While Sparky Anderson is revered as the manager who guided The Big Red Machine through treacherous waters, there was a man who put The Good Ship Cincinnati on the right course.
That man was Dave Bristol, the man who preceded Sparky as manager of the Cincinnati Reds, a man who was inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame Saturday night in Great American Ball Park.
Bristol, outfielder Adam Dunn and pitcher Fred Norman were inducted as the 2018 Hall of Fame class on the field before Saturday’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
During a pre-game media conference, none other than Pete Rose said, “Dave Bristol produced The Big Red Machine and Sparky Anderson developed it.”
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Current Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman was asked about Bristol and he smiled and said, “I just met Dave Bristol this afternoon at the hotel. He was in Cincinnati right before Sparky Anderson, right. He kind of had that thing set up for Sparky, didn’t he?
Riggleman laughed again and recalled something longtime St. Louis Cardinals coach George Kissell said. “Kissell managed Sparky in the minor leagues and they were great friends. He liked to say, ‘If they had given Dave Bristol one more year, nobody ever would have heard of Sparky Anderson.’”
Tony Perez, a member of baseball’s Hall of Fame, in additon to his membership in the Reds Hall of Fame, pointed a finger at Bristol and said, “He is the reason I am in the Hall of Fame. I came to the U.S. from Cuba in 1962 in May with no spring training and I was out of shape. Dave Bristol was the manager at Macon, Ga., and every day he hit me ground balls and pitched batting practice to me. He made me what I was as a baseball player.”
Bristol remembered the first game Perez played and reached first base. A line drive was hit to right center and Perez took off. The ball was caught by Tony Oliva but Perez kept running.
“Of course, he was doubled off first,” said Bristol. “I asked him why he kept running and he said, ‘Because I am just so happy to be out of Cuba.”
Bristol was known as a tough guy, always in fights, but as Rose said, “He never won a fight. He was coaching third base at Macon and got into a fight with this big catcher named Elmo. When it was over, Dave’s face was all cut up and he was bleeding from above his eye and from his nose, but he looked at Elmo said, ‘You had enough yet?’”
Fred Norman was a left handed pitcher whom the Reds acquired in 1973 for a broken bat and a used first base bag. He was 1-7 for the San Diego Padres in 1972.
“We got this guy nobody heard of and in his first two games in 1973 he pitched shutouts,” said Johnny Bench. “He took a no-hitter into the ninth inning of his third game but gave up a home run and we all asked him, ‘What happened?’”
What happened that with the Norman won 13, 13, 12, 14, 11, 11 and 11 games — 85 wins in seven years and helped The Big Red Machine to two Worlds Series titles.
When folks talk about The BRM, it is always about The Great Eight, the regulars who played every day. The pitching staff, a very good one, was mostly ignored even though Norman, Jack Billingham, Don Gullett and Gary Nolan were outstanding.
“Billingham and I talked about that and we said we don’t think we were second to any other than the New York Mets at that time (Tom Seaver, Jon Matlack, Jerry Koosman). Even our bullpen, out bullpen was great. We pitched the way we were supposed to and watching our other pitchers helped me out. Sparky always told us, ‘Pitch to a 3.50 earned run offense, and the offense will take care of the rest. And that’s what we did.”
The 1976 Reds who swept the Phillies in the NLCS and swept the Yankees in the World Series pitched to a 3.51 earned run average.
Norman’s best pitch, his out pitch, was a screwball, something seldom used these days and something also used by Tom Browning, something he used to pitch a perfect game in 1988. So why isn’t it used these days?
“They came up with the split-fingered and the three-finger changeups that are very effective,” said Norman. “But I learned the screwball from a guy named Warren Spahn. He helped me perfect it and got me back to the big leagues when I was demoted. He told me, ‘This will help get you back to the big leagues.’ He won 363 games and made it to the baseball Hall of Fame. He was the Triple-A manager for the Cardinals farm team in Tulsa and taught me the pitch just before I was traded to San Diego. I was at Tulsa for seven weeks, went 7-1 and threw a no-hitter, using the screwball I learned from Warren Spahn.”
Riggleman managed Adam Dunn for a year-and-a-half with the Washington Nationals in 2009-2010. And Dunn had one of his typical years with 38 homers, 103 RBI, 77 walks and 199 strikeouts in 158 games.
“I very much enjoyed managing him,” said Riggleman. “You pretty much wrote his name in there every day. He never missed games. You could plug in 38 to 40 homers, too his walks (usually close to 100), he was a high on-base guy. He was a real pleasure, a lot of fun to be around and his teammates loved him. He did some good things in Washington.”
Dunn, known in the Reds clubhouse as The Big Donkey, was a fun-loving, self-deprecating home run machine. And he didn’t hit wall-scrapers, he hit ‘em to river banks.
Well, he did one night against Los Angeles right hander Jose Lima. The ball left the stadium near the right center field smoke stacks and they say it landed on Mehring Way behind the park and bounced onto a piece of driftwood against the banks of the Ohio River.
And what does Dunn remember about it?
“I don’t know how much stock I put into all those measurements they come up with so quick,” said Dunn. “I’ve hit a lot of balls harder than that one, but I did hit that one hard. And they said they hit it like 411 feet.
“I do remember that one because we were down like 6-0 when I hit it to make it 6-1,” Dunn added. “I saw Jose after the game and he came up and said, well, I won’t say what he said because there are children in the room. He didn’t care because it was a solo and he won by five. But, yeah, definitely it was a good one.”
Sean Casey seated down the row from Dunn, piped up with, “Yeah, it was definitely a good one. It left the dang stadium.”
One of the highlights of the Hall of Fame media conference came when Jose Rijo stood and asked Pete Rose, “What would the Big Red Machine have done to Tom Browning?”
With just a slight hesitation, Rose said, “Kicked his ass.”
THE SOLEMN NEWS out of the Reds clubhouse Saturday was the spectre of playing the rest of the season without utility handyman Alex Blandino, out for the season with a torn ligament in his right knee.
With the Reds down, 12-1, to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Blandino pinch-hit for second baseman Scooter Gennett in the bottom of the eighth inning and singled, his team-leading ninth pinch-hit this season. He stayed in the game at shortstop and Pittsburgh’s Max Moroff slid cleanly into second base trying to break up a double play. He rolled up Blandino’s leg.
“He has had a nice season for us and it is unfortunate for him,” said Riggleman. “He is a good young player who will recover from this and come back and be a good player.”
To replace him, the Reds recalled first baseman/outfielder Brandon Dixon, who was tearing it up at Class AAA Louisville. He was tearing it up when the Reds called him up earlier in the season, but he didn’t play much and was sent back down.
Dixon, of course, can’t play shortstop and Blandino was the Reds only extra player capable of playing shortstop. That means, in any emergency, former shortstop Eugenio Suarez will slide over there from his third base position and somebody else will man third.
“Blandino came up from the minors and solidifield himself here, put him in a position where we never thought he needed to go back,” said Riggleman. “He got enough at bats to stay relatively sharp and led our club in pinch-hits, including some big ones. There is more in the future for him than coming off the bench. But that was his role with our club and he did a great job.”
Of Dixon, Riggleman said, “He did very well when he went back down to Louisville, just as he had done well before we called him up the last time. But he didn’t get much work here and got a little rust on him and that’s not what we wanted from him. We wanted him to get action and that’s what he did at Louisville.”
Blandino played second, short, third and the corner outfield spots and pitched one scoreless inning during an 18-4 blowout loss to the Cleveland Indians. He had 128 at bats and hit .234, but was 9 for 24 (.375) with four RBI.
Dixon was hitting .346 at Louisville with six homers and 23 RBI in 49 games. He played second base, first base, the outfield and third base, meaning he could fill in at third in Suarez needs to spell Jose Peraza at shortstop.