When we last kicked around the seemingly ever-present thought, “Have the Reds ever had any Pitching?” We were rolling around in the DeWitt/Hutchinson years in the early 1960’s. Seasons that found the Reds hitting feats garnishing most of the press in what in retrospect was largely a pitching era. When the Reds history is examined often the late sixties are glossed over and recede into the shadows of the success of the 1970’s, this is too bad, for those were some interesting teams, flawed at times, but teams that had rich personality and a hunger to feed the fans of Cincinnati a long relished championship.
In 1967 the world of Reds and their fan base changed when Bill DeWitt sold the team to a group of local investors, who hungered to revitalize downtown and the crown jewel was the new stadium that Reds were going to call home. They hired Cardinal General Manager Bob Howsam (fresh from building the new Cardinals stadium up, as well as the Cardinals) to usher in the Reds new stadium, and what many hoped would be an era marked by winning and prosperity.
Unfortunately for Howsam the Reds pitching was in a state of flux, the staff had finished 8th in the 10 man league in runs allowed in 1966 and the 702 runs they gave up was 212 more then the leaders (the Dodgers) gave up that year.
Furthering the problem for the Reds was the sudden departure of four lefthanders from the staff, Joe Nuxhall retired, Jim O’Toole was traded to his home town and the workhorse Billy McCool was now in manager Dave Bristol’s rotation plans, compounding the problem was reliever Ted Davidson’s dilemma. He was in the hospital, having been shot by his wife in a domestic dispute, an action that eventually would prove to be the death knell for his career.
Down south the Braves had waived recent pickup Ted Abernathy, who was only a year removed from winning “The Sporting News Fireman of the Year” award in 1966, and it was hoped that he would sneak through to AAA were he could work on his delivery. Lucky for the Reds the front office was still working despite the impending sale of the club and Abernathy was snatched from the waive wire before Howsam even came on board. By Spring Training it was hoped that Abernathy’s unorthodox submarine approach would help alleviate Davidson’s sudden loss in the middle of the bullpen. Surprising everybody Abernathy ended up winning the fireman award again in 1967 and he became the first Reds pitcher since Ewell Blackwell to lead the team in Win Shares, he also was the first reliever in team’s history to achieve the feat (and since then only Jeff Shaw in 1997 has equaled that particular feat).
Going into the 1967 season the Reds top four starters were as follows:
Manager Dave Bristol endorsed McCool’s conversion to starter, as did pitching coach Mel Harder. Both were confident that his new slider would enable him to succeed in his new role. Lurking in the shadows for the fifth slot were converted outfielder Mel Queen (whose father had pitched for the Yankees and Pirates), and former Cub and Cardinal Ernie Broglio (the man traded for Lou Brock) and 18-year-old first round pick Gary Nolan.
Nolan was the dark horse in the aforementioned group, only a year removed from pitching in the Central Valley of Northern California, Nolan was an enigma, a player who at 18 years old had maturity that far exceeded the average boy his age, or should I say “man”?
Nolan was married and had children (four by age 23), Team star Pete Rose didn’t even have children at this point in his career and he had been in the league for four years.
Bristol’s comments about Nolan that April pretty much summed up the Reds stance on finding arms,
“It’s not what you would expect of an 18 year old, but we need pitching and this boy has pitched like a man who wants a job.”
Therefore it was no surprise when he won the 3rd slot in the rotation, pitching a 7 inning six hitter in the 3rd game of the season, a game that also saw Abernathy garner his 3rd save of the young campaign.
If one aspect of the 1967 season stands out for the Reds it would be the one that highlights the long list of injuries accumulated by the team, Tommy Harpers wrist, Roses shoulder, Deron Johnson’s hammy, Tommy Helm’s toe and the slew of minor ailments hit the pitching pretty hard as well. Maloney experienced shoulder stiffness and missed strings of games equally 12 days and another 10 later in the season, Pappas missed 17 days with a stiff back and a strange wrist ailment sidelined Billy McCool, putting the Reds in scramble mode looking to replace the innings they had hoped he would eat.
By the end of the season Nolan and Pappas would be the only Reds pitchers to top 200 innings pitched, with Maloney and Queen logging 196 each. Queen, the converted outfielder had a 2.76 era and allowed only 155 hits in the 196 innings, making his first appearance of the season the night Maloney first experienced shoulder stiffness.
The loser in this equation was Billy McCool who ended up losing his starting slot to Nolan and his closer role to Abernathy. This was tempered by the emergence of Queen and Nolan; an emergence that eventually helped balance out the disappointment generated by Ellis and McCool, as well the overall health of the team. Because of the pitching staff the Reds were in the hunt for a good portion of the season, losing out to injuries as the heat of summer began to loom daily. They finished 2nd in the league in team ERA (3.05) and also led the league in strikeouts and saves. In the end the staff was a hair better then the 1964 staff, featuring more of a power approach then one that depended on guile, but the main difference was what would mark the Reds during the Howsam era.
They had a superb bullpen.
But every rose has its thorn as CC Deville might tell you, and the Reds were also last in the league in complete games, finishing with one less then San Francisco hurlers Gaylord Perry and Juan Marichal combined.
This was not a worry for the team, as they felt that the 4 starters they had (who were all under the age of 28) would join the Reds always-potent offense as being what the competition worried about. As the season ended the team held high hopes for 1968, but as we so often find out in this game nothing is a sure thing.
By April 13th in 1968 the Reds were once again worrying about the state of their pitching staff.
So much for those aforementioned hopes.
The projected rotation of Maloney, Nolan, Pappas and Queen was one that featured hard throwers, and all could boast of having nice movement on their pitches, many of them however were just fastballs. Maloney who was perhaps the hardest thrower in the league had experienced over his past seasons some shoulder issues. Pappas who had the ability to go to his slider or fastball had a history of back ailments and had cultivated a reputation of a non-finisher around the league. Queen the converted outfielder was strictly a fastball pitcher, a man whose approach to pitching was best described in this quote by him.
“I just went to the mound and threw as hard as I could”
Knowing all this let’s just state again the obvious, nothing is as fragile as the arm of a pitcher in baseball, it’s an unnatural act repeated with extreme levels of stress. Betting on pitching can be (and is) often nothing more then a sucker bet.
By the end of the 1968 season hard throwing Mel Queen would have logged only 18 innings in 5 appearances. Milt Pappas would appear in only 65 innings as a Red and likely incurred as much wrath from Howsam over union issues and player complaints about flying coach as he did the team for not being the dominate hurler they had hoped he would be. It’s possible that the union issues and the need to not see his value plummet any more was what caused him to be jettisoned to Atlanta in exchange for Clay Carroll, Tony Cloninger and shortstop Woody Woodward.
Meanwhile Gary Nolan at age 19 was the Reds pitching hope for the future, and despite this fact they still weren’t able to reel him in Spring Training and force him to pace himself based on their wants and needs, not his. According to trainer Billy Cooper he came on too fast, with too much and by mid April he too showed up in the clubhouse complaining of a sore shoulder. Nolan didn’t appear on the mound that season until the end of May, and in the end only logged 150 innings. Giving that the Reds got only 233 innings from the predicted 1-3 starters it’s a wonder they didn’t finish below .500.
Luckily for the team Howsam had acquired some backup plans in his first full off-season and had obtained hard throwing George Culver for Tommy Harper. Culver fit the Howsam mold, a large man who favored bright colored suits and fancy shoes, Culver leaned on his fastball to make his living and filled in quite adequately, giving the team their first “official” no hitter in 21 years. Unfortunately he also led the league in hit batters (14) and was 3rd in walks allowed. Also in the mix was lefty Gerry Arrigo whom DeWitt had acquired as a situational lefty in 1964 (for Cesar Tovar). Arrigo was pushed into the often-vacant starting spots and ended up starting 31 games, which was a career high for the talented Arrigo, a man more known for his unsmiling nature and untapped potential then his major league success. Alas, both Culver and Arrigo would never top 102 innings in a season again, with Culver missing the beginning of the 1969 season after getting hepatitis.
The pitching instability of the season once again found the Reds struggling to complete games in an era that they were a rather common occurrence. Finishing with only 24 complete games. In this day and age that doesn’t seem bad, but in 1968 this number was 23 complete games below the National League average and next to the White Sox was the lowest number in the game that season. Also by season end the Reds had the worst team ERA in the league, more then half a run worst then the average, a complete turn around from the pitching surprises of the prior season, and a major disappointment to the hungry fans of the Reds. Immediately in November Howsam began to address the problem and turned the Reds shortstop position over to Woody Woodward and traded Leo Cardenas for 25-year-old lefthander Jim Merritt.
Two years into his job a General Manager Bob Howsam was struggling to fix the annual Reds pitching problems. Lucky for him he also had the best young catcher in baseball in Johnny Bench, a man that could make anyone look good. But Bench alone couldn’t fix the staff. There had to be other ways to fix the problem.
In approaching this dilemma Howsam took two paths.
One he chased pitchers. The Reds were rich in the hitting stars and prospects that had signed on during the DeWitt era, Howsam knew that and he set out to use some of those assets to obtain pitching. He traded for Culver, using Tommy Harper, who became expendable when Rose moved to the outfield. He also used their 1st round choice (#8) that summer on Wayne Simpson, and the next year he used the first pick on pitcher Tim Grant (who never made it past class A) and in the second round they drafted pitcher Milt Wilcox. The 1969 Season would also find the Reds participating in the January draft (now defunct) and obtaining Ross Grimsley, a college pitcher with their first pick. Later that summer they used their 1st round pick in the June draft on a lefty high school pitcher named, Don Gullett. Later in the same draft they obtained both Rawley Eastwick and Ken Griffey.
The other approach Howsam took was building a strong bullpen, a faction of the game that years later would become a big part of the Big Red Machines legacy. If one thing can be said about the Reds and the Howsam era it is that they had a long line of steady relievers, men who closed the door from the 6th inning on. In the Pappas trade the Reds obtained Clay Carroll who would go on to pitch over 850 innings through 1975. Also obtained prior to 1969 was Wayne Granger who came over with Bobby Tolan for Vada Pinson, it was on the backs of these two men that the Reds hoped the bullpen could rest in 1969. Which was a year that the Reds and their fans felt would finally be the one that the Reds got over the hump.
“ I just can’t believe we’ll have as many sore arms as we had last year.”
Dave Bristol April 1969
Going into Spring Training in 1969 the Reds starting staff looked like this
In the bullpen they had Jack Fisher, George Culver, Clay Carroll and Wayne Granger and hopes of straightening out Mel Queen (They didn’t)
1969 was the first year of divisional play and the Reds had high hopes that they could take the new Western Division. Once again though the stars refused to align for the Reds pitching core, Maloney started only 4 games in June and July while the prior season pickup Cloninger had a ERA over 9 in his 8 June starts. For the year the Reds could assure the fans that they would do two things on the mound, pitch poorly on the road and under perform as starters. For the season the starting staff had an ERA of 4.24 to the bullpens 3.92, the months of June through August saw the team muster a pitiful run of ERA’s of 5.30, 4.66 and 4.60.
A few of the bright spots that year were Wayne Granger who won The Sporting News Fireman of the year award and appeared in a club record 90 games. Clay Carroll was one of the games hottest pitchers until forced into make spot starts for all the injured hurlers in July, and he appeared in 71 games, paired with Granger the duo formed a solid fallback position and the bullpen was fast becoming the Reds most formidable pitching strength. This was needed especially in the wake of another year that saw Gary Nolan experience more setbacks, but as the season ended hopes again ran high for Reds fans as both Nolan and Maloney overcame their arm miseries and started 12 games each in August and September, finishing up strong and giving the fans something to savor during the cold months of winter.
By the end of the decade the Reds were the only National league team that did not have one pitcher have back-to-back seasons with 30 or more starts in the span of the 67-69 seasons, some teams like the Pirates had 4 starters who achieved the feat twice. Because of this fact the teams end result in the standings wasn’t good enough for Bob Howsam. It was apparent that he was at his first crossroads with the Reds, and a change was needed. Instead of mulling it over for another year he pulled the trigger by letting manager Dave Bristol go and with him went pitching coach Harvey Haddix, whose one-year as a Red coach was only in 1969. In Bristol’s place Howsam hired relatively unknown Sparky Anderson.
This mover was the keystone move for the club celebrating their 100th anniversary of first appearance as Cincinnati’s entry in the world of pro ball, and it truly would usher in a new era for the Reds, a team that was leaving behind their old digs in the West End and moving downtown to the new venue besides the river the next season, a team that was beginning to expect that their time was not just coming, but it was here.
Next – The 70’s