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When Babe Was Almost A Player: HARRY STEVENS

         

If a certain baseball scout for the Cincinnati Reds had made a different choice one afternoon in Baltimore, Babe Ruth very well might have begun his major league baseball career in Cincinnati instead of Boston.

 

In 1914 the Reds had a "working agreement" with the Baltimore team, which played in the Class AAA International League. That agreement gave the Reds the right to pick two players from the Baltimore roster and sign them to a Cincinnati contract.

 

During the summer of 1914, Reds president Garry Herrmann sent his emissary to the East Coast to take a look at the Baltimore team. The man Herrmann selected was Harry Stevens. Stevens had no baseball experience; he was working for the Reds because he was a friend of the Fleischmann family, owners of the club.

 

Stevens was regarded by some as the proverbial company spy. A year earlier, 1913, he had ruffled some feathers when he joined the organization. Joe Tinker, manager of the Reds, took it as a personal insult that the club would hire a man to look after the players both at home and on the road, so he quit. The team hired Buck Herzog, who came from the New York Giants in a trade for outfielder Bob Bescher.

 

 

Other than his trips with the Reds in 1913, Stevens' baseball experience was minimal. Nevertheless, when the time came for a scout to be sent to Baltimore to look over the prospects, it was Stevens who was sent. He was charged with picking two players whom the Reds would want for their team the following season.

 

To say he failed is a classic understatement.

 

Pitching on that Baltimore team at the time were George Herman Ruth and Ernie Shore. Playing shortstop was Claud Derrick. A member of the outfield was George Twombly.

 

Stevens watched a few games, talked with some Baltimore officials and made his decision. He would take shortstop Derrick and outfielder Twombly back to Cincinnati.

 

No, he wasn't interested in the fellow named Ruth or the other pitcher named Shore. He would take the shortstop and outfielder.

What a selection!

Derrick's career with the Reds lasted two games. Three days after arriving in Cincinnati, Derrick was shuffled off to the Chicago Cubs for first baseman Fred Mollwitz, who went on to bat .162 for the Reds the remainder of the 1914 season.

 

Twombly stuck around a little longer, but he, too, had a poor career in Cincinnati. He batted .233 in 1914 and .197 the next year. After appearing in three games in 1916, he was gone from Cincinnati.

 

The Boston Red Sox also had a working agreement with the Baltimore club. After the Reds had their chance at two players, Boston made its selections. The Boston scout was considerably more efficient. He took a pair of pitchers back to Boston.

 

Ruth was one of the pitchers and Shore the other. Ruth, as everyone knows, went on to become an outstanding pitcher before he turned home-run-hitting outfielder with the New York Yankees. Shore was not as accomplished as Ruth but in four seasons after going to Boston from Baltimore, he won 56 games ­certainly enough to have pleased Reds fans in those days.

 

Had Babe Ruth originally played major league baseball with the Cincinnati Reds, his career might have been drastically different. He might never have become an outfielder. His pitching prowess might not have been fully developed.

 

But Reds followers will have to always wonder what might have been.

         
       

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