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Mudville: July 19, 2024 7:52 am PDT


If you want to talk baseball, you must talk to Dave Bristol.

The longtime manager and coach will turn 91 in June. He is a baseball joy, still in love with the game so much so that he travels from his home in Andrews, North Carolina to Division II Young Harris College, a 30-minute trip, as often as he can to talk ball with the players and watch them play. Young Harris, a liberal arts school, is where Rockies star Charlie Blackmon played.

It doesn’t hurt either that one of Bristol’s favorite golf courses is near the school because the former infielder still loves to get in a round of golf.

It’s not that Dave Bristol is looking to get out of the house, he just loves baseball. In fact, Bristol told BallNine this week: “I tell people I get homesick going to the mailbox.’’

The man is a baseball treasure and The Story always makes time for baseball treasures.

Bristol managed 11 years in the majors and was the Reds manager just as the Big Red Machine was coming to life. He was a successful manager in the Reds minor league system at a young age – leading multiple clubs to league titles – and in 1966 he was named to the coaching staff of the Reds. He took over for Don Heffner as manager after the Reds got off to a 37-46 start. Bristol’s Reds managed to go 39-38 the rest of the way. Bill DeWitt was the GM.

Bristol at 33 was the youngest manager in the majors – and the climb up the standings at Crosley Field was just beginning because Pete Rose, 25, hit .313 and Tony Perez, 24, was crushing baseballs.

After the season the club was sold and Bob Howsam took over as GM. The farm director was Chief Bender. In that 1967 season a 19-year-old catcher named Johnny Bench got 86 at-bats. Perez hit .290 with 26 home runs and 102 RBIs. Rose batted .301. And the Reds continued to improve under Bristol, winning 87 games.

In 1968, in a 10-team league, the 83-79 Reds led the NL in hitting with a .273 average but there was still work to be done on the pitching side. By the time 1969 rolled around, there were now two six-team divisions in the NL. The 89-73 Reds finished a few games behind Hank Aaron’s Braves as Hammerin’ Hank hit 44 home runs and batted .300.

The Reds, though, were primed for future October success.

When I asked Bristol how his firing happened, he chuckled and said, “Very quickly.

“I was home after the season because we were in the running until the last two days of the season,’’ he explained. “We ended the season in Atlanta. Two of the owners told me I was coming back. You know how everybody goes to the World Series, so I called the traveling secretary to ask, ‘When are we leaving?’”

The traveling secretary said: “Hasn’t Howsam called you?’’

Bob Howsam then got on the phone and told Bristol they were making a change at manager.

Bristol was never one to burn bridges. “I’ve gone back to work for the Reds four different times,’’ he said.

“There will be two buses leaving the hotel for the park tomorrow. The 2 o’clock bus will be for those of you who need extra work. The empty bus will leave at 5 o’clock.’’ 

And that October of 1969, he still went to the World Series and remembers walking down the street in New York with new Reds manager Sparky Anderson. Bristol was 37, Sparky was a year younger. Bristol wanted to help Sparky any way he could and told him: “Hey, you are taking over a good club and they know how to win.’’

Win they did.

“Sparky later told me around the All-Star Game of the next season, ‘You were sure right about that,’’’ Bristol said.

The 1970 Reds won 102 games and went to the World Series, losing to the Orioles. They went to the World Series again in 1972, losing to the dynasty A’s in seven games. In 1973 they made it to the NLCS, losing to the Mets in five games and then in 1975 they finally broke through. The Reds beat the Red Sox in the World Series in seven-games, maybe the best World Series ever. The following year the Big Red Machine swept the mighty Yankees in four games in the World Series.

In 2018, the Reds showed their appreciation for Dave Bristol by putting him in the Reds Hall of Fame, something he is eternally grateful to have experienced, and many of the Big Red Machine players were present at the ceremony. Bristol also was a Reds coach for two of his former players when they were Reds managers: Pete Rose and Tony Perez; more on that later.

After leaving the Reds, Bristol continued to manage and got a job right away, first in Milwaukee for three years. He was hired to manage the Seattle Pilots. This was the first year in Milwaukee for the Brewers after the 1969 expansion team was the Pilots. The Pilots went bankrupt and a new owner purchased the team and moved them to Milwaukee – a fellow named Bud Selig.

Cincinnati Reds manager Dave Bristol (4) talking to players on field during spring training at Al Lopez Field. Tampa, FL 3/1/1967 - 3/31/1967 (Photo by Neil Leifer /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

Then in 1976 he managed Atlanta, owned by Ted Turner, for a couple of years and eventually got to manage the San Francisco Giants. A fiery manager, Bristol was brought into some difficult situations with talent-challenged clubs. One of the great quotes of the game was recently brought to my attention by my friend, Hall of Fame Reds writer Hal McCoy. Bristol, after one of his teams had a particularly miserable game, told his team:

“There will be two buses leaving the hotel for the park tomorrow. The 2 o’clock bus will be for those of you who need extra work. The empty bus will leave at 5 o’clock.’’

The empty bus. Classic.

This was when managers could manage without worrying about hurting any players’ feelings. And as Paul Harvey would say, here is the rest of the story.

“I tell you where I heard that,’’ Bristol told me. “Gene Kirby was the traveling secretary for the Expos and we were sitting on the bus going into New York and he was the one who said it, and I never heard it again until I used it. Kirby would appreciate me using it, I’m not trying to steal his thunder, what a good guy. He was the one who was a broadcaster with Pee Wee Reese and Dizzy Dean on the Saturday afternoon games. He would give them a lot of information.’’

Later Kirby became the traveling secretary of the Expos.

“It’s a good line and it’s the truth too,’’ Bristol added.

Bristol managed in major league cities before they were MLB cities. “I loved managing in San Diego in 1964 and ’65,’’ he said.

He never got to AAA as a player, but he made it as a manager and then up to the big leagues. It was a journey. In 1957 he managed the Hornell Redlegs, a team that had only three pitchers the first three days he managed them. Each pitcher pitched a complete game victory until help arrived.

“Can you believe that,’’ Bristol said. “When you looked at the bullpen there wasn’t anything but benches down there.’’

Dave Bristol was figuring it out as a young manager.

1976: Atlanta Braves manager Dave Bristol milks a cow as part of a pre-game promotion. (Photo via Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

In 1964 for the AAA Padres, who played at Westgate Park, Bristol had a 22-year-old slugger named Tony Perez who hit 34 home runs as the team finished first with a 91-67 record. Another Padre lashed 25 home runs, Art Shamsky. In 1967 Shamsky was traded by the Reds to the Mets for infielder Bob (Rocky) Johnson.

Bristol could see that baseball was changing. “Players could say, ‘Well if I don’t play here I can play somewhere else’ and then it got progressively worse after that.’’

In San Diego was the first time that Bristol ever had a coach as a minor league manager. Back then, being a minor league manager meant you had to be jack of all trades. With the Padres his coach was Whitey Wietelmann, who became a San Diego legend. A former major league infielder with the Boston Bees/Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates, Whitey coached in the minors for 10 years and in the majors for 15 years, 13 for the Padres. Then he worked for the Padres in the clubhouse. When I covered the Padres, Wietelmann still worked for the club and his clubhouse chili was a favorite of all the players in the days before gourmet food was available in every clubhouse. It was Whitey who gave rookie Tony Gwynn the No. 19 Padres uniform and told Gwynn that only a few players had worn that special number so “don’t disgrace it.’’

About 10 years later Tony, who loved Whitey, asked how am I doing?

Whitey responded in his gruff but lovable style: “Yeah kid, you are doing all right.’’

Everyone loved Whitey, who quietly did many good deeds for people. Billy Wietelmann was given the nickname Whitey by his Boston manager, Casey Stengel. Bristol once said of his San Diego first base coach, “He’s one of the finest human beings I have ever met.’’

Whitey passed away in 2002 at the age of 83.

Those are the kind of relationships that Bristol built in the game. He is close to two of my baseball friends, former Reds GM Wayne Krivsky and Flagler coach Dave Barnett. “Two of my favorite people on earth,’’ Bristol told me.

Bristol first met a young infielder named Pete Rose in Macon, Georgia in 1962 when he managed the Peaches. “About 10 of those guys on that Macon club went to the majors,’’ he said.

What was Pete like as a young player?

“Same as always,’’ Bristol said. “Always hustling and being the first one at the ballpark. I remember one time Larry Himes (a future major league GM) was catching and he threw the ball away to second, high and away. Himes would always say to teammates, ‘Can’t someone pick me up.’’’

Milwaukee Brewers manager Dave Bristol (4) taking field during introductions before game vs California Angels at Milwaukee County Stadium. Opening Day. Milwaukee, WI 4/7/1970 (Photo by Heinz Kluetmeier /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

Rose and Tommy Helms showed up the next day on the field before the game with a stepladder, climbed it and said, “Yeah, we can pick you up now.’’

Bristol was on Rose’s coaching staff with the Reds in 1989. “That’s the year he got suspended,’’ Bristol said. “I asked him three or four times, we’d be in the dugout by ourselves and I’d ask him, ‘Did you bet on baseball?’ And he said no every time. But later on I saw him and he admitted it. I wish he had admitted it Day 1. First of all, I wished he had never done it.’’

As for Rose ever making the Hall of Fame, Bristol said, “I don’t think that will ever happen.’’

Bristol still talks to many of his former players, including Pete Rose, Tony Perez and Johnny Bench.

“Perez was the one that kept everything going with that Reds team,’’ Bristol said. “If Joe Morgan showed up on Sunday and said, ‘I don’t want to play,’ Sparky would go tell Tony and he would tell Joe, ‘Get your ass out of that whirlpool you are playing today.’ And he’d play, too.’

“What really turned that team around, I hated to see Tommy Helms and Lee May get traded, but when Joe Morgan joined them that really solidified that lineup,’’ Bristol said. “In ’83 we got Pete Rose, Tony Perez and Joe Morgan in Philadelphia. Joe Morgan got hot in September and put us in the World Series.’’

Bristol became good friends with Morgan, who passed away in 2020. Bristol loves his former Reds and tells this wonderful story about Tony Perez.

“In 1963 in Macon, Perez didn’t get out of Cuba until May, so I’d take him to the ballpark every day and we’d throw batting practice and hit him ground balls, he was playing third base then and the first game we played. He was on first base and Mel Queen hit a ball to right-centerfield that Tony Oliva caught. Perez just kept right on running around second and ran through my stop sign at third. I asked him, ‘What the heck is going on?’ He said, ‘Dave, I’m so happy to be out of Cuba I’d run anywhere’ I’ll never forget that. What a wonderful person, I just talked to him the other day.’’

In addition to his coaching stints in Cincinnati, Bristol also coached in Montreal, Philadelphia and San Francisco. He said Gene Mauch was one of his favorites to talk baseball with through the years. “We spent many hours talking baseball and he wasn’t afraid to do things,’’ Bristol said.

Joe Maddon wrote about Mauch in his recent book and mentioned Mauch’s white loafers.

“I got Joe Maddon’s number and called him and said, ‘You talk about the white loafers Gene wore in spring training, I was with him in New York when he bought 10 pair of them,’’’ Bristol said with a laugh. “Joe is a good manager.’’

(Original Caption) Dave Bristol (second from left) on his tenure with the Braves: “The worst thing that happened was Ted (Turner, left) bought the club in the winter right after I was hired.” (AJC file photo)

Bristol always had a chaw of tobacco in his mouth.

“But I quit that in 1985 and I’m sure glad I did,’’ he said. “One day at third base in San Diego I went to argue with the umpire and swallowed it and that ended the argument.’’

I then asked, “You were the manager in Atlanta when Ted Turner took over as manager?”

“I hate to admit it but, yeah,’’ Bristol said.

The Braves were playing that night in Pittsburgh, May 11, 1977.

“We were in a losing streak,’’ Bristol recalled, “and the general manager came down and said, ‘Ted wants to manage the club.’ I said, ‘Well, get me on the first plane to Chattanooga.’’’

The Braves lost again and the National League put a stop to Captain Outrageous’ managerial career.

I asked Bristol what kind of guy is Ted Turner. “He just burned a different kind of gas than we did,’’ he said.

The other managers that replaced Bristol were pretty good.; Sparky Anderson in Cincinnati, Bobby Cox in Atlanta and Frank Robinson in San Francisco.

Young Harris opens the season next Friday and once the weather warms up Bristol will be at the games. He also remains close to former Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, who pitched 21 years in the majors. “Rick has a cabin in this county and I see him a lot,’’ Bristol said. “We talk pitching all the time. To throw strikes you have to have good mechanics. And Leo Mazzone is good friend of mine and he learned from Johnny Sain and Johnny Sain was my pitching coach in Atlanta one year.’’

Baseball connections galore.

“I’m just reading the Jim Kaat (Good as Gold) book right now and you can’t believe how much credit he gives Johnny Sain,’’ Bristol said. “Johnny prolonged his career.’’

Once Bristol figured out he wasn’t going to make the majors as a player, he went to Plan B to create a career. “I’ve got to find another way so I started managing when I was 23,’’ he said. “Nobody would ever think of that today. I managed every classification back then and in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic and finally got to the Reds in 1966 as a third base coach.’’

There is another baseball book Bristol read recently, a classic.

“I should have read it a long time ago but I just got finished reading The Boys of Summer,’’ Bristol said. “And you know what, in 1989, Roger Kahn came to spring training with the Reds to do a story on Pete and he ran around with us coaches all the time and we’d take him to dinner. He’d be at the ballpark getting quotes and then Pete got in trouble, and he never got to write about Pete. Roger was a super guy, he was just like one of the coaches, he was with us all the time, riding on the bus and everything.’’

Living that baseball life.

“Baseball has always been just so good to me and I love it,’’ Bristol said. “I’ve loved every minute of it.’’

A Baseball Life.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

  • Bill Curtis

    Great article. Dave’s cousin was my neighbor and gave me and a couple of my friends Dave Bristol Louisville Slugger bats when I was a kid. Been a fan ever since.

    February 1, 2024
  • Scott

    Love your article on such a great guy. SABR still doesn’t have the biography on Dave Bristol. If you’re interested you should contact them.
    Thank you again.

    February 2, 2024
  • T

    would like to contact Dave Bristol , knew Dave 1960 and 1961. A great guy, worked out together. saw hdave 20 yrs later in SF. didn’t wont to be traded. so I went home. age 21. Became a sucessful developer, will always love baseball. Once retired at 39. Would like to say hello Dave, enjoyed the good times, Thanks. Ted and Claudia Farley @ Gmail.com

    February 4, 2024
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