The good die young. That
cliche is probably as overworked a
group of words as exists in the English language. Unfortunately, all too
often it is the absolute truth.
A case in point: Fred
Hutchinson. Former manager of the Reds. Dead at the age of 45. Cancer.
"How could a bug, no matter
how vicious, destroy the living tissue of a body and mind as strong as
Fred Hutchinson's when he should have been in the prime of his life?" Si
Burick, sports editor of the
asked in his column the day,
November 12, 1964, Hutch died in Bradenton, Florida.
Everyone, foe and friend
alike, asked that question. You see, Fred Hutchinson was a ballplayer's
ballplayer, a manager's manager.
Hutchinson, one of the few
former pitchers who went on to become a big league manager, was
immensely popular in Cincinnati after he succeeded Mayo Smith in July
1959. Two years later, 1961, he guided the Reds to the National League
pennant, surprising all the experts. During the next three years the Reds were
contenders, losing once by three games and In 1964 by one game on the
final day of the season.
Hutchinson managed the 1964
season knowing full well that cancer had a firm grip on his body and
that he was dying. But he never gave in and seldom said anything about
the terrible pain that consumed his body.
Twice he left the team for
checkups and finally turned the club over to Dick Sisler the final two
and one-half months, although Hutch would be in uniform at the park on
his "good days."
Hutchinson had a famous
temper, and even as he was dying, he spared nothing on an umpire if he
thought the play was called wrong.
As a pitcher with Detroit,
Hutch was known to take out his wrath on water coolers and light bulbs.
He was more restrained as a manager, but there were times when he
couldn't control himself. One night, after the Reds lost a close game to
St. Louis on a ninth-inning home run, Hutch threw a bag of baseballs
through his Crosley Field office window. Afterward he was a bit sheepish
when he had to explain the hole in the window and the splintered glass
to newsmen who descended on his office.
Another time, when the Reds
lost a double-header to the New York Mets at the Polo Grounds, Hutch
boiled. He sat by himself in the dugout for about half an hour. Finally
he called the clubhouse and someone answered.
"Any so-called players still
around?" Hutch asked. The clubhouse man said there still were a few
remaining. "Get 'em out of there. I'm coming in."
It didn't take long for the
place to empty. No one wanted to be around when Hutch roared in. He was
mad - mad at himself, mad at the world, mad at the team. But he didn't
want to say something or do something he later would regret.
Even though he had a
hair-trigger temper, he had the complete respect of the men in the game
- his own players, umpires, rival players and rival managers. He treated
his players the way players thought they should be treated. At the same
time, he could hold a strong rein on them. He was unique in that respect
and that's what made him so great.
Hutch was a pitcher during
his playing career. He once was a Minor League Player of the Year and
went on to pitch for the Detroit Tigers.
When he played, he was just
as fiery as a competitor as he was as a manager. But his bark often was
much worse than his bite.
One particular evening
Hutchinson had been roughed up early and knocked out of the game. He
called his wife Patsy to come pick him up at Briggs Stadium in Detroit.
Mrs. Hutchinson brought along young son Rick, who later would become an
executive with the Milwaukee Brewers, but cautioned the youngster not to
say anything to his father because of the poor outing that night. She
mentioned something about Hutch getting his ears boxed off.
When Hutch got into the car,
the young boy was curious. He looked his father over without saying a
thing. Finally Hutch roared, asking the boy what was wrong.
"Mom said you got your ears
boxed off, and
I just wanted to see what they looked like," the boy said.
Naturally Hutch couldn't be
mad, and they all had a good laugh, as did many of Hutch's players years
later when the story was retold.