Best Reds Players Of All Time: Top 5 Legendary Cincinnati Athletes, According To Fans

Cincinnati is known for its beautiful architecture, fun and cheesy takes on chili, and passionate sports fans who live and die with the Reds and the Bengals. In fact, the Reds are considered one of the oldest franchises in all of Major League Baseball (MLB). Yes, the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati has been home to the Reds for generations, and Cincy fans have seen some amazing ballplayers come through the organization over the years. The Big Red Machine of the ’70s and ’80s immediately comes to mind. With so much history and a legacy of great teams, who deserves to make the list of the best Reds players of all time? 

Before we dive into the best players in franchise history, it’s important to note that the Reds are traditionally good at drafting and developing talent. And, according to a recent study, fans appreciate teams who draft and develop players over teams that sign expensive free agents in the off-season. Researchers at the University of Kansas surveyed 1,500 Americans to find that sports fans prefer teams who build from the ground up over those teams comprised of expensive free agents. Simply put, sports fans appreciate the hard work and dedication it takes to build a contender from scratch.  

It makes sense for fans to be more invested in teams built from the ground up. Fans are so passionate about their favorite sports teams that some of them are willing to travel and spend big bucks just to watch their favorite teams play in person. Another survey of 2,000 self-identified sports fanatics found that the average fan is willing to travel a staggering five hours and 48 minutes just to watch their favorite team or teams play in person. Moreover, fans report they’re willing to spend upwards of $750 on tickets to a game. A whopping 45 percent of respondents said they’ve left the country just to see a game while 35 percent have even planned a vacation around watching their favorite teams play in person. For the record, Cincinnati is a beautiful summertime destination for baseball fans. 

So, which Reds players are considered the greatest in franchise history? StudyFinds did the research, consulting 10 sports and baseball-oriented websites in an effort to bring you a consensus best Reds players. Our list comprises the five most frequently listed players from across these sites. Think we missed one? Feel free to share your thoughts with the community in the comments section below! 

A statue at the Great American Ballpark in Cincinatti
A statue at the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati (Photo by Cory Woodruff on Shutterstock)

The List: Best Reds Players of All Time, According to Experts

1. Pete Rose (1963-1978 & 1984-86)

Pete Rose is still the all-time MLB hits leader with well over 4,000 career hits, but that’s not all. As the experts explain, Pete Rose holds several impressive all-time records and he’s the definition of homegrown talent. 

Pete Rose & Steve Garvey at the 2010 Steve Garvey Summer Softball Classic
Pete Rose & Steve Garvey at the 2010 Steve Garvey Summer Softball Classic (Photo by Kathy Hutchins on Shutterstock)

“Is there any doubt that Pete Rose is the best player in Reds’ history? The man is the all-time hit king (4256) and also leads all players in games played (3562), plate appearances (15890) and at-bats (14053). Pete’s the epitome of a hometown hero. He grew up in Western Hills, played high school ball in Cincinnati, was drafted by the Reds and had one of the all-time great careers of any player in the history of baseball. Rose played the game the right way and gave baseball everything he had… As one of the most iconic players in the history of the game, there’s no doubt that Rose is the best player in Cincinnati Reds’ history,” explains Bleacher Report

Pete Rose is one of the most beloved players in the history of professional sports in Cincinnati. Regardless of his Hall of Fame status, or what fans of other MLB teams think of him, Pete Rose hustled his way into being one of the best MLB players of his generation and he deserves to be mentioned among the all-time greats. Rose’s hustle was so intense that it earned him the nickname ‘Charlie Hustle.’ 

“Charlie Hustle was durable and one of baseball’s greatest hitters. Part of the reason Rose would eventually break Ty Cobb’s hit record was because he played nearly every day. He played more games than anyone by more than an entire season in his career and averaged 157 games per season in his first stint with the Reds. Of course, he was also a great hitter, winning three batting titles, a Silver Slugger, and an MVP in 1973. In 1978, Rose had a 44-game hitting streak that remains the third-longest in history. Though not known for his defense, Rose also has two Gold Gloves; both won when he was playing primarily right field,” furthers Pitcher List

Pete Rose later went on to become a player-manager for the Reds organization. Although Rose was highly successful in this dual role, MLB discovered that Rose placed wagers on his team and suspended him indefinitely. The suspension is still in effect to this day, and Rose has been kept out of the Hall of Fame as a result. Of course, Rose’s absence from the Hall of Fame means that the game’s all-time hits leader doesn’t have a plaque in Cooperstown. A travesty for the game. 

“If you take a mental picture of a guy sliding head-first into a base, Rose comes to mind. Sadly, if you take a mental picture of a guy who left a stain on the game, Rose’s ban for betting on his own team’s games while managing the Reds is right up there among the worst offenses (in the mind of Major League Baseball) ever committed. It remains to be seen whether baseball’s partnerships with businesses tied to gambling will change the perception of him and allow him to be enshrined in Cooperstown, but for now he must settle for being beloved in Cincinnati,” writes Betway

2. Johnny Bench (1967-1983)

If Pete Rose takes the first spot, then the second spot on the list of the best Reds players of all time rightfully belongs to Johnny Bench. Undoubtedly one of the best catchers in MLB history, Johnny Bench is widely regarded as one of the best all-around players in the history of the game. Johnny Bench played his entire career in a Reds uniform and he’s beyond loved in the city of Cincinnati. 

“Bench is the greatest catcher in MLB history, and in our opinion, the best player to ever suit up for one of baseball’s oldest franchises. Bench spent his entire 17-year career with the Reds, winning the 1968 National League Rookie of the Year Award, two NL MVP Awards (1970 & 1972) and the 1976 World Series MVP. A 14-time All-Star, Bench is the franchise leader in home runs (389), RBIs (1,376) and sacrifice flies (90). Bench — who also won 10 Gold Glove Awards — was a first-ballot Hall of Fame electee in 1989, and his No. 5 is retired by the Reds,” writes Audacy

Johnny Bench and Pete Rose helped transform the Cincinnati Reds of the ’70s into one of the best MLB teams of all time. Bench was the lifeblood of those Reds teams, and he has the hardware to prove it. 

“The Reds picked Johnny Bench in the 2nd round of the 1965 draft in what turned out to be one of the greatest selections in the organization’s history. Bench spent his entire 17-year career in Cincinnati and is easily one of the best catchers in the history of Major League Baseball. In 2,158 career games he slashed .267/.342/.476 with 389 home runs, 1,376 RBI, 381 doubles, 24 triples, and 68 RBI. He was the NL Rookie of the Year in ’68, qualified for an amazing 14 all-star games, and won 10 Gold Glove awards in a row from ’68-’77. Bench was the National League MVP in both 1970 and 1972 and helped the Reds win the World Series in ’75 and ’76–while earning WS MVP honors in the second one,” adds Yardbarker

Johnny Bench’s impact on the Reds championship teams of the 1970s can’t be overstated. Bench came up big for the Reds in key moments and his performance in the 1976 World Series against the Yankees is all the evidence one needs to prove just how great Johnny Bench was. 

“Johnny Bench is arguably the greatest catcher in baseball history. As a catcher, he’s second all time in home runs, third in RBIs and fourth in runs. A two-time MVP, who twice led the league in home runs and three times in RBIs, Bench was a key component of the Big Red Machine in the 1970s. Following his possibly his worst all-around season (while in his prime), Bench showed why he’s the best in a 1976 World Series matchup against the Yankees and catching great Thurman Munson. Bench went .533/.533/1.133 with two HRs, six RBIs and four runs,” furthers Bleacher Report

3. Joe Morgan (1972-1979)

Joe Morgan played alongside Johnny Bench and Pete Rose, and he’s widely regarded as one of the best second basemen in the history of professional baseball. “One of the greatest second basemen in MLB history, Morgan joined the Reds in 1972 after spending parts of nine seasons with the Houston Astros. As a Red, Morgan made eight All-Star teams, captured five Gold Gloves and won back-to-back National League MVP Awards in 1975 and 1976. The Reds retired Morgan’s No. 8 in 1984, and he went into the Hall of Fame with a Reds cap on in 1990,” explains Audacy

Statue of Joe Moran at the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati
Statue of Joe Moran at the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati (Photo by Dedan Photography on Shutterstock)

Joe Morgan only played in Cincinnati for eight seasons, but his impact on the team was second to none. Morgan won two championships to go with his two MVPs, and as the experts explain, Morgan chose to represent the Reds organization in the Hall of Fame. 

“In 1975, Morgan won his first of two straight MVPs and posted a 12.0 WAR, I’ll give you a second to wrap your head around that number. Morgan was a huge part of The Big Red Machine and led the team to back-to-back titles in his two MVP seasons. Bill James named Morgan the second-best second baseman of all time, and, in my opinion, was shafted by fans when he came in third for voting on baseball’s All-Century team. However, Morgan was elected to Cooperstown in 1990 and entered as a Cincinnati Red,” notes Bleacher Report

Joe Morgan was insanely productive as a Cincinnati Reds player. During his time in Cincinnati, Morgan’s game evolved and he transformed into one of the league’s best speed-power players. However, Morgan is also considered one of the top defensive infielders of his generation, and his five straight Gold Glove seasons as a Cincinnati Red prove that point.  

“In Cincinnati Morgan slashed .288/.415/.470 with 152 home runs, 612 RBI, 220 doubles, 27 triples, and 406 stolen bases. He led the National League in OBP four times while with the Reds, and won back-to-back NL MVP awards in ’75 and ’76. Morgan was an all-star in every one of his years in Cincinnati, and won five straight Gold Glove awards from ’73-’77. The Reds won the World Series in both of his MVP seasons and it’s quite obvious he played a big role in those championships,” furthers Yardbarker

4. Frank Robinson (1956-1965)

Robinson is the only player to be considered one of the best players of all time for two different teams – the Reds and the Orioles. Robinson started his career in a Reds uniform, and he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles in 1965. As the experts will tell you, the Frank Robinson trade is regarded as one of the worst trades in the history of baseball. 

Ernie Lombardi and Frank Robinson statues outside the Great American Ball Park
Ernie Lombardi and Frank Robinson statues outside the Great American Ball Park (Photo by ChicagoPhotographer on Shutterstock)

“Everyone knows the infamous 1965 trade which sent the then 30-year-old Robinson to Baltimore for Milt Pappas. The Reds’ owner Bill DeWitt tried to justify the move by calling Robinson an ‘old 30’. Makes sense, since Robinson won the AL Triple Crown and MVP the following year, right? Prior to that awful trade though, Robinson put together the best part of his 21-year career. In his 10 seasons with the Reds, Robinson won a Rookie of the Year award in 1956, MVP in 1961, his only Gold Glove as well as making eight All-Star teams. Robinson’s No. 20 is retired with the Reds and he’s forever immortalized in the form of a bronze statue outside the gates to Great American Ball Park,” writes Bleacher Report.  

Trading Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas is an all-time boneheaded move. Regardless of the move, Robinson’s legacy as a Cincinnati Reds player should be defined by his level of play.

“Frank Robinson was one of the most productive right-handed hitters in the history of the game, and he put together a lot of his Hall of Fame resume in Cincinnati with the Reds. The Beaumont, TX native played his first 10 seasons in Cincy… with 324 homers, 1,009 RBI, 318 doubles, 50 triples, and 161 stolen bases. During his time in Cincinnati, he was the NL Rookie of the Year in 1956, was the MVP of the National League in 1961, represented the Reds in nine all-star games, and earned one Gold Glove. Cincinnati retired his number 20 in 1998 and Robinson was inducted into Cooperstown in ’82,” adds Yardbarker.    

Frank Robinson is widely regarded as one of the greatest power hitters in MLB history. Although Robinson went into the Hall of Fame as an Orioles player, his legacy as a Reds player lives on. To say Robinson and Reds fans were unhappy about the trade is an understatement.

“Robinson, and Reds fans, were shocked when the team traded him in 1965. The club viewed him as a player on the decline, but they were clearly wrong as he played at an extremely high level for several more seasons. Robinson finally hung up his cleats in 1976, and the BBWAA elected him to the Hall of Fame in 1982 on his first attempt. Several years later, in 1998, Frank’s number 20 was finally retired by the club,” notes Pitcher List

5. Barry Larkin (1986-2004)

Rounding out the list of the best Reds players of all time is none other than legendary Reds shortstop, Barry Larkin. Similar to Pete Rose, Barry Larkin is a hometown kid from Cincinnati who played his high school baseball in the city. Larkin played his entire career in a Reds uniform, and he’s absolutely beloved in the city of Cincinnati. 

“Cincinnati-born shortstop Barry Larkin was drafted 4th overall by his hometown team in the 1985 draft and spent 19 years as a fan favorite in Ohio. Larkin played his entire career with the Reds and put together a standout resume, slashing .295/.371/.444 with 715 extra-base hits, 960 RBI, and 379 stolen bases in 2,180 games. He represented Cincinnati in 12 all-star games, earned nine Silver Slugger awards, and took home three Gold Gloves. Most impressively, though, Larkin was the 1995 National League MVP, and he was a huge reason why Cincinnati won the World Series in 1990,” writes Yardbarker

Barry Larkin had a decade-long stretch where he was consistently one of the best shortstops in MLB. Larkin was beyond successful for the Cincinnati Reds franchise of the late ’80s and ’90s, and as the experts will tell you, Larkin accomplished more in a Reds uniform than a lot of fans remember.  

“For 10 seasons between 1990 and 2000, Larkin was one of the best shortstops in the game. In 1990 he led the Reds to a World Series championship, in 1995 Larkin won an MVP and in 1996 he became the first shortstop to blast 30 homers and swipe 30 bags in the same season. Over the course of his 19-year career, Larkin was an MVP, World Series champ, 13-time All-Star, eight-time Silver Slugger and three-time Gold Glove winner. Had it not been for Ozzie Smith, Larkin would likely have four more Gold Gloves,” explains Bleacher Report

30 home runs and 30 stolen bases is a true testament to Larkin’s balance of speed and power. However, a lot of Reds fans might overlook Larkin’s accomplishments because he wasn’t part of the Big Red Machine, like so many other players on the list of the best Reds players of all time. 

“By outsiders, Larkin’s legacy may be overlooked because he wasn’t a part of ‘The Big Red Machine,’ as a majority of the other players on this list were at some point. Still, the Hall of Famer spent his entire 19-year career with the Reds, making 12 All-Star teams, winning nine Silver Sluggers, three Gold Gloves and the 1995 National League MVP. A 1990 World Series Champion, Larkin’s No. 11 is retired by the Reds,” writes Audacy

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