Fred Hutchinson of Cincinnati is neither the tallest nor widest manager in the big leagues, a statistic his pitchers wouldn't believe if you showed them the tape measure and the scales. Because when Hutchinson goes out to relieve a pitcher, he looks like a mountain, all covered with fur. It is one of the more terrifying sights in baseball, which may account, in part, for Hutchinson's success as a manager.
"You get in trouble out there," says Jim Davis, who used to pitch for Hutchinson at St. Louis, "and suddenly, out of the corner of your eye, you see him in the dugout. He's leaning forward on the bench or pacing up and down like a bear, and he's glaring at you. And suddenly you think: 'Good Lord, if I don't get the ball over the plate, he's going to come out here.' "
Actually, Hutchinson only frightens pitchers occasionally; he has never harmed one in his life. Dugout walls and batting helmets have not been so lucky. In sheer fury at a particularly sloppy performance, he slugged a concrete dugout wall until his fist was black and blue. In disgust because an opposing batter was walked, needlessly, for the third time in a game, he dealt a row of batting helmets such a whack that they ricocheted the length of the bench, bouncing off walls and bat racks and the skulls of innocent reserve outfielders and second-string infielders. And there have been times, after a losing game, when the sound of splintering furniture has been clearly audible through Hutchinson's closed office door.
But most of the time Hutchinson is just a gentle-hearted man, quiet and patient and, fortunately, very peaceful. His famed, though rare, rages have been directed at himself or fate. "So far as I know," says Jim Brosnan, who has pitched for Hutch at both St. Louis and Cincinnati, "he has never even chewed a ballplayer out while anyone else was present. And if he had I would know. Those things get around."
September 20, 1959
Hutchinson was a pitcher himself and, like anyone else, had his bad moments as well as a lot of good ones. He can understand a pitcher's problems and sympathize with them. Up to a point. After all, he is a manager now, and his job is to win ball games. He expects his pitchers to do their jobs, too.
Because of this the Cincinnati Reds, who were going nowhere in a hurry the first half of the season despite some of the best hitting in the National League, have settled down and are playing good baseball. When Hutchinson took over as manager, the Reds were a sagging seventh, with a dismal .438 won-lost record. Under Hutch, Cincinnati has played .500 ball and at one point moved up to challenge for a first-division spot. The surge came too late, of course, and the Reds will still finish far back, but at least they have looked like a ball club.
"What else can it be but Hutch?" says Brosnan. "When we were losing so many games, everybody said we had the hitting but no pitching. Well, we're getting some pretty good pitching now from the same staff we had all the time.
"He just settled everybody down. Before, there was no real rotation. You never knew what to expect or whose day it was to work. We sometimes used six or eight pitchers in a game. Now, Hutch has set up a rotation of five men. They know they're going to pitch regularly. The relief pitchers know what they're going to do. And once you get in the game you get a chance."
"It's more than that," says Bob Purkey. "I liked Mayo, but I guess he was too easygoing. You lost a game, and it didn't seem to be important. Mayo would say, 'Well, we'll win tomorrow.' With Hutch, when you lose, you know it's important. He says, 'We're going to win tomorrow'—and you can tell he means it. We are going to win. We'd better."
"There's a difference," says Vada Pinson, who can tell, even if he isn't a pitcher. "I like Hutch. I don't know him very well; he's not particularly close to the players. Maybe Mayo was too close. But you know that Hutchinson is serious about winning ball games. He lets you know that's what you're out there for. You really have to respect him."
Apparently everyone in baseball respects Hutchinson. He is not the most successful manager around or, as he will tell you himself, the smartest. But he is sincere and, above all, he is honest. The long face, with its long nose and long upper lip and deep-set eyes and that tough fighter's jaw and the scowl which it frequently wears, does, indeed, appear formidable. To strangers, Hutchinson sometimes seems unapproachable or, at best, reserved.
Actually, however, he is a warm, friendly man, with great character, strong opinions and intense loyalties. With those he knows well, the eyes twinkle and the scowl is replaced by a strange little lopsided grin and the voice is full of salty humor. And this, in turn, inspires loyalty among those who have worked with him. Everywhere he has been, they would be happy to have him back. There are those who will tell you so right now in St. Louis and in Detroit.
In six seasons as a big league manager—two with Detroit, three with the Cardinals and a half season each with the Tigers and Reds—Hutchinson has never won a pennant, although he did pull the Cards up from seventh to fourth to second before running out of gas. In his only minor league job, with the home-town Seattle Rainiers in 1955, Hutchinson finished first. That is one reason Dewey Soriano, for years the Seattle general manager, and Emil Sick, who owns the club, hired Hutch last year when he was released as Cardinal manager by Gussie Busch.
"That was quite an experience," he said at breakfast one day recently in Philadelphia, a coffee cup almost lost in his paws and that amused, crooked little smile on his face. "Dewey and the old man—Mr. Sick—have always been good to me. They figured they were doing me a favor. And I guess they were.
"Dewey said, 'How would you like to be both general manager and manager? You shouldn't have any trouble. And you can have a stock deal if you want it, too.' Well, I didn't have any place else to go, and it sounded pretty good. So I went.
"Dewey was right. I didn't have any trouble; I had nothing but trouble. Here he had been handling that general manager job so long it was a breeze for him. And he figured I could, too. That would leave me plenty of time to run the ball club on the field. Well, I'm still trying to figure out what was going on. I didn't know the players in the Pacific Coast League, I didn't know the operation, and anything I ever knew about handling books for a ball club I had forgotten. We got off to a bad start, and things kept getting worse. First thing I knew we were in the cellar—and as long as I was running things that looked like exactly where we were going to stay all season long.
"Maybe a smarter man could have handled both jobs, but it was too much for me. I belong out on the field in baseball; that's all I know. As for the stock, I just didn't have that kind of money. Mr. Sick told me I could buy a third of the ball club if I wanted to. Well, we went on a road trip at the first of the season, and by the time we got home the operating expenses amounted to about $100,000. Man, I told them I couldn't afford to own a third of that ball club."
Hutchinson was as surprised as anyone else when he got the phone call from Cincinnati.
"Oh, I had a little hint that something was going to happen four days before," he admits now. "I called them up to see about a player—Seattle has a working agreement with the Reds—and Gabe Paul told me I'd better not move any players right then. It looked like they were going to have to make some changes themselves. Well, I knew right away he meant Mayo, and I told Gabe that was too bad. Mayo is a good friend of mine. Of course in baseball you have to expect things like that.
"Anyway, he called back four days later and told me I was the new Cincinnati manager if I wanted the job. I got there that night."
"I'd be a fool to say I didn't want back in the big leagues. Hell, everybody wants to be in the big leagues. It's not a question of money. What's money?"
WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR
Like all baseball managers, Hutchinson is an optimist at heart, and while realizing that it is too late to do anything about getting the Reds to the top of the league this year, he sees no reason why they can't win in 1960.
"This is a good, sound ball club," he says. "Probably the best hitting team in either league. You take Robinson and Pinson and Temple and Bell and Lynch. All good hitters. Thomas and McMillan have been hurt. They should have a better year. And Bailey. And the pitching has been pretty good lately. It could be better, but it's improved.
"I've got Newcombe, Purkey, Nuxhall, Hook and O'Toole on a regular rotation, with Lawrence, Pena and Brosnan in relief. I didn't really change things any; the pitching just settled down. The only pitcher we've added is Hook, and I didn't want him. I figured he'd be better off finishing the year down at Seattle. But Gabe wanted to bring him up, so we brought him up. The only thing I told Gabe was that if he did come up he was going in the rotation. He was going to take his regular turn if he lost nine straight games. And Gabe said that was fine with him, that's the way he wanted it, too. So we sent down Arroyo and called up Hook. He's been doing a good job."
Why, Hutchinson was asked, does he think he can win a pennant at Cincinnati when he couldn't win at St. Louis? The two organizations seem amazingly alike; each has some bright talent, each has holes.
"Well, they are a little bit alike," said Hutch, "but there is one major difference. At St. Louis there were some good ballplayers on the big league club but not enough of them. And although the Cardinals had a lot of good-looking kids down in the minors there was a gap. None of them were ready to move up right then. The best of them needed some more time in Triple-A. But the Reds seem to have a more constant flow. You notice they get a good young player almost every year: Temple, Bailey, Robinson, Pinson, now Hook and O'Toole. That's the pattern the Yankees used so long to dominate the American League. Well, we're just getting started. This is the hardest-working organization I've ever seen. We've got scouts out beating bushes I didn't know existed."
A scout for the Red Sox, working the territory, walked into the coffee shop and stopped off to shake hands.
"Your ball club's going pretty good, Hutch," he said. "The only thing I don't like about them is those funny-looking uniforms, with no sleeves on the shirts. They still look strange to me. Can't get used to them. Do you like them?"
"Well," said Hutch and grinned again. "Confidentially, no. But Gabe does. So I guess I like them, too. As a matter of fact, I like them real well. I like any uniform, just so it's in the big leagues."