You can still see the boy in Russ Nixon, even though he’s two years shy of 60. He’s six foot one, 185 pounds. He’s a handsome man with a full head of gray hair and a square, clean shaven face. He’s long-legged, long-armed, with a trim athlete’s torso and a lifetime tan. He’s been in “The Game” 41 years. He did 12 years as catcher in the big leagues (Cleveland, Boston, Minnesota) and then went on to be minor league coach and manager (Sioux Falls, Tampa, Greenville, Portland), then major league coach (Cincinnati, Montreal, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Seattle) and finally, major league manager for Cincinnati and Atlanta. Now Nixon manages the San Diego Padres’ Triple-A affiliate, the Las Vegas Stars.
The Stars, like every Triple-A club, have a player development agreement, called a PDA. The PDA is a contractual relationship between one company, the Las Vegas Stars, and another, the San Diego Padres. The Padres are responsible for players’ salaries. They also pay support staff, managers, coaches, trainers and for training equipment, game equipment, uniforms, bats, balls. They have complete say over the ball team: who comes, who goes, who stays. The Stars provide the playing field, administrative staff, and access to the Pacific Coast League.
The Stars play at Cashman Field, a four-buck cab ride and one geological epoch away from downtown Vegas and Glitter Gulch. It’s a lovely ball park, among the finest in Triple-A. Built ten years ago, it seats 9370 and comes with a novelty store, barber shop, shoe shine stand, and an upper deck clubhouse for dinner and drinks. Behind outfield fences are rolling mounds of lush green grass and a stand of trees. You could be in Des Moines. The only geographical giveaways are the advertisements covering outfield fences: Las Vegas Club Hotel and Casino, Flamingo Hotel Laughlin, Caesars Palace. Cashman Field has been called, accurately, the crown jewel of Triple-A ball.
On this night, the Stars begin a four-day home stand against the Phoenix Firebirds, a San Francisco Giants affiliate. Game time is 7:05 p.m. By 5:00 p.m., both teams are on the field doing stretches, running wind sprints, taking batting practice. A squad of Phoenix outfielders do jumping jacks, eight of them in a row.
Practice is like the game: stop, start, stand around.
I stood in the far corner of the dugout during the game (Stars won, 3 to 2) and afterwards followed Nixon back to his office. We walk up an access tunnel, intersect another tunnel, turn left, then right at the first door, move through the trainer’s room into the manager’s office. Nixon sits in a brown fold-up chair, kitty-corner to his desk. Shirt off, pants on, he pops a beer.
Nixon and I would talk off and on for three weeks, sessions running from 15 minutes to three hours, locations from the dugout to the playing field to his office to a borrowed office. My first question: “Tell me about your players.”
A soft, rural, Midwestern voice replies, “We got people here that have had success in Double-A ball, and we feel they’re prospects, so we bring them to the next level of baseball, which is a phone call away from the big leagues. What we do is try and refine them as much as we can. Some guys go quick, some guys will be here a couple years before they get the hang of it or there’s a spot opened up for them up there.
“Down here we have 23 men on the roster. You get a lot of fringe major leaguers, players that have been up and down several times and more or less settled in as a Triple-A ball player. They’re good ball players, they’re here to stabilize the ball club.
“We have a lot 26-, 27-, 28-year-olds, they’ve been around a while. Most Triple-A clubs are that way, they have a sprinkling of prospects, but the backbone of your ball club is the stabilized player. Some organizations, like this one, have only a couple prospects, so you’re looking at 21 other guys that just play ball.
“Baseball is a mind game. There’s a .lot of ability wasted in this game. Baseball is constant adjustments. Hitters have to adjust to pitchers, pitchers have to adjust to hitters. Fielders have to adjust to the play. There’s been a lot of good players with lots of ability, but a lot of them don’t make it because they could not make those adjustments.
“We try to teach that, we think we can, but it all boils down to ‘If they can’t make the adjustments then they’re replaced or retired.’
“If the guy’s got ability, you take more time with him, because you feel he’s worth the chance. Instead of releasing the kid, you bring him back another year, hoping he might make it. The only way you’re going to find out is to give him playing time.
“Everybody on this team has physical abilities or they wouldn’t be here. A lot of that comes from the mind. You see a lot of guys playing in the big leagues today who are really not that great ability-wise, but their makeup is such that they’re in the big leagues. If you got a guy with great ability that has good makeup, you’ve got a superstar.
“We do player development down here, it’s not necessarily about winning*. There are times when you’re not going to be able to produce a winning team simply "because, number one, maybe you don’t have the talent; number two, if you do and the big club is having a rough time, they’re grabbing all your good players. It’s a constant turnover of players down here.
“My job is to make sure that if San Diego calls up and says, ‘We need somebody,’ I got somebody to send. And when I send him up there, I want him to be ready to play, and I want him to be able to stay up there.
“Down here, these kids are paid by the month, $2500 to $10,000 a month. Not a bad job for five months a year. The major league minimum salary is $120,000, a pretty damn good living.
“During the season we’re at the park by 3:30 or 4 o’clock. We’re always doing some extra work, like hitting or fielding, to keep them in shape. We practice one and a half, sometimes two hours. If we feel the players need something extra, we’ll go another 15 minutes. We can’t run them down. Once the heat starts hitting in the desert, you’re foolish to keep them out there too long.
“We all want to get to the bigs. Hell, I got 30 years up there, I want to get back. It’s the only place to be.
“I was let go by Atlanta in ’90. I managed Portland [Triple-A club] for the Twins in ’91. Last year I was with the big club, Seattle, as a bench coach. The club got sold and the new ownership let everybody go. I was searching for a job and interviewed for this one, they liked me well enough, I guess, anyway they hired me.
“I’m one of the lucky ones, I have a major league pension. I started drawing mine at 50. Basically, that’s all my wife and I have, because we don’t have any fucking money to speak of. Made a little bit during one year I was managing the Braves, but putting three kids through college, that doesn’t last very long. You make $ 100,000 one year, next year you make $25,000.
“There’s new people coming in. Younger guys are now general managers. They’re afraid of the older guys. Believe me, they are. They don’t want anybody around they feel knows more than they do.
“I’ve spent 41 years in the game of baseball. It hasn’t seemed like 41 years.”
“I was born in a little old farm town, Cleves, Ohio, 20 miles west of Cincinnati. I was born in a farmhouse in the country. I have an identical twin brother, Roy.
“My parents were dairy farmers. Mom was a darling. She was the dominating force behind the whole deal. Dad worked all the time. I look back at my life, I didn’t see that much of him. I knew he was there and we spent time together, but it was like you’re always passing each other.
“We always had crops to tend, mostly corn and tobacco. That tobacco is constant. You have to take care of it all the time. It was a daily job to keep it worked. But we found time to play ball. Like I said, I have a twin brother.
“There was a lot of competitiveness between us. He was a pitcher and I was a catcher. My grandfather decided that. One day my grandfather brought two gloves and the ball and a bat. He gave me the catcher’s mitt and gave him a fielder’s glove. Before, we always threw something around, threw rocks, but this was the first time we ever had something to catch it with or a ball to throw. We played every day. We were five and six.
“Through our elementary years and high school, I did all the catching and he pitched and played first.
“We never played an organized game of baseball until we were in seventh grade. It was just pickup games on the farm. The little elementary school we went to had to consolidate four schools to get a baseball club together. Then the next year they put us in a league with elementary schools from Cincinnati — eighth grade, 14-year-old kids. So we went up there and we never had uniforms. They had uniforms. I played in bib overalls. My brother wore jeans and a belt. I was catching with bib overalls on, just a big old country boy.
“We were a little timid about going to the city. We’d never played on a field that good. We went up there and played the best team, from the best school, for the championship. We killed ’em. We beat them 12 to 1.
“Oh! Now that was the first time anybody recognized that you had a couple of hillbillies out there, farm kids, big old Nixon boys that could play baseball and do a few things. When we left elementary school we went to Harrison, the closest big high school.
“We only spent one year in Harrison. Then, Junior American Legion baseball came in big-time. The Junior American Legion baseball program was nationwide, it ran in the summer. Roy and I made such an impact around there that we got on the Legion team when we were 15.
“Dad wanted us to get an education, and he was getting tired of milking cows. He had a steady job with the refinery, so we sold the farm. All of a sudden we didn’t have chores, all we did was schooling and play baseball. We’d play high school, then we’d play Legion in the summer. This was 1950.
“Joe Hawk ran the Junior American Legion team. His Legion team, the Bentley Post, won more Legion national championships than any other post in the country. He was a school teacher in Cincinnati, but he lived in Harrison. Roy and I played against his ball club a lot that year, and we never beat ’em because they were so good, but we sure as hell scared ’em. So the next year he asked us to play for him in Cincinnati, and in order to do that we had to transfer.
“It was pretty expensive, plus it was a 60-mile round trip to school, every day. Dad said, ‘Well, look, I’ll be able to handle the tuition if you boys want to get over there with Joe,’ because Joe Hawk had told Dad, ‘I’ve got to go to Cincinnati every day to teach, so I’ll pick up the boys every morning and bring ’em home.’ And he did, for three years. It was the best move we made because we got a lot of exposure. We played ball four or five times a week.
“So there we were in the big high school, Western Hills High. The first year was tough because we were commuting, and we had to get acclimated to the larger school. Joe Hawk couldn’t leave right after school, so we were able to stay a couple of hours each day and play sports. I’d never seen a basketball before, so we tried basketball, then football. When we hit the ninth grade, we started playing baseball against high school seniors. You know, they did nothing to us.
“Cincinnati has always been a hotbed for baseball players, and Western Hills High School is a famous high school for baseball people. We had four major league managers come out of that high school, all practically at the same time and all of them played under the same high school coach. There was me and Jim Frey, Don Zimmer, and Pete Rose. Roy and I were a little shy, but once we got into it, it worked out fine. When we had a ball and a bat in our hands, nothing intimidated us. We both hit well over .500.
“Between our junior and senior years of high school, in 1952, we went into Denver and won it all. It was the first time I’d ever been on a train. The first time I’d ever seen a mountain! We went to Denver and played, and I was Legion player of the year. I hit four hundred and something. Roy did real good too. As a matter of fact, if it wasn’t for me, he’d have won player of the year. Just so happened I had a little bit better last game than he had, but it was neck-and-neck all the way.
“So when we started our senior year at Western Hills High School, I knew I was going to be drafted. We were already recognized as national champions. The Junior American Legion player of the year usually got a huge bonus — fifty, sixty-thousand dollars — which was big, big money in those days.
“Well, in 1953, baseball came out with the ruling that if you got more than a $4000 bonus, you had to stay with the big league team for two years. So now, all those bonuses went out the window because nobody wanted to take a 17-year-old kid and set him up with a big league club for two years. A couple clubs tried it, and the kids didn’t work out. I had several clubs interested in me, but Mom and Dad wanted Roy and me to sign with the same organization. Cleveland signed us in a package deal. I think we got $1500 apiece. That was June of 1953, the same month we graduated.
“When I first signed a pro contract, you didn’t have the free agency stuff. There were a lot more kids signing, and you had more teams in minor leagues. When I signed with Cleveland, they had 17 minor league clubs. Now they have 7.
“Roy and I signed and Cleveland sent us to Green Bay, Wisconsin, which is a full-season club. We got there after the players had 70 games under their belts. We’re coming out of high school dealing with guys, some of them had already played two or three years of pro ball. We got indoctrinated pretty quick.
“I was in Green Bay half a season; that was 1953. I hit .343 that first year. I was a part-time player. Out of 70 games I probably played half. We played Sheboygan, Warsaw, Jamestown, Appleton.
“Spring of 1954 I go to my first spring training, which was a treat, because everybody was there. This was right before Cleveland’s great year. They had Lemon and Garcia pitching, and they had these other guys — Easter, Doby, and Hegan. I never saw batters like that in my life. They were so strong. But you know, Roy and I hit balls out of the park ourselves.
“We had 515 players in spring training. Everybody’s together in an old Army barracks in Daytona Beach, Florida. You had to take care of your own laundry, as far as uniforms go, hell, they were never washed. That was the first professional instruction I ever had. They helped me refine my catching, the way you set up behind the plate. My big plus was I could hit the ball, and I was a left-handed hitter and had a good arm. That kept me around.
“My first full season was in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. That team played 140 games. We drove around in an old bus, which was as close to falling apart as you can get while still moving. No air conditioning. I led the league in hitting that year. Hell, I led two leagues in hitting. I had back-to-back years of .387 in the minors. Roy hit .340 that year. The next year they split us up.
“I met my wife during high school. We’ve been together for 41 years, married 39 of them. She was a cute little shit. It worked out. It really worked out good.
“We went together for a couple years. When I started playing pro ball, that first year I played a half-season, she came to see me a couple of times. Then the next year she came to Florida to see me in spring training, and she put it to me. ‘If I come back down here, we’re going to get married.’ We got married July 1,1954, in Jacksonville Beach, Florida.
“She’s quite a gal. She was just for me, I guess. I knew it right away. Plus, she’s smart as a button. I mean, hell, you’ve been 39 years married in this game, it’s unheard of to be married to the same person that long. It hasn’t been that damn smooth, but it’s been a great life for both of us. The only thing I regret, is like I told you, I don’t remember my dad too much, same way with my kids. Hell! I was gone all the time and she raised them.
“I was the only married guy on the club. We had a left-handed pitcher, and being in Jacksonville, he was running around with a couple different gals down there. So he was laying out on the beach one day and one girl is coming by in a car and sees him with somebody else, and damn if she don’t back up and run right over him. It was a good thing the sand was soft because he came to the ballpark that afternoon with tire marks on the back of his legs.
“Those guys, hell, first time away from home for a full season, these things happen, but I’ll tell you, there wasn’t much of it. We were together a lot because we were in a small town, and the guys would all congregate, especially after I got married, at our apartment. We’d get together, cook up a big meal, and talk baseball. We’d learn about the game and each other.
“In those days, they didn’t really teach. We’d talk about infield situations, when to do it, when not to do it. Nobody really showed us. Today you rely on instructors. We had to grab it ourselves and try different things. I don’t know which is best. I really don’t.
“In Jacksonville Beach we played Daytona Beach, Orlando, Lakewood, Cocoa Beach. I got 50 cents a day meal money. And I gave my wife a quarter and I took a quarter. She had an old DeSoto, and I think she’d use that quarter to buy gas.
“The next year I played in Iowa, which is Class-B ball, and that winter, I got a job playing ball in Mexico. Glenda and I went to the west coast of Mexico. It was the first time I’d ever been out of the States. I made a huge amount of money. I made $400 a month. The Mexican players were mostly Indians. They have a tendency to get heavy and have no quickness. But the son-of-a-guns could catch the ball. I don’t know what the hell it was, but they had the greatest hands in the world. They weren’t very strong hitters, but they were good contact hitters, you know, they put the ball in play. You could hit and run with them, and you could do a lot of things, but they couldn’t hit hard.
“In 1957 I made the bigs, went to Cleveland, and my first roommate was Bob Lemon. In those days you had to deal with the general manager. There wasn’t any agents. So you had to negotiate your own contract, and I’ll tell you what, it got ugly at times.
“My rookie year I hit .280. My second year I hit .300. I caught 80 ball games my rookie year. I caught 120 my second. The general manager, Frank Lane, was tough. He’s the toughest. My rookie year I made $6000. That was minimum salary in 1957. And the only way I got a raise was because they raised the minimum salary to $7500. I got $7500 my second year. After I hit .300, I thought, ‘Hell, I’ll get some money now.’ So we started talking.
“Lane offered me a $2000 raise to $9500.I wanted $12,000. Well, God, he went crazy. He said, ‘You haven’t proved shit! There’s guys waiting for your job.’ He was trying to buffalo me. That was the first time I negotiated a contract. I didn’t expect too big a raise because you didn’t get raises in those days unless you had a bumper year. So, he says, ‘I don’t give a damn, you can sit home all you want to.’ He scared me, I signed at $9500. There’s a huge intimidation factor. Huge. You’re wanting to play. You don’t want any more competition because there’s not a hundred players out there like there are today, there was 500.
“I’ll tell you what, you were on your own. Every man for himself. When I made the club, I took somebody’s job. That person had friends on the club, and there wasn’t a whole lot of help given to you. So, if you had problems with your contract, the players sure as hell weren’t going to help.
“Today, the player never talks to the general manager. I bet some of these players don’t even know who the general managers are. Their agents do that. Plus, as far as job security, hell! You’ve got a guy who signs with a number one agent, there’s security set up for him already. Plus, he knows he’s going to be in the big leagues within two years. And he’s accepted once he gets there.
“In those days salaries weren’t guaranteed. We depended on that guy performing for us so we could all get more money, so we’d jump his ass pretty good if he got lazy. The team concept was, ‘Don’t fuck up. Don’t fuck up because if you do, the rest of us are going to lose money because of you.’ Everybody had to go in and negotiate their contracts, and it wasn’t just over what you did individually. That kept us all focused.
“Now, everybody says, ‘The hell with it. I’ve got my own problems, I’ve got my own stockbroker, how this other guy plays certainly isn’t going to affect my job because it’s guaranteed.’
“So, in 1957 I was back in spring training. I felt I had a chance to make the good ball club because all Cleveland’s players were getting age on them and management was weeding some out. They were bringing in the young guys, and I was one of them.
“In those days, locker rooms were separated. You had the first-year guys in the boiler room. We had nails on the wall for a closet. The established players were in the clubhouse. Roger Maris was in the boiler room with me. Roger, and I were friends, we roomed together. Just a fine guy. God, what an athlete.
“But my favorite ballplayer was Ted Williams. Yeah! 1957. It was my rookie year. We were playing Boston and he’s hitting, I’m catching. I complained about a pitch. So, next day we’re all at the park taking batting practice. He was always in the ball park, he lived in the ball park. And I heard this guy, ‘Hey, kid! Come here.’ There was this brick wall that was running alongside the first base line. He says, ‘Come here, mark on that wall. Where you think my knees are?’ And I do and he goes over and stands next to my mark. ‘Now, you fucking pitch on that goddamn mark.’ ‘Yes, sir!’
I loved Boston. I spent six years there, and that was the greatest time I had in baseball. Took about a year for the fans to accept you, but once they accepted you, the fans took care of you. You got perks everywhere, anywhere in town we went, and it wasn’t a big hassle, it was genuine. They wanted to comfort you.
“It was the first time Glenda and I were able to buy some property. We bought 13 acres, vacant land. We’ve always had horses. It was finally an opportunity for us to settle, keep the horses in one place. By 1961 we had three children. The last, Sam — Samantha — was born in 1964.
“The late ’50s and early ’60s were great years for me. It was before television took over. There were fewer ball clubs. Big league baseball only had 16 teams. There were 25 players on a team, so we had 400 players in both leagues.
“It was a leisurely pace. We would play double-hitters because double-hitters were a big draw. Now they can’t play doublehitters because it’s too tiring on the players and all this bullshit. We loved double-hitters.
“You’d always have your Friday, Saturday games and doublehitter Sundays. Mondays were always off. And day games. Saturday day, Sunday day.
“We had road trips with trains. We had Pullmans. It was great! The train’s going to pull out at 12 o’clock at night, but these old-timers, they’d be the last ones on board. Alcohol was the thing then, there wasn’t drugs. But alcohol, hell, they were notorious, the old-timers. God! They’d reach in and grab ya, pull you out of your bunk. There would be three cases of beer jammed on the floor, and you know how wide those aisles were. They’d say, ‘Well, let’s go, boys. We aren’t going to be home for another eight hours, might as well drink this stuff up.’
“Everybody looked out for each other. Once you got accepted to the clan, then you were part of the system. In those years, Ted Williams would accept me as part of his group, and Stan Musial accepted me — it’s a helluva feeling. They were the greatest players in the game. I don’t care about the ones today. Those guys were the greatest players in the game. They played for years and they hit .330 for years.
“Mickey Mantle was quiet. He didn’t say a whole lot to anybody. But he was a fun-loving guy. We knew that. He had that drawl, and anytime he said something, even though it wasn’t funny, it sounded funny. Mickey was a typical switch hitter, a low-ball hitter from the left side and a high-ball hitter from the right side. You tried to stay away from that, but you know, you weren’t going to stay away from that enough, because you’re only human and you’re going to make mistakes. And when you make a mistake on him, you never got the ball back.
“The ’61 season. I don’t know how they stood it. I really don’t. You know, that was the year that Roger Maris broke the Babe’s record, hit 61 home runs. I was behind the plate the day he hit the 61st. I was catching for Boston and was secretly pulling for him. Maris and Mickey are going through a ton of notoriety at the time. The Yankees had to hide them out, keep them invisible, because they couldn’t get any sleep from all the press and fans and stuff.
“The guy we had pitching was a rookie pitcher. I mean, he pitched some, but he was in his rookie year. And he was a big, wild kid from West Virginia. He could throw hard, but he only had one pitch, He says to himself, ‘Might as well throw the best one.’ The pitch was right down the groove. When the ball was thrown, I knew it was gone, before Maris hit it. It was the only run scored in the game, home run in the fourth inning. That was the last game of the year.
“Baseball in the ’50s, early ’60s, I don’t think glamorous was the word for it, but it might be. It was certainly the years of some great baseball players. I mean, great. God! Some finishing. Some starting. Ted Williams was finishing and Mickey Mantle was starting and I got to see it. Willie Mays was starting, Stan Musial was finishing. Don Drysdale was pitching and Sandy Koufax was pitching. The Yankees dominated the league, yet it seemed like every game we ever played against them was a well-played game, everybody rose to the occasion.
“I was thrilled to play with Ted Williams, just to say, ‘Hell, I was a teammate of his.’ Number one, he had talent. Number two, he was a studious man. And as far as hitting, he knew exactly what he was going to do when he walked to the plate. He knew exactly what this guy threw, and he was not going to swing the bat until he got the pitch he wanted to hit. And he got it. That separated him from a lot of good players.
“We all had the book on pitchers. But, you know, you get the pitch, and you foul it off. Then the pitcher’s got you by the cajones. You’re either even or he’s ahead of you. Williams was always ahead. He was ahead on the count. There’s the element of fear, when you threw the pitch he wanted, you weren’t going to get the damn ball back. It wasn’t going to be a foul ball, it was going to be hit hard somewhere. Not that you’ll always get a hit, but the ball would be crushed. That’s what separated him.
“For instance, we were playing in Detroit against a big, tall, left-handed pitcher with good stuff. And Ted told us in the dugout, ‘Boys, I’m going to that plate, and I’m going to get a slider off of him into the upper deck.’ We said, ‘Bullshit,’ and kidded the hell out of him. He went to the plate. He didn’t take the bat off his shoulder until it was 3 and 2. He got a slider on 3 and 2, and he hit that son of a bitch! It almost tore the seat out of the upper deck. I said, ‘That’s enough for me.’
“He was always laughing. Hell! I’d laugh too if I hit the way he hit. He was 42 years old when he quit, and he was just like an 18-year-old out there, bouncing around.
“We didn’t talk about the money then. Most of us were just trying to get from one year to the next. Most guys felt, ‘When my career is over, if I can own my own home I will have accomplished something.’ I would say about 95 percent of us felt that way.
“I think there was more fear then of being gone tomorrow because of the number of players available to each club. St. Louis had 24 minor league clubs, the Dodgers had 20-some, we had 17. There were a lot of people at the door.
“See, in those days when guys played Triple-A ball, they would play three or four years of Triple-A ball. When you got to the big league you knew how to play the game. It wasn’t what you see today, kids getting signed out of high school, then two years to the big leagues. Then, if you screwed up one or two times, you’d go back down and learn how to play. Because managers in those days, they were rough old guys, and they didn’t want anybody coming into the picture that didn’t know how to play the game. If you made a mistake one time, fine, but don’t ever make it again because your ass is gone.
“Today, they don’t have anybody to replace players that screw up, and the players know that. But, there’s a lot of things that go on now that didn’t go on then, because of the money. Clubs overlook a lot of stuff to pacify players. In my day, ball clubs didn’t give a shit who you were, and the players knew how to play the game. They knew they had to play solid baseball.
“Today, there’s the long-term contract, and that’s probably one of the biggest differences from my day. We had to play from one year to the next. How we played determined if we were going to get a contract and how much money we were going to make. We weren’t guaranteed shit. The only thing we were guaranteed was an opportunity to play this game, and how you did that gave you another opportunity. That went with everybody. If you played five, six, seven years and had a bad year, they’d cut the heck out of your salary.
“If you want to be in the game and be part of the game — and I never thought anything different than that — you have to take the emotions, or whatever you want to call them, in stride. The fact is, you can’t take anything for granted. It’s a humbling experience in most cases, because that damn baseball will humble you as quick as anything, as a player and as a manager and as a coach.
“Managing and coaching is just like hitting and pitching: you have your peaks and your valleys. It’s just a matter of how you make those adjustments and handle your highs and lows.
“I handle my lows by sitting in a corner with a sense that I’m not going to be down here very long. I’ll make very good use of being down here and use it as another stepping stone to get back to where I was before.
“I played three and a half years with Cleveland, six years with Boston, and two with Minnesota. In the spring of 1968,I got released from Minnesota and Boston picked me up. I went down and became a player/coach on their Double-A club because they had a couple moves to make before they could add me to the big club. Two days before they called me up, I broke my foot. It was one of those compressed fractures where they didn’t have to set anything. I had to let it heal, which took three weeks. I finally got to Boston and spent the rest of the year with them, two-thirds of the season. That was my last active year playing with the big leagues.
“I hit .200 or something. I had the worst year I’d ever had in baseball. I knew it was time to go, because I couldn’t get to the ball. And I tried everything in the world, extra work and all this. But my reflexes just weren’t there. When they go, they go pretty quick. All of a sudden you’ve got a mediocre guy on the mound, and all of a Sudden he’s getting you out and a year ago you crushed him.
“It had been a good run. I’d been six years with one team. Matter of fact, I owe a lot to Boston, my salary structure for instance, because they bumped it up. The most I ever made in baseball for one season was $21,000, and it was all due to the Red Sox.
“You know when it’s ending. We know. Baseball players know. You can read it. I felt myself slipping. I was 34,35. The bat wasn’t coming through anymore, and the bat was the only thing that was keeping me. I just wasn’t hitting the ball crisp. I knew it. I knew in 1968 that it was going to be very tough to make it back in ’69.
“I had a lot of sleepless nights. It’s frightening when you first start thinking, ‘Hey, boy, how the heck am I going to live without this?’
“In ’69 Boston was going to make me a player/coach on one of their minor league teams. They told me, ‘The only problem is you might get drafted.’ You see, when they put you back on a Triple-A roster, which I was put on, then major league teams can draft you, they still do it today. If a team needs support in one area, they’ll take somebody with experience to help them out. The White Sox drafted me, signed me to a contract, said I was going to be their back-up catcher.
“I went to spring training in 1969.I had a good spring, too. I felt, you know, like I was^ coming back. I worked hard. I got myself in good shape. After spring training, they came back and said, ‘Well, we made a mistake.’ That was the worst-run operation I ever met in baseball. The worst. I mean, it was terrible. I had my bags packed and already sent to Chicago. They came to me and said, ‘We made a mistake on the roster. The guy that we were going to send back to Triple-A doesn’t have any options left. We thought he had one left. So that means you’re gone.’ I said, ‘Wait a minute. I’m in shape. Is there any place? I’m willing to play Triple-A ball anywhere.’ They said, ‘No.’ They didn’t even pay my expenses home. They left a very bad taste in my mouth. Today, if they released you like that, you’d get a full year’s pay. In those days, you got nothing.
“I was steaming. I got on an airplane and flew home to Glenda as quick as I could.”
What I like about baseball is how the game is laid out. If you are fundamentally sound, how easy it is to play. If you’re not fundamentally sound, how tough it is. I like how the game is planned, where the shortstop plays, where the second baseman plays. The batter hits the ball to the shortstop, the ball’s got speed on it. The shortstop, if he plays it right, beats him to first base, barely. It’s laid out so perfect. And where you throw, where you catch the ball, how you put the players in their spots. Then, the game is supposed to be a team effort, but it’s the only game that if the ball is hit to me, there’s nobody helping me catch the son of a bitch. There’s nobody helping me hit. And certainly there’s nobody helping me throw. It’s an individual sport with a team concept.
“Here’s the skilled positions: shortstop, second base, catcher, and pitcher. Most teams that win in the big league have a quality shortstop, second baseman, center fielder, and catcher. That’s where the action is. That’s where you get two outs. That’s where you’re able to get two outs on one pitch, if those guys can handle it.
“First base is probably the least skilled. He still might have to catch the ball, but anytime you see a player that’s finishing his career, like an outfielder or third baseman, he goes to first.
“The catcher has got to be an intelligent individual. He’s another guy who’s got to have a good arm, quickness to get the ball away, plus he’s got to have good hands. We let catchers run the game. We suggest now and then, but they run the game. It is so important that he communicates with the pitcher. It’s so important. You can hit .000 as a catcher but make a career as long as you can throw and call the game, because it makes such a difference in your defense.
“The guy that works fast and catches and calls the ball game is the guy I want. To me it’s the key position. The idea is to try to get your hitters off the field and get them with a bat in their hands as quickly as you can. You got a catcher out there dicking around, then your offense is on the field forever. You want your players in here, hitting.
“What I hate to see in a catcher is a lackadaisical person who drops a lot of goddamn balls, has no forcefulness as far as going out and raising hell with his pitcher when he knows everybody else is being timid. He has to be able to throw and have the intelligence to handle the pitcher as far as calling pitches. Like, if you’re in the seventh inning, you don’t want to be out there fucking around with curve balls. You want to go after the hitter and let him hit the son of a bitch.
“What I hate to see in a pitcher is a guy who walks around the mound all the time. I want to see a pitcher who gets up on the mound and goes to work. I hate to see a pitcher pitching behind the count, that’s what I called ‘pitching scared.’ It’s a lack of concentration. One ball, one strike, another ball, two strikes, another ball. If you’re not consistent, you’re not going to get the pitches from the umpire. And that’s pitching scared.
“The wings are important. The right fielder is important because of his arm, because that’s the longest throw you’ve got to make. You’ve got to make that throw all the way from right field to third base. You like to have speed and arm strength everywhere. Right field is the second most important outfield position. Left field, the longest throw you’ve got to make is from left field is to home. You’re either throwing to second base or you’re throwing home.
“That’s the way it was when I came up, and that’s the way it is now.
“I started coaching with Cincinnati in 1970 and lasted until the fall of ’83. But it’s just like anything else. You work your way up to become a big league manager, and they fire your ass and you’re gone. If I hadn’t become a big league manager I might still be in Cincinnati.
“I really didn’t know Sparky Anderson; he was the Reds’ manager at the time. We were kids together, played Legion ball, played against each other in the national championship in Detroit. He was a year older than me. He becomes manager of the Reds in the winter of ’69. I’d spent part of the summer of ’69 building houses. I wanted to get back into the game, big time, and we were at a banquet together, and he asked me what I was doing, and I said, ‘Trying to get back in the game.’ He says, ‘We’ve got an opening, Rookie league club, half-season, would you be interested?’ ‘Heck, yeah.’ ‘I’ll talk to the general manager and see what’s going on.’ It worked out.
“I managed the Sioux Falls team. It was great training. A big adjustment. It was a good thing I was a father, because all the players I had were young kids.
“We played Duluth, Saint Cloud, Huron, Aberdeen. This was new for me. We played 60-some games that year, short season because it was a half-season club. Two months, 30 days. You never had a day off. But the last 30 days, we won 20 of 30 games. You figure the kids improved and that’s what you want. So the following year, they asked me to manage a full-season club. A full-season club plays 142 games.
“I made $7500 the first year. The next year they gave me $8000 for the full season. I stayed at $8000 for three years. They gave us expenses, which was like $12 a day, but we had to find places to live and pay for it. In order to keep things going at home, you had to sacrifice at one end. And I felt like I was the one to sacrifice because I wasn’t going to let Glenda and the kids sacrifice. It was thin enough the way it was.
“I went to Tampa in 1971 as a manager, Single-A ball. I was there five years. I was making $600 a month. During all that time there wasn’t any money. I lived in the baseball dub house. I couldn’t afford to live anywhere else.
“I finally got a winter league job. In 1975 I went to Mazatlan and managed. The Mazatlan club contacted Cincinnati, said they wanted some of their players. Cincinnati says, ‘Well, if you want our players, you’ll have to take one of our managers to handle them.’ So, that’s the way it works. I had 11 Reds players down there with me, and a lot of guys went on to make the big leagues. I made $5000, maybe.
“After my second season as a minor league manager, Sparky Anderson, the big team’s manager, told me, ‘You’re doing such a good job down there, I want you to stay with A-ball and take care of those kids. The first opening I’ve got, you’re going to be my coach.’
“The only time I saw Sparky was at spring training because I went to spring training early. In those days we only had four clubs. We had a Triple-A club, a Double-A club, an A-club, and a Rookie club. So, you know, for five years, there’s the same manager for Triple-A, same manager for Double-A, same manager at Single-A, the same manager on the Rookie club. There was only four guys.
“Cincinnati in the ’70s, for six years, had four guys running their entire minor league system. Now they have five guys on one club. Back then, I managed, I did not have a coach. I did not have a trainer. I ran the whole show. I had 22 guys I was responsible for. And I was the only guy there taking care of them. Today, you’ve got a pitching coach, a base coach, rovers coming in from the big club to teach base running, to teach hitting. Then, I did it all.
“Today it’s getting so everybody wants to justify why they’re here. You know what I mean? It’s bullshit. But that’s the way the program is run today. Nowadays the happiest moment in my life is when all the rovers are gone. And I get the ball club to myself with my coaching staff and we can handle it. The rest clutter up the fucking works is what they do.
“After the ’75 World Series, the one where the Reds beat Boston, Milwaukee offered Cincinnati’s third-base coach a job and he took it. A two-year deal. That left a coaching job open. This happened in October. Now, I’m managing in Mexico. The communication down there is like smoke signals. You make a phone call, you may not get through for a week. Occasionally I’d call Cincinnati to find out what their thoughts were. This was the first of November. I was on pins and needles. In the Los Angeles winter meetings, they called and told me, ‘We want you to be the new coach up here.’
“Thank God! We won the World Series in 1976. It was worth $26,000, the World Series share shit. That’s like $150,000 now. That got me back, nobody was screaming so loud for money anymore.
“It was Cincinnati, I was able to go home. I was third-base coach. Next to the manager, third is the most important coach out there because of all the decisions that have to be made. I was handling the catcher as well. I made $16,000 as a coach.
“The first game back in the majors I was scared shitless. Cincinnati won the ’75 World Series and the ’76 World Series, and you’ve got this kind of a ball club. The Big Red Machine was it. To be a part of that ball club, just to be a coach on it, that was the greatest thing in the world. And boy, I’ll tell you what, if you ever felt you could strut, you could strut then. It was wonderful, and all of a sudden I’m home! My wife was able to breathe, she was able to do what she wanted to do, enjoy her horses, take care of the kids.
“I like Pete Rose a lot. Pete is a self-made individual, self-made player. Somebody signed him when he was graduated from high school, or he was kicked out, I don’t know if he ever graduated or not. But he was 140 pounds and 5’9” when he got out of high school. Within one year he was what he is today: 190 pounds, six feet tall. He begged and begged, finally the Reds signed him and we never saw such a handsome individual as far as working and setting a goal and getting to it. He didn’t have a lot of talent, but he sure as hell had determination.
“He wore me out. I was coaching the Reds then. We’d get together and I would throw to him an hour or more in the afternoon. He was a switch hitter, so he’d hit from both sides. He’d keep going, one side to the next.
“He came up as a second baseman, and he was a decent second baseman. Then he went to the outfield, made himself an outfielder, worked his ass off playing outfield. In 1976 we got George Foster in the lineup for us and Rose went to third base.
“I wasn’t surprised when he was busted. Pete, he just thought that everything was just going to roll off of him. I’ve known him since he was eight, nine years old. My father-in-law bought him his first glove and shoes so he could play. We went to the same high school together.
“I think, eventually, baseball will have to let him back in.”
“I took over managing Cincinnati in 1982. They called me in and talked to me and said, ‘We’re running into changes here.’ They never did come right out and tell me what kind of changes. They asked me, ‘Would you be interested in managing?’ then, ‘What would I do? How could I improve what we have left of the season?’ I gave them my ideas. And two days later they came back and said they were going to make the change and wanted me to have the ball club.
“All you do is bring a little different atmosphere in, which might add a little hope to something. The ball club was such a good ball club for all those years, and all of a sudden, those big guys are gone. We had to bring in younger guys and some of them weren’t ready to play. We had to struggle like hell with them.
“Cincinnati was a culmination, I guess is the right word, of a lot of hard work. The last half of the season I think we were five games under .500, which wasn’t bad. We brought in some younger players that we felt had a chance and let them play. We brought a couple pitchers in and gave them an opportunity for the rest of the season. We were preparing for ’83.
“Glenda and I took the winter off. The only thing we did with baseball was go to the winter meetings, which was like a six-day vacation. I’d see my old buddies, I was a manager, it was great to walk in like that. All those years of coaching and here I am, all of a sudden, being involved in decision-making, trades, and that type of thing. You feel more...there’s more importance.
“You know, heck, all of a sudden I’ve got a new car to drive, a lot more luxury than I ever had in my life. We had a nice Christmas. Managing wasn’t really that difficult for me, I guess my personality is that way. I didn’t have any problems with anybody.
“You hope that you can stay there quite a while, and I thought I would. That was the first major disappointment in my entire baseball career. When I went in the office that day at the end of the ’83 season, I expected to be rehired for at least a couple of years. We finished last, but we improved the ball club 16 games. We had all these kids ready to go for the next year.
“The season was over on Sunday, and they asked me to come in Tuesday. I thought I was going to get rehired. I wasn’t. It was cold. It was devastating.
“I didn’t think I had a friend in the world when that happened. All of a sudden, every place you’ve gone you’ve succeeded and you’ve got a good feeling about everything you’ve done, there’s never been any negatives, anything at all. You always felt like you were secure because of the effort you put into your job. Then BOOM, your fucking lights have gone out. I didn’t know what the hell was going on. The guy they hired in place of me lasted six weeks. Six weeks!
“I went out and told Glenda. She was waiting on me in the car. She says, ‘I knew a month after you took over the job that you were going to get fired.’ She was around the clubhouse all the time. There was a bunch of politics involved in it. She was more perceptive than I was about it. We went home, the ride home was a 55-mile ride, it seemed like 500.
“It was ridiculous. I mean, it was a royal screwing is what it was. In a lot of cases regardless of how good a job you do, you can get fired. Even more so today with the money. Say a big baseball star doesn’t like so-and-so, well, so-and-so is gone. They’ve got one guy they’re paying $43 million for and they got a manager. Hey, you’re gone.
“Montreal called me and they wanted me to come with them and coach. That was 1984. I was with them two years. I resigned up there. Two years in Montreal was enough. Actually, I didn’t resign, hell, they dumped me, but I already had a job.
“The Braves’ management knew what I’d done in Cincinnati, how I was handling the kids there, and they called me and asked me to coach.
“I got to Atlanta and saw how devastated the organization Was. Productivity was going down, so it was a matter of time before changes had to be made. I also knew that the minor leagues weren’t going to be supplying too many players into the big team because there wasn’t anybody down there, except for a few pitchers at A-level. It was going to take time.
“I coached for the Braves in ’86 and ’87.I took over managing the big club five weeks into the ’88 season. I managed the ball club from ’88 through the first of July ’90, over two years.
“I knew something was going to happen. There was a lot of pressure. It wasn’t put on me so much, it was put on the general manager at the time, the one who fired me.
“I never doubted I wouldn’t get back to the big leagues. It corresponded with my time as a player. There was never any doubt I wouldn’t get back to the bigs. The only time I’ve ever had much doubt in this game as far as myself getting a job was in ’90 after I got fired in Atlanta and I was out that half-season. I wanted to get back in and it was really tough.
“Everything’s voice mail anymore. Nobody’s willing to talk to you eyeball to eyeball. So they say, ‘Leave a message on the phone, we’ll get back to you.’ “In the old days, you’d call them, they’d have to talk to you because they answered the phone. Now it’s like, ‘I’m going to take a half a day to answer him because I’ve got to think about what lie I’m going to tell.’
“It used to be that once you were a manager, you were always a manager. Ten years ago, it was that way. Now, because you’ve got all these ethnic groups in the picture, the owners are going to try and give everybody a chance. That’s why the jobs are getting very scarce. I can understand it to a certain degree, but I spent my entire life giving back what I felt needed to be given back. I’m being pushed aside because we have to take somebody who really doesn’t care to be in the game, who’s never had to go back to the minor leagues and scuffle, restructure their entire financial lives. You know, that bothers me.
“It’s different now. Not that it was all that great when I played, the ownership had so much control. But we didn’t care. We wanted to play the game. We’d argue and fight and we’d ridicule ourselves for signing our contracts because the general manager was a piece of shit and all this. We all related it back to how important it was to play this game and how much we wanted to play it, and we could take this crap in order to play the game.
“That does not exist today.”