After Bryan Price’s recent outburst on the heels of the Reds losing seven of eight games, I got to thinking about other Cincinnati Reds managers over the years. Specifically, had anything like this happened before?

It certainly could have but in these days of social reporting and networking, something like that makes the news instantly and the episode between Price and a couple of sportswriters certainly did just that. My wife doesn’t even follow sports, yet she knew about it the day after it happened. And Theresa never watches ESPN.

Price’s “honeymoon” period with both Reds fans and management is coming close to an end. Most new managers enjoy that luxury for a year, maybe a little longer, but this second season is an important one both for the team and it’s manager.

The hiring of Bryan Price was justified, we were told, because of his high intellect, his cerebral approach to things, his proven ability to manage a pitching staff and his skills to also relate with the everyday position players. This latest incident doesn’t diminish my confidence in Price at all, instead it showed me a passion exposed however misguided as it was.

Let’s put it this way. Do I care that Bryan Price used the f-word 77 times in a 5 ½ minute conversation with a sportswriter? Not really.

Do I care about the continued use of Kevin Gregg and Burke Badenhop in games that matter? Yes.

Other Reds managers have made similar public relations mistakes. Remember Dusty Baker sitting mute while Brandon Phillips verbally ridiculed a sportswriter (the same one Price was talking to, C. Trent Rosecrans) during a press conference? Or on the field meltdowns by Lou Pinella and his wrestling match with Rob Dibble?

Since 1956, the Cincinnati Reds have had 24 managers. Each, in some way, has created their own niche in Reds history.

Birdie Tebbets made the cover of Time magazine in 1956, the first Cincinnati Red ever to have that distinction. Reds legend Tony Perez was fired after just 44 games into the 1993 season. Jack McKeon was known for his cigars. Dave Bristol’s nickname was “007” because of his affection for James Bond movies. And, of course, Sparky Anderson became a Hall of Famer.

“Don’t try to outsmart anyone. You only trick yourself. If you’ve got your top cat out there throwing, let him go. Go home with the lady that brung you to the dance.” — Sparky Anderson

Here’s a capsule glance at some of the better managers and some of the not so good ones.

Most Beloved: Fred Hutchinson. It’s not just that Hutchinson died tragically from cancer after a heartbreaking second place finish in 1964, it was other things that endeared Hutch to Reds fans. He was, as sportswriter Earl Lawson wrote, “out of the John Wayne mold.” Hutchinson had a charisma about him and the respect of the players. The 1961 pennant winning Reds still are one of the most popular Cincinnati teams of all time. His #1 was the first uniform number retired by the Reds. Hutch’s stubborn fight against the cancer that claimed his life inspired countless people. On his last birthday in 1964, the Reds honored him with a pregame celebration at Crosley Field. Hutch’s right eye was swollen shut by a tumor, he had trouble walking and his uniform hung loosely from his body. Sandy Koufax and the Dodgers beat the Reds that night 4-1. No one knew it at that time but it was the last game Fred Hutchinson would manage for the Reds. He was admitted to the hospital two days later and Coach Dick Sisler took over.

Most Underrated: Davey Johnson. Johnson guided the Mets to the World Series title in 1986 and was a proven commodity. He was hired after Tony Perez was fired just 44 games into the 1994 season. Johnson turned the Reds around and they were in first place when a strike canceled the season in 1994. The Reds won the NL Central the next year but Johnson and Reds owner Marge Schott did not get along, part of the reason being Johnson was living with his fiancee before getting married.

Most Forgettable: A three-way tie between Don Heffner, Vern Rapp and Bob Boone. Heffner (1966) and Rapp (1984) never completed their first season with the Reds, Heffner was called “Shakey” by Reds players and he never gained their confidence. The Reds were 51-70 and in 8th place during the 1966 season when Heffner was dismissed. Rapp was a successful Triple A manager for the Reds at Indianapolis. St. Louis hired him but Rapp’s strict disciplinarian tactics unnerved the Cardinals (particularly Al Hrabowski) and he was fired. Rapp was hired by the Reds in 1984 but the wheels came off in June and Rapp was canned. Boone had a longer tenure — two and a half seasons — but was fired by the Reds when they were 46-58 in 2004. Boone was never a fan favorite. A few times, Boone batted Adam Dunn in the leadoff spot which raised more than a few eyebrows. A website was created by Reds fans just for the dismissal of Boone.

“There’ll be two buses leaving the hotel for the park tomorrow. The two o’clock bus will be for those of you who need a little extra work. The empty bus will leave at five o’clock.” — Dave Bristol, manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, 1971

Youngest: Dave Bristol was just 33 years old when the Reds hired him as their skipper in 1966. He produced winning seasons for three years but was then fired after the Reds finished 89-73 in 1969. The next two managerial stops for Bristol were disasters. He took over the Seattle Pilots when they were bankrupt and moved to Milwaukee, thus forcing the longest road trips for any team in the majors, as Milwaukee stayed in the AL West. He then managed the Atlanta Braves for eccentric Owner Ted Turner. In 1976, after a 16-game losing streak, Turner ordered Bristol to take a 10-day “scouting” trip so Turner could manage the Braves. NL President Chub Feeney put a quick halt to that after just one game. Recalled, Bristol and the Braves lost 101 games that season.

Oldest: Jack McKeon brought some stability (at least for a while) during the Schott-Jim Bowden era. In 1999, the 68-year old McKeon became the third oldest manager in the history of baseball, behind Casey Stengel and Connie Mack.McKeon steadied the Reds ship and the ’99 season was a memorable one for Reds fans. When Bowden acquired Ken Griffey Junior in a blockbuster trade after the ’99 season, McKeon said, “That’s nice, but who’s going to pitch?” It turned out to be quite prophetic. McKeon would later win the World Series with the Florida Marlins.

The Player-Manager: Pete Rose is often overlooked for what he did for the Reds as a manager. When he arrived in 1984, his immediate goal was to get the Reds out of last place in the NL West. He did that. The Reds then finished second four consecutive years before the ill-fated 1989 season when Rose was banned from baseball. But the nucleus from Rose’s teams — Barry Larkin, Paul O’Neill, Chris Sabo, Tom Browning, Eric Davis — were key players in the 1990 World Series title. Rose just misses my Top 5 (see below.)

The Best Five Since 1956

  1. Sparky Anderson
  2. Fred Hutchinson
  3. Davey Johnson
  4. Jack McKeon
  5. Lou Pinella

In conclusion, a few words from the late, great Sparky Anderson and the relationship between the media and the manager.

“Sometimes we managers forget that the media has a job to do. Because they’re with us every day, it’s easy to think they’re a part of the team. They’re with the club all right. But they’re not part of the club. They have a responsibility to their newspaper or radio or TV station before they have a responsibility to us. We must remember that.” — Sparky Anderson

12 Responses

  1. Jerry Davis

    Curious as to how the top five list was compiled, is it career or just with the Reds? Seems Dusty won more as a Red than Davey.

    • jdx19

      Dusty winning games doesn’t mean he was a better manager. With that said, I have no idea what methodology was used for the rankings.

  2. Vanessa Galagnara

    I wonder what our record would be with Sparky at the helm. Any of you stat boys have an analytical sheet to quantify manager value in comparison to the talent available via the 25 man? I am thinking we,would have two or three more wins but that is a difficult one to measure.

    • Victor Vollhardt

      Great column–one could argue who should be #1 or who should be #4 all day and night(don’t forget Ray) and it wouldn’t make any difference. All of those five were decisive and were their “own man”. They made changes and acted to make those changes quickly–whether inside the game (remember Captain Hook) or within the weeks of the season. For sure they watched egos-but in the end they did it their way and always for the betterment of the team and the players bought into it because it was done in an even handed way–everybody “felt” the manager at one time or the other. These men were concerned with the substance not the perception of their moves.

    • jdx19

      Vanessa. Your estimate of a few wins is what I’ve seen in all the “stat boy” articles I’ve read on the topic. There is no actual way to measure it, though, so it’ll never be more than a guess. We’re very precise with player values (RE24, WPA, etc), but I just don’t think we’ll ever get there with managers.

      • Vanessa Galagnara

        I figured as much. Since a manager doesnt take the field or have stats of their own the only way to measure is in wins.

  3. Silence Dogood

    Well done, John. This is an interesting topic and well-written post. This made me think of the Reds manager that I loathed the most – John McNamara. Like many teenagers of the post-Big Red Machine era, I was bitter that all of our heroes were wearing different uniforms (save for Johnny Bench) and Sparky wasn’t our manager. I ‘hated’ McNamara. I went back and looked at his record and it really was better than I remember it. His teams won 90, then 89 games. They had the best record, as I recall, during the strike-shortened year of 1981 before the wheels fell off the franchise the next year. I guess it just goes to show that you never want to be the guy that replaces The Guy.

  4. Doug McMenamin

    John, very timely topic given the attention on the current struggles. Could you write the same analysis on the Reds GM’s thru the years? Bob Howsam would be best in my book and the worst hands down would be Dick Wagner. Sorry to those on Jocketty’s case right now but trading Tony Perez forfreakin Woody Fryman and Dale Murray…ouch,,

  5. Gaffer

    Perez was fired in 1993, not 1994, and Davie also had a losing record the rest of that year. That 92 team reminds me of this team. It was the second highest payroll in baseball, mostly overpaying for past performances or misguided hope of performance (And unrealistic expectations). The 94 team made key upgrades of offense, proving that it does not take long to retool if you do it right. Marge of course screwed it up after 95, by hiring an I pickle in Knight and gutting the roster.

    • lwblogger2

      Was very key to get Tony Fernandez to agree to play 3B. He was excellent over there and was a nice bat too. Hate to say he was an upgrade over Sabo but he was. Bret Boone at 2B was a big upgrade. Erik Hanson came over in that deal too and was solid if unspectacular. I think they brought Chuck McElroy in that season too, who was very solid out of the pen for a few seasons if I recall correctly.

  6. Mark Elliott

    Anderson was the best ever manager of the Reds, that’s a given. I’m fascinated by the quote from Sparky in the article. Wasn’t he also known as “Captain Hook” for pulling the pitcher at the first sign of trouble, or am I remembering it wrong?

    • lwblogger2

      He’d pull a pitcher who was getting in trouble but he was very hesitant to pull a pitcher who was still getting outs or was cruising and then got into trouble mid-inning. He seemed in those cases to give the starter a chance to work out of it.