Come on, you knew this was going to be the pick for the 1970’s season of the decade, right? If not, then you have never heard about the season that Gary Redus put up in 1978 and go grab a beverage because you are in for a treat.

The Cincinnati Reds were the beneficiaries of the Boston Red Sox failure to sign Gary Redus out of the 1977 draft when they selected him out of Calhoun Community College. In 1978 Redus transferred to Athens State where he hit over .400 and was selected in the 15th round by the Reds. They were able to sign the Alabama native and sent the then 21-year-old to play for the Billings Mustangs.

The Pioneer League has long been a league where hitting was a lot easier than pitching. There are a few reasons for that, including some old ballparks with very small dimensions to certain parts of the field. But there’s beneficial leagues and there’s doing what Gary Redus did.

In 1978 the Billings Mustangs played 68 games, going an incredible 50-18. That is a .735 winning percentage for those keeping track at home. Six players would go on to the Major Leagues from that team, including Gary Redus.

Before jump into the exact stats that Gary Redus put up, let’s talk about what stats he led the league in. He led the league in average by 81 points. He led the league in on-base percentage by 91 points. His slugging percentage led the league by 165 points. His OPS topped the league by 315 points. The 42 steals were tops in the league by seven. Redus scored 31 more runs than the next closest in the league – his teammate Lee Hover. It was comical just how insane his season truly was that summer.

But let’s talk about the number. THE number that he’s known for. In 1978 Gary Redus set the all-time record for highest batting average in professional baseball history when he hit .462 for the Billings Mustangs. No, that’s not a typo. Four Hundred and Sixty Two. There’s a bat in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown marking the achievement. Along with an incredible average, Redus also walked twice as much as he struck out, posting a .559 on-base percentage, and thanks to 19 doubles, 6 triples, and 17 home runs, he also slugged .787. And as mentioned above, he also stole 42 bases. All of that came in a grand total of 68 games.

It was a season to end all seasons. Gary Redus made a traveshamockery out of the Pioneer League in 1978. There were only three games in which he failed to reach base. At one point during the season he had 16 hits in 19 at-bats.

Stacking up with the contenders

Let’s be real here – there were no contenders. What Gary Redus did is still talked about 42 years later because it’s just different than what other people have done before. Sorry everyone else that had a season in the 1970’s for the Cincinnati Reds farm system – you just didn’t stand a chance. With that said, let’s take a look at a few of the other very good seasons that guys had during the 70’s down on the farm.

If you scroll over the the OPS+ column you can see just how much better Gary Redus was than everyone else. But the next best number? That’s the 191 put up by Dan Driessen in Triple-A Indianapolis back in 1973. He only did it for 211 plate appearances, which usually wouldn’t make the cut. But I chose to keep it in because he was 21-years-old and hit .409 before earning a call up to Cincinnati that season. He would hit .301 the rest of the season for Cincinnati, where he’d play for the next decade plus before being traded to Montreal midseason. He would retired following the 1987 season after playing in parts of 15 seasons in the Major Leagues. He would hit .267/.356/.411 in his career with 153 home runs, 154 steals, and more walks than strikeouts in his career.

Gene Locklear showed up on the list twice, in back-to-back seasons. In 1971 he played in Double-A Trois-Rivieres and posted a 180 OPS+. That was followed up by a 164 OPS+ in Triple-A Indianapolis as a 22-year-old. The next season he was in the Major Leagues, but struggled to get playing time on a stacked Reds team. He played in 29 games through June 12th, but only managed to get 26 plate appearances – starting in just two games – before being traded to the San Diego Padres for Fred Norman. Locklear would play in parts of five seasons in the Major Leagues, hitting .274/.335/.373 between 1973-1977 with the Reds, Padres, and Yankees.

Like Locklear, Dave Revering also showed up on the list twice. In 1976 and 1977 he hit 27 and 29 home runs for Triple-A Indianapolis. He would be traded to Oakland prior to spring training in 1978 for Doug Bair. He spent parts of five seasons in the Major Leagues with Oakland, New York (AL), Toronto, and Seattle from 1978-1982. Revering hit .265/.318/.430 in his career over 2003 plate appearances with 62 home runs.

In 1977 Harry Spilman beat up the Eastern League for Trois-Rivieres. He was a doubles machine that year, hitting 39 of them, but also added in 3 triples and 16 home runs. It wasn’t just power, though, as he also hit .373 on the season while walking nearly twice as much as he struck out on the season. The next season he got a September call up with Cincinnati and then spent parts of the next 11 seasons in the Majors. Over his 12-year career he played in 563 games – but only getting 100+ plate appearances in a season three times between 1978-1989. He played for the Reds, Astros, Tigers, and Giants in his career.

Greg Jackson is the only player on the list who never reached the Major Leagues. Interestingly enough he never even made full season baseball. In 1977 he did plenty of damage in the Northwest League, hitting .336/.432/.565 – good for a 162 OPS+. That came with 12 doubles, 2 triples, and 14 home runs for the Eugene Emeralds. He also stole 10 bases in 67 games played. He missed all of the 1978 season, though, before resurfacing back in Eugene in 1979. His season wasn’t nearly as good this time around as a 22-year-old. That would be his final year of playing professional baseball according to Baseball Reference.

And then there was Arturo DeFreites in 1978. As a 25-year-old he hit .327/.373/.620 for Triple-A Indianapolis. With 31 home runs, 5 triples, 32 home runs, and 101 RBI – he put on a big display of power. His performance earned him a September call up that year. He would see action with the Reds again in 1979, but both stints were limited as he played in just 32 total games between the two seasons. They would be the only two he spent in the Major Leagues, hitting .208/.214/.321 in 56 total plate appearances. Following the 1979 season he headed to Mexico where he would play from 1980-1986 according to Baseball Reference – but no stats are available for his time there.

Here are the other winners for Season of the Decade:

Decade Hitter Starter Reliever
2010’s Devin Mesoraco Tony Cingrani Donnie Joseph
2000’s Adam Dunn Travis Wood Robert Manuel
1990’s Jason LaRue Curt Lyons Victor Garcia
1980’s Danny Tartabull Mike Dowless Clem Freeman
1970’s Gary Redus Keefe Cato

16 Responses

  1. Oldtimer

    Redus is the correct choice by a country mile.

    Revering was traded to Oakland for Bair in 1978 but only after Bowie Kuhn voided the Reds trade of him (and lots of cash) for Vida Blue in 1977.

    • Tony Cloninger

      Bob H knew that Kuhn put in the edict that no player can be traded for more than a certain amount of cash. They had enough in their farm high up. Which they overrated to trade for Blue without the cash.
      Moskau. The mentioned Arturo D. Revering. Plus enough cash below the threshold to make it work. Bob just thought Bowie would let it pass but Bowie was a very strict commish and wielded authority even if it upset his bosses.

  2. Billy

    Doug, if a 15th round, small college draftee in today’s game went out and had that kind of season at Billings, how do you think he’d fit on prospect rankings?

      • Billy

        I mean, 15th round from a small college… I’d be assuming the tools wouldn’t stand out.

        Maybe a different way to phrase it is, if there was an unheralded college player with limited tools putting up huge numbers in a short-season league the year of his draft, how big would those numbers have to be to make him a top prospect? Is it even possible?

        (I’m thinking it isn’t. Maybe a guy with no real outstanding tools gets lucky and barrels the ball every time and hits a home run in every at bat. That would turn heads, but you can’t get that lucky without an incredible hit tool, so it would have to mean that his hit tool was there but underrated the whole time.)

      • Doug Gray

        If the tools weren’t there, then no, the numbers wouldn’t make him a top prospect.

        That said, I don’t know if that’s the case or not with Redus. Obviously he had some tools – he stuck around the big leagues for quite a while and you don’t do that without some actual tools and skills. And I did read some stuff from the Billings Gazette from multiple articles, and an ESPN article that looked back at the season he had, too – and at least people that saw him play who worked in the game made comments about how someone drafted so low shouldn’t have had the kinds of tools that he did. So he certainly had some kind of tools that stood out. Scouting was a lot different in 1978 than it is today. There are more scouts, more centralized information, more showcases – just tons more information. It was a lot easier for a guy with first few round ability to truly fall through the cracks back then than it is today.

  3. Jon Ryker

    Saw Gary Redus and Arturo Defreitas both play in AAA. Redus turned out to be a solid player but at AAA he looked like a HOFer….the power didn’t hold up in the big leagues…..

    Defreitas I was very mad about at the time. Deserved a better shot.

    • Tony Cloninger

      I was upset the Reds did not bring up him and Champ Summers to use them more than Ken Henderson in 1978. Henderson was playing for Geronimo who went downhill fast that year where even his defense was not enough to make up for his hitting or Joe Morgan’s poor year and Driessen’s regression after being hit in the hand by Bob Shirley. Twice.
      Henderson was not the 1970-74 Henderson but like even the best managers Sparky went with the vet and tried to squeeze out of him the past while Summers was the better option. Arturo could only play 1st really.

      • Jon Ryker

        Summers and Harry Spillman were very similar, it seemed to me. They also backed people up by moving Bench around out of the catching spot…..kept getting in their own way.

  4. Jon Ryker

    Redus was extremely fast and knew how to use it. Had considerable power until he got to the big leagues. Really was too pull-oriented to put up massive numbers there. Did not throw very well.

    • Tony Cloninger

      He was a very good player on some bad teams and was a great bench guy for PITT.
      Some nice parting words for Rose after he was traded to the Phillies with Tom Hume too.

  5. Michael E

    Gary Redus rivaled Eric Davis in my eyes for stolen bases. Eric D no out walk was almost an automatic triple. Redus was a very good baserunner as well. On a few poor Reds team, the few things to root for were Mario Soto striking out 10+ and Gary Redus (and Eddie Milner) stealing multiple bases. Sigh.

    • Jon Ryker

      And the endless stream of Duane Walker’s, Paul Householders, Ken Hendersons, Mike Vails…..although that period also brought two of my very favorite no-name Reds……Junior Kennedy and Hector Cruz.

      • Michael E

        Oh the horror. I remember Householder, the supposed next phenom and was just bad. Duane Walker, just muscular, not much of a player. My dad used to get really worked up angry when those two names came up. He did NOT like those guys, I guess due to hype never matching the production (what production, right?) I was pre-teen kid at that time, was probably paying more attention to the hype and size than production, but my dad saw how subpar both of those guys were.