In this week’s edition of “Conversations with Clayton,” I interview Chris Garber and Chad Dotson, the co-authors of The Big 50: Cincinnati Reds: The Men and Moments that Made the Cincinnati Reds.
We discuss the book, their experiences as Cincinnati Reds fans and their greatest moments as sports video game players.
Clayton Trutor (CT): How did you get the idea for the book?
Chris Garber (CG): Chad and I conceived of the book back in 2005. At the time, the focus was going to be slightly different — the 50 greatest games in Reds history — but the general subject matter and approach was very similar. We wanted to take a fresh look at the key figures and moments in Reds history, both introducing new stories and telling well-known stories in novel ways. While no publisher was interested in our 2005 proposal, Chad’s growing profile in baseball journalism made it easier when we revived the book a decade later. We ended up working with Triumph Books, the preeminent sports publisher in America.
CT: What thing that you learned while researching the book surprised you the most?
Chad Dotson (CD): So much has been written about certain men and moments in Reds history: Big Red Machine, the 1990 Reds, Pete Rose, etc. What surprised me the most about the research process was that there were so many fun stories that hadn’t been published or publicized before. We tried really hard to find fun stuff that even the most hardcore fans wouldn’t know about their favorite teams and players, and I think we accomplished that goal. The readers will have to let us know.
CG: My favorite was the story of Jimmie Wilson. Wilson played in one of the earliest semi-pro soccer leagues in America (1919), then moved on to a long career as a catcher in the National League. He served as player-manager for the Phillies in the mid-30s — he was the guy who converted Bucky Walters from a bad third baseman into a Hall of Fame-caliber pitcher. By 1939, Wilson was a coach on the Reds staff, and in 1940, he had one of the most amazing “do it all” years in baseball history. When the NL failed to schedule umpires for a makeup game, Wilson stepped up to umpire first base. And in August, after backup catcher Willard Hershberger’s tragic death, Wilson (at age 40) rejoined the active roster. After Ernie Lombardi’s injury, Wilson became the Reds everyday catcher down the stretch — the team went 12-3 in games Wilson played. In the 1940 World Series, Wilson hit .353 and sacrificed the series-winning run to third base in game seven.
CT: Besides the Big Red Machine, what are your favorite eras of Cincinnati Reds baseball?
CG: I guess I’m obligated to say the 1990 Wire-to-Wire Reds, since that was the only Cincinnati championship that I was able to experience, and I definitely love that team. But I really enjoyed getting to know the 1939-1940 “Jungle Cat” Reds throughout the process of researching and writing this book. That’s a team that Reds fans need to learn more about, as it’s an important era in this franchise’s history.
CD: My answer is the same as Chad’s on this one.
CT: Crosley Field, Riverfront Stadium or The Great American Ballpark?
CG: Gotta say Riverfront Stadium, since that’s the stadium I grew up with. I loved everything about that concrete monstrosity. But it’s time that we acknowledge the fact that Great American Ball Park is one of the great stadiums in all of baseball. I’ve been to a bunch of stadiums in my life, and GABP compares favorably with pretty much all of them. It’s criminally underrated, and the Reds do a great job every single year of improving the ballpark experience.
CD: I never saw Crosley. Riverfront has a special, irrational place in my heart. But GABP is an exceptional place to see a ballgame, especially for a family.
CT: Describe the first Cincinnati Reds game you ever attended.
CG: Oh no, you shouldn’t have asked this (Chris tires of hearing this story). Growing up, I knew Johnny Bench was a big star, but for a while, I had no idea that he had been a catcher. He played third base for the Reds at that time, after all. When young Chad arrived at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium for the first time, on May 28, 1983, I discovered that Wayne Krenchicki was starting at third for the Redlegs that day. I may never recover from that disappointment. I know I’ll never forgive Krenchicki.
CD: I love that story. I don’t recall the exact game, but it was in the late 1970s. My sole — but incredibly vivid — memory is of walking through the gates and glimpsing the glow of the Riverfront astroturf. That color — greener than any naturally-occurring green — mesmerized me. Then I saw the Reds, warming up in their crisp white uniforms. We now know that all of that was intentional — Reds GM Bob Howsam saw baseball first as family entertainment, and ensured that both the stage and players were arranged accordingly.
CT: Who were your favorite Reds players growing up?
CD: Like every other kid in the tri-state, I was a Pete Rose disciple. I crouched like Pete, hustled like Pete, knocked my helmet off like Pete and fought to wear No. 14 in tee ball. I won’t spoil it, but my own personal Pete story appears in chapter 26 of the book.
CG: Mario Soto was the first player that I loved as a child (I was a Bench fan only because all the adults told me I had to be). Ever since, only two players have surpassed Soto in my personal estimation: Barry Larkin and Adam Dunn. But I’ll never forget the joy of seeing Mario Soto on the cover of The Sporting News (remember TSN?) as an 11-year-old. What a player.
CT: What advice would you give to someone who was considering writing a book about baseball?
CD: Write a good one. In researching The Big 50, we read dozens of books about the Reds, their players and baseball in general. In all honestly, some of them were garbage -- sloppily researched, lazily written and proofread, and clearly unmotivated. It always made me angry, because the subject matter was always interesting -- someone had the opportunity to write something interesting and instead chose to take readers’ money for something less.
CG: Make sure you’re passionate about the subject. Because it requires a lot of work to research and write a book that is different from everything else that’s been published. You have to be dedicated to telling a different story than has been told before.
Also, be persistent and keep working at the craft. It took us the better part of a decade to sign a publishing deal.
CT: How are your Ohio Bobcats going to do this football season?
CG: This question is directed at Chris, but I feel the need to lodge an objection. My alma mater doesn’t have a collegiate football team, as far as I know.
CD: In the four years I was at OU, our football teams won seven games. They lost 36. Then I moved away for 12 years and they somehow transformed into a legitimate football school. But I still have zero expectations. Every fall I’m shocked and thrilled to watch my Bobcats actually compete with real football schools. It’s the greatest thing: If they lose, no big deal. If they win, great. Frank Solich walks on water, as far as I’m concerned.
CT: Describe your greatest sports video game victory.
CD: I peaked in a Tecmo Super Bowl league in 1992. I was the KC Chiefs, with Christian Okoye, Derrick Thomas, Steve DeBerg and Robb Thomas.
CG: Once, I won the Champions League with Tottenham Hotspur in a FIFA game. Which, if you’re a Spurs fan, you know is completely ludicrous.
CT: When you hear the word “Cincinnati,” you think of _____________
CG: ”Reds,” of course This team is woven into the DNA of this city, and they always will be. Of course, if they lose 90+ games again next season, I may have to reevaluate this answer.
Go Buy The Big 50: Cincinnati Reds: The Men and Moments that Made the Cincinnati Reds. Right Now.
Follow Chad Dotson on Twitter: @dotsonc
Follow Chris Garber on Twitter: @cgarber8
For more of the same, follow me on Twitter too: @ClaytonTrutor