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 email@example.com or 379-5628.