Last year was a difficult one for the Reds, with Manager Fred Hutchinson dying of cancer and a pennant snatched from their grasp on the last weekend of the season. It led to anger and harsh words, but this year, the Reds say, things are different. "It's a togetherness year for the team," says Frank Robinson. But be cautious. Harmony is fine, but it will be wasted unless the Reds start hitting in unison, too.
Hitting is one thing the Reds have not done consistently since 1961, the last time they won the pennant. That year Vada Pinson hit .343, Robinson .323 with 37 homers and 124 RBIs, and Gordy Coleman .287 with 26 homers and 87 RBIs. In the three years since, Robinson has hit up to his standard in the even years, Pinson in the odd, and Coleman hardly at all. Coleman believes he is the forgotten man. Last year he lost the first-base job to Deron Johnson. This year Johnson has been switched to third and Coleman will be platooned at first with Tony Perez (34 HRs, 107 RBIs at San Diego). No matter what Perez does, Coleman will be benched against certain pitchers. "Include me in the forgotten-man category," says Tommy Harper, who after two years of failing to hit up to the expectations of his bright rookie promise is now just another player. "I prefer it this way. All that attention made me nervous. Now I am just swinging." Harper did more than swing this spring. He was cocking his wrists and snapping the bat, hitting the ball long and hard. Even so, his hold on left field was not secure. Rookie Art Shamsky (25 HRs at San Diego) spiced up the competition with timely home runs, and Charley James, obtained from the Cards, waited impatiently to prove himself.
Last year Pinson had his poorest season ever (.266, 23 HRs, 84 RBIs). A torn thigh muscle was part of the problem but not enough to explain the 36-point drop from his lifetime average. "I wish I knew why I hit so badly," Pinson says, "but I don't. I hope it was just one of those years and not a permanent condition." As for Frank Robinson—"He's a superstar who could carry the team by himself," says Detroit Pitcher Larry Sherry. But not the way he hit last year: .306, 29 homers, 96 RBIs. That's a good year for a good hitter; for a superstar it isn't enough. But Frank might not have to carry the team by himself if Pinson comes back and if last year's Deron Johnson (.273, 21 HRs, 79 RBIs) turns out to be the real Deron Johnson. "I'm sure I'm no fluke," says Johnson. "In fact, I think I may do even better. This is the first year I came to a major league camp feeling I was wanted"—which proves what a difference one good season can make. In 1963 Johnson was sold by Kansas City to San Diego and was ready to quit. "I figured if I couldn't play for Kansas City, then I just couldn't play baseball."
The one regular about whom there is no question is John Edwards, the fine young catcher who batted .281. Every year that he has been in the National League he has improved.
Bill McCool, the 20-year-old left-handed relief pitcher, wants badly to be a starter, and he would be on most teams. "I'll make it here in four years," McCool says wryly, pointing out the obvious depth of the Cincinnati staff. It is this depth—and excellence—that gave Cincinnati the best pitching in the National League last season after the Dodgers, and maybe even including the Dodgers. And this season it looks even better. Sam Ellis (10-3, 2.58 ERA) moves out of the bullpen and into the fourth spot in the pitching rotation. In front of him are Jim O'Toole (17-7), Joey Jay (11-11) and Jim Maloney (15-10). Maloney looked bad this spring, but he won 23 in 1963. Jay has twice been a 21-game winner (1961 and 1962). O'Toole has won 19, 16, 17 and 17 and might have been a three-time 20-game winner had it not been for a run of fluke accidents. Jay had the flu in March and had little time to get his arm in shape, but the Reds have Joe Nuxhall and John Tsitouris available as spot pitchers. Behind McCool in the bullpen are Bill Henry, Roger Craig from the Cardinals, and Gerry Arrigo from Minnesota.
Although Cincinnati had the highest fielding average in the league, the Reds aren't really that good. Edwards is an excellent catcher, and the outfield of Harper, Pinson and Robinson is outstanding, but the infield is shaky. First Baseman Coleman protests, "I've had a bad rap. I am not as bad in the field as I am made out to be." The opposition says the rap is bad only in that it doesn't go far enough. Johnson was a capable first baseman last year, but this season he'll play third, where he has trouble. At second the double play is a struggle for Pete Rose. Slender Leo Cardenas (157 pounds) has good range at shortstop and a strong arm, but he makes mistakes.
Fred Hutchinson was a direct-action man who had the confidence of the players, and Dick Sisler, his successor, is the same type. The Cincinnati management hopes that this means peace and harmony will be restored to dugout and clubhouse. Psychology and diplomacy are not enough to win the pennant, of course, but the Reds have talent, too. They should be in the race all the way.
RUNS BATTED IN