As the decade of the seventies loomed the Reds were once again blessed with numerous assets on the offensive side of the ball, but once again questionable ones on the pitching side. As obvious as this seemed the Reds still had to choose what bait they would dangle to get more pitching into the Cincinnati clubhouse for the 1970 season. The bait they chose was a player of immense talent, and even more immense potential compounding this choice was that the player already was in his 3rd major league organization. The player was outfielder Alex Johnson, a man who was the incoming centerpiece of Howsam’s earlier task as Cardinals GM that involved breaking up of the World Champion 1964 Cardinals infield.
“If you can’t win on this club, forget it. These guys won’t let you lose.”
Wayne Granger on the Reds batters 5-2-1970
Obtained for Bill White and Dick Groat, Johnson never fit into the Cardinals clubhouse or roster, nor did he burst out as a player while in St. Louis. Complicating matters for Howsam was a massive allegiance to former GM Bing Divine within the Cardinals front office. This allegiance made Howsam’s job difficult and eventually after the front office stopped a couple of his deals (which oddly enough both involved Alex Johnson,) Howsam had had enough.
When offered the Reds job he leapt at the opportunity, and when offered Johnson by the Cardinals following the 1967 season he jumped at the to have Alex on his club once again.
Johnson had had a stellar season in 1969 (.315/.350/.463), however his indifference in the field as well as his inability to fit in to what was tight clubhouse made him the odd man out when the off season rolled around. With Bernie Carbo and Hal McCrae both ready to leave the minors and give it a try in the bigs it became apparent that Alex’s best role as a Red was to get them some pitching. Howsam worked a with the California Angels, getting three pitchers in exchange for Alex (who would win the batting title the next year and later create a scene of epic baseball proportions)
The pitching haul was a good one for the Reds and reflective of how undervalued pitching was in those days and how over valued hitting was, this of course is mostly due to the nature of how the game was played in the 60’s as every team seemed to have inadequate hitters and good young pitching. But this era was ending and a new one of increased middle relief and more pliable pitchers was coming into the game and Bob Howsam seemed to be on top of it, making sure one of the returning pitchers was a rubber arm relief prospect, coming to the Reds in the deal were Pedro Borbon, Jim McGlothlin and Vern Geishert.
Other pitching movement that off-season included the trade of George Culver and arriving was 19-year-old rookie Don Gullet, a non-roster invite and the Reds first choice in the 1969 June draft. Gullett had gone 7-2 in Sioux Falls with a 1.87 ERA in 1969, his presence on the team meant that he was the long man out of the bullpen as the season started.
The 1970 season will forever be locked into Reds lore as the year the Big Red Machine finally began to fulfill the promise that many folks had prophesied. This of course will also be marked as the year that the transfer of the Reds home field from the older brick neighborhood of the Westside to the cool grey concrete of astride the lifeblood of the area, the Ohio River.
For the season the splits indicated that the new park would be easier on the pitchers then the hitters, a sign that the Reds front office was not letting slip by them.
That year however the split didn’t matter, after 100 games the Reds were 70-30 and they were not only getting incredible hitting but also their pitching was clicking on all eight cylinders. Leading the pack was rookie and 1967 1st round draft pick Wayne Simpson, who started the season with a 3-1 record, with 2 complete game shutouts. This performance was coming on the heels of a 15-win winter ball season that was highlighted by 9 complete game shutouts (and over 150 innings pitched). In short the starting staff for the team in 1970 looked particularly strong, especially after the Johnson trade.
Crosley .277/.361/.494 Team ERA - 3.70 - 45 Games
Riverfront .277/.340/.431 Team ERA - 3.23 - 36 Games
After the staff (and teams) senior member Jim Maloney ended a lengthy holdout the starting staff looked like this:
The plan was for four to carry the heaviest workload and for the fifth man to spot start throughout the year.
In the bullpen was Wayne Granger as closer fresh off setting the appearance record for pitchers in 1969. Grangers 1969 season is a fine example of what the Reds were able to find as far as bullpen arms go. From 1969-1979 164 relievers had seasons with 8 0 innings and 50 games, 12% of these pitchers were Reds, of the hurlers who logged 100 innings in a season the Reds accounted for 15.4% of them.
In 90 games Granger in 1969 faced 611 batters in 145 innings, that’s an average of 1.6 innings an appearance and 6.7 batters a game. To this day that still is 6th in MLB history as far as games go and as when comparing workload and appearances only Mike Marshall and Kent Tekulve can claim to be Grangers equal.
Joining Granger in the bullpen and rounding off the ten man staff were Clay Carroll, Tony Cloninger, Ray Washburn and Don Gullett. Due to his holdout Maloney wasn’t prepared by the start of the season. Therefore Jim Merritt started opening day and only used 117 pitches to take care of the year old Expos.
GAMES YEAR G IP BFP
Mike Marshall 1974 106 208.1 857
Salomon Torres 2006 94 93.1 411
Kent Tekulve 1979 94 134.1 550
Mike Marshall 1973 92 179 746
Kent Tekulve 1978 91 135 573
Wayne Granger 1969 90 145 611
Mike Marshall 1979 90 142.2 586
Kent Tekulve 1987 90 105 432
Steve Kline 2001 89 75 303
Paul Quantrill 2003 89 77.1 291
Mark Eichhorn 1987 89 127.2 540
Jim Brower 2004 89 93 401
Julian Tavarez 1997 89 88.1 378
For this he heard the accolades of new pitching coach Larry Shepard.
The 1970 season was also highlighted by the arrival of Sparky Anderson and his new coaching staff, amongst these new Reds was Larry Shepard as pitching coach. Sparky allowed Larry free reign on the staff, and Shepard (like Sparky) believed in peak physical health as being the core of the player’s ability to exceed expectations. Shepard also believed that the pitching staff was a unified front and he spent a great deal of time helping to foster a more close knit group of hurlers then prior Reds manager had. This helped with Andersons use of the bullpen, as the staff all understood their role as well as their fellow pitchers role and it was soon noted by the front office and fellow players that rooting for each other had suddenly become a popular trait shared by all the Reds pitchers.
“The guy is amazing, he strikes out 8 and still only needs 117 pitches.”
The young pitchers on the Reds staff were receiving praise from all over baseball. Wayne Simpson was being compared to Bob Gibson and even Bobby Tolan the Reds centerfielder confirmed that from where he stood
Tolan knew too, he had stood behind both in major league contests.
“Simpson looks a lot like Gibson as well”
Meanwhile Don Gullett was impressing new manager Sparky Anderson,
Things were looking up for the Reds, plus the other four pitchers were collectively young.
“For a kid his age, Gullett’s poise is amazing. He just doesn’t scare.”
It seemed that the Reds were in for a long run of pitching dominance, or at least they could say they finally had youth and strong arms on their side. This plus what they believed was a world-class bullpen coupled with hitting that was hard to match, the Reds felt that their time had truly arrived.
Maloney - 29
Merritt - 26
McGlothlin - 26
Nolan - 21
April 16th - Jim Maloney started his second game of the season, in his first game he hadn’t got past the 3rd inning and it looked like his pre-season holdout had left him behind the rest of the staff. In the third inning, batting against Bill Singer, Maloney grounded out to shortstop Maury Wills, accelerating out of the batters box caused Maloney’s right achilles tendon to rupture. This injury essentially ended his season, and his career (though not thought of at the time) it also marked the emergence of Don Gullett, who was called in to replace Maloney and ended up with the win. Increasing the storybook quality of Gullett’s emergence was in his first at bat Gullet walked and stole second, later scoring on a Helms single. His next at bat he would triple off future Red Fred Norman and scored again. With Maloney in the clubhouse nursing his injury many Reds fans didn’t know it was the end of an era, Maloney was the remaining link to the surprise 1961 team. Meanwhile out on the field Gullett was letting the fans know that it was the beginning of another era.
“Plans get you into things, but you got to work your way out”
June 30th - the Reds moved into their new home on the river downtown, it was a much larger ballpark with more outfield area and the turf was much faster, the Reds play there the remaining of 1970 there would dictate what Howsam and his scouts would be valuing in the future when it came to ballplayers. It would focus more speed and defense then Crosley teams ever did however the hand of fate would dictate what would became of their current dream season and their young pitching staff and its bright future.
July 8th- Reds Vs Padres. Ramon Webster singles off righty Jim McGlothlin’s knee, thus forcing McGlothlin to leave the game, a curveball pitcher with a deceptive tailing fastball, McGlothlin was having a breakout year and was 11-4 with a 2.79 era when he was smashed in the knee.
July 31st - Wayne Simpson 14-3 with a 2.95 ERA takes the mound in game one of a doubleheader against the Cubs. In the 3rd inning the heavy workload of the prior years winter league and the half a season he helped carry the Reds finally taxes Simpson’s young arm, taking aim at the shoulder and ripping his rotor cuff in two. Faster then you could say Bob Gibson Simpson’s career was threatened and eventually over, masked in a veil of what if’s.
August 9th - Reds vs Dodgers. After missing a week and a half from his knee injury Jim McGlothlin had returned and was regaining his prior wind when he took the mound against the Dodgers in the second game of a doubleheader. The Reds had lost the first game and McGlothlin was unable to get past the 5th inning, so the bullpen was tired. Also hurting the club was the fact that Clay Carroll was sidelined after being spiked by Maury Wills in the opening game of the series. Struggling to find his command McGlothlin had a bad start giving up 2 runs in the first. It was in the third that he had even more trouble.
DODGERS 3RD: Davis tripled to center; Parker grounded out (second to first) [Davis scored]; Haller doubled to right; Sizemore grounded out (shortstop to first) [Haller to third];McGlothlin threw a wild pitch [Haller scored];Grabarkewitz singled to pitcher; Line drive hit McGlothlin in head, left on stretcher; NORIEGA REPLACED MCGLOTHLIN (PITCHING); Crawford struck out; 2 R, 3 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Reds 1, Dodgers 4.
McGlothlin had another 10 days off and pitched poorly the rest of the month. He did get a start in the World Series and did poorly, as did most of the Reds starters.
Despite these turn of events the Reds lead would sustain them, Jim Merritt would become the first left hander since Eppa Rixey to win 20 games for the Reds and Gary Nolan remerged with a greater sense of what a pitcher must do and a better change up, one that Sparky Anderson claimed was the “best in the league.”
Merritt’s 1970 season is the least impressive season of any of the left handed 20 game winners in Reds history.
After sweeping the Pirates in the Division playoffs the Reds were slammed in the World Series by the Baltimore Orioles, the main culprit?
ERA vs. the league average displayed only--not a sorting criteria
WINS YEAR W L ERA
Elmer Smith 1887 34 17 1.35
Eppa Rixey 1922 25 13 0.56
Noodles Hahn 1902 23 12 1.01
Ted Breitenstein 1897 23 12 0.68
Danny Jackson 1988 23 8 0.73
Noodles Hahn 1899 23 8 1.17
Elmer Smith 1888 22 17 0.32
Noodles Hahn 1903 22 12 0.74
Noodles Hahn 1901 22 19 0.61
Eppa Rixey 1925 21 11 1.38
Slim Sallee 1919 21 7 0.86
Jim Merritt 1970 20 12 -.02
Tom Browning 1985 20 9 0.05
Ted Breitenstein 1898 20 14 0.18
Jake Weimer 1906 20 14 0.42
Eppa Rixey 1923 20 15 1.20
Jim O'Toole 1961 19 9 0.94
Eppa Rixey 1921 19 18 1.00
Dutch Ruether 1919 19 6 1.10
Eppa Rixey 1928 19 18 0.55
Starting pitching. By the end of the year Merritt would be experiencing arm troubles, Simpson would be wearing a sling to limit movement on his aching wing. A fine example of this weakness is found in the series where the starters had a horrible collective ERA (9.15!) and threw less innings then the bullpen, which was stellar all season with Granger again winning the Fireman of the Year Award, pitching 65 less innings then the year before, picking up some of the slack was Carroll who tossed 104 innings. Together they were the best one-two relief tandems in the National League.
In retrospect many would like to hand the Orioles the series based solely on what Brooks Robinson did in the field, but they must have not watched the Reds pitch very closely.
With spring training came the usual pondering of the Reds chances on the mound. Fresh from a satisfying season with a unsatisfying end Anderson had 4 of his starters in mind. All were holdovers from the previous seasons staff and of the starting five only Jim Maloney was no longer a Red, having been dealt to the Angels for pitcher Greg Garrett.
Fighting for the fifth spot was Tony Cloninger, Don Gullett and Milt Wilcox.
The wild cards were Simpson and Merritt and both were fresh off arm injuries and Merritt’s elbow was already swelling on his first trip to the mound that spring, because of this ailment he didn’t pitch an inning all spring. During this Wayne Simpson was vowing to never let his arm get cold again and was boasting of his recent long toss session that involved 250-300 foot throws. In Tampa that spring the senior member of the team’s staff was 23-year-old Gary Nolan who came up in 1967. Nolan who by then was a long time Red who had seen the clubs ups and downs summed up his and the teams situation perfectly when he said,
Despite this the team felt confident that their staff was deeper from 1-10 then they had been in years.
“A lot a guys have come and gone since then, and most of them have been pitchers.”
Every Reds fan knows of the collapse of the 1971 team, the disappointment and the ensuing trades that occurred at the seasons demise. What no longer resonates is the collapse of that season is some of the hope the young pitchers from the prior year had instilled. Jim Merritt lost the first eleven decisions he pitched in 1971, his elbow never returned to normal and he only started one more game for the Reds and was out of the game in 4 years, logging only 200 more innings in the next four seasons. Meanwhile Wayne Simpson was making both the Reds and the fans wondering not just if he’d ever return to the monster he was in early 1970, but if he would ever pitch pain free again. After elbow pain shot up the team pushed him and his 4.77 ERA to the bullpen.
Everyone is a genius at least once a year. The real geniuses simply have their bright ideas closer together.
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
Meanwhile Nolan and McGlothlin (somewhat) fulfilled their end of the bargain, with McGlothlin falling short of 175 innings and Nolan having another fine year (especially after missing most of 1969) logging 250 innings, after losing his fastball as his main pitch Nolan developed a changeup and it was evident that he was beginning to master the strike zone and exhibit the ability to avoid walks that would later be his calling card during the Reds championship years.
With 2 of the 4 mains starters failing that meant that Howsam had to depend on some of the other hurlers he had acquired since he had arrived. But the 1971 Reds were hurting offensively as well and it was at this moment that it was obvious that Howsam had a quick fix in the pitching department but not in the hitting department. First stepping into the fold was 20-year-old Gullett who threw 216 innings and went 16-6 (despite posting his worst K per 9 ratio in his career) also surprising the world and showing up quicker then projected was a 21-year-old legacy player named Ross Grimsley (Ross’s dad Ross Senior, pitched in 7 games for the 1951 White Sox.)
In 1971 for the Reds Grimsley started 26 games, completing 6 of them and this all happened after he started the season 6-0 in Indianapolis. The prior year in Indy he had led the league in ERA (2.73) and had an impressive 7.7 K/9 ratio. A lefthander he threw an array of changeups and other off speed breaking balls.
In retrospect it’s amazing to think of the young hurlers on the Reds in those days. In 1971 the Reds had the following starters 23 and under appear in games.
In just the 21st century here’s the starters 23 and under for the team.
GAMES STARTED GS RSAA
Gary Nolan 35 4
Don Gullett 31 16
Ross Grimsley 26 -5
Wayne Simpson 21 -19
Milt Wilcox 3 0
Greg Garrett 1 2
In 1971 the Reds bullpen proved once again to be a great asset that season. Granger logged 100 innings and Carroll 94. Together with Joe Gibbon (who was closing down his career down as a Red) they combined for 37 saves, good for second in the league (behind the NL Champion Pirates).
GAMES STARTED YEAR GS RSAA
Chris Reitsma 2001 29 -20
Rob Bell 2000 26 0
Elizardo Ramirez 2006 19 -6
Jose Acevedo 2001 18 -12
Brian Reith 2001 8 -16
Josh Hall 2003 5 -6
Elizardo Ramirez 2005 4 -10
Jung Bong 2004 3 -1
Justin Germano 2006 1 0
When the season ended the Reds were 11 games back of first place, yet only 4 games below .500. Howsam knew the team needed to be retooled to fit the faster turf that graced Riverfront and so many other parks around the league, this plus the hope that Bobby Tolan would return from his achilles injury fueled the Reds off-season dreams.
Another need the team longed for as the Reds began their off-season shopping was that Howsam and Sparky wanted another starter, someone that could eat innings along with Nolan and Gullett, someone with more experience then the youngsters that the Reds were peppered with. The previous winter they had actively pursued Sam McDowell of the Indians, only pulling out when the Tribe insisted on the Reds including Lee May in the deal. After the 1971 season the Reds used May to get a starter and more.
Four days later Howsam sent Wayne Granger to the Twins for 24-year-old lefty Tom Hall, 3 days after that he sent minor leaguer Milt Wilcox north to Cleveland for Ted Uhlaender. Going into the Holiday season the Reds staff was now:
November 29, 1971
Traded Lee May, Tommy Helms, and Jimmy Stewart to the Houston Astros. Received Joe Morgan, Denis Menke, Jack Billingham, Cesar Geronimo, and Ed Armbrister
The hope was that the offense would return and that the pitching would stabilize, Billingham made the staff considerably older though, he was a ripe old 29, who only had 569.1 MLB innings under his belt.
The 1972 spring training season was interrupted by a players strike, and the Reds themselves would have to deal with more strife when everything calmed down on the labor front, the honeymoon was over for some of the hurlers and Sparky Anderson as well, the memory of 1971 loomed much larger then the memory of 1970 as far as Sparky was concerned and he intended on reclaiming the title they had lost as quickly as they gained it the prior year.