One of my favorite Reds from the Big Red Machine era was left handed pitcher Fred Norman. The main reason was that Norman was short in stature at 5’8″, 155 pounds. I, too, was among the shorter kids in my grade. To see him throw was always inspiring to me. Thing is, Norman was anything but short when it came to performance for the World Series winning teams from ’75 and ’76, a team some still refer to as one of the greatest teams of all-time.
Norman’s road to Cincinnati was a long one, and it involved a tremendous amount of movement, similar to his screwball. To begin, we have to go back to 1961. Yes, 1961. That was the first season Norman spent in professional baseball as he signed as an amateur free agent with the Kansas City Athletics. Norman would have stints with four other organizations before hitting the Queen City.
In the winter of 1963, Norman was traded by the Athletics to the Chicago Cubs for center fielder Nelson Mathews, who is also the father of pitcher T.J. Mathews. Norman’s time in Chicago was lasted four seasons and saw little, if any, success. He was off to Los Angeles in April of the 1967 season for righty reliever Dick Calmus. Calmus would appear in only one game as a Cub. And Norman would see his time in L.A. be short lived as he was waived in September of 1970.
Considering the landscape of today, Norman’s next team seems a bit ironic as he would be signed off of waivers by the St. Louis Cardinals. Norman would only spend half a season with the Cards as he was shipped to San Diego along with left fielder Leron Lee for a right-handed starter named Al Santorini. Lee would be a role player for the Padres and left the game after the 1976 season. Santorini would be in St. Louis until May of 1973 when he was sent to the Kansas City Royals. He would never see the big leagues again.
Norman’s next move would be to Cincinnati in June of ’73. The Reds sent pitcher Mike Johnson (who pitched in 18 career games), outfielder Gene Locklear (played 5 seasons and never appeared in more than 100 games in a single season), and cash. Looking back, you could say this was a very good deal for the Reds especially when you look at how Norman’s career took off once getting to Cincinnati.
In fact, Norman played for six and a half seasons as a Red compiling an 85-64 record, 3.43 ERA, 1.307 WHIP in 1,315 innings. n 1973, that half season, Norman entered a 1-7 pitcher. At the end of that season, he was 13-13 (12-6 as a Red) and finished 6th in the Cy Young voting, That would be the only time he would receive consideration for the award.
Norman proved his worth even more in those vaunted seasons of 1975 and 1976. In ’75 he appeared in 26 games as a starter and 8 as a reliever going 12-4 (11-4 as a starter) and compiled a 3.73 ERA and a WHIP of 1.314. For the ’76 season, Norman won 12 games once again against 7 losses while starting 24 games. He also posted a 3.09 ERA and a 1.237 WHIP.
After the 1979 season, Norman’s last in a Reds uniform, he would sign as a free agent with the Montreal Expos. After one lackluster season north of the border and prior to the start of the 1981 season, Norman was waived and did not don a big league uniform again.
Considering that Norman’s time in Cincinnati, those Reds teams were all known far more for their offensive prowess, Norman did more than hold his own as an arm (and key cog) for the Big Red Machine and going forward until he left via free agency after the ’79 season. We talk a lot on here and on other sites about those beloved teams of the 70’s. One person who does get overlooked is Fred Norman.
Not to me. He was important as Gary Nolan and Don Gullett.
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