Street & Smith’s:
From redhot pennant contenders of two years ago to a somewhat drastically shaken up club. That’s the sad story of the Reds. It all started when owner Bill DeWitt traded Frank Robinson for Baltimore’s Milt Pappas. Before the year was over, DeWitt had sold the ball club. In between, his new manager, Don Heffner, was fired early in the season and replaced by Dave Bristol, a bl’ight young man of 33 who has the task of rebuilding. Jim O’Toole was gone after a successive bad season. Big Joey Jay went away in a further breakup of a once great staff, which now has only strong-armed Jim Maloney as a big, consistent winner. Instead of winning, they fell to seventh place, 26 games behind. This was the third recent major setback for the Reds, who had the pennant almost in their grasp in the final days of the 1964 race. And the following year, when they again were favorites, a late fourteen game win streak pushed the club into a second place finish behind the Dodgers despite a league leading batting average.
The only break in the new shipment of gloom in 1966 was the emergence of Bristol as a leader of great potential. Attendance waned. The new owners, a Cincinnati civic group, are spurring the erection of a new stadium in this grand old baseball citadel. How much success the Reds will have in making a comeback depends on many factors. Will Sammy Ellis, whose brilliant 21-6 of 1965 was followed by last year’s 11-18, return to winning form? Will gigantic Billy McCool, the Indiana farm boy, start living up to his potential with a switch from bullpen to starter? How much will Floyd Robinson help on the attack? And will Pappas start making up for the loss of that other F. Robinson? There may be a new man at first base, too. He’s Lee May, 6-foot 3-inch, 205-pounder from Birmingham, Ala., a strong candidate to flash ahead of Tony Perez, who also bats right, and the left-handed swinging Gordy Coleman. May, after hitting .310 in the International League, batted .237 for the Reds in 27 games. First base is May’s only position. Perez has played third, now tightly in charge of Tommy Helms. Pete Rose, a hard-nosed athlete, is equally entrenched at second. Last year he batted .287 and knocked in 80 runs. Leo Cardenas has a copyright at shortstop, too, He was tied in fielding with Pittsburgh’s Gene Alley at his position, and led in assists and putouts. Chico Ruiz is a versatile utility infielder.
Deron Johnson, after trials at first and third base, now is back in the outfield and it’s difficult to see how the Reds can afford to keep him on the bench, especially with the big Robinson man gone. In 1965, Deron’s 104 runs batted in were third on the club and he stroked 31 horners. Last season, he won Player of the Month honors in April with five homers and ten runs batted in with a .370 average in the first 13 games but he finished with a .281 average with 21 homers and 79 runs knocked in. Vada Pinson, who again led the team in RBI, but this time with only a total of 84, has a lock on center field. This leaves Floyd Robinson in a battle for right field with fleet Tommy Harper, who batted .278 and swiped 29 bases, Dick Simpson, who came from the Orioles along with Pappas and Jack Baldschun in the Robinson steal, is an outfield candidate. The big bruiser among the extra hands is Art Shamsky, who whacked 19 homers in 251 times up while hitting only .243.
Bristol is banking on Maloney, Pappas, Ellis and McCool to provide him with a really Big Four. Maloney was 15-8 and had a glistening 2.99 earned run average. Ellis had a strange season. At the All-Star Break, he was 8-7 but his ERA had ballooned to 5.74. He pitched much better in the second half (3.91 ERA) but managed only three victories in fourteen post-break decisions to finish 11-18. McCool was 8-5 with a handsome 2.70 mark. Pappas struggled in September to finish 8-13 with an ERA of 4.01, off from his 3.24 mark of the previous year at Baltimore. There may be room for some youngsters to bid for a starting Job. Thirty-nine year old Joe Nuxhall, a crafty lefty, comes back for his 14th full season with the Reds, But it was way back in 1944 when Joe, a schoolboy from Hamilton, Ohio made his Red debut two months before his 16th birthday. He’s the youngest player to appear in a big league game. He was traded away in 1961, but the Reds broueht him back from the minors during the 1962 season. Last year he was 8-7.
Ted Abernathy, a Cub sensation of 1965 was rescued from the minors and is a bullpen candidate. Dick Stlgman, a lefty from the AL, also gets a chance there. Don Nottebart, 10-8 and a 3.67 ERA last year, and Jack Baldschun and a puffy 6.79 ERA are holdovers from 1966. Another newcomer is Rollie Sheldon, 3-14 in the A.L. last year. But the Reds remembered he won 11 out of 16 with the Yankees in 1961.
Johnny Edwards, a top catcher who bats left, yields to Don Pavletich when southpaws are pitching against the Reds.
The Reds as a team hit only .248 for Don Heffner during his half season as manager; for his 33-year-old replacement, Dave Bristol, they hit .268. The Frank Robinson trade, rain at the start of the year, constant losing streaks prior to the All-Star break and a seventh-place finish caused attendance to drop to a worrisome 743,000, lowest since 1960. But the Reds can hit and the changes made this year have strengthened their offense even further. Deron Johnson moves back to third, where he knocked in 104 runs in 1965, and with either Lee May or Tony Perez at first gives the Reds power at the corners. Switcher Pete Rose, one of the game’s genuine hustlers, has collected 411 hits over the past two years. Tommy Helms always hits the ball somewhere and Tommy Harper is capable of many things. Despite an average of .302, Vada Pinson is going to have to bat in more than 84 runs to make the attack produce. Skinny Leo Cardenas had 18 homers. Floyd Robinson’s .211 with the White Sox was too bad to be true and a rejuvenated Robby joining Art Shamsky, Gordy Coleman and Chico Ruiz gives the team depth and fluidity.
“In moving Rose from second to left and Helms from third to second in order to get Johnson to third,” said Bristol this spring, “I’m going to get criticized but I know in my heart it will work.” Shortstop Cardenas is about as good as anyone, but he is excitable. He and Helms are a good double-play combination, which is fortunate because the Red pitchers will need all the DPs they can get. Only Jim Maloney is reliable. Milt Pappas was 8-13 and did not win a game in September, and Sammy Ellis slumped from 21-6 to 11-18. Billy McCool, who finished 45 games, comes out of the bullpen—but where does that leave the bullpen? Converted Outfielder Mel Queen or 18-year-old bonus boy Gary Nolan will be the fifth starter.
The Reds show more spirit under Bristol and their potent offense will make them a threat in any game, but inconsistent pitching is likely to keep the team in the second division once again.