Saturday, March 19, 2011

Hutch and Pete: How Fred Hutchinson Helped Pete Rose Break Ty Cobb's Record

Fred Hutchinson unknowingly helped Pete Rose break Ty Cobb's record.

 The 1962 Reds had won 98 games, but had finished in third place behind the Giants and the Dodgers. As a 21-year-old second baseman for the Macon Peaches, Pete Rose had torched the Class AA South Atlantic League, hitting .330 with 17 triples and scoring 136 runs. Most people in the Reds' organization felt that he needed at least one more year in the minors, however. Complicating matters was the fact that the Reds had a reliable veteran second baseman, Don Blasingame, who was coming off one of his best years.

 One man who felt that Pete was ready to make the jump from AA to the majors was Cincinnati manager Fred Hutchinson. He had witnessed Rose while in the Fall Instructional League and fell in love with his style of play. "I can clearly remember in the fall of 1962 my father telling my brother and I, 'If you want to see how the game of baseball should be played, come over tonight and watch one of our minor leaguers, Pete Rose,'" recalled Fred Hutchinson's son Jack, who was 17 at the time. "And, of course, being teenagers, we didn't really believe him at the time."

Hutch, an old-school battler who got the most out of his ability due to an iron will and intense competitiveness when he pitched for the Tigers, could see the same qualities in the gritty, hustling Rose. "If I had any guts, I'd stick Rose at second and just leave him there," Hutch told Cincinnati beat writer Earl Lawson that winter.

Rose wore number 27 in the spring of 1963. He would soon switch to the familiar number 14 that he wore until Commissioner Giamati banned him from wearing any major league uniform,

Hutch was determined to give Pete every chance to make the team in 1963 and eventually named him the starter during spring training. Rose took the field at Crosley Field for Opening Day as the Reds' second baseman.

Hutch stuck with Rose through an early slump and backed him when the veterans on the team (other than Frank Robinson and Vada Pinson) froze out the obnoxious rookie. Rose rewarded him by becoming the Rookie of the Year, hitting .273 with 170 hits and 101 runs.

By spring training of 1964, Rose had established himself on the team and Lou Smith of the Cincinnati Enquirer proclaimed him the most popular player on the Reds according to fans, adding that Rose was "an earnest, honest youngster who loves the game so much he would play it for nothing."

Had Hutch gone with conventional wisdom and left Rose at AAA for 1963, it is probable that time would have run out on Rose's chase of Cobb's record 23 years later--he needed every one of those 170 hits that he got in 1963.

Reportedly Hutchinson noticed an alarming propensity of the young Rose to spend too much time at the track, betting on the ponies and told him to stop it. One has to wonder how baseball history (and Rose's personal history) would have been altered had the iron-willed Hutchinson, who few men defied, lived past the 1964 season.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

New Book Highlights Sad Season For Reds, by Lew Freedman, The Republic, March 8, 2011

Cincinnati Reds fans’ memories of the 1964 season must be painful. Beloved manager Fred Hutchinson, forthright and open about his illness, announced he was suffering from cancer, yet continued to lead the club from the bench for much of a tense pennant race.
He did so as long as he was able, with interruptions for radiation treatments and in the face of a terminal diagnosis.
Doug Wilson, 49, a Columbus ophthalmologist, and Reds fan, has branched into a new field. He is the author of a new book called “Fred Hutchinson and the 1964 Cincinnati Reds,” published by McFarland & Company, Inc., of North Carolina.
The book is well-researched and well-reported and although a sad story, very much a worthwhile read for baseball fans and especially Reds fans.
“I finally got a little time to write,” Wilson said of how he plunged into his first book. “I always was a Reds fan.”
Wilson interviewed many Reds figures from the 1960s, including Jim Brosnan, Sammy Ellis, Jim O’Toole, Mel Queen and Dave Bristol. He also had the assistance and cooperation of the Hutchinson family, including that of Hutchinson’s widow Patsy, 91.
Before becoming a respected manager, Hutchinson was a prominent athlete in his home area of Seattle. Born in 1919, Hutchinson was not yet 20 when he made his Major League debut as a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers.
In 10 big-league seasons he posted a record of 95-71 with a 3.73 earned run average. He won 18 games in 1947 and 17 in 1950 for the Tigers.
Hutchinson managed Detroit and the St. Louis Cardinals before taking over the Reds midway through the 1959 season. In 1961, Hutchinson led Cincinnati to its first pennant in 21 years. The next year the Reds won 98 games.
The portrait of Hutchinson Wilson paints is of a tough man with a big heart who was demanding of his players, but benevolent to them even as he was determined to make them winners. He seemed to have both a temper and a sense of humor.
After the Reds blew a double-header to the down-trodden expansion New York Mets with erratic play an angry Hutchinson said he wanted the clubhouse cleared in moments. The players fled to the bus so quickly most didn’t shower.
O’Toole, one of the Reds’ aces, was ordered to pitch the day after he got married.
“I didn’t set O’Toole’s wedding date,” Hutchinson growled.
Hutchinson broke Pete Rose into the lineup on a veteran team and stuck with him through his early tribulations. Rose became rookie of the year and baseball’s all-time hits leader.
By the time Hutchinson had a lump on his neck checked in December of 1963 his lung cancer was so far advanced Bill, his brother and physician, told him he had perhaps a year to live. Hutchinson was 44.
Hutchinson decided to go public and conducted a press conference in Seattle Jan. 2, 1964. He was to undergo immediate treatment, but was back in charge of the Reds by spring training.
What followed was a lengthy fight of man against the inexorable advance of disease. Showing remarkable daily courage, Hutchinson joked with his players, was candid with reporters, and wrote out the lineup card day after day.
Baseball fans nationwide responded to Hutchinson’s perseverance, sending cards and letters by the hundreds, a reaction that surprised him.
Gradually, as the season wore on and with the Reds striving for another pennant, Hutchinson’s weight loss and weakness pushed him into a leave of absence.
Perpetually gracious, never bitter, Hutchinson’s attitude amazed observers. “Whatever happens, I’m grateful for everybody’s good wishes,” he said in a True Magazine story headlined, “How I Live With Cancer.”
Hutchinson turned 45 in August, but then left the team for more treatment. His players were watching him waste away.
“It was an inspiration for us,” pitcher Joe Nuxhall said, “to try to win it for Hutch.”
Neither the Reds nor Hutchinson won their battle that poignant summer. The team didn’t capture the pennant and Hutchinson died Nov. 11.
As a long-time crusader for more focused, expanded attention on cancer treatment, Fred’s brother did win. Dr. Hutchinson spearheaded the fund-raising for construction of a cancer center in Seattle in 1965, one that has only grown since.
For those who know more about cancer than baseball, that center is world famous as the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Lew Freedman is sports editor of The Republic. He can be reached at or 379-5628.

Catching up with an old ex-Reds batboy

I was fortunate to catch up with former Reds batboy Mike Holzinger recently. Holzinger, who is now a representative for a surgical laser company, was batboy for the Cincinnati Reds in 1964 as a 15 year old. He describes that time as "the best summer of my life."
Along with the long hours and work--making five bucks a day--he got the unforgettable opportunity to get to know the Reds players. As batboy he had the run of Crosley Field and both clubhouses, mixing with players and coaches. He fondly recalls watching one game sitting next to Dodgers Sandy Koufax and Pee Wee Reese (who was a coach then).
He remembers Reds pitcher Jim O'Toole as an extremely tough competitor on days he pitched, but an irrepressible joker on the other days. O'Toole also was guilty of snitching Holzinger's lunches on occasion. "I used to get a sandwich and leave it in the clubhouse for after the games," says Holzinger. "But they kept disappearing. I finally caught O'Toole. He told me, 'Start ordering two sandwiches.' Then he quickly added, 'But don't tell Hutch.'"
Cuban shortstop Leo Cardenas caused some headaches for the batboy due to his refusal to ever use a bat which he thought "didn't have any hits in it." If Cardenas used a bat and went hitless for the day, he would discard that bat. "One time I had to complain to hitting coach Dick Sisler," says Holzinger. "Cardenas had a stack of 32 bats but wouldn't use any of them because he thought they didn't have any hits in them."
A special treat for the batboys was to accompany the team on two road trips a year. Holzinger went to New York and St. Louis with the Reds. He recalls what a nice guy first baseman Gordy Coleman was, taking the youngster under his wing and helping him get around New York City. Also, he warmly recalls listening to old baseball stories over breakfast in St. Louis with venerable Reds radio man Waite Hoyt, whose favorite team mate during his playing days with the Yankees was a certain hot dog-eating, home run-hitting right fielder.
One of the neat things Mike showed me from his batboy days was an official letter he received, addressed "to the Cincinnati National League Club Players," from then commissioner Ford Frick, dated October 28, 1964, which noted that the second place Reds' share of the 1964 World Series Receipts was $42,661.86 and showed how the money was to be distributed according to the teams' vote. Each regular player and coach received a full share of $1,254.76. The bat boys were voted a share of $209.13--not a bad bonus for a 15-year-old. Of interest on the list was one Atanasio Perez--known to most later as Tony--who played in a handful of games that year. He was voted a share of $250.95. So, for one season, Mike Holzinger was worth only $41.82 less to the Reds than a future Hall of Famer. How many 62-year-old medical laser reps can say that?