The National League pennant winners of 1961 finished fifth last year, but the trip back up the ladder may be even faster.
Cincinnati's attack, usually very powerful, fell off in 1963, but this season it should be one of the league's best. The cannon in the arsenal is Frank Robinson, but last year the cannon went pop. Robinson hit .259, with 91 RBIs and 21 home runs—not bad for most people. But Cincinnati does not pay Frank Robinson a big salary for acting like most people. Robinson has batted .342, has scored 134 runs, has hit 39 home runs and driven in 136. His failure to hit as he should, plus Joey Jay's poor pitching year, cost the Reds many games. Apart from his nonhitting, Robinson was involved in another Cincinnati problem, one that did the team no good at all. Robinson and his good friend Vada Pinson are unquestionably the stars of the team, but many Cincinnati players resented them because they too often acted like the stars of the team, taking fielding practice if they were in the mood, often skipping it. The Cincinnati front office thought about trading Robinson—St. Louis offered Third Baseman Ken Boyer as part of the deal—but nothing happened. If Cincinnati is to do well this year, Robinson's hitting must return to normal and he must work at creating harmony on the club. The first may be easier than the second. Vada Pinson carried the Reds' offense last year. Pinson hit .313, made 204 hits, drove in 106 runs and hit 22 home runs. It was a good Pinson year but little better than his average. In just five and a fraction season, he has made 1,011 hits, about 200 a year, and he is only 25. Gordy Coleman, like Robinson, had a poor year, except that Coleman did not have as far to fall. Coleman hit .247, drove in 59 runs and hit 14 home runs, half as many as the year before. The Reds are counting on him to provide more power in an attack that was sixth in home runs last year. John Edwards should hit a few more homers, too. Last year he had 11, while batting .259. Tommy Harper and Pete Rose both had good rookie years, Harper hitting .260, Rose .273. Bob Skinner, the old Pirate, was swinging the bat well in spring training and may be ready to give the Reds a few of the timely hits he was known for in Pittsburgh. Leo Cardenas fell to .235 after a strong .294 the year before. He should be better. Chico Ruiz hit .298 at San Diego, is very fast and likes to bunt a lot.
Potentially, Cincinnati has the best pitching in the major leagues, and the chances of realizing that potential this season are extremely good. Manager Fred Hutchinson has six starters, four of whom are big winners. King of the hill last season was Jim Maloney, a strong, hard-throwing right-hander who won 23 games and had a 2.77 ERA. Maloney struck out 265 batters in 250 innings, the only pitcher in the league, Sandy Koufax included, to strike out better than one hitter an inning. Only 23, Maloney is ready to conquer the world. The Reds have another big right-hander in Joey Jay, a 21-game winner in 1961 and 1962 but a major disappointment last year. He himself attributes his 7-18 record to experimenting too often with new pitches. It was a costly mistake. But Jay can pitch; he knows it, and so do the National League hitters. At 28, Jay is almost certain to return to form. Another Cincinnati failure last year was Bob Purkey, who had won 23 games in 1962. Purkey hurt his arm in spring training last year and never fully recovered, finishing with a 6-10 record. Purkey is not a hard thrower; he relies on control and an assortment of curves. Before last year he had averaged 17 wins a season in five years with Cincinnati, and the Reds hope he can approach that figure again. The leading lefthander on the staff is Jim O'Toole, who has never won 20 games—just 19 and 17 and 16. But O'Toole is only 27 years old, so it seems just a question of time before he wins 20 or more. Behind the big four are Joe Nuxhall and John Tsitouris—and not far behind at that. Nuxhall amazed everyone by completing a successful return from the minors and apparent retirement last year. He won 15 games and had an ERA of 2.61. For years he had a temperament problem, but at 35 he has finally learned self-control. Tsitouris (pronounced Suh-tour-is)—had a spotty career in the minors and the American League before he joined Cincinnati late in 1962. He was 12-8 last year, pitching three complete games to end the season and winning them 3-1, 1-0 and 3-0. It may have been a preview of 1964. Fighting for the few remaining positions on the pitching staff are several young men and several not so young. Sammy Ellis, 23, was 12-10 at San Diego. Bill McCool, a first-year man, is 19 and was 5-13 with a poor Tampa club, but his ERA was 2.01. Promoted to San Diego, he was 4-0. Al Worthington. Bill Henry and Chet Nichols, all well over 30, will be doing what relief work is needed. There may not be much.
April 13, 1964
Cincinnati will not win any gold medals on defense, but good pitching will lessen that burden. Catcher Edwards, a bull, is good and getting better. The infield is poor. Coleman at first base would sooner wrestle a live bear than a tricky ground ball. Sometimes that is what he seems to be doing. Second Baseman Rose, Rookie of the Year, won the award for his hitting. Cardenas at short does not waken memories of Eddie Miller, but he is adequate. Who will play third base is a Cincinnati problem. Harper? Ruiz? Harper, the worse fielder but the better hitter, has the edge so far. The outfield of Skinner in left, Pinson in center and Robinson in right is not bad, with the fleet Pinson covering the ground Skinner cannot. If Harper plays right field, Robinson will move to left.
This is a very good team. With all of last year's troubles, it still finished only two games out of third place. The expected improvement of Frank Robinson and Joey Jay could lift Cincinnati to the top of the league.