Q. In 1956, after stumbling around in the second division for 11 years, the Cincinnati Redlegs came storming up right into the middle of one of the wildest pennant races the National League has ever seen. They finished only two games out of first place, equaled the major league home run record and gained a million fans across the country with their power and an exciting brand of baseball. It appeared that the Reds were on the way. Yet only a year later the team barely managed to hang in the first division, finished a dismal 15 games behind the Milwaukee Braves and seemed to be going no place very fast. Now the club must be at some sort of crossroads. Is Cincinnati really one of the have teams of the National League as it indicated in 1956 or is it a have-not which put on one brief show of fireworks and then subsided into mediocrity?
GABE PAUL: Make no mistake about this. If being a have team means having the ballplayers who can stay in contention for a pennant and having the organization to keep the good ballplayers coming in, we are a have team. I think we are going to be in contention for a long time. We have good replacements and competition for positions. The difference between a good ball club and a bad club is generally only three players. We have about 400 in our minor league system, and we know that some of them are very good.
Q. That sounds fine—for the future. But what about this year?
BIRDIE TEBBETTS: We're going to be tougher. A lot tougher.
TEBBETTS: The way to judge a ball club is this: Can it balance itself off? If one or two men have a bad year, can you still go? If you can, then you have a ball club that's alive. Now we have three first basemen, the best catching staff in baseball, the best double-play combination in baseball and an outstanding infield. In the outfield we have the best young ballplayer in baseball in Frank Robinson. Given time, he will be the best hitter in baseball. Gus Bell in center is like Tommy Henrich. Always steady, always doing a good job. And our bench is far above average. Grammas would be a regular on a lot of ball clubs and the pinch hitting is outstanding. Burgess is the best pinch hitter in baseball. It's a versatile bench.
Q. But didn't you have most of those fellows last year? Bailey and Burgess and Crowe. McMillan and Temple and Hoak. Robinson and Bell and the bench. Plus Kluszewski and Post then, too. How can you say you will be stronger?
TEBBETTS: There is one thing I would like to get straight. I have never said we didn't have a good ball club last year. In fact, I think we were an improved ball club over the year before. Post didn't have a good season, Bailey slumped at the plate, and we lost Klu all year. Yet with five or six weeks to go, we were still a pennant contender.
Q. Wasn't there a lot of criticism that the organization was power-crazy, that you had too much power and nothing else?
TEBBETTS: We took our best shot at the pennant in '56 with a ball club built around power. We found we couldn't do it. Power alone can let you down. The one thing you want is balance. We realized that last year, and I think we had pretty good balance. I think you will find that in 1957 we ran more than any club in the league except possibly Pittsburgh. I don't mean stolen bases alone, but running. Of course, speed alone can let you down, too. A combination of the two, speed and power, is what you want.
PAUL: The power angle was mine. Let's get that straight. I love power. The makeup of the club was mine. When our pitching collapsed, I don't think there was anything Birdie could have done about it. The fact that the pitching wasn't there can't be a reflection on the manager. I think that there was a better managerial job done at Cincinnati in 1957 than there was in 1956. To keep your balance while all that was going on is an accomplishment. To keep your head in the face of adversity is something.
Q. Then there is no doubt in your mind that the trouble in 1957 was pitching and pitching alone?
PAUL: You look at all those games we lost last year when we had a lead in the seventh and eighth innings. Any time this happens, it's a collapse of your defense or your pitching. Our defense was spectacular. It had to be the pitching.
TEBBETTS: It always comes down to the pitching.
Q. Well, there is no doubt that the pitching was certainly pretty bad. Only two pitchers on the staff won more than 10 games—Jeffcoat 12 and Lawrence 16—and they lost 26 between them. Also Lawrence, your No. 1 pitcher, won only three games from first-division teams. Nuxhall and Klippstein fell off badly from their '56 records. You say the ball club is going to be a lot tougher this year than it was in '57. That means the pitching is going to have to be a lot better. What makes you think it will be?
PAUL: Well, before we get into that, I'd like to point out in Lawrence's defense that there were quite a few games he would have won against first-division clubs if we had had good relief pitching. He pitched good games.
TEBBETTS: I don't think any pitching staff can stand on its own two feet without a good relief pitcher. Look at the Dodgers with Labine. Or the Braves with McMahon. Or look at our club two years ago with Hersh Freeman.
Q. Well, if you want to start talking about relief pitching, what about your relief pitching?
TEBBETTS: Freeman is a hell of a pitcher. He just couldn't get untracked last year. He is going to be all right. And Willard Schmidt should help us in relief.
Q. What about the rest of your pitching staff?
TEBBETTS: We have Lawrence and Jeffcoat. And we expect Nuxhall to come back and be a big winner again. I'm going to make sure he's ready this spring. Then we made some trades. We gave up power—Klu and Post—and we gave up an outstanding young prospect in Curtis Flood. But we got an outstanding pitcher in Haddix, and we got Schmidt and a couple of youngsters who could help a lot. That Kutyna could be great. We also traded off a good young pitcher, Don Gross, for a guy who proved he could beat first-division clubs, Bob Purkey. We'll score less runs this year but we will also allow a lot less runs. This could be an outstanding pitching staff.
Q. Perhaps. But to win a pennant, don't you still need that one big winner? Don't you need a guy like Warren Spahn?
PAUL: Sure, we're looking for the top pitcher. But that kind of pitcher is the most difficult to find. Sometimes you have to take what you can get.
Q. Weren't you offered either Newcombe or Antonelli for Bailey by the Dodgers and Giants? And haven't you said there are no "untouchables" on your club?
PAUL: There was quite a bit more to it than that. We might trade Bailey, but it's going to take something pretty special to get him. We have resisted every effort to get Bailey away from us. We may need more pitching but the fact remains that a good major league catcher is the hardest thing to find in baseball these days.
Q. Bailey hit .300, 28 home runs and drove in 75 runs in 1956. Last year he hit only .261, 20 homers and had 48 RBIs. Apparently you feel his '56 performance is more indicative of his ability?
TEBBETTS: Certainly '56 was more indicative of his ability. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Ed Bailey can catch and hit with power and throw. He's a tough guy who can play and not get hurt. When you talk about trading him, you're talking about a guy who can handle the job 14 years for you and you'll never have to worry about your catching. In any appraisal of our ball club, you're talking of a pretty important guy.
Q. Then what about Burgess?
TEBBETTS: It's a funny thing about Burgess. Everybody runs him down as a catcher, but then they all come around and they seem to want him. Personally, I don't consider him surplus at all.
PAUL: Remember, Birdie is an old catcher and he has helped Burgess a lot. Burgess, in addition to his hitting ability, is a good catcher and, like I said, they're pretty hard to find. It's nice to have two of them on hand.
Q. Well, then, if you're still looking for pitching, who can you deal off to get it?
TEBBETTS: I won't answer that except to say that I don't think I'll carry three first basemen.
Q. You mean that either Crowe or Bilko or Fondy is available?
TEBBETTS: I don't think I'll carry three first basemen.
Q. We have been talking about pitching, but isn't it true that you have another problem with Post gone? Who is going to play right field?
TEBBETTS: Right field is in better shape than most people think. We have a lot of prospects, and we can platoon out there. As for who is going to play. I'll say this: the ballplayers make your decisions for you. We can talk all we want to about who is going to play right field for us but some ballplayer is saying to himself right now, "I'm going to play right field, and I don't care what Tebbetts says." That's the guy who is going to be playing right field.
Q. Despite Robinson, isn't it possible that you might have something of a problem in left field, too? Everyone agrees that he is a great young ballplayer. He can hit, for average and with power, field and run. But what about that weak arm? Are you eventually going to have to move him to first base?
TEBBETTS: Robinson doesn't have a weak arm. When Bell was hurt, he played center field for the last month of the season and nobody ran wild on him. He has a strong arm. I will say, however, that it looks as if he is always going to have a sore arm in spring training. And it will be publicized, just like last year. Well, it's all right with us if everyone wants to think he has a weak arm. The more they write about his arm, the more other teams will try to run on him. And the more base runners he'll throw out. No, I don't anticipate moving him to first base.
Q. We were talking about trades a minute ago. You have a lot of confidence in your farm system, but the fact remains you are still going to have to make trades. You have made some spectacularly successful ones in the past, getting some outstanding players—Bell, Lawrence, Burgess, Crowe, Hoak—for practically nothing. There is talk now, however, that you are getting cautious, that you are protecting your record as a sharp trader.
PAUL: I am definitely not becoming cautious. You can't be scared of failure when you're dealing. If you are afraid of the consequences, you will have bad consequences. And you can't let past deals affect you. I'll be honest. We have made some tremendous offers in the past—and other clubs have laughed at us. We're lucky they didn't turn out. I consider those attempted deals to have been big errors, just as much errors as if they had been made. No, I'm not cautious.
Q. Now that your ball club is up in the first division, do you meet with more resistance to trades? Are you finding that it is more difficult to make a deal?
PAUL: No. When you are down, you can be a little more reckless, that's all. Almost any deal you make then is an improvement. But I find you can always deal if you have the ballplayer someone else wants.
Q. Like Kluszewski? The Cincinnati fans didn't seem to like that one.
PAUL: Klu was a great ballplayer and a great favorite in Cincinnati. But that trade may be the biggest break of Klu's life. It's a new challenge for him; he's a proud fellow and he'll react to it.
Q. The Pirates are assuming all responsibility as to his physical condition. If it was so bad that you would let him go, why did they want him?
PAUL: They were willing to gamble. And we think that he will help Pittsburgh more than Fondy will help us...but Fondy will help us more than Klu would. He wasn't happy here, because he didn't get to play regularly last year.
Q. Was there really trouble between Klu and Birdie as the local papers said?
TEBBETTS: That was one of those things that got started with a rumor and just kept building up. I figured with Klu's back trouble that Crowe could do a better job for the team at first base. Maybe Klu didn't agree, but I'm the manager and that's the way I saw it and I know he respected my position. If he could ever have shown me he was all right and ready to play full time, he would have been given the chance. We never had any personal trouble. We both denied it, publicly. Klu even denied it over a national television program. Everyone forgot about it. Then the trade comes along and it's dusted off all over again, and accepted as the truth. There was never anything to it.
Q. Mr. Crosley threatened in December to move the team out of Cincinnati, perhaps to New York. Did he mean it? Or was he just using the threat as a club held over the head of the civic council to get something he wanted?
PAUL: Powel Crosley doesn't play politics. He meant it. He had been assured that something would be done about the parking situation. So he went off to his island for a vacation, and when he came back and looked at the map and saw that the council had been sitting on its hands, he got a little burned. He was angry, and he was justified in his outbursts.
Q. You think he would have moved, then?
PAUL: Yes, he might have. He is a forthright man and he doesn't say things he doesn't mean.
Q. Do you think he might still move?
PAUL: No, it seems that the $2 million will be spent to improve parking and that is what Mr. Crosley wanted. If the parking situation is improved as indicated, I am sure he is going to sign the agreement to keep the club in the city for at least five more years.
Q. Is the parking situation the real problem or do you want a new, larger ball park?
PAUL: Parking is the problem. We have a nice ball park. Sure, anybody would like a new park but this one is all right.
Q. Is there any chance that Crosley might sell the club?
PAUL: He has resisted all attempts to get him to sell. He would never sell.
Q. Then it appears that the Red-legs are happy in their present home, they are well satisfied with the material available for this year's team and highly hopeful that the pitching, with perhaps one more trade, can do the job which it failed to do last year. This all means you think you can win the National League pennant in 1958. Do you?
TEBBETTS: Of course we think we can win the pennant in 1958. Look, what was the difference last year? The luck of the Milwaukee Braves against us. You would think that contenders would balance each other off, but they beat us 18 times in 22 games. They annihilated us. That accounts for the big difference in the standings last year. Milwaukee rode into the pennant over our prostrate body. They'll pay the devil doing that again.
Q. You are not a member of the Milwaukee fan club, then? You don't feel that they will win another pennant even easier than they won the last one?
TEBBETTS: This league is no cake-walk for anyone. Every team is tough, not just the first division. The Cardinals had a lot of success last year, and they will be good again. Don't think the Dodgers are dead. The Phillies may be the most improved team in the league. You go in to play the Cubs and you run into Drott and Drabowsky and Elston and there are no soft touches there. Or with the Pirates, either, as long as you have to beat Friend and Kline. I think a winner has to be 25% better than the next contender. Milwaukee isn't. Even if they are the best club in the league, they're not that much better. It's going to be tough this year for everybody. And it's going to be just as tough for Milwaukee as it is for the Pirates and Cubs.