Among the Reds' hitters, only Foster has been reasonably consistent, but even he has suffered dry spells, including two singles in 14 at-bats against the Dodgers last week. But he considers himself to be in "the age range"—he is 28—where he can perform steadily. With a major league-leading 38 homers and 109 RBIs, and a .314 average, Foster's steady hitting approximates the sensational.
Even when the Reds were hitting, they really were not. Holding before him a statistics sheet that showed five starters—Rose, Griffey, Morgan, Foster and Driessen—batting more than .300, Anderson snorted, "This might be the most deceiving thing I've ever seen." And he dropped the offending document to his desk as if it were an obscene letter. "Look at these home runs. We have 138, but only about 38 of them meant anything. Throw out the other hundred, and we'd still be where we are. All we do is thunder away in games that don't mean anything. We get our hits when we're ahead by four runs. We don't get the clutch hits, the two-out hits. There is only one figure on this page that means anything, and it shows us having lost as many as we've won." In fact, the only consistent thing about the Reds all season has been their record. Except for a couple of weeks in July, they've never been more than seven games better than .500. At the end of last week, they stood 58-57.
But what disheartens Anderson more is something that cannot be compiled statistically. "What's it say here—58 errors? Heck, that doesn't tell the half of it. It's the mental errors that hurt. We're just not doing the things we did before. Moving runners along. Making the right plays in the field. I'm embarrassed; I feel like walking around in back alleys. I sure don't feel like going out socially."
Anderson is not the only one disheartened by Cincinnati's comatose state. Morgan, the perfectionist who prides himself on being the compleat player, is appalled by it. "I never thought this would happen to us," he says. "No one's doing it on purpose. You can get angry when you see people who aren't trying, but we've still got a lot of character on this team. So I'm not angry, I'm disappointed. You can't look at other people. You just have to look at yourself. Sure, I'm hitting .300 and blah, blah, blah, but I haven't been hitting in the clutch as often as I did last year. The difficult thing is knowing that we're so much better than this. That's the thing that gnaws at Sparky. He looks out there and sees the best eight men in baseball. Then he looks and sees where we are in the standings."
Morgan suspects the team lacked the steadying influence of the traded Tony Perez during the early weeks of the season, when the Reds let the Dodgers break to a big lead. "Tony was always the same, never excited," Morgan says. "He's the only player I know who looks the same when he's gone 0 for 4 as when he's gone 4 for 4. We missed him early, but Driessen has done a super job since."
Bench feels the Reds may be suffering from something he calls "mental drain." He is convinced that the pressure of playing at the top of one's game week after week against opponents who are always "laying for you" can exact a grievous toll. There comes a time when one cannot get out of the doldrums, says Bench, "simply by taking it for granted that you will. You can't be a fatalist, either, and say that's the way the ball bounces."
The Red players angrily deny that their absentminded play is an indication that they have become complacent now that they are rich and famous. They fall back on the professional athlete's familiar defense that pride, not worldly goods, is the prime motivator in sports. But Anderson is not so certain. Although he wished Capilla well in his bid for a no-hitter against the Dodgers—which the youngster lost in the seventh on a controversial infield hit by Ron Cey—Anderson confided that he was just as happy Capilla did not get it.
"If he gets the no-hitter now, this early in his career, he'll be getting calls from New York," Anderson said. "He'll be on all the TV shows. Well, we've had too much of that. We've become more show business than baseball. The limelight is wonderful, but maybe if you stay out of it for a while you'll realize how wonderful it was. My guys are good people, but anytime you give anybody total security—lots of money and long-term contracts—you don't walk away from a losing game saying, 'That's terrible.' You don't have the same get-up-and-go. You can say all you want about people not changing, but I wonder. I wonder if I haven't changed. I'm wearing clothes now I've never worn before. I know famous people. I just wonder...."
Whatever they have lost—games, concentration, prestige—the Reds have retained their laudable sense of the absurd. They continue, as Rose puts it, "to agitate" one another and outsiders as well. And they are premier anecdotists. On the bus from Dodger Stadium to their hotel in Los Angeles one night last week, Rose and Bench exchanged stories about Frank Howard, the amiable giant who hit home runs for the Dodgers and the Washington Senators. Bench, employing Howard's husky voice in the dialogue, described a night he and Howard spent in a Los Angeles hotel following an off-season banquet. They were awakened in the middle of the night by a mild earthquake. Howard, looking even more mammoth than usual in nothing but his shorts, appeared in Bench's doorway. "What's up, John?" he asked.
"I think we're in an earthquake, Frank."