more abuse from Kolp, went to the Reds dugout and planted a right hook to Kolp's jaw. That night, while the Reds awaited their train for the trip back to Cincinnati, Wilson appeared and without warning, slugged Reds pitcher Pete Donohue.
The following Sunday, the Cubs were scheduled to play at Redland Field and Reds fans, enraged about Wilson's attack, poured into the park, a throng of 35,432 fans, the largest crowd in Redland Field history. Perched on rafters and others sitting on runways, the throng cheered as Red Lucas won the game, 6-3.
In 1933, the Reds dealt Lucas to the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he played five years with two winning and three losing seasons. His best year in Pittsburgh was a 15-4 mark. With the Pirates, he won 14 straight games against the Cincinnati Reds.
Lucas finished 68 percent of his 301 career starts, thanks to his precise control and hitting ability. His Major League career resulted in a 157-135 record, a winning percentage 79 points higher than his team's. He ranks among the all-time leaders in walks per game with a 1.61 average. Considering the poor record of his teams, his career 3.72 ERA during a heavy-hitting era is striking. All the while, he continued his clutch hitting.
From 1939-49, Red played, coached or managed in the Minor Leagues with the Montreal Royals and Nashville Volunteers, where in 1945 at age 43, he kept up his remarkable pinch-hitting, collecting 16 hits and 10 walks in 46 plate appearances.
After he finally retired from baseball, Red worked from 1953-57 as a deputy sheriff and as a truck inspector in Nashville. Charles Fred "Red' Lucas was elected to the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame in 1965.