The gentleman to your left, the one with the white-on-white hair, is George Lee Anderson, usually called Sparky, manager of the Cincinnati Reds. Try to guess his age. Nope, George Lee Anderson will not celebrate his 50th birthday until Feb. 22, 1984. And if he is having the kind of week then that he did most of this last one, he will celebrate it in a room equipped with sponge rubber walls. Anderson's Big Red Machine was beginning to look like something behind a tow truck. His big problem is not so much that seven different individuals have attempted to play right field for the Reds already this year or that the team's batting average of .236 ranks 22nd out of 24 in the majors. Those are mild problems compared with what has been taking place on—and off—the mound. The Reds' arms aren't candidates for the Hall of Fame but for the Louvre, alongside those of the Venus de Milo. "I have spent so much time up against walls," says Outfielder Pete Rose, "that I'm starting to feel like a jai alai player."
The Reds' pitching staff is a puzzle. Apparently an insoluble one. Great pitchers go to work for Cincinnati, and as quickly as you can say Ewell Blackwell they are gone. While winning the National League pennant in 1972 the Reds compiled some unusual statistics, including only 25 complete games. More than any other team in the majors, the Reds believed in the theory of Getting Six Good Innings from the Starter and Turning Over the Rest of the Game to the Bullpen. When things go right under this system, championships can be won. Let one little crack develop, however, and the Ohio River is in your living room.
Anderson could feel the Ohio last week, up to his shoulder blades. "I've done some things with our pitching this year that I really didn't want to do, and others I had never done before," he said one night in his office just off the Cincinnati clubhouse, his head down because the Reds had been pounded by the St. Louis Cardinals 11-5. In the third of three losing games in a row he had used live pitchers and none had been effective. Over the span his staff gave up home runs, granted walks freely, balked runs home, threw wild pitches and allowed a horrendous number of extra-base hits. "It's a situation that will have to get better," said Anderson accurately, "because it can't get any worse. The Cardinals had four errors and we never even got close to them."
Any team that gives Cincinnati four errors in a game should end up a loser; the Reds' batting order is built to produce runs in clumps. When Cincinnati's pitching allows the opposition to get a big lead, however, the team's speed is minimized and the enemy pitchers are able to work around the Johnny Benches and Tony Perezes. It is then that real frustrations set in.
The Reds are frankly amazed that they have not drifted so far down in the standings that a pennant run would now be hopeless. "We had a spell during which we couldn't hit," said Rose, "then this spell in which we aren't pitching well at all. The two things have not come together so we could make any kind of a move up in the standings. But we're still only a few games out of first place."
As the week ended, Cincinnati was in fourth place, 5� games behind front-running San Francisco. But between the Reds and Giants were Houston and Los Angeles, both very good teams. It seems that everybody except the Giants themselves considers the Giants a myth, but they keep going on with an admirable tenacity.
The Reds' pitching woes began early in March, when their top man, 25-year-old Gary Nolan, found that he couldn't throw. An examination by Reds' doctors proved so discouraging that other opinions were sought, and when they agreed with the team physicians Nolan was placed on the disabled list. He remains on the disabled list. Last week he reportedly was throwing at three-quarter speed in workouts at the Reds' minor-league field in Tampa. When and if he comes back it will still take him at least three weeks to build his arm to the point where he could be sharp. Nolan has had arm miseries before: his present condition is a mystery.
Nolan, youth and a trade for K.C.'s Roger Nelson, as well as an outstanding bullpen, were supposed to give Cincinnati its best pitching in several years. The loss of Nolan proved to be a hint of what was to happen, which included an elbow injury to Nelson, who joined Nolan on the disabled list last Wednesday. Not that Nelson had been overwhelming batters; he had a record of 2-2. But he did have a 2.06 ERA, lowest on the staff.
From May 7 through June 13—a period covering 33 games—the Reds got but one complete game out of pitchers not named Jack Billingham. This put a heavy strain on the bullpen, and Clay Carroll, the Reds' foremost reliever, was having his own problems. "I really find it hard to explain just what happened to me," he said. "My control was messed up from the start of the season. I went to Sparky at a time when our starting pitchers weren't going too well and asked him if I could start to see if things could be worked out that way."
Carroll is a friendly, 32-year-old Alabamian who pitched in 330 games over the past five seasons, but only in five as a starter. As a relief pitcher Carroll would come out of the bullpen to smother enemy uprisings time and again. In 1972 he made 65 appearances and set a major-league record with 37 saves. As a starter Carroll threw very well, but how do you relieve a Clay Carroll with a Clay Carroll? "I wanted to get a complete game," he says wistfully. "It would have been the first one for me since 1967."