In their new book, The Local Boys: Hometown Players for the Cincinnati Reds
, authors Joe and Jack Heffron — local boys themselves — tell the stories of the men who achieved the dream depicted in that sculpture, profiling over 100 local players using historical research and, for many, original interviews with the players or surviving family.
The Heffrons feature legends like Pete Rose, Ethan Allen, Don Zimmer, Dave Parker, Buddy Bell, Junior Griffey, and even Charlie “Bushel Basket” Gould, who made the first roster back in 1869.
Now, in an exclusive feature, the publisher has given RCN permission to highlight a few players featured in the book who hailed from Northern Kentucky's river cities.
Born: July 1941
Major League Career: 1965-74
Time as a Red: 1973
When Bob Barton found out he'd been traded from the San Diego Padres to his hometown Reds during the 1972 season, he wasn't happy about it. In fact, he was angry.
In fact, he refused to report. "When I found out, I said, 'I've had enough,'" he says. He believes the trade was made because he was the Padres' union representative during the
two-week players' strike in April of that year.
"Of the twenty-four reps, only three or four survived with their teams," he recalls. The others, he says, were traded or released or sent to the minor leagues. He believes that Padres' general manager Buzzie Bavasi traded him to the Reds knowing that, as a catcher, he would see little action behind 1972 Most Valuable Player Johnny Bench. "That was the worst thing he could do to me," Barton says.
He was born in Norwood (Ohio), the family having recently moved from Madison, Indiana, so his dad could take a job as a printer with the Cincinnati Enquirer. Soon after, the Bartons moved to Latonia where he grew up. His father died suddenly of a heart attack when Barton was twelve, leaving his mother to raise three kids. "We didn't have much money," he recalls.
A three-sport star at Holmes High School, he particularly excelled at basketball. A number of universities offered scholarships, including the University of Kentucky, where he'd always dreamed of playing. He accepted the offer, but then the San Francisco Giants came calling with a $25,000 signing bonus that he couldn't refuse.
"One minute I have a scholarship to Kentucky and two days later I was in Nebraska," he says. He spent the next six years in the minors, but after a strong season at AAA in 1965, he was called up in September, seeing little action. For the next few seasons, he fought for playing time behind All Star Tom Haller. He recalls earning starts mostly against teams with great base-stealers. He credits his ability to gun down runners to his basketball experience, which taught him how to catch and release a ball quickly and
accurately, a skill he worked on throughout his career.
But sitting on the bench for days and even weeks between starts made it tough to hit well.
After the 1969 season, he was traded to the Padres, where he finally nabbed a starting job in 1971 and enjoyed his best MLB season. When the next season began, following
the players' strike, he found himself back on the bench. He contends that the reduced playing time was due to his role as the union rep.
By that time, he had begun building a financial services business and, at 30, was preparing for life after baseball. When he learned of the trade to the Reds, he retired rather
than report to Indianapolis. "I said, 'You tell those boys I'm not coming,'" he says. And he didn't. He sat out the remainder of the season. Then, around Christmas, Reds manager Sparky Anderson called, explaining that a spot had been found on Johnny Bench's lung and the team was unsure about their catcher's future.
Skeptical of the game's business side, Barton insisted on a guaranteed contract. He says he was happy to be coming home, but wanted to protect himself in case Bench proved to be okay. Bench played in 152 games that season, Barton in just three. He had no hits in two plate appearances, walking once. With a healthy Bench and a strong back-up in Bill Plummer, the Reds released Barton on June 17.
The following spring, the Padres signed him to back up young Fred Kendall and then released him at the end of the season.
Barton has worked ever since at his financial services business, settling just north of San Diego, where he still lives with his wife, Connie. Always a talkative, happy-go-lucky guy, he maintains a reputation as a great storyteller, which keeps sports journalists coming to him, even though his playing days are long past.