Since the advent of the modern league Most Valuable Player Award in 1931, members of the Cincinnati Reds have won the award 12 times with Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan each claiming the prize twice during their Reds careers. Here's a look back at each Reds MVP season.
The first Red to be named the National League's Most Valuable Player, Ernie Lombardi had already established himself as one of the finest catchers in baseball when he embarked on his MVP season of 1938. The venerable "Schnozz" (as he was affectionately known), had been named to two All-Star teams and had twice finished in the top 20 in MVP voting during his seven-year career. In 1938, he elevated his already stellar play in leading a lightly-regarded Reds club to an 82-68 finish, the club's first winning season since 1928. Lombardi's .342 batting average paced the National League and marked only the second time in league history that a catcher won the batting title. He finished fifth in the league in OPS (.918) and was in the top 10 in the league in OBP (.391, eighth), slugging percentage (.539, sixth), hits (167, ninth), total bases (256, eighth), home runs (19, seventh) and RBI (95, seventh). Lombardi was the second NL catcher (Chicago's Gabby Hartnett, 1935) and third catcher overall (Detroit's Mickey Cochrane, 1934) to win a league MVP award. Lombardi was inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame in 1958 and the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1986. He died in 1977. A statue of Lombardi crouched behind the plate is located at the entrance of Great American Ball Park.
Trivia: Lombardi is one of only two Reds (George Foster, 1977) to win the MVP award in a season in which the Reds did not win a division, league or World Series championship.
Bucky Walters authored one of the finest pitching seasons in Reds history in 1939 to give the Reds back-to-back winners of the league's top individual prize. Walters led the Reds to the club's first pennant since 1919 and secured the franchise's first ever pitching Triple Crown with his league-best 27 wins, 137 strikeouts and 2.29 ERA. The right hander also topped the league in starts (36), complete games (31), innings pitched (319) and ERA+ (170). So dominant was Walters's season that his closest rival in the MVP voting (Cardinals first baseman Johnny Mize) received 125 fewer points to finish a distant second to Walters's total of 303. Also finishing in the top five in that season's voting were fellow Reds Paul Derringer (third, 174 points) and Frank McCormick (fourth, 159 points). Walters joined Lefty Grove (1931), Carl Hubbell (1933, 1936) and Dizzy Dean (1934) on the list of pitchers to be named MVP to that point. Bucky Walters was inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame in 1958. He died in 1991.
Trivia: Bucky Walters is the only pitcher in Reds history to win the Most Valuable Award.
The Reds made it three MVPs in a row when first baseman Frank McCormick was selected as the National League's Most Valuable Player of the 1940 season, a year in which the Reds captured their first World Championship since 1919. One could argue that McCormick's victory in the 1940 MVP voting had been building since 1938 when he finished fifth in that year's voting. A fourth-place finish in 1939 followed. Durable and reliable, McCormick appeared in all but one of the Reds regular season games in 1940 and led the NL in at-bats with 618 and hits with 191. He also paced the league in doubles with 44 while finishing in the top 10 in batting average (.309, seventh), slugging percentage (.482, ninth), total bases (298, second), home runs (19, fifth) and RBI (127, second). In addition, he turned in another fine defensive season as the first base anchor of the Reds' famed "Jungle Cat" infield. As he had the year before, Cardinals first baseman Johnny Mize again finished second to a Red in the MVP voting. And while the order of finished changed, McCormick (first), Bucky Walters (third) and Paul Derringer (fourth) once again finished in the top five in the voting. Elected to the Reds Hall of Fame in 1958, McCormick died in 1982.
Trivia: The Reds are one of only three teams in National League history to have MVP winners in three consecutive seasons and are the only team to achieve the feat twice. Reds won the award from 1938-1940 (Ernie Lombardi, Bucky Walters and Frank McCormick) and again from 1975-1977 (Joe Morgan in 1975 and 1976 and George Foster in 1977). The Cardinals had consecutive winners from 1942-1944 (Mort Cooper, Stan Musial and Marty Marion) and the Giants claimed a record five straight from 2000-2004 (Jeff Kent in 2000; Barry Bonds from 2001-2004).
The 1961 edition of the Reds won a most unexpected National League pennant. Not nearly as surprising was Frank Robinson's selection as the league's Most Valuable Player. Robinson had been a star in the league since his rookie season of 1956. In 1961, Robinson was the best player on the league's best team. He hit a then-career high .323 (sixth-best in he league) and belted 37 home runs (third in the league) while driving in 124 (second). His .611 slugging percentage and 1.015 OPS led the league. He also finished in the league's top five in OBP (.404, second), runs scored (117, second), total bases (333, fourth), doubles (32, third), and stolen bases (22, third). Robinson far outdistanced the Giants' Orlando Cepeda in the MVP voting and was joined by teammates Vada Pinson (third) and Joey Jay (fifth) in the top five. Inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame in 1978, Robinson was enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982. His uniform No. 20 was retired by the Reds in 1998 and a statue of Robinson in full swing at the plate is located at the entrance of Great American Ball Park.
Trivia: Robinson, who won the NL Rookie of the Year Award as a Red in 1956, is one of three players to win both league MVP awards and Rookie of the Year awards while playing for the Reds. Pete Rose (ROY in 1963, MVP in 1973) and Johnny Bench (ROY in 1968 and MVPs in 1970 and 1972) are the others.
As the Big Red Machine thundered to its first pennant, 22-year-old Johnny Bench led the way with one of the finest all-around seasons ever authored by a Major League catcher. In only his third full season, Bench made his third consecutive All-Star team, won his third straight Gold Glove and led the National League in home runs with 45 and RBI with 148. He also finished in the top five in the league in slugging percentage (.587, third) and total bases (355, second). At 22 years and nine months old, Bench was the youngest player to win the MVP award in either league, a record broken by Vida Blue the next year when Blue won the American League MVP at 22 years, three months of age. Bench was victorious in the MVP voting by a healthy margin (326-218) over the Cubs' Billy Williams who finished second in the voting. Tony Perez with 149 voting points, was the only other Red to finish in the top five.
Trivia: The Reds and Yankees are the only two teams in baseball history to have more than one catcher win an MVP award. For the Reds it was Ernie Lombardi in 1938 and Bench in 1970 and 1972. Catchers Yogi Berra (1951, 1954, 1955), Elston Howard (1963) and Thurman Munson (1976) were MVPs for the Yankees.
Bench and the Big Red Machine were at it again in 1972, with Bench claiming his second MVP award in three seasons and the Reds' capturing their second pennant of the decade. Bench's 1972 season was, in many respects, a slightly muted mirror image of his 1970 season. He once again was an All-Star and Gold Glove winner and once again led the league in home runs (40) and RBI (125). As they had in 1970, the Reds again dominated the Western Division in 1972, winning the crown by healthy 10 1/2 games. The Cubs' Billy Williams was again the second-place finisher in the MVP voting (this time by a smaller 263-211 margin) and, as had been the case in 1970, Bench was joined in the top five in voting by one other Reds teammate. For 1972, that player was Joe Morgan who finished fourth in the voting with 197 points. Bench would be a top-five finisher in MVP voting in both 1974 and 1975 but did not win the award again. He retired following the 1983 season and is considered the greatest catcher in the history of the game. Inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame in 1986, he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989. His uniform No. 5 was retired by the Reds in 1984.
Trivia: Johnny Bench is one of only three catchers in baseball history to win multiple MVP awards. Roy Campanella of the Dodgers (1951, 1953, 1955) and Yogi Berra of the Yankees (1951, 1954, 1955) are the others.
For the first time since the 1938-'40 run, the Reds boasted back-to-back MVP winners when Pete Rose won the award in 1973. Even by his well-established and lofty standards, Rose had a remarkable year in 1973, capturing his third career batting title with a .338 mark and leading the league in at-bats (a career-high and club-record 680) and hits (a career high and club-record 230). He also finished in the top five in the league in runs scored (115, third) and doubles (36, third). The 1973 NL MVP vote was one of the closest in the award's history as Rose bested the Pirates' Willie Stargell by a scant 24 overall points. Joe Morgan finished fourth in the voting for the second consecutive year. Rose retired as an active player following the 1986 season the record for career hits is one of many single-season and all-time league and baseball records he secured over the course of his 24-season career.
Trivia: Including his MVP-winning 1973 season, Rose finished in the top five in voting five times during his career including a second-place finish behind Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson in 1968.
After flirting with MVP honors in two of his first three seasons as a Red, Joe Morgan finally claimed the award with a stunning 1975 season that cemented his status as one of the most complete players in the game. An All-Star and Gold Glove winner in each of his first three seasons in a Cincinnati uniform, Morgan repeated those accomplishments in 1975 and added an MVP award to his trophy case as he propelled the Big Red Machine to the World Championship, the Reds' first title since 1940. Morgan led the National League and set an all-time club record with an astonishing.466 OBP. His OPS of .974 and his 132 walks also paced the league. In addition, he finished in the top five in the league in batting average (.327, fourth), runs scored (107, fourth) and stolen bases (67, second). The MVP race was no contest as Morgan received 321 points, 167 more points than the Phillies' Greg Luzinski's second-place total of 154. Indicative of the dominance of the 1975 Reds, three of the top five spots in that year's voting went to members of the Machine with Morgan winning the award and Johnny Bench and Pete Rose finishing in fourth and fifth place, respectively.
Trivia: Morgan is one of only five second basemen in National League history to win the league's MVP award. The others are Frankie Frisch (1931), Jackie Robinson (1949), Ryne Sandberg (1984) and Jeff Kent (2000).
As difficult as it may be to argue that the 1976 World Champion Reds were better than the World Championship club of 1975, so too is it difficult to argue that Joe Morgan's MVP season of 1976 was better than his MVP season of 1975. In each instance both the club and the player had superlative seasons. Morgan in 1976 was again the game's most complete player. He led the National League in OBP (.444) and slugging percentage (.576) which combined for a league-best 1.020 OPS. He was also among league leaders in batting average (.320, fifth), runs scored (107, fourth), walks (114, second), home runs (27, fifth), RBI (111, second) and stolen bases (60, second). The MVP race was significantly closer in 1976 with teammate George Foster finishing in second place in the voting, 90 points behind Morgan. Pete Rose gave the Reds a third representative in the top five for the second consecutive year when he finished in fourth place. As it was for the Big Red Machine, 1976 represented the apex of the decade for Morgan. He continued to be an All-Star caliber player for several years after his back-to-back MVP seasons but, like the Reds, never again achieved the degree of success he enjoyed in '75 and '76. Morgan retired following the 1984 season as is considered the finest second baseman to ever play the game. Inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame in 1987 and the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1990, Morgan's uniform No. 8 was retired by the Reds in 1998.
Trivia: Joe Morgan is the only second baseman in Major League history to win multiple Most Valuable Player awards.
The Reds became the first team in National League history to produce three consecutive Most Valuable Players twice when George Foster won the award in 1977. The slugging left fielder enjoyed a career year in '77, becoming the first player since Willie Mays in 1965 to hit 50 or more home runs in a season with 52. Foster is the only player in Reds history to reach the 50-homer mark in a season. When Foster blasted his 52 long balls, only nine other players in baseball history had reached the mark. In addition to his pace-setting home run total, Foster also led the league in slugging percentage (.631), OPS (1.013), runs scored (124) and RBI (a club-record 149). His .320 batting average ranked fourth in the league while his 388 total bases both led the league and set a new club record. For the second time in three seasons, the Phillies' Greg Luzinski finished second in the MVP voting to a Red. As had been the case in 1975 when Luzinski trailed Joe Morgan in the voting, he again fell short to a Red in 1977 with his 255 votes being eclipsed by Foster's 291. Foster had been the MVP runner-up in 1976 and would finish sixth in the voting in 1978 and third for his performance during the strike-shortened 1981 season. George Foster retired following the 1986 season. He was inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame in 2003.
Trivia: Of the 10 players to hit 50 or more home runs in a season through 1977, only Foster and Roger Maris are not members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The remaining eight players to meet or exceed the 50-home run plateau through 1977 (Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg, Ralph Kiner, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Johnny Mize, Babe Ruth and Hack Wilson) have been elected.
What Joe Morgan had been to the Reds teams of the 1970s, Barry Larkin was to the Reds teams of the 1990s. While the Reds of the 1990s were not as successful as their Big Red Machine predecessors, the team was in the league's upper echelon for the first half of the decade and the play of Barry Larkin was a major reason for the club's success. Like Morgan, Larkin was a complete player who excelled offensively and on the base paths while playing Gold Glove defense at shortstop, the infield's most demanding position. Larkin led the 1995 Reds to a Central Division championship combining the aforementioned Gold Glove defense (he won his second consecutive Gold Glove Award in 1995) and a well-rounded offensive performance that found him finishing among the league leaders in batting average (.319, sixth), OBP (.394, 10th), runs scored (98, fifth), hits (158, 10th) and stolen bases (51, second). He also hit 15 home runs and drove in 66. The 1995 NL MVP vote was hotly contested. Similar to the 1973 vote that saw Pete Rose emerge victorious by a small margin, the 1995 vote gave Larkin the award by a mere 30 points over runner-up Dante Bichette of the Colorado Rockies. Ironically, Larkin had a much better year in 1996 when he became the first shortstop in Major League history to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in a season. His historic 30-30 season merited only a 12th-place finish in the MVP voting, which was much more a reflection of the Reds' lackluster 81-81 third-place performance than it was a commentary on Larkin's exceptional season. Barry Larkin retired following the 2004 season, having spent his entire 19-year career in a Reds uniform. He was inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame in 2008 and in 2010 appeared on 51% of ballots cast in his first year of eligibility for the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Trivia: Larkin is one of only five players in National League history to win the MVP award as shortstops. The others are Ernie Banks (1958, 1959), Dick Groat (1960), Maury Wills (1962) and Jimmy Rollins (2007).
Looking toward the 2010 season, few predicted success for the Reds. The team had not had a winning season since 2000 and seemed to be littered with question marks. Of the few positive certainties that could be identified, quality play from first baseman Joey Votto was among them. As the club marched to a thoroughly unexpected Central Division title, so too did Votto soar past the rather pedestrian expectations in place for him as he compiled a season that placed him among the game's elite players and that earned him the honor of being named the league's Most Valuable Player. Votto was the linchpin of the league's best offense, leading all NL hitters in OPS at 1.024 with his .424 OBP and .600 slugging percentage also pacing the league. Votto's .324 batting average ranked second in the league while his 37 home runs and 113 RBI each ranked third on the league's leader board. He also finished in the top five in the league in total bases (328, third), walks (91, fourth) and extra-base hits (75, fourth). In total, it was one of the finest seasons ever enjoyed by a Reds hitter, one that earned Votto a spot on the exclusive club of Reds greats who have been awarded the league's highest honor.
Trivia: Joey Votto joins Larry Walker (1997, NL) and Justin Morneau (2006, AL) as the only Canadian-born players in Major League history to win Most Valuable Player Awards.