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THE HOTTEST TEAM IN BASEBALL
William Leggett
August 22, 1966
Led by a 33-year-old manager who never played higher than Class B, Cincinnati has been on a rampage since the All-Star Game. The secret is Dave Bristol's policy of letting everybody get into the act
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August 22, 1966

The Hottest Team In Baseball

Led by a 33-year-old manager who never played higher than Class B, Cincinnati has been on a rampage since the All-Star Game. The secret is Dave Bristol's policy of letting everybody get into the act

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Last Friday night at Crosley Field a young outfielder by the name of Art Shamsky, who had been spending the evening in quiet meditation on the Cincinnati bench, was suddenly put into a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the top of the eighth inning. The score at the time of Shamsky's entrance was Pittsburgh 7, Cincinnati 6. In the bottom of the inning Shamsky came to bat and homered over the center-field fence with one man on. Score: Reds 8, Pirates 7. By the time they came to bat in the 10th the Reds were again a run behind. So Shamsky homered again. Score 9-9. Pittsburgh promptly scored twice more in the 11th and, ho-hum, with two out and a runner on base Shamsky homered to tie the game once more. Eventually the Reds lost 14-11 in the 13th inning of what the 25,477 fans who saw it as well as the players who participated in it called "the wildest game of modern time." But consider for the moment the after-game reactions of Art Shamsky.

Three consecutive times under tremendous pressure he had produced the ultimate. He should have been an extremely happy 24-year-old. Instead, when the game ended he sat in front of his locker, staring at his dirty spikes. Barely turning his head, he answered all the questions politely. No, he had never hit three home runs in a game anywhere that he could recall. Yes, the writers could say that he felt it had been his finest game ever. When Shamsky was asked to go on a postgame radio show called Star of the Game, however, he refused both the honor and the $25 that accompanied it. "I'm sorry, but I really don't feel up to it," he said. "I'm in a hurry to get home." When told of Sham-sky's actions, the 33-year-old genius responsible for that moment of inspiration back in the eighth inning nodded in approval. "That's quite an attitude," said Dave Bristol. "When you lose there are no stars."

It is conceivable that you may have heard of Art Shamsky, but unless you have recently watched baseball in Hornell or Geneva, N.Y., Visalia, Calif., Palatka, Fla., Topeka, Kans., Macon, Ga. or San Diego, the chances are you have never heard of Dave Bristol. After nine years of managing in such whistle-stops on the way to the big leagues, today Bristol is the youngest man to take over a major league team since Lou Boudreau was appointed playing manager of the Cleveland Indians at the age of 24 back in 1941. And since becoming manager of the Reds after the All-Star break, Bristol has turned them into the hottest team in baseball. Virtually moribund from opening day until Bristol's appointment, Cincinnati had suddenly won 22 of 33 games.

Early last week the largest crowd in eight seasons (32,552) showed up inside Crosley Field to watch a team that during the early part of the season under Don Heffner had drawn fewer than 10,000 people in 20 of its first 35 home dates. Bristol's name was all over Cincinnati as the man who had rallied the Reds, and whatever he was doing, it was working like a magic potion.

"Slumping" Deron Johnson wasn't slumping anymore. Sammy Ellis was beginning to recover from a horrendous start. Tommy Harper's promise was being fulfilled, and the bunt, hit-and-run and steal were clicking once again. There was also a native wit to Bristol that Ohioans liked. His theory on coaching third base was, "It's just like a Marine Corps induction center. If you run enough of 'em through they can't all be rejected." He said that he chewed tobacco because he had been told that a young manager would look silly chewing bubble gum, although he recalled some trouble he had because of chewing tobacco back in the minor leagues. "I got into a good argument in San Diego and the tobacco went down the wrong tube. I not only lost the argument but went right down to my knees."

Aside from his youth, the oddest thing about Bristol's sudden emergence as a major league manager is the fact that he never rose higher than Class B as a player. Prior to being hired this year as a coach for the Reds. Bristol had seen only 25 major league games—and most of those were at the end of last season when he scouted the Minnesota Twins for Cincinnati in case the Reds got into the 1965 World Series. Originally signed to a $15,000 bonus by the Reds in 1950, Bristol played infield for five more or less mediocre minor league years. "I guess I realized." he says, "that I wasn't going to make it to the major leagues as a player because I had troubles throwing, hitting and fielding. But I wanted to stay in the game and turned my thoughts to managing. One night early in 1957 when I was playing in Wausau, Wis. in the Northern League, the manager, Walter Novick, called me in and said, 'I'm going to release you—to become a manager."

"It was a Saturday night and the Reds were going to start a new team in Hornell and play on Tuesday. We had 12 players for the first game, and three of them were pitchers. I was playing manager, and so scared I couldn't even field a ball at second base. But the three pitchers each went nine innings, and we won our first three games. The fourth day when some guy walked into the park and said he was a pitcher. I signed him up."

That first season Bristol's team finished seventh, and the next season it was moved to Geneva, where it finished second and later won the playoffs. Bristol's own performance also seemed to improve as he managed and his explanation for two consecutive .300 years is, "I didn't want to be on the short end." From 1960 to 1965 he kept moving up as a manager, and success followed success. His teams were never lower than third, and they won pennants for him in the Florida State League, the Three-I League and the Pacific Coast League.

Along the line Bristol handled 16 of the current Reds, and for five years he managed Tommy Helms, the fine young infielder who is among the National League's top hitters (.308) and probably its Rookie of the Year as well. Bristol began to get the idea that his days as a playing manager were through when in three straight seasons his competitors for second base were Tommy Harper, Pete Rose and Helms. "I didn't know anything about signs and things and the techniques of the game when I first went to Dave," says Helms. "He teaches ballplayers how to give themselves up to help the team. There are no favorites. I read that his daughter has my picture hanging in her room, and that's quite a thing. But lake a look at those nice clothes he wears. He bought most of those with the fines he put on me. But what he does so well is to make every man a part of the team. He'll fight for you, too. Fistfight. I've seen him in many fights, but I never saw him win one."

Bristol, who comes from Andrews, N.C., is not an "I" manager, and one of the hardest things for him to do is explain how the Reds got off to such a bad start. Cincinnati did not hit at all early in the season, and some people felt that they were standing around feeling sorry for themselves because Frank Robinson was no longer with the team. None of the players want to openly criticize Don Heffner, the deposed manager, since they feel that their own poor play had quite a bit to do with his demise. But many of them also feel that Heffner was not running a 25-man team.

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