Whether you celebrate the Reds from a starting date of 1869 (first full professional team), 1882 (first year in the American Association), or 1890 (first year in the National League), you have to be somewhat amazed by the longevity of the Cincinnati team. A 2019 version of a uniform from the past is great but knowing what was happening when those uniforms debuted is history, and knowing your history is a big part of being a baseball fan, so we’ll cover the key events of the year.
1961 – Home
In 1958, the Reds home uniform went from solid white to a pinstripe, and pinstripes would appear on all Reds home uniforms for the next ten years. The big change in 1961 was in the jersey’s logo where the letter “C” infill was enriched with a new navy-blue background.
Nearly 29,000 people squeezed into Crosley for opening day. Things had changed for the team since 1960. Longtime general manager Gabe Paul left to be the GM of the new Houston franchise set to debut in 1962. As his replacement, owner Powell Crosley hired Bill DeWitt, who had recently been the GM of the Detroit Tigers. Crosley was happy with his pick stating, “I feel that DeWitt, who has a long experience in major and minor league baseball, covering the span of 45 years, is the most qualified man for the job.” The biggest change came with Crosley’s untimely death in late winter. Immediately, Bill DeWitt was thrust into the dual role of General Manager and President of the franchise. The area around the park was also changing as the city began to build Highway I-75. The laundry building was removed as were other buildings surrounding the park. Also looking different Crosley Field itself, freshly painted with 3,000 cans of white paint. In honor of Crosley’s death, the Reds sported a black band on the left side of the jersey.
Team’s Record that Season
93-61, 1st Place
The team outperformed their Pythagorean record by 10 games, and all season they battled the three teams that had moved west. Tagged with the name the “Ragamuffin Reds”, the team was rated by Bill James as one of the three biggest surprise teams of the 1960’s. Also included were the 1967 Red Sox and the 1969 Mets. The Reds held first place from August 16th on. The team won 23 more games than in 1960. The 1967 Red Sox were +20 wins, and the 1969 Mets +27 wins.
1,117,603, 4th in the League
The 1960 team played just 3 games for 20,000 or more patrons. The 1961 team increased that to 23 games by mid-June, and the net gain in attendance was 454,117. The final numbers topped the 1956 team’s record and the additional bodies in the neighborhood on game day compounded an already existing problem, the lack of parking. This issue became a front-page story in the Enquirer throughout the late fifties and early sixties, and in late July (with an eye on the post season) the city arranged to spend $50,000 on parking within the cramped and aging Crosley Field area.
The Reds were the third team Hutchinson managed. He first replaced Red Rolfe (who’s diary “View from the Dugout” mentions Hutch numerous times). The second job was as the Cardinal’s skipper, starting the same year as GM Frank Lane. Neither got along with each other and this friction would lead to both of them departing following the 1957 season. In 1959, he replaced the inefficient Mayo Smith during the All-Star break.
What can one say about Fred Hutchison that hasn’t been said? He is an inspirational figure in the Pacific Northwest (where I live), in baseball, and in Cincinnati.
Cut from the mold of John Wayne, he awed the men he played with and managed.
“Baseball doesn’t have many naturals, a lot less than you might imagine, the ones who work the hardest are the ones who make it, the ones who win. Sometimes that’s the only difference. If you don’t work hard at this game, you might as well hang them up. Sweat is your only salvation.”
~ Fred Hutchinson
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer named Hutch the city’s Athlete of the 20th Century, he was born there, but only spent a few years as a pro in the city.
“Hutchinson was a leader, and there was never a question. He led people to championships. … He led us to tears, sharing his own struggle with cancer in a very public and heroic manner.”
~ Dan Raily
His players loved him, for his acumen, and as Jim Brosnan documented in his first book, “The Long Season”:
“He gave me the chance to make more money, a ballplayer always owes a good manager a debt.”
Hutch was convinced that Brosnan’s propensity to form blisters when pitching too long would never allow him to be a starter; however he felt his live arm would make him a viable weapon in the team’s pitching plans. Jim’s books gave fans a view into the game like never before. The respect he, and others, felt for Hutch was evident and touching.
He taught us how to live, he taught us how to die.
~ Gene Mauch
Fact: Joe Nuxhall was a Red from 1944 until his death in 2007, except for one brief moment in his long and fruitful life, 1961, the only year the Reds came in first place during Joe’s playing career. The “Ragamuffin Reds” were an odd bunch in retrospect. Put together by Bill DeWitt, who had previously only worked in the American league, the team was top heavy offensively with Robinson leading the pack with a .315/.407/.624 line and Vada Pinson’s .343/.379/.504. Meanwhile, using other players, the Reds cobbled together a league average offense. They received an abysmal offensive performance from their four catchers and second baseman. They sacrificed defense on the left side of the field to get Gene Freese (26 HR’s 87 RBI’s) in the lineup. The platoon of Post (200 PA’s .307/.343/.640/.983) and Lynch (190 PA’s vs RH .311/.405/.622/1.027) complimented the duo of Pinson and Robby quite well. Career years from Gordy Coleman and Joey Jay (the first little league player to ever make MLB!) also helped drive the team towards the first pennant in 21 seasons. If you haven’t had a chance to read relief pitcher Jim Brosnan’s book “Pennant Race”, which chronicles the 1961 season, I can’t recommend it enough. He tells stories of Hutchinson’s smiles, his rages, his will to win and how it affected them all. The last paragraphs convey the joy of 30,000 Reds fans gathered at Fountain Square as the team arrived downtown to celebrate a possible pennant clinching. The crowd surged as they listened from loudspeakers to the Dodgers lose to the Pirates. It truly captures a different time—a time before twitter, chat boards, and launch angle debates.
“Bands played, sirens wailed, fans hugged each other and danced in the street. Hutchinson was carried about on the shoulders of the crowd that rocked the Reds bus as it inched its way toward the hotel.”
Best Red Batter
Frank Robinson .315/.407/.624
“Frank Robinson was one of the most intimidating batters I ever caught behind. He stood on top of the plate and dared you to come inside.”
~ Tim McCarver
From 1956-1961, the three best hitters in the National League were young men who hit right-handed, as was the fifth. They were also black men in a still very-white sport. In 1961, there were 57 African American men in Major League Baseball.
|OPS AVG OBA SLG RC/G-LG PA|
|Willie Mays .973 .320 .392 .581 3.79 3979|
|Hank Aaron .961 .325 .377 .584 3.61 4027|
|Frank Robinson .946 .302 .384 .561 2.72 3792|
|Duke Snider .941 .288 .382 .559 2.16 2595|
|Ernie Banks .925 .292 .359 .566 2.22 3871|
|Eddie Mathews .917 .285 .384 .533 3.38 3991|
|Stan Musial .909 .308 .391 .519 2.29 3023|
One of the major societal transformations that occurred during World War 2 was the Second Great Migration, in which the nation saw roughly five million African Americans move from the rural South, many going west to cities like Los Angeles, Portland, Phoenix, Seattle and Oakland. In 1940, there were 270 black people living in Richmond, California; in 1945, there were 5,673. Oakland’s black population soared from 8,462 to 21,770, and San Francisco’s from fewer than 5,000 to 32,000. Lured by the wartime shipping industry and the chance to do better in life, many families settled in the public housing areas of the city and a wealth of sports talent could be found in the mid 1950’s. This is where Reds scout Bobby Mattick steps into the story. Bobby Mattick is a legendary scout. The list of his finds for the Reds in the mid 1950’s is one that is as impressive as any others during this era. The prize of the picks was Frank Robinson who Mattick inked for $3000, after seeing Frank swing at the age of 14. Frank Robinson was impressive then, even moreso when he began his climb in organized baseball. So impressive was young Robinson that during trade talks between the Reds and the Pirates, the Pirates GM, Branch Rickey tried to have Frank included as a throw-in…Gabe Paul declined. Mattick also signed Curt Flood, Vada Pinson, Jim Maloney and Tommy Harper for the Reds.
His prize signing though was Frank Robinson.
I wish I could take a psychologist with me; I’d like to know if the boys have the will to win. If they do I want them. If they don’t, they’re no good to me.”
~ Bobby Mattick
Born in the South and found by scouts in the Bay Area in the 1950’s, all these men played MLB, except for Bill Russell who…well you know.
- Jesse Gonder Arkansas
- Aaron Pointer Arkansas
- Curt Motton Louisiana
- Tommy Harper Louisiana
- Bill Russell Louisiana
- Willie Tasby Louisiana
- Vada Pinson Tennessee
- Wilbur Stargell Texas
- Frank Robinson Texas
- Curt Roberts Texas
Best MLB batter
Frank Robinson .315/.407/.624
The first at bat in Frank Robinson’s professional career was a triple off the wall, and the next day, a home run. He was 18 and hit .348 that year. At age 21, he hit 38 homers for the Reds, won the rookie of the year, and was the team’s first star of color. A proud man in a city that never fully embraced him, he was the cog in the Reds engine during this era. From 1962-1965, Robinson hit .303/.396/.544/.940 in 2600 PA’s.
In December of 1965, Bill Dewitt headed off to the 1965 Winter Meetings where he hoped to obtain some pitching to go with his high-powered offense. When asked about what the future held at the meetings, DeWitt replied, “I don’t think there will be many inter-league deals, you don’t know the players in the other league as well as your own.” On December 10th, the Reds traded Frank Robinson to the American League Orioles. Just like that, the Reds’ first black star and the franchise leader in games played, home runs, slugging percentage, times reached base, and runs batted in, was gone. The Robinson trade was the largest deal DeWitt executed since his big splash in 1961.
The rest of the story is well known. Robby ended up winning the triple crown and firmly established himself as the first black superstar for the American League. Two months prior to his 32nd birthday, his career numbers compared very well with Henry Aaron’s.
- Robinson – 7387 PA’s – .305/.393/.566
- Aaron – 7855 PA’s – .316/.375/.564
In late June of 1967, Robinson was again tearing up the league. In a game against the White Sox, he collided with second baseman Al Weiss’ knee during a double play. Weiss blew his knee out; Robinson was knocked out cold for 5 minutes and had memory loss for 40 minutes after the play. Ten days later, he was still experiencing double vision. He missed the All-Star game and returned to the field a month later. But, things changed.
- Before injury: .337/.435/.675/1.109
- After Injury: .282/.367/.467/.834
Frank Robinson never again hit more than 32 Home Runs or 100 RBI’s. He performed above average, but was no longer the offensive force he once was. Years later he said, “I don’t know how much I left at second base that June in 1967. All I know is I haven’t been the same since.”
Best Red Pitcher
Jim O’Toole 30 RSAA
“After spring training, I didn’t think we were a championship team. I remember we lost a bunch of games on the coast and after a double-header loss to the Dodgers, Hutch ordered us back on the field for batting practice, that was our punishment for playing shitty. Hutch is the whole reason we won the pennant, he brought us all together.”
~ Jim O’Toole
Jim O’Toole was the son of a cop, a Golden Gloves boxer, and didn’t play hardball until age 14. He played hard and he threw hard with his left arm. At 21, he was signed by the Reds as a Bonus Baby for 50K, signing with them because they had no pitching, but had hitting. His approach was fastball first, and then the slider, with an occasional curve from a couple of arm slots. In 1961, he led the team in games started, innings pitched, and strikeouts. He finished 19-9 and was the opening game pitcher for the Reds in game one of the World Series. Like many in the game, he burned bright and burned-out fast. He was out of the game at age 31 and turned his attention to his large family, which would eventually swell to ten children.
Best NL Pitcher
Bob Gibson and Curt Simmons RSAA 33
“I’ve played a couple hundred games of tic-tac-toe with my little daughter,” he said. “And she hasn’t beaten me yet. I’ve always had to win. I’ve got to win.”
~ Bob Gibson
Gibson became a full-time starter in 1961 at age 25 and, though he pitched pretty well, he also led the league in walks, and tied teammate Curt Simmons in RSAA (Runs Saved Above Average) with 33. Simmons had a losing record and Gibson was 13-12. Today they would have been noticed for all their peripherals, but then it was simply wins and losses.
Bob Gibson likely has more competitor stories tied to him than whole rosters of teams throughout time. Here are a few of my favorites.
Bob Gibson once hit Pete LaCock in the middle of the back in an Old-Timers game. As the ball bounced off the batter, Gibson shouted down at LaCock, “I’ve been waiting years to do that.” The crime? LaCock hit a PH Grand Slam off Gibby in the last game he ever pitched.
Henry Aaron’s tips to Dusty Baker regarding Bob Gibson:
- Don’t dig in against Bob Gibson. He’ll knock you down. He’d knock down his own grandmother.
- Don’t stare at him. Don’t smile at him. Don’t talk to him. He doesn’t like it.
- If you happen to hit a home run, don’t run too slow and don’t run too fast. If you want to celebrate, get in the tunnel first.
- And if he hits you, don’t charge the mound because he’s a Golden Gloves boxer.
Bob Gibson on his pitching repertoire, “It was said that I threw basically five pitches, fastball, slider, curve, change-up, and knock-down. I don’t believe that assessment did me justice, though. I actually used about nine pitches – two different types of fastballs, two sliders, a curve, a change-up, knockdown, brushback and hits-batsman.”
Bob Gibson faced 16,068 batters and hit 102, an average of one every 158 batters.
His teammate Curt Simmons was very different from Bob Gibson. A phenom, he had his first taste of the big leagues at the age of 18, after the war. He was a lefthander with two types of fastballs. He and Robin Roberts carried the Philles to their second NL Pennant in 1950. Roberts is a unique story—20 years in the league and a man who had to reinvent himself and his career. In June of 1953, Simmons cut off part of his big toe on his pivot foot in a home lawnmower accident. This injury caused Simmons to have to adjust his approach and his delivery. His motion became more herky-jerky and he became more of a finesse pitcher. By the end of the decade, he battled shoulder issues and was released by the Phillies. He signed with the Cardinals and, as many pitchers have to do, reinvented himself on the fly.
Simmons did not like to hit batters, preferring as he said, “to keep them off base”. In his career, he hit batters at the rate of 1 for every 268 batters. I found an odd similarity between Simmon’s career and Jerry Koosman’s:
- Curt Simmons played on 4 teams in 20 years, threw LH, faced 14,144 batters, hit 53, walked 1,063, had an ERA 0.36 better than the league, and played for his third team in Chicago.
- Jerry Koosman played on 4 teams in 19 years, threw LH, faced 15,996 batters, hit 71, walked 1,198, had an ERA 0.34 better than the league, and played for his third team in Chicago.
Cincinnati Population, 502,550 (1960 Census)
This begins the era of mega-cities. Los Angeles officially joined the ranks of New York and Chicago. Combined, these three cities had a population of 13,811,403, 100,000 more than the following cities combined: Detroit, Baltimore, Houston, Cleveland, Washington, St. Louis, Milwaukee, San Francisco, Boston, Dallas, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, San Antonio, San Diego, Seattle, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Memphis, and Denver.
Team Media Sources
Because of Powell Crosley’s interest in technology, the Reds fans were receiving some of the finest televised baseball in the country. The team employed 4 cameras, showed games in color, and were early adopters of the Zoom camera. The team also was one of the few teams that televised Spring Training contests, with Gus Kennedy and Frank McCormick in the booth. Jack Moran was in his last season behind the mic with Waite Hoyt. Earl Lawson was pugnacious and cock-sure of his opinion as a writer for the afternoon Post. In print, we are perhaps in a golden era. Sports Illustrated was becoming more of a popular-sports magazine. Sport and The Sporting News were at their zenith, and Baseball Digest was there for the die-hard fans.
A 1960 Gallup Poll revealed that America’s favorite spectator sport was baseball, with a 34% share—greater than football and basketball combined.
In the world of sports, the 1961 season was awash in growth. The newly formed AFL was getting a foothold in areas that had been clamoring for Major League franchises for years. The NFL swooped-in and stole the planned Minnesota AFL team and welcomed them to the league in the autumn of 1961. In baseball, the Continental League’s potential lawsuits forced MLB to expand in three cities, with a promise of four more by the end of the decade. In the world of basketball, the American Basketball League (ABL) was formed by Harlem Globetrotter owner Abe Saperstein who was angry at being passed over as owner of a potential NBA franchise in Los Angeles. The league would last only one season in their battle to compete with the NBA. The Cleveland franchise was particularly interesting, boasting the first African American coach in professional sports when John McLendon manned the bench. Sitting in the owner’s box was a young George Steinbrenner, fresh off his post graduate work at Ohio State. The ABL had a 30-second clock, wider free throw lanes, and were the first to use the 3-point shot. The league was unable to move beyond their initial season, folding midway through the 1962-1963 season.
The original ABL teams:
- Chicago Majors
- Cleveland Pipers
- Kansas City Steers
- Hawaii Chiefs
- Los Angeles Jets
- San Francisco Saints
- Washington Tapers
- Pittsburgh Rens
Space dominates the era, and also alarms.
- Yuri Gagarin becomes the first human in space.
- The following month, Alan Shepard becomes the second human, however the first to wet his pants in space.
- President Kennedy asks Congress for $531 million to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade.
- President John F. Kennedy advises American families to build bomb shelters
- Barack Obama, August 4th
- Nadia Comaneci, November 12th
- Michael J. Fox, June 9
- Wayne Gretzky, January 26
- Chico Marx (born 1887)
- William Ellsworth “Dummy” Hoy (born 1862)
- Eddie Gaedel (born 1925)
- Ty Cobb (born 1886)
Bill DeWitt first tasted baseball work in 1916 as a vendor for the St. Louis Browns. It was there that the hustling youth caught the eye of Browns executive Branch Rickey. DeWitt was soon running errands in the team’s office, not the stands. When Rickey moved to the Brown’s local rival the St Louis Cardinals, he brought young DeWitt with him. With Rickey’s tutelage, DeWitt learned the business of the game, pursed a college education and, like his mentor, eventually obtained a law degree. In 1936, Dewitt found his way back to the American League and the Browns. With his brother Charlie, he made his first foray into the ownership and General Manager profession, teaming with another St. Louis native Don Barnes, who had the resources to buy the moribund Browns franchise.
Bill DeWitt’s experience in the game was rich and varied. Here are a few of the things he is known for:
- Signed Pete Grey, the one-armed player, for the 1945 Browns.
- Drew up the contract for Eddie Gaedel, the first and only little person in major league baseball, whose one plate appearance is one of the most memorable events in the game’s long history.
- Participated in the only manager-for-manager trade in Major League Baseball history when he traded his manager Jimmy Dykes for Cleveland’s manager Joe Gordon.
- Traded AL batting champ Harvey Kuenn for Rocky Colavito.
- Signed Otis Douglas as the first Strength and Conditioning Coach in Major League Baseball history.
- Made Phil Seghi the first assistant GM in Reds team history.
One thing was for certain, Bill DeWitt was not afraid to take a chance in the baseball world, even stating once, “I’ve made some good trades and some that have bounced, and I like to shop.”
Reds fans would get a taste of his shopping habits in December of 1965.