Pride, when it is squelched, can turn to vanity. Self-confidence beaten down can become self-delusion. This spring, the Big Red Machine finds itself tangled in that confusing crisis of self-knowledge.

"Quiet determination," said Manager Sparky Anderson. "That's the way to describe us this spring. Very quiet." That is not so much an observation as an Anderson order.

However, silence is unnatural to the Reds, a team that walks loudly and carries eight swagger sticks.

"On opening day," said Griffey, "we'll have four NL Most Valuable Players on the field and a CyYoung winner on the mound. In addition, we've got two other Gold Glove winners and two other .300 hitters. That adds up to nine.

"We've got so much talent that I've hit .305, .336 and .318 the last three years and nobody knows I'm here. And speaking for myself," Griffey said with a grin, "myself can do the job."

The Reds, at least the eight regular stars plus Seaver, think of themselves at baseball's uncrowned kings. And they have a hard time hiding that thought. Sometimes, they don't even try.

Recently, Philadelphia's Larry Bowa was grumping about the rain in the fourth game of last year's playoff against L.A.

"You wouldn't have had to worry about that if you'd played us," snapped Rose. "We'd have wrapped it up in three."

Rose chuckled at his own story, then added, "I think I made Larry mad."

The Reds make lots of people mad. When the Dodgers knocked off Cincinnati by 10 games in the West last year, they cited among their chief pleasures "finally shutting up the Reds."

Never fear, the Reds still talk a championship game. But they seem more subdued around each other now.

"They know deep down that they're nowhere close to the team that won seven straight in the playoffs and series in "78," said one man who travels with the teams. "They're chastened but they still wont' admit it."

The Reds' public posture is that their miserable pitching of '77 (4.22 ERA - 10th in NL) is cured now that they have Seaver for a full season, and veteran starter Bill Bonham (10-13 in Chicago) to back him up. Are the Reds ready to reclaim their throne? Many think so.

Or is Cincinnati really a nonteam - a collection of nine all stars, three of them aging, and 16 nobodies?

Is it even possible that the Reds - with only one quality starter, almost no bullpen and no depth - are in danger of falling completely out of contention?

No one knows. Certainly not the Reds.

Optimists say that Seaver is the key. Pessimists say Tom Terrific could win 25 and it wouldn't make any difference.

"If he starts his usual 36 games," said Griffey, "we'll win close to 30 of 'em.

"In the clutch, Seaver is just playing catch," marveled Griffey. "He says to the hitter, "I'm throwing it to that guy squatting behind you. You're just in the way.'

"I've been up against him in the playoffs with the bases loaded. All you see is knee-high heat - hard, harder and hardest. He looks you in the eye and blows you away."

After six shutout innings this week, Seaver could only laugh, saying "I'm worried. I shouldn't be this sharp this early. I'm way ahead of schedule."

Seaver isn't the Reds' problem. It's the other nine reprobates that Anderson has to turn the ball over to.

Thursday, the Phils scored 15 runs in the first six innings off the two gentlemen who are supposedly going to shore up the starting and relieving corps, respectively - Bonham and Mario Soto.

"Don't worry. It's only the sixth," yelled a Red fan, his faith unshakable.

The Reds traded for Bonham on Halloween. He'll either be a trick or treat. "He's looked better than Seaver," said Anderson just before the Phils shelled hiM.

"I've never won over 13 games," pointed out Bonham, a UCLA psychology graduate who sometimes seems too easygoing for his profession. "I don't know how good I can be with a great team behind me. I'll be glad to find out."

Many a mediocre pitcher with a career record like Bonham's 53-70 has come to Cincinnati in the last decade expecting transformation. Only one, Jack Billingham for two years, found it.

Behind Seaver and Bonham is an amazing collection of nondescript graybeards and youngsters who can count their career victories on their fingers.

The Reds have been through so many pitchers since the '76 Series that the team plays a disconcerting game called, "Who did we get?" Someone will ask, "who did we get in the Santo Alcala trade?" The usual answer is, "I can't remember," followed by nervous laughs.

"The pitcher always seem to get the blame if the Reds don't win," said 24-year-old Paul Moskau, whose career total of six victories makes him a rock-solid Red starter.

"The opportunity is greaster if you break in with Cincinnati," said Moskau. "But the pressure is also greater because so much is expected of you immediately. Maybe that's why they've had so many young pitchers come and go here."

If any one person is definitely guilty of letting his pride effect his judgment, it is club President Bob Howsam.

After the '76 Series, Howsam made it clear that he thought the Reds were so strong and deep that they could thumb their noses at free agents, discontented players and fat contracts. "We can do it the old-fashioned Reds way," he said, "and still win."

So, the Reds did not reach into their coffee to keep Don Gullett from defecting to the Yankees.

Tony Perez wanted assurances that his job was safe. Otherwise, he wanted to be traded. He was traded.

Relievers Clay Carroll and Rawley Eastwick and starter Gary Nolan negotiated through an agent Howsam said he hated - Jerry Kapstein. All were traded with a return-on-investment of almost nothing.

Right and left, the Reds' front of rather than sacrifice principle, or principal. And the day of reckoning came instantly.

Cincinnatians dutifully swear that the Dodgers simply left their heroes at the gate last April and that's the name of that tune.

Actually, it's only half the tune. On July 9, the Reds trailed L.A. by a surmountable eight games. Thereafter, despite Seuver finishing 13-1 and George Foster hitting 28 of his 52 homers, Cincinnati limped home with a 42-41 record.

Now, a year too late, the Reds are dying to get into the multimillion-dollar-contract game. Vida Blue is pictured in their yearbook with a Reds' cap on.

For the money the Reds were willing to pay Oakland in trade and Blue in contract, they could have come to terms with every dissatisifed Red of '76.

But the commissioner voided the Blue-for-cash-and-bodies deal. So the Reds, despite their change of heart, have no one to cast their money bags in front of.

"You've got to build a reputation to be somebody in this game," said Joe Morgan this week. "But once you've got that rep, you sometimes get more credit than you deserve.'

The Reds still have the glamor, that's certain. When Cincinnati played the Mets this week, the fans in St. Petersburg were even asking for, and getting the autograph of Rose's 8-year-old bat boy son, Pete Jr.

"Whn I came up in the first inning," said Rose, with a grin, "the crowd really started to stir, didn't it? Some of 'em want me to hit a homer. Some want me to strike out. And some want me to break my fool neck. But it's great to hear 'em back there buzzing."

At least for one more season, those future Hall of Famers named Rose, Morgan and Bench will still be close to their prime.

And for at least one more season The Big Red Machine will be worth a loud buzz. Who knows? On days when Seaver pitches, they may be the most gifted and exciting team since the Yankees with Whitey Ford or the Gashouse Gang with Dizzy Dan or the Dodgers with Don Newcombe.

But, oh, on those outer 126 days when Capilla and Hume and Soto and Sarmiento and Murray take the hill, the Reds' pride may end up black and blue.