SI Vault
William Leggett
March 13, 1972
Aided by the Florida sun, Cincinnati players are just about dying to erase their image as the fat and happy failures of 1971
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March 13, 1972

Reds Who Go Grunt In The Spring, Tra La

Aided by the Florida sun, Cincinnati players are just about dying to erase their image as the fat and happy failures of 1971

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School opened for the Cincinnati Reds in Florida last week with a few lessons in the three Rs. Remorse and regret were old companions from 1971. Everybody got an A. Redemption was the tough one. Pete Rose stood in the third-base dugout of Tampa's Al Lopez Field one afternoon and put it up on the blackboard. "To me," Rose said, "it looks like the teams in the Western Division of the National League are so equal that if you get four games behind anybody you can just about forget it. Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston and Atlanta have good clubs. I think we've got a heck of a club." Rose paused and looked out at the empty field. "But it won't make any difference how many hits I get or how quick little Joe Morgan is on the bases if Tony Perez and Johnny Bench (see cover) don't knock us in. If they don't there won't be a Big Red Machine again."

Bench, sitting quietly beside Rose, scratched his spikes across the cement floor of the dugout and looked down. "Those runs," Bench said, "will be driven in."

Rose and Bench are two of baseball's most attractive performers and the leaders of a team that spent the spring and summer of 1971 making a colossal mess of a very fine game. "We committed every crime possible," said Rose. "Ran the bases like idiots. Didn't field. Couldn't bunt. Left guys in scoring position. Hell, we should have been put in jail!"

Bench cleared his throat. A faint smile parted his lips. "We have been," he said.

Neither man exaggerated. The Big Red Machine of 1970, winner of 102 games and a National League pennant while drawing nearly 3.5 million people, came to a blushing halt in 1971. And this spring it is paying the price in sweat and grunts. Manager George (Sparky) Anderson carries a watch in his back pocket but seldom looks at it; often the Reds' drills have stretched to five hours. Morgan, the second baseman acquired from Houston in the off season, calls Redsland, Cincinnati's training ground, a "concentration camp."

Redsland is a huge complex of four diamonds built in a cloverleaf with an observation tower in the center. Four batting cages are in constant use. Written in red behind each Iron Mike pitching machine is a message worthy of IBM's THINKsmith: KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE BALL. Whenever the Reds are not eyeing, they are running.

A grid of chalk lines has been put down in the outfield on one of the diamonds and the distance between the markers gets longer as the grid stretches out. The players start running in strides of 6' and continue on to 6�', 7', 7�', 8'. They huff. They puff. They sweat. They swear a lot.

If a player is seen out after 11 p.m. it is assumed that he must be walking in his sleep. Other excuses are not acceptable. Anderson has made it clear to each man in camp that he will "try to give everyone a chance. I did not say I would give everyone a chance. All I said is that I would try. I'm not going to mess everything up by being a good guy. I made that mistake last spring. I want the players' respect, but I'm not stupid enough to think that they are just going to give it to me. Maybe I've got to work harder than they have to get it. That's O.K.

"I've grown to believe that too many people in sports today face up to a problem by walking out the back door. To heck with that. When these men go out on a baseball field they are representing the Cincinnati Reds and I'm the man with the job of manager. They have a debt to the organization and the fans to look like people who care deeply about what they are doing."

Anderson himself cares deeply about a lot of things, including garb and grub. "If the players are so worried about their bell-bottomed trousers, let them join the Navy," was his winter advice to mod-squadders. The subject of food makes him gag.

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