This week at Redleg Nation, we’re running a series of posts celebrating this year’s inductees into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame: Adam Dunn, Dave Bristol, and Fred Norman.
When it comes to Dave Bristol making the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame, Pete Rose doesn’t mince words.
After all, this is Pete Rose, who played for Dave Bristol in the minor leagues, who played for Bristol on the Cincinnati Reds, and is also a Reds Hall of Famer. He also has more hits in the history of baseball than anybody else — 4,256 to be exact.
The guy who had a 44-game hitting streak in 1978, won three batting titles, managed the Reds, was MVP for the National League in 1973, MVP in the 1975 World Series, his #14 is retired… you know the drill. Whatever you think of him, Pete is Pete. He is Reds history.
“Dave Bristol built the Big Red Machine,” said Rose from his home in Las Vegas. “Sparky Anderson developed the Big Red Machine. But make no mistake about it, Dave was absolutely instrumental in building the Big Red Machine. Dave put the pieces in place. Sparky Anderson was the best manager I ever played for. But Dave Bristol had a big hand in the Big Red Machine.
“He managed most of us in the minor leagues: me, (Tommy) Helms, Teddy Davidson, Art Shamsky, Mel Queen. We knew that Dave would be at the baseball park when we got there– every day of the season. He was there when we got to the park.
“Dave was all baseball, a baseball man. He loved the game. He repaid the sport for giving him so much joy. Dave hated to lose. There was no music in the clubhouse after a loss. There was no singing in the clubhouse after a loss. That never happened with Dave Bristol as a manager.
“Sure, he was young when he managed us in Cincinnati,” continued Pete. “That meant he had enthusiasm. That’s a good thing and he never lost that. He was a bed-checker. He’d check your room in the hotel at one in the morning. Dave didn’t drink, didn’t smoke. You might get fined 25 bucks or so but that was the way Dave was. We respected the hell out of him.”
Rose’s loyalty to Dave Bristol is still clearly evident. “We had a great hitting team in 1968 and 1969 but you can’t win the pennant by winning games 8-7 or 7-5 everyday. We just didn’t have enough pitching. But that’s how Dave had to win.”
Pete also borrowed some things he learned from Dave Bristol as a manager and put them to use when he was named manager of the Reds in 1984. “I learned good things from almost every manager I played for and there were some bad things too. But I put the good things I learned in my program when I became a manager. And one of Dave’s great things was he was such a good communicator. Dave would never chew a guy out for a physical error because those things happen. But a mental error, like a base running mistake, he would be all over you. That couldn’t be tolerated.”
During the course of our conversation, I spoke with Rose about Alex Johnson, who I did a piece on two months ago. I wrote then that Alex caused no controversy with the Reds during his two-year stay in Cincinnati and gave credit for that to Dave Bristol. “Alex never caused a problem and that’s because of Dave,” said Rose. “He just wouldn’t tolerate things, like being late or missing a practice. Alex played hard for us. The only thing I don’t like about Alex is he made a great catch against us off Deron Johnson late in 1964 that cost us a chance to make the World Series that year,” laughed Pete.
Asked if the Reds knew Don Heffner would be fired during the 1966 season, Rose replied, “Don Heffner was a gentleman. I don’t want to say anything bad about him. But he was overmatched on the field. He didn’t handle the pressure well. He was a nice guy, it just wasn’t his fault.
“In 1970, Dave was fired and we had Sparky and started off the season 70-30. But remember, Wayne Simpson was 14-1, Gary Nolan was healthy, and Jim Merritt won 20 games that year. Dave never had pitching like that.
“Like I said, Dave was an offensive manager and offensive managers have offensive teams. They have aggressive teams and that was Dave Bristol”
Rose witnessed the reputation first-hand about Bristol being a fighter and a leader in the minor leagues when Bristol managed Pete in Macon, Georgia. “There was one night when Dave was coaching third base because he didn’t have a bench coach in those days. And there was a play at third base and the other team’s catcher got involved, a guy named Elmo Plaskett. Elmo came out to third base and him and Dave got in a fight. Elmo took off his catching mask and slammed Dave in the jaw with it. Elmo is hitting him and Dave is bleeding by the time we get out there to separate them.
“I think Dave might have got one punch in. But as we pulled them apart, there’s Dave bleeding and yelling at Elmo, ‘You had enough? You want some more?’ Helms and I always teased him about that. But that was Dave. He would never back down from a fight.
“Dave was a private person off the field. He was married to Betty, who was a wonderful person. But he was a student of the game. He understood people. He hated to lose. Sparky and Dave, they not only loved baseball but they cared about the game.”
Fifteen minutes after I got off the phone with Pete, he called back. “It might be interesting if you do some research and see how many players in the Reds Hall of Fame played under Bristol,” Rose said.
It was a great idea. And the answer is: there are 64 players in the Reds HOF and 16 of them played under Dave Bristol, fully 25%.
“The players respected him so much,” said Pete. “Shamsky did. Helms did. (Tony) Perez did. So did Jim Maloney and George Culver and Vada Pinson.
“I’m excited Dave is going in because the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame is so very, very special.”
John lives in Galesburg, Illinois and has been a Reds fan all of his life. He is a retired firefighter and a Veteran who served for 32 years but stays active at the local Humane Society. His favorite Reds players include Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, Tony Perez, Eric Davis, and Bronson Arroyo. While writing, he frequently listens to the music of Led Zeppelin and Steely Dan. He is flanked in the photo by ever-loyal “Reptar.”