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.
“Is it time yet?” asked former Cincinnati Reds Manager Dave Bristol.
Bristol is anxiously awaiting the official Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame inductions for the Class of 2018. He can’t wait. It’s a huge deal for him. He asked me that question when I interviewed him on the phone in late June.
“I’ll tell you this,” said Pete Rose, who played for Bristol in the minor leagues and with the Reds. “No one is going to be more appreciative of being in the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame than Dave Bristol.”
It’s going to happen on July 22.
When he took over the Reds after the All-Star break on July 13, 1966, Dave Bristol was just 33 years old. He was a fighter. He was aggressive. He was the shot in the arm the Cincinnati Reds needed. Dave Bristol was the right manager for the Reds at the right time.
“He raised a lot of the Reds in the minor leagues,” said Reds pitcher George Culver. “Tony Perez, Pete Rose, Tommy Helms, Art Shamsky. Dave had our respect, our loyalty. Dave Bristol was the kind of manager who would take a bullet for you.
“As a pitcher, I told him I’d pitch anytime. I’d start, relieve, go as long as I could. I’d pitch anytime and anywhere for Dave Bristol and do the best that I could.”
“Dave didn’t play favorites,” said Tommy Helms. “He didn’t have chosen players to start. He just wanted to win, period. That’s all Dave cared about.”
Dave Bristol never played major league baseball but was a player-manager at the age of 24 when the Reds selected him to manage the Hornell Redlegs of the Class D New York-Pennsylvania League in 1957. In his eight-year career in the minors with the Reds as a skipper, Bristol won five league championships, capped off when Triple-A San Diego won the Pacific Coast League in 1964. He was then appointed to the Reds coaching staff.
Bristol became the Reds manager after Don Heffner was fired. 1966 was rapidly becoming a disaster for Cincinnati. Bill DeWitt traded Frank Robinson after the 1965 season and got next to nothing back from Baltimore. And while Robinson was winning the Triple Crown for the Orioles in 1966, the Reds were sinking. Attendance was down. The Reds, after being competitive for five years, were in the bottom part of the National League standings.
The players had no confidence in Heffner. “Here comes Shakey,” said Reds infielder Deron Johnson to Cincinnati Post sportswriter Earl Lawson when Heffner entered a restaurant during spring training that season. “That’s what we called him in San Diego.”
Stunned, Lawson realized the Reds had no confidence in their skipper. And this was in spring training.
Not so with Dave Bristol. He fired up the Reds and had a commanding presence. They finished the season with a 33-32 record under Bristol and were poised for the future.
Helms had the pleasure of breaking the news to Bristol that he had been voted into the Reds Hall of Fame. Tommy — being Tommy — started the phone conversation off as a prank before telling Bristol the true intent of his call. Dave Bristol was going into the Reds Hall of Fame.
“The Reds told me not to tell anybody for two weeks,” said Bristol. “That was hard, very hard. I’m as happy as anyone who has ever been elected to the Reds Hall of Fame. It’s very special to me. It will be exciting to be back in Cincinnati for those three days.”
Bristol remembered when he was hired by the Reds during that 1966 season. “The Reds were very competitive in the minor leagues at every level and I had been coaching for them. I was home during the All-Star break and [Assistant GM] Phil Seghi called me. He told me I was going to be the interim manager and to be in Cincinnati the next day. I took a flight the next morning from Chattanooga to Cincinnati and met with Bill DeWitt and we had a press conference at the Reds offices on 4th and Vine Street.”
“I remember some of the Reds players were older than I was,” laughed Dave. “But we were able to turn it around in the last part of ’66 and then DeWitt took the ‘interim’ title off. And then Bob Howsam extended me through 1968 and 1969.”
Cincinnati kept improving. Thanks to the influx of players like Perez, Helms, Johnny Bench, and Lee May, the Reds roared back to the first division of the NL. The Big Red Machine was coming together. After finishing seventh in 1966, the Reds jumped to fourth place in 1967 and fourth again in 1968. In the newly created National League West in 1969, the Reds finished third and were in the race until the last week of the season. The Reds were competitive and on the verge of something special — the Big Red Machine.
Bristol first heard the term ‘Big Red Machine’ in Los Angeles during the 1968 season. “I remember like it was yesterday,” said Bristol from his home in North Carolina. “It was during the 1968 season and we were in Los Angeles playing the Dodgers. Bob Hunter, a sportswriter who covered the Dodgers, came up to me in batting practice. We were standing around the batting cage and he says to me, ‘What’s your Big Red Machine gonna do tonight?’
“That’s the first time I heard it. I loved it. That was our team.”
Asked what his best memories in Cincinnati were, Bristol replied, “The pennant race of 1969 was very special to me, even though we didn’t make it. We were very close there at the end. My last win as a Reds manager was when Jim Maloney beat Atlanta on the final day of the season. Jim got my first win as a manager and my last. It was a great race, we just fell short. We just didn’t have the pitching.”
Bristol maximized the use of his 25-player roster; he would use any player on his roster for any reason. He used pitchers as pinch-runners. He used starting pitchers in relief. He used pitcher Mel Queen as a pinch-hitter (he was a former outfielder).
Howsam fired Bristol after the 1969 season, when the Reds finished third in the NL West, four games behind Atlanta. When Lawson asked Howsam for the reason of the firing, the Reds GM replied that “I felt the Reds should have stayed in the race longer than they did.” Lawson wrote that Howsam’s remark’s had “a hollow ring.” Cincinnati’s pitching staff had an ERA of 4.11, next to last in the National League, with the expansion San Diego Padres the only team worse than the Reds.
Dave Bristol went on to manage teams in Milwaukee, Atlanta, and San Francisco. He came back to the Reds as a third base coach in 1989 and 1993. “I never burned any bridges with the Reds,” said Bristol. “I was able to come back and coach for them. In 2007, [General Manager] Wayne Krivsky sent me to Billings to evaluate their minor league team there for a two week period. I was glad to do that. I would do anything for the Cincinnati Reds.”
And now, the Reds have given back to a former manager that current Reds fans may not know about, but would love to meet.
Dave Bristol still has the soft, southern North Carolina accent. He still follows the Cincinnati Reds. He’ll always be a Red. It’s a love affair he can’t eliminate, can’t forget.
To talk with him, it’s hard to believe he was such a fighter, such an aggressive manager. The respect, yes. You get that from his former players. Their loyalty to him 50-plus years later is fierce, honest and obvious.
Dave Bristol restored the Reds to respectability during a time when rumors floated about that the Reds would move to San Diego to escape Crosley Field and when arguments raged about building Riverfront Stadium.
The Cincinnati Reds became a factor again under his watch. They had brawls with the Cardinals. They had Perez and Rose and Helms. Johnny Bench was on the scene. Lee May was the Big Bopper. They won slugfests like a 19-17 win over Philadelphia in August of 1969. Their offense made nationwide headlines. “Dave was an offensive manager,” said Rose.
He had tobe; Bristol didn’t have the pitching. He put pressure on the other team, all the time, in every inning.
“Ohhhh, those Cincinnati Reds,” Harry Caray, a Hall of Fame broadcaster with the St. Louis Cardinals, would say when he would talk about Bristol’s Reds.
The Big Red Machine was born during Bristol’s tenure. Sure, Bob Howsam was the architect. So were the scouts, like Tony Robello who went to Binger, Oklahoma to watch Johnny Bench.
Just be sure to include Reds Hall of Famer Dave Bristol.
“Dave Bristol built the Big Red Machine and Sparky Anderson developed it,” said Rose. “Dave is a baseball guy. He loves the game. This is long overdue.”
The time is now, Dave. Enjoy it. You deserve it.
Congratulations from Redleg Nation.
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.”