Best Cincinnati Reds Ever: Vada Pinson v. Gary Nolan

Apr 4, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Opening Day game balls in the dugout during a game with the Philadelphia Phillies and the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 4, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Opening Day game balls in the dugout during a game with the Philadelphia Phillies and the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports /

First Round Matchup No. 6 Vada Pinson v. No. 11 Gary Nolan


If you were to devise a formula for creating the prototypical outfielder it may look something like Vada Pinson of the Cincinnati Reds. The small lefty had pop in his bat, knew how to get on base, could run the bases once he was there and played strong defense up the middle. Was he ever the strongest, was he ever the fastest? Probably not. But he sure was one heck of a baseball player.

As a 20 year old in 1959, Pinson — in his first full season — made the All-Star team, garnered MVP votes and led all of Major League Baseball in a handful of statistics including doubles and runs. Oh, and he added a .316 batting average and a 20-20 season. He was nearly identical the following season, again an All-Star and receiving MVP votes, Pinson hit .287, had a 20-30 season and once more led the league in doubles. If possible, Pinson one-upped himself as a 22 year old, winning his first and only Gold Glove, finished third in the MVP voting (behind Frank Robinson and Orlando Cepeda, but ahead of players like Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron), hit a robust .343, had 16 home runs, 23 stolen bases and led the league with 208 hits.

Here is an excerpt from the Society for American Baseball Research’s website describing the hype and expectations that surrounded the, at the time, teenager:

"In the spring of 1958, Pinson impressed everyone in the Reds’ spring training camp who saw him play. Timed at 3.3 seconds from home plate to first base, he was compared to Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, and Willie Mays. He had speed, great wrists, exceptional power, great instincts, and he played center field with hustle and grace."

Pinson led the league in hits once more, triples twice, earned MVP votes in two additional seasons and was a 100+ RBI player in two seasons. He finished his 11-year Reds career — his first 11 of 18 seasons in MLB — with a .297/.341/.469 slash line, 186 home runs, 814 RBIs, 221 stolen bases, 342 doubles and 96 triples.

His lethal combination of power, speed and knack for getting on base has him in elite company. As pointed out in a 2012 column on Bleacher Report, Pinson fares quite well when analyzing his career numbers. Here’s an excerpt from that piece:

"Pinson is one of only 10 players with at least 250 home runs and 300 steals; the other nine are Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonds, Eric Davis, Andre Dawson, Steve Finley, Rickie Henderson, Willie Mays, Joe Morgan and Ryne Sandberg.This list of stand-out players can be narrowed even further when you add the limitations of 2,700 hits, 450 doubles and 100 triples.That list would include only two players, Pinson and Mays."

I’m not a Hall of Fame aficionado, but if there is a list that includes you and Willie Mays, that “you” is probably pretty darn good.

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And the underrated outfielder’s first career home run was a grand slam because, why not? Pinson was inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame in 1977, but exhausted his Baseball Hall of Fame eligibility in 1996 after 15 years on the ballot. His percentage of votes increased as the years passed, but he hovered around 10-11 percent in what may be one of the biggest baseball HOF snubs.

Pinson ranks seventh all-time in career hits for the Reds and fifth in both doubles and triples.


Gary Nolan spent 9 1/2 of his 10 major league seasons with the Cincinnati Reds — and held an ERA of 3.56 or better in all nine season, including three sub-3.00 efforts. As a 19 year old in 1967, Nolan finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting while posting a 2.58 ERA, a 14-8 record, tossing eight complete games — five shutouts — and striking out 206 batters in 226 2/3 innings. He led the National League in K/9 that season … yes as a 19 year old.

"“By the end of his stellar first major-league season Nolan had set modern-day records for a pitcher who began the season at the age of 18 or younger with a 14-8 won-lost record, a 2.58 earned-run average, four shutouts, and 206 strikeouts in 226 2/3 innings.” — Gary Nolan’s SABR page."

Four years later he earned Cy Young Award votes — and again two years after that — and made his only All-Star appearance in 1972 when he led the league in winning percentage (.750) with a 15-5 record. He paired his record with a 1.99 ERA — second best in baseball that season — and a 1.006 WHIP.

In 1975 and 76, Nolan led the league in allowing the least amount of walks per nine innings, tossing more than 210 innings each season but never walking more than 29 batters.

However, the likable pitcher began suffering arm and shoulder injuries a few years after his debut. After missing time in two seasons, Nolan was limited to just 10 1/3 innings in 1973 before missing all of — aside from six innings in Triple-A — the 1974 season. Yet he still won 110 games in a 10-year span in which he started just 242 games.

But, proving healthy again in 1975, Nolan was the ace on the back-to-back World Series champion teams in 1975 and 76. He also earned the Hutch Award in ’75, awarded to the player who “best exemplifies the fighting spirit and competitive desire of Fred Hutchinson by persevering through adversity.”

Of Reds players with at least 240 career games started, Nolan ranks second in career ERA with a 3.03 mark and ranks sixth if including all players to have started at least 200 games. His 1.14 WHIP is fourth best in team history.

He was inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame in 1983 after winning division titles five times in a seven-year span from 1970-76.

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