The Local Boys: Hometown Players for the Cincinnati Reds - Dan Neville
Tue, 04/01/2014 - 16:08 RCN Newsdesk
Next time you go to a Reds home game, take a look at the large wall sculpture near the entrance to Great American Ballpark. It depicts three unidentified ballplayers, towering over the city skyline. In one sense, this represents the way Cincinnati sees their hometown players. Regardless of the team’s performance, this city is perennially unrivaled in the way it champions its players, as mighty heroes, giants among men.
Looking closer at the sculpture, though, it illustrates another distinction the Cincinnati Reds can boast. Just below the three players stands a young boy, donning a baseball cap, resting a bat on his shoulder, gazing off into the distance as the other three players do, dreaming of one day taking the field as a Cincinnati Red.
In fact, while Cincinnati is one of Major League Baseball’s smaller markets, this city has produced a more than its fair share of professional baseball players, many of whom eventually played for the Reds.
In their new book, The Local Boys: Hometown Players for the Cincinnati Reds, authors Joe and Jack Heffron — local boys themselves — tell the stories of the men who achieved the dream depicted in that sculpture, profiling over 100 local players using historical research and, for many, original interviews with the players or surviving family.
The Heffrons feature legends like Pete Rose, Ethan Allen, Don Zimmer, Dave Parker, Buddy Bell, Junior Griffey, and even Charlie “Bushel Basket” Gould, who made the first roster back in 1869.
Now, in an exclusive feature, the publisher has given RCN permission to highlight a few players featured in the book who hailed from Northern Kentucky's river cities.
Major League Career: 1964
Time as a Red: 1964
From: Covington, KY
September 1964. The Reds are battling in a very tight pennant race with the Phillies and the Cardinals. the minor league call-ups arrive from AAA San Diego--a talented bunch that includes Tony Perez, Tommy Helms, Art Shamsky, and a hard-throwing 6'3" right-handed pitcher named Dan Neville. But given the tight race, they see little to no action. Neville doesn't get on the field at all.
"I got to warm up twice," he recalls. "I didn't feel like part of the team. We were in uniform but that was about it." Still, wearing a Reds uniform was a dream come true.
While growing up in Covington, Neville was a baseball--and a Reds--fanatic, he says, and he owned a huge card collection to prove it. "I was completely eaten up with it," he says. His favorite player was Reds third baseman Grady Hatton, who he once approached for an autograph. "He stiffed me and really hurt my feelings," Neville recalls. He ran into his idol years later, while playing at San Diego, and he told Hatton about the incident, giving him a chance to apologize. Hatton responded, "Who gives a shit?" So much for esprit de corps.
Neville attended Covington Catholic High School, and, after a growth spurt in his junior year, he succeeded on the mound. Along with future major leaguers Pete Rose, Ed Brinkman, and Bob Barton, he played summer league select ball on the Eagle Savings Bank team, catching the Reds' attention. He took a scholarship to the University of Kentucky, but quit school after one semester and signed with the Reds in 1960.
In his second year in the minors, he posted a 15-4 record and a 1.94 ERA in 153 innings. The next season, however, a shoulder injury kept him on the bench--or, rather, in the clubhouse. Neville says the organization wanted to release him, but his manager, former Reds hurler Johnny Vander Meer, fought to keep him on the team, even if that required cleaning lockers and shining shoes for his teammates. "I never heard of anybody doing that before, but I was thankful they gave me a chance to hang on," Neville says. By the next season, he could pitch, though he says he never threw free of pain again.
Relying on a fastball/slider combination, he climbed through the system until the call-up to the Reds in September 1964. Though he didn't get into a game, he was sure he'd be back. In 1965, he moved to relief in San Diego after taking a line drive off his knee and spending a month on the disabled list. Short relief suited him, and his late-inning success inspired the local media to nickname him "The Monster." In July, the Reds announced that after San Diego's weekend series in Indianapolis, Neville would head to Cincinnati and join the team. In the series, however, he "was terrible," he says, and the Reds suddenly changed their minds. The second near miss proved to be more than he could stand.
"I just lost it," he says. "I was defeated. To this day, I wish somebody would have dragged me aside and given me a heart to heart." Instead, he began drinking heavily, and when the Reds called him up in September he refused to go, which earned him a trade to the White Sox. He started 22 games in AAA, posting a 3.59 ERA, but he recovered neither his confidence nor desire. The Reds purchased his contract in 1967 but sent him to AA Knoxville, where he recalls, "I drank a ton." Caught in a downward spiral, he didn't seek help or advice. "I was ashamed and wasn't willing to talk about it. I'm not blaming anybody but myself."
When the Reds released him after the season, he returned to Cincinnati with plans to move to Tampa a month later. Through an employment agency he found short term work with Procter and Gamble, where he ended up staying 29 years. Now retired and living in Sharonville, the former baseball card collector gets 20 to 30 requests a year to autograph his one baseball card: a 1965 Topps "Reds Rookie Stars." He still wonders how many more he might have appeared on had he reported that September to the team.
About The Local Boys
Though one of the smaller markets in Major League Baseball, Cincinnati has produced far more than its share of professional baseball players, and many have played, at some point in their careers, for the hometown team. And hometown fans worshipped them. Though nearly 3 million people live in the area, the city retains a certain small-town sense of self. And it holds no one in higher regard than a local boy in a Cincinnati Reds uniform. No dream is better understood -- or held in such esteem -- as hoping to play for the Reds. For proof, note the 50-foot-high bas-relief sculpture on the wall at the entrance to Great American Ball Park. In it, a Cincinnati boy envisions himself among the clouds -- playing ball with the Reds he idolizes. Local Boys tells the story of the men who achieved the dream, profiling over 100 players -- big-name stars and obscure one-inning players alike -- with historical research, for many, original interviews with the player or surviving family members. The profiles go beyond statistics; they bring the players to life through stories that haven't appeared all in one book before.
Photo: Dan Neville/courtesy of NKY Sports Hall of Fame