“Big Chief” Reynolds was Once an Indian
Vince Guerrieri | On 30, Jul 2013
There are some trades where both teams benefit.
And there are some trades where a team benefits in the short run – but loses out long term.
In 1987, with the trade deadline looming, the Tigers were looking for a starting pitcher, and dealt a prospect to the lowly Atlanta Braves for Doyle Alexander, who went 9-0 for the Motor City Kitties as they won the American League East on the last day of the season. But Alexander went 0-2 in the American League Championship Series as the Braves beat the Tigers and went on to win the World Series. The prospect dealt from Detroit was Michigan native John Smoltz, who went on to become one of the best pitchers in the 1990s, and compiled 200 wins, 150 saves and 3,000 strikeouts in his career.
The Indians made one of those trades after the 1946 season. The Tribe was looking for help in the middle infield, and wanted Joe Gordon from the Yankees badly enough to offer the Bombers their pick of pitchers, except for Bob Feller. Larry MacPhail had his eye on Red Embree, but he discussed the deal with Yankees star Joe DiMaggio, who urged him to take a big right-hander that had been drafted but not signed by the New York Giants football team.
It was Allie Reynolds, who was discovered by a scout in Oklahoma who was friends with Reynolds’ college baseball coach, Henry Iba at Oklahoma A&M, and signed by the Indians in 1939. Iba was probably better known as a basketball coach, leading the Aggies (the school became Oklahoma State in 1957) to become the first repeat NCAA champions in 1945 and 1946.
Reynolds had gone 51-47 as a spot starter and reliever in four seasons in Cleveland, but DiMaggio was awed by his fastball, telling MacPhail, “Take Reynolds. I’m a fastball hitter, but he can buzz his hard one by me any time he has a mind to.”
In the short term, the Tribe won out, as Gordon proved to be the missing piece for the Indians in their 1948 championship. But Reynolds achieved more than a little success himself, going 19-8 in his first year in the Bronx. Ironically, Embree ended up in pinstripes, as the Yankees traded Allie Clark for him after the 1947 season.
After the 1948 season, manager Bucky Harris was let go in favor of Charles Dillon “Casey” Stengel – who was rumored to be a candidate to replace Lou Boudreau in Bill Veeck’s aborted attempt to fire him before the 1948 season.
Stengel, in his first five years with the Yankees, won the World Series every year – a feat that has been unduplicated in major league history. And Reynolds was a big part, winning at least 13 games a year every year, including going 20-8 in 1952 with a league-leading 2.06 average. The year before, he joined rarified air with two no-hitters in the same season – including one against Bob Feller and the Indians. Feller took a no-hitter into the seventh himself, and Gene Woodling’s solo home run provided the only scoring the game. But Reynolds really distinguished himself in the postseason, going 7-2 with four saves.
In those five years, the Indians won no fewer than 89 games, but always finished behind the Yankees (in fact, 1950 to 1956 might have been the best stretch in team history, with six straight 90-win seasons and just one postseason appearance – being swept by the Giants in the 1954 World Series). Gordon was out of the majors as a player by 1950, as Bobby Avila became the Tribe’s second baseman. Would Reynolds have been the missing piece to put those Indians teams over the top?
Or would Reynolds have led to an unpleasant parting of ways between the Indians and their most famous player? Al Lopez, who was also supposed to be a candidate to succeed Boudreau after the 1947 season, eventually did become Indians manager after Boudreau was fired – in 1950. Lopez and Feller didn’t get along well, and Lopez considered cutting him in spring training in 1954. Would Reynolds have given Lopez added impetus to sever ties with Rapid Robert?
Regardless, Reynolds retired after the 1954 season, feeling the aftereffects of an injury suffered when the Yankees’ team bus hit an overpass in Philadelphia. Reynolds went on to serve as an executive with the Major League Baseball Players’ Association. He died in 1994.