View Full Version : Have The Reds Ever had Pitching? Howsam Era-Act 3

03-19-2007, 01:30 PM
Boy’s if you want that game then I suggest you go out and get ‘em 1-2-3, But if you start going 1-2-3..4-5 we’ll see you later and we’ll get somebody who wants to get ‘em out.”

Sparky Anderson on pitching.


This year will always be remembered as the year that began with a lock out, in retrospect it also provides the image of players congregating in Florida, waiting to get on the locked fields. It was obvious to most that the game was entering a new era; one that divided the players from the management in a wider way then ever before. This division was augmented by the fact that managers were no longer players and was not privy to the player association and its meetings with players, events that often took place during Spring Training. This situation set the manager and his staff up as being a faction of the front office, this however was small potatoes when compared to the gap that was beginning to form between Reds manager Sparky Anderson and his pitching staff.

Sparky knew of the discord, but he didn’t care, when confronted with the fact once he used the opportunity to praise pitching coach Larry Shepard:

“In the nine years I was with him, he literally kept the pitching staff away from me and they hated em.”

The first public mumblings concerning Sparky by the Reds starters pitchers likely occurred in the spring of the 1972 season. It begins with two young pitchers and ended with the only 20 game winner the team had in the 1970’s. Each situation speaks a little about the Reds handling of pitchers in that era.

It begins with Wayne Simpson and his attempted climb back to his elite pre injury status, a climb that haunted him since his arm popped in mid 1970. When Simpson arrived in camp that spring he was already anointed as a starter by Sparky, who laid out his possible rotation for the upcoming season as the pitchers first arrived in camp



Post columnist Earl Lawson ventured that the above bullpen would be the best-paid bullpen in baseball.

As camp began the March 25th issue of The Sporting News printed the following regarding Wayne Simpson.

“Wayne’s sharp, he’s throwing with complete freedom, he has greater velocity on his pitches then he did last year.”

Larry Shepard

From Sparky we hear:

“He’s got his confidence back, I’m eager to see him pitch down here, I don’t think you’ll find him favoring anything… his arm or his shoulder.”

Like most things that exited Sparky’s mouth when the Florida sun beat down on his cap this proposed rotation was likely to change, and change it did.

By the end of March Anderson had already settled on his top three starters for the year and they were as follows Nolan, newly acquired Jack Billingham and Don Gullet. Like most good managers Sparky spent hours looking at the schedule ahead and plotted out his starting staff, reassigning guys, moving one here, another there. It was then that Sparky noted that the schedule allowed the team to go with just first three starters for the first month. With that decision came the another one, sending the younger starters down to AAA so they could get actual baseball related work as opposed to getting major league meal money along with chances to shoot a little beaver in-between throwing sessions.

Grimsley and Simpson did not welcome this move, and the beginning of some minor griping was heard and became spring fodder for the press.

“It’s unfair, I thought all I had to do was show up and prove my arm is sound and throw strikes and I did that.”

Simpson went on to complain that Anderson would not guarantee he would be recalled when the month was over, which he was. However, as the season progressed Simpson was given a short leash as he attempted to work his way back into the top of the rotation. After months of up and down appearances it was after his only complete game of the year in early August that he pulled a muscle in his leg and never was the same, his performance was spotty enough that left off the post season roster, he had never regained the velocity he had in 1970, and he still walked a ton of batters, of all the starters in the National League with at least 50 starts from 1970-1972 Simpson had the third worst walk rate at 4.40 walks every 9 innings, that number in itself is second worst amongst Reds starters since the division era.

Worst Walk Rate amongst Reds Starters with 50 starts in the division Era.

1 Bruce Berenyi 4.99 102
2 Wayne Simpson 4.40 69
3 Jimmy Haynes 4.26 56
4 Dave Burba 4.22 69

Simpson returned to Ponce to participate in the winter league and his fate on the team was somewhat telegraphed when Sparky was asked if he had conversed with the disappointed Simpson prior to his departure.

“I can understand his being upset, but I can’t worry about it. No, I didn’t talk to him before he left. Sometimes if you talk to them it just upsets them all the more.”

Right before Christmas Simpson was packaged with Hal McRae and dealt to Kansas City for Richie Scheinblum and Roger Nelson following the 1972 season. Nelson like Wayne was a former number one pick and a hurler who had already experienced arm trouble in his young career.

Also feeling anger at the spring demotion was Ross Grimsley, and it’s with Grimsley we find Sparky’s first problem child. Ross was a legacy player, his father had a had a cup of coffee with the White Sox in the 50’s and Ross was drafted out of college and had the “troublemaker” reputation, undeserved according to Jack Billingham his roommate. This of course wasn’t an unfounded accusation either, when hearing of his demotion the disappointed Grimsley threatened to not make his scheduled start against Detroit in Louisville prior to the opener. The fact remains that Grimsley had not had a stellar spring, he was newly married and pitched a grand total of 14 innings, striking out only 3 in that span. If any aspect of Grimsley’s game didn’t translate in the bigs it was his ability to strike out batters. This was not a problem in 1972, Grimsley eventually like Simpson was recalled and he pitched 197 innings for the Reds that year, second on the team. This however did not alleviate the gap between Ross and Sparky; it would later come to a head when Sparky forced Ross to get a humiliating clubhouse haircut in 1973.

The short shelf life of the Reds starters was best exemplified that spring by the case of Jim Merritt, the only Red to win 20 games in the 1970’s. When the Reds need for a 4th starter and a spot man came up one month into the season Merritt was one of the members of the staff to receive the demotion to Indy. This was after a posting in a local paper showed up on the clubhouse bulletin board. In the article posted Merritt was quoted as saying he would not pitch for the Reds as long as Sparky Anderson was manger of the team.

“I can’t believe I’m through at the age of 28, I don’t think I should have to prove I’m not by pitching in the minors.”

“My house will definitely be up for sale tomorrow.”

GM Bob Howsam told Merritt he tried to trade him, and added that Merritt was welcomed to make a deal if he could.

“It sure would be nice to play for the Angels, It would be equal to getting a pay raise” said the California resident.

Alas dreams are made to be broken and 20 games started in Indianapolis later he ended up property of the Texas Rangers after the 1972 season and got a ringside seat to Whitey Herzog’s managerial debut the next year.

Once again 1972 witnessed the Reds put out another stellar offensive season; this was needed as the Reds starting staff was once again in a state of flux. Ten men started games for the Reds in 1972. Don Gullett missed time with a case of Hepatitis (Shades of George Crowell) Gary Nolan experienced arm wearies and with them came accusations of mental weakness from Anderson (who himself was feeling ill from consuming 15 cups of coffee a day along with too much tobacco) In the end newly acquired Jack Billingham led the team in innings pitched, with 217. This was only good for 19th in the National League and 44th in all of baseball.

Below is the Reds starters that year and their strike ratio vs. the league average

Jack Billingham 31 217.2 0.02
Ross Grimsley 28 197.1 -2.05
Gary Nolan 25 176 -1.05
Wayne Simpson 22 130 -.80
Jim McGlothlin 21 145 -1.37
Don Gullett 16 135 0.75
Tom Hall 7 124 4.08
Pedro Borbon 2 122 -2.11
Jim Merritt 1 8 -1.15
Ed Sprague 1 57 -1.70

Once again though the Reds strength was in their bullpen, gone was Wayne Granger who was traded for the lefty Tom Hall. Hall provided spot starts and saves, going 10-1 with a 2.32 ERA. Also arriving for good that season was Pedro Borbon who provided 122 innings of relief, this would be the first year of six straight years of 120 inning or better outputs from Borbon.

The Reds were last in the league in complete games and first in team saves, 26 above the league average.

1 Cardinals 64 -12
2 Cubs 54 5
3 Dodgers 50 1
4 Giants 44 -7
5 Phillies 43 -15
6 Braves 40 -4
T7 Padres 39 -11
T7 Pirates 39 17
T7 Expos 39 -8
10 Astros 38 0
11 Mets 32 8
12 Reds 25 26

The pattern of riding the bullpen would be a badge that the Anderson regime in Cincinnati would always wear proudly, and it’s likely that the deft handling of the staff by Sparky not only allowed the Reds to succeed in the seventies but it also likely limited the chance that a Reds starter would win 20 games.

But no one had ever said that you could only play winning baseball one way, and in Cincinnati they were forging a new way for winning with a staff that was quality from #1 to # 10.

Dodgers 85 70 .548 50 29 2.78
Pirates 96 59 .619 39 48 2.81
Reds 95 59 .617 25 60 3.21
Cubs 85 70 .548 54 32 3.22
Mets 83 73 .532 32 41 3.27
Cardinals 75 81 .481 64 13 3.42
Expos 70 86 .449 39 23 3.59
Phillies 59 97 .378 43 15 3.67
Giants 69 86 .445 44 23 3.70
Astros 84 69 .549 38 31 3.77
Padres 58 95 .379 39 19 3.78
Braves 70 84 .455 40 27 4.27


“The best team I’ve assembled since I arrived in 1967.”

Bob Howsam Spring 1973

Going into the 1973 season Reds reliever Tom Hall was held high by Sparky,
“Tom might be the most effective pitcher on our staff.” Proclaimed Sparky in February. This statement is a testament to the strikeout, the pitching result that controls the outcome of the game for the defense like no other. Tom Hall was the best strikeout pitcher the Reds had during the Anderson era.

Tom Hall 3.16 8.60 5.45 294
Tom Seaver 2.17 7.41 5.24 425
Fred Norman 1.00 6.18 5.18 1119.2
Pat Zachry 0.71 5.77 5.07 279
Don Gullett 0.57 5.89 5.32 1188
Rawly Eastwick 0.57 5.64 5.07 258.2
Paul Moskau 0.41 5.66 5.25 253
Clay Kirby 0.37 5.47 5.10 342

Unfortunately for Tom he also had a bit of wild in his arm and he never shook that aspect of his game, a tall lean player, skinny as a rope Hall was just part of the transitioning Reds bullpen of 1973.

Below is the Reds 1973 Bullpens Runs Saved Against The Average (of the league)

Pedro Borbon 16 121 0
Dick Baney 2 31 1
Tom Hall -1 104 7
Clay Carroll -3 93 5
Dave Tomlin -5 27.2 0
Ed Sprague -8 38.2 0

Clay Carroll has a rare off year that found him making spot starts and still not pitching 100 innings. With Borbon left holding the bag the bullpen dropped its total number of saves while the starting staff raised their complete game total, a lofty feat after the shambles of the starting staff in 1972. In comparison the 1973 staff was very stable, with a steady quartet of starters, of course this wouldn’t be Reds baseball if it didn’t come with a twist.

When newly acquired Roger Nelson experienced command issues and then arm issues, between he and 5 other Reds pitchers they started 32 games. The remainder was spread out amongst Billingham, Grimsley, Gullett and newly acquired Fred Norman. The first three all topped 228 innings with Billingham pitching 293 innings, which was (and still is) the most by a Reds hurler since Bucky Walters threw 302 in 1941.

Fred Norman was acquired when it was apparent Nelson would not give the team what they needed. A screwball pitcher in his youth, he had been originally property of the A’s and then the Cubs, L.A., St Louis and then the Padres. The Reds uniform he put on was is 16th in his long career. While in the Cubs organization Norman was forbidden to throw his screwball, by the time he ended up in the Dodgers organization he picked it up again, later as a Padre Roger Craig helped him refine it and when he came to the Reds it was his bread and butter pitch. Meanwhile staff veteran Gary Nolan was once again out with arm maladies, Nolan would make two starts and not appear at all in 1974.

The Top four starters in 1973

1 Jack Billingham 293.1 0.63 40 -.65
2 Ross Grimsley 242.1 0.44 36 -2.07
3 Don Gullett 228 0.16 30 0.63
4 Fred Norman 166.1 0.37 24 0.65

Billingham’s forty starts were the 3rd most in modern franchise history, stuck behind the 42 that Noodles Hahn, Pete Schneider and Fred Toney started back before the live ball.

Despite once again arriving in the playoffs with better then average pitching the Reds failed to capitalize on the opportunity and they fell to the Mets in the playoffs.

When the season was over Nelson had his elbow opened up and Nolan began to have his shoulder probed with what was only described as an “Electric Needle” with this in mind Howsam pulled a deal ridding the club of problem child Bobby Tolan and receiving in return 25 year old Clay Kirby, a fastball pitcher who fit the standard Howsam pitching mold to the T.

“I can’t say why, but I kind of expected to be traded.”

Ross Grimsley.

In December of 1974 The Reds traded Ross Grimsley to the Orioles for Merv Rettemund, the trade was about getting some right handed hitting and also taking manager Sparky Anderson’s advice and getting rid of Ross. Despite Grimsley’s success in winning games after he left the Reds he was never a dominate pitcher, he struck out way less batters then the league average and he gave up about 1 hit an inning, and had trouble with relinquishing the long ball. Pitchers like that are hoisted on the shoulders of their defense, and if they are trouble in the clubhouse they can be replaced. That’s the message I receive in the Grimsley trade, that and don’t mess with Sparky Anderson… It’s not hard to notice that both Grimsley and Tolan had shown disdain for the Reds hair policy in their time with the team and in their departure we see a little of what happens when that occurs.


I’ll keep it short and sweet, once again a touch better the league in ERA, #1 in Saves and near the bottom in complete games.

The Reds 1974 season was similar to the 1973 season with Clay Kirby taking the starts that Grimsley had covered and Nelson and Nolan not factoring in. Clay Carroll rebounded and Gullet, Kirby and Billingham all had 35 starts with Norman logging 26. The real story of the season was the Dodgers who won 102 games and left the Reds with their 98 games sitting out the post season. Showing up that year was Will McEnaney, Pat Darcy and Rawley Eastwick. Aside from the injured Gary Nolan every pitcher from the 1975 team appeared on the mound for the team during the 1974 season.

The stones were in place and the disappointment of the 98 win second place season was fresh in the teams mind as they went home that winter. Fresh in the mind of most of baseball was how the Reds despite not having world beating pitching had just had completed a three year run that boasted a .611 winning percentage.

0.23 3.36 3.59 0.50 -.26 .611

03-20-2007, 06:11 AM
Great stuff as usual.
A few thoughts......while Merritt, Grimsley, Simpson--and later Nolan and Billingham--would all complain about how Sparky didn't use them properly or give them enough chances, for the most part they were very ineffective once they left the Reds. Grimsley was the exception, as he had a couple of good seasons after he left Cincinnati, but Simpson did nothing, and Merritt really was through at age 28.
The trade of Grimsley may have cost the Reds the 1974 NL West title.
Billingham was great in 1973, but I wonder if his workload of pitching 293 innings and making 40 starts contributed to his inability to ever again be as effective. While he won 19 games in both 1973 and 1974, along with 15 in 1975, leading or tying for the team lead in wins each season, I can recall that Billingham was not very good down the stretch in '74, and he was not nearly as strong throughout '74 and '75 as he had been in '73. Maybe '73 was just his career year, but I believe his heavy workload that season may have haunted the Reds after that.
Gullett had a heavy workload at a very young age, which may have factored into his later arm woes and inability to stay healthy. The Reds made heavy use of all of their young arms--Gullett, Grimsley, Simpson, Nolan.
It's great to recall an era when every season the Reds had a deep and effective bullpen. I kind of took that granted until recent seasons.

03-20-2007, 08:06 AM
Thanks, westofyou. Great stuff, and just as I remember! The Reds had a knack for getting the most out of some pretty regular pitching talent in the 70's. Gullett was exceptional and the exception. Nolan and Simpson would have been had they not been injured so early. Guys like Merritt, Billingham and Norman got the most out of their ability during that period. As a group, they were pretty darn good. :beerme:

Roy Tucker
03-20-2007, 09:14 AM
I remember Fred Norman as a Reds killer par excellence in those days of the Reds in the NL West. Nearly Glavine/Oswalt levels.

I recall discussion at the time that the Reds acquired him, if for nothing else, to get him out of our hair and quit beating our brains out.

03-20-2007, 10:27 AM
What about 1976?

Tony Cloninger
03-20-2007, 10:35 AM
Billingham had a chance in 193 to win 20 games about 2-3 times and 1974 about 5 times.

He just seemed to start fast and then really hit a wall by August/Sept.

This happened mainly in 1973-74. In 1975 and '76 he sarted to hit a wall by the middle of the year and by 1977......he would have these Milton like games with an occasional shutout.