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Edd Roush: The Greatest Red Of Them All?

edd roush
Hall of Famers, from left, Edd Roush, Jackie Robinson, Bob Feller and Bill McKechnie, hold the plaques presented to them in Cooperstown, N.Y., on July 23, 1962.

Edd Roush may be the greatest Cincinnati Reds player that younger generations of Reds fans know little, if anything, about.

Here's what Reds fans need to know about the Oakland City, Indiana, native, who played for the Reds from 1916 through 1926, and returned in 1931 for his final year as a major leaguer:  

  • He won the National League batting title in 1917 with a batting average of .341 and again in 1919, when he hit .321
  • Roush had a lifetime batting average of .323, with 10 straight seasons over .300
  • He was inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame in 1959 and three years later, got his plaque at Cooperstown as a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame
  • Roush collected 2,376 base hits, despite hitting in baseball's "deadball era" early in his career
  • He wielded an incredibly heavy bat – 48 ounces, four ounces more than the one used by Babe Ruth to clobber his home runs. Roush claimed that he never broke a bat in his career.

But it was his centerfield play that set Edd Roush apart from the rest; he was one of the greatest defensive outfielders of his era.
The Reds have been blessed with some incredibly talented centerfielders over the years – Vada Pinson, Eric Davis and Billy Hamilton among them – but Roush may well have been able to run circles around them all. After his playing days, he was rated among the greatest outfielders of all time, and included on lists with players such as Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays and Tris Speaker.

"Eddie used to take care of the whole outfield, not just centerfield,'' his Reds teammate, infielder Heinie Groh, once said. "He was far and away the best outfielder I ever saw."

John McGraw, the legendary – and hard-nosed – manager of the New York Giants, who had Roush on his team from 1926 through 1929, was not one to heap praise on players, but Roush was an exception to the rule.

"That Hoosier moves with the regal indifference of an alley cat,'' McGraw said, according to Roush's New York Times obituary.

McGraw once repositioned Roush in the outfield for a particular batter. The batter immediately ripped a triple through the spot that Roush had vacated. McGraw learned his lesson.

"Eddie, the next time I signal you to move, don't budge,'' McGraw said when Roush returned to the dugout.

Roush was a stubborn fellow. He annually held out from spring training while negotiating new contracts with the Reds. He stayed on the farm in Oakland City, working out to stay in shape. Spring training, he believed, was a waste of time.

He had a lot to do with getting the Reds to a National League championship and into the 1919 World Series. It was a series won by the Reds over the Chicago White Sox, but the Reds' accomplishment was overshadowed the next year when word came out that eight White Sox had thrown the series, after being paid by gamblers.

Roush was infuriated by the idea that the Reds only won because the other side was throwing ball games, and insisted to his dying day that the Reds were the better team.

In the 1920s, the new "livelier" ball led to a huge increase in offense in the game; Roush averaged .350 over a four-year period from 1921 to 1924, but won no more batting titles.

After the 1926 season, the Reds traded Roush back to the Giants. He was not particularly happy at playing for McGraw again, who had heaped abuse on the young player when he had him on his team in 1916. So Roush held out for $30,000, a princely sum in those days. McGraw, though, was determined to sign him, and Roush ended up with a three-year contract worth $70,000.

By the end of his contract, Roush's legs were giving out, and he was not the player he had been in his prime – either at the plate or in the field.

He held out in a contract dispute for the entire 1930 season, and was traded back to the Reds.

After a sub-par year, Roush retired as a player at the age of 38.

He returned to the family farm in Indiana and was glad to be back with his wife Essie and their daughter Mary. The only other baseball job he took was in 1938, when he served as a coach on the staff of his old friend, Reds manager Bill McKechnie.

After Essie passed away, he went south to live in Bradenton, Florida, where, surprisingly, he came to look forward to the arrival of teams for spring training.

This year, Cincinnati is celebrating the 150th anniversary of professional baseball here. In 1969, the Reds celebrated the centennial and Roush was voted the greatest player in the team's history.

On March 21, 1988, Roush, at the age of 94, died just before a spring training game at McKechnie Field in Bradenton.  At the time of his death, he was the last surviving member of the 1919 World Series champion Reds.

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Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

Read more "Cincinnati Reds At 150" here.

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.