April 11, 1960
Slipping steadily since their third-place finish in 1956, the Reds have frantically plugged first one deficiency and then another. Now, at last, they seem to have a sound, solid team
Cincinnati has spent years in dogged search of the great god balance, trying to find a happy blend of hitting and pitching. The results have not been encouraging. The club has suffered, in successive seasons, from not enough pitching, not enough hitting and not enough pitching again.
•THE DIRECTION IS UP Undiscouraged, General Manager Gabe Paul has patiently devoted each winter to correcting the glaring weakness of the previous summer. This winter he may well have succeeded: he needed a really good starting pitcher and got Cal McLish, a 19-game winner, from the Indians; he needed a hard-working, dependable relief pitcher and got Bill Henry, who appeared in 65 games with an ERA of 2.69, from the Cubs. Well fortified with dangerous hitters and nimble fielders (like Center Fielder Vada Pinson at left), Cincinnati now appears to have its best all-around club since the pennant years of 1939-40. A return to the first division is a strong possibility.
•DEEP AS A WELL
The bulk of Redleg improvement stems from the new-found depth in pitching. For the first time in years, spring camp bulged with talented pitchers, and positions were won after stiff competition rather than by default. As a result, the Cincinnati staff (which last year gave up the most hits and runs in the league) now looks pretty good. The most important additions are, of course, McLish and Henry. McLish won 35 games in two years as a starter at Cleveland. Last season 13 of his 19 victories were over first-division teams, including six over the Yankees and four (of the Indians' seven) over the White Sox. McLish is 34 and has been pitching since 1944; arms that old can give way at any time, but only Frank Lane seems to think Cal's has reached that point.
Last year the Reds lost 27 games by blowing late-inning leads, and Henry should cut that number by two-thirds. An ineffective "thrower" a few years ago, he now has excellent control, yet can blaze away with the best of them for a couple of innings.
McLish joins a staff of regular starters that includes Don Newcombe and Bob Purkey, both right-handers, and lefty Joe Nuxhall. Jut-jawed Newk, a major rehabilitation project in 1958, had the best record on the staff last year (13-8). He completed 17 of 29 starts and had the finest over-the-plate control in either league (1.09 walks per game). Purkey slipped considerably from his impressive 17-11 record in 1958, but did manage to win 13 games. Nuxhall, out with injuries a good part of the season, worked his fewest number of innings since 1952 and compiled a disappointing 9-9, 4.23 mark. Failure to improve this year could cost him his job as a starter. Big Jim Brosnan (8-3 with the Reds last year) will serve both as bullpen long man and spot starter. Despite a poor 1959 record, Brooks Lawrence excelled in late-season relief work and will now devote full time to the bullpen.
Pressing for regular assignments are three promising youngsters: Jay Hook and Jim O'Toole (each 23) and Claude Osteen (20). Hook and O'Toole were dropped into the starting rotation last summer and took their lumps right along with their elders. Both worked hard this spring to hold their places on the staff. Hook, a fast-ball pitcher with plenty of stuff, cut down his long stride, while the left-handed O'Toole tried to develop an effective curve. Osteen, another lefty, pitched well for seventh-place Seattle, but figures to stick mainly because his options have been exhausted.
•FRANKIE AND JOHNNYTo get pitching help the Reds had to disrupt the finest-hitting team in baseball (major league leaders in batting average, runs, hits, runs batted in, total bases and doubles). They parted with Frank Thomas, the former Pirate slugger, who slipped badly (.225, 47 RBIs) with the Reds, and aggressive Johnny Temple, whose heads-up play and .292 career batting average held Cincinnati affections for eight years. Despite the trades, the core of Redleg power remains intact. Frank Robinson, Pin-son and Gus Bell amassed a total of 75 home runs and 324 RBIs, and averaged 301 total bases, equal to Rocky Colavito's American League-leading mark. The versatile Pinson can outleg infield rollers, slap doubles down either line and slam the ball deep into any bleachers. In his first full season last year he led the league in doubles and runs scored, batted .316 and stole 21 bases; he will crowd Willie Mays for the title of baseball's best center fielder. Robinson snapped back from a substandard 1958 season to hit .311 and rack up 36 homers and 125 RBIs. He also stole 18 bases, almost double his previous high. Bell more than doubled his 1958 RBI total (to 115) and boosted his batting average 41 points to .293. Shortstop Roy McMillan, out for half of 1959 with a broken hand and a fractured collarbone, will be the Reds' new lead-off man, replacing the departed Temple. Catcher Ed Bailey never seems to live up to his press clippings, but still hits a dozen homers a year and drives in 50 runs.
•A BIT OF A DOUBT
Just how much more punch Cincinnati can cram into the lineup will depend largely on developments at first base and third. Strapping Gordy Coleman, part of the package that brought McLish, is a highly touted first-base prospect who disappointed in training. Lee Walls, an outfielder acquired from the Cubs, is also getting a shot at first base. Robinson, who played 125 games at first last year, may be back there again. Third base has agile Eddie Kasko and lead-footed Willie Jones sharing the duties. Jones, now 34, can still hit for distance.
Second base is a question mark for two reasons: the brilliance of the former tenant and the uncertainty surrounding his replacement. The replacement is Billy Martin, an American League problem child since 1950, now getting what may be his last chance to straighten out. Billed as a surefire solution to problems in Kansas City, Detroit and Cleveland, he has repeatedly failed to match his fine play as a Yankee. Manager Fred Hutchinson and the Red front office have carefully avoided loud predictions of Martin stardom, and Billy seems to be responding to this soft-sell approach. Not in Temple's class as a hitter (although he is always around .260), Martin fields nearly as well as Johnny, makes the pivot smoothly and has a gift for coming up with the big play. As far as the Reds are concerned, he doesn't have to be another Temple; if he can just be the Martin of old he'll have more than earned his way.
Reserve strength is thin in the in-field but better than average elsewhere. Should Robinson be stuck at first base, Walls and Jerry Lynch, who is a liability with a glove but a good hitter, will probably be platooned in left field; rookie Tony Gonzales may also crash the lineup. Behind Bailey are Frank House, one of the first bonus players, and hefty Dutch Dotterer. Both are capable catchers and fair hitters.