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Looking Back: Jim Maloney Was A Nashville Vol

April 30, 2012
When former Nashville Vols and Cincinnati pitcher Jim Maloney graduated from his high school, every major team was interested in his talent. In any event, Maloney's baseball career would continue as he had baseball scholarship offers from colleges including Stanford University.

"There were 16 major league teams that talked to my dad the night I graduated from high school," Maloney said recently from his Fresno, Cailf. home. "There were only 16 teams in the major leagues at time. There were eight in the American and eight in the National Leagues. My dad was sort of my agent. He was a successful business guy as a used car dealer and had his own business for forty years in Fresno.

"They were offering money in the range of $40,000 to $50,000. My dad said I was worth more money so I didn't sign. I had a scholarship offer to Stanford, but my grades weren't quite good enough. They wanted me to go to a junior college, but my dad liked the coach at Cal-George Wolfman. I ended up going to Berkeley. I had a hard time there. I was in a fraternity and there were lots of stuff going on. At the end of one semester I figured I'd better go home. So I went to Fresno City College."

Maloney was born in Fresno, on June 2, 1940. While his college baseball career was interrupted, major leagues scouts kept an interest in Maloney. His high school team had been loaded with baseball talent and Maloney was not necessarily the top focus.

"Bobby Maddox was the head scout for the Reds," said Maloney. "He had signed guys like Frank Robinson and Vada Pinson on the West Coast. He had signed several players that went on to the big leagues and played very well. They didn't offer me enough money the night I graduated from high school, which is what my dad thought. I would have signed for a Hershey bar. But my dad said no, that I was worth more money.

"I could have signed as an infielder or pitcher. Some teams wanted me to go as an infielder. I played shortstop in high school and rarely pitched. We had two other pitchers; one was Dick Ellsworth who played for the Cubs for about 11 years in the big leagues. We had a couple of pitchers that signed pro contracts, but hurt their arms. They had a chance to make it to the big leagues also. I just played shortstop in the summer in American Legion. We had three games over the weekend. I'd pitch the third game. Cincinnati wanted me as a pitcher and they pursued me as a pitcher."

In those days there was not a major league draft to select the amateur players across the country. Though salaries were comparatively low to today's players, finances could be enhanced with signing bonuses.

"The players had a little wedge, of course," Maloney said. "We didn't know how much different guys were getting. A lot of teams were offering me a bonus and a major league contract. I had just started at Fresno City College when Bobby Maddox sneaked into town. We had only played a couple of games. He told my dad the Reds had the money and he was to sign the boy, and get him out of there.

"We went down to Hotel California in Fresno. He had a room down there so we ended up signing. I got a bonus and a major league contract. I never had a minor league contract. In those days the minimum salary was $7,000, and the Reds offered me a major league contract for three years at $10,000 a year. I was going to make more than the minimum salary for three years and they gave me a bonus. The whole thing was worth about a hundred grand. That was good money in 1959."

Maloney, 71, signed on April Fools Day in 1959 and was sent to Tampa to briefly work out with the Reds who were near the end of spring training. Thereafter he was sent to Topeka, Kansas a Class B club in the Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa League (Three-I League). Maloney's manager in Topeka was Johnny Vander Meer of back-to back no-hitter fame. The right-hander had been impressed with the company he kept while in the Reds camp.

"When I went into the clubhouse there are the guys that I'd read about in the sports magazines," said Maloney. "There was Frank Robinson, Gus Bell, Wally Post, Vada Pinson, Ed Bailey, Roy McMillan, Ted Kluszewski and some big guys. When I came up in spring training Gus Bell and Wally Post took me under their wing. They told me to follow what they did, and to keep my mouth shut. It was like a fraternity hazing deal. I was in awe, took direction and shut up."

In Topeka, Maloney appeared in 25 games (14 starts) with a record of 6-7 with a 4.50 ERA. Maloney pitched in 124 innings. In 1960, after spending three weeks in Cincinnati's spring camp, Maloney was optioned to Double-A Nashville. The Vols were members of the Southern Association. The Reds wanted Maloney to work with Jim Turner the Vols' manager. Turner was a native Nashvillian and a pitching coach for the Reds.

"When I was in Nashville, I lived at the Noel Hotel," said Maloney. "I didn't have a car, but there was another guy living at the hotel who was a veteran player. He had a car and we'd drive together to the Sulphur Dell ballpark. John Edwards [Vols catcher] became a very good friend of mine. He caught a lot of my games and two of my no-hitters in the big leagues.

"He and I were rookies in Nashville. He came from Visalia [California League] and I came form Topeka so we didn't really know each other before then. Turner wanted us together so we were roommates. John and I became very close friends. He was the best man in my wedding when I got married in 1961. We were like brothers. Some of the other fellows on the team were Cliff Cook our third baseman, Phil Shartzer played second base and Chuck Coles was our first baseman."

Maloney immediately became the ace of the Nashville staff and by mid-July Maloney was 14-5. Maloney credits Turner and his teammates with his early success on the pitching mound and enjoying life in Nashville.

"I didn't know it, but the year before I had been tipping my pitches," Maloney said. "Turner noticed it in spring training. I changed my windup a little bit to where nobody could read my pitches. I started out and won the first three ball games and began to get confidence. It seemed like when I pitched, we scored a few runs and had a little luck that way.

"I really enjoyed the short time I was in Nashville. The people were friendly to me. I liked country western music. We played a lot of doubleheaders on Sundays so we played Saturday afternoon games. A few times I was invited to the Ryman Auditorium and would go backstage to be introduced to the country western stars. Eddie Arnold was part owner of the Vols. I was like a big kid just eating it all up."

The year 1960 was an era of segregation in the South. Nashville was not immune to this unfortunate period in our history. The racial barrier in major league baseball had been broken in 1947 with the arrival of Brooklyn Dodgers' first baseman Jackie Robinson. It had been a long period when the Southern Association caught up with the major leagues on placing blacks on team rosters.

"The year before they integrated the league with black ball players," said Maloney "Every team had to have two black players on it. Being from California I didn't know what segregation was. When I flew to Tampa I was looking for Frank Robinson at the hotel to talk to him and pick his brain. He wasn't staying in our hotel. He was with the other blacks staying in a different place. In Nashville we had two black players one was named Ultus Alvarez. They were Cuban.

"There were many times after a game we'd go to a restaurant. Turner would go in and say we're the baseball Vols and need to eat dinner, and we have two black players. Many times they would say no and to get back on the bus. We would get box lunches, chicken in a box, and we'd all eat together on the bus. We did that a lot. I had never seen that done before since I was from California. That's the way we were as a team. We played and we ate together. We did it as one."

The Vols home ballpark was Sulphur Dell located in north Nashville near downtown and bordered by Fourth Ave., Fifth Ave., and Jackson St. Overshadowing the ballpark was the State Capitol Building atop of Capitol Hill. Sulphur Dell had strange dimensions due to the shape of the city block. The outfield dimensions were left field, 334 feet; center field, 421 feet and right field was only 262 feet.

The distance from the grandstands to first base was only 42 feet, and to third base 26 feet. The playing surface was below street level causing the field to flood constantly with the nearby Cumberland River. There was an embankment around the entire outfield that was part of the playing field. The right field embankment began at 224 feet from home plate, rising at a 45-degree angle and ending at 262 feet. If the right fielder were standing at the base of the fence he would be 23 feet above the infield. On top of the short right file fence was a 25-foot screen.

"That was quite a ballpark," said Maloney. "You turned around and looked at your right fielder who seemed to be 100 feet up in the air back of the second baseman. Pitching-wise I don't think it made any difference. I pitched in Wrigley Field with the wind blowing out. Being right or left-handed you just had to pitch your game. There were some balls that were line drives to right field that would have been out of any other ballpark except for Sulphur Dell.

"It would hit that high fence or screen. The right fielder would catch up to it and if the base runner wasn't fast, he'd be held to a single. It all evened out. I remember Edwards hit two balls that would have been out at any other park, but it hit the top of the screen and drop down to the right fielder standing on the hill. Second base wasn't very far from right field. You just pitched your own game. You can get the out with 250-foot fences and get them out with 350-foot fences. What happened to one team happened to the other. The governor [Buford Ellington] used to come down there for a lot of games. He'd be sitting near our dugout and we'd talk to him while waiting in the on deck circle."

Maloney was just 20 years old while pitching in Nashville. He was learning as a pitcher, but had natural ability. His concentration on being a pitcher and not a thrower enabled Maloney to become a successful major league pitcher.

"I threw a fastball, curve and a change-up," said Maloney. "My change-up was mediocre. I sure would like to have learned how to throw that full circle change that they throw today. I didn't know anything about it. Turner had me change off the curve ball. I threw a real hard curveball that was maybe three-quarters speed that acted like a change-up. That helped me. I used that in the big leagues. They did not have a speed gun in those days, but I'd say I was pitching close to 100 miles per hour on my fastball."

One aspect of baseball that officials will not tolerate is gambling. You did not have to be a bookie or professional gambler to bet on games or involve innocent players.

"I was staying at the hotel and they were taking care of my cleaning, "Maloney said. "They'd do my cleaning and never charged me for that. When I'd leave the hotel the bellhops would ask, 'how are you feeling today? You doing okay?' I'd say, 'yeah, I feel fine.' I didn't think anything was wrong since I was green behind the ears. I'd go down and pitch a game and win. The next day I'd comeback and the bellhops would ask if I needed any pants or clothes pressed. I'd say nope. They were shining my shoes for free. Then Turner told me I needed to watch out that a lot of those gamblers were down there hanging around the hotel trying to find information. I guess they won a lot of money off me."

Maloney was called up in July to join the Reds. His record at that point was 14-5 with a 2.80 ERA. Maloney appeared in 22 games (21 starts) in 161 innings pitched with three shutouts. He also helped himself at the plate batting .255 (14-for-55) with no home runs, one triple and eight RBIs. Maloney was also used as a pinch hitter.

"I was caught off guard," Maloney said about joining Cincinnati. "I pitched a game in Chattanooga a couple of weeks before I got called up. Gabe Paul was the general manager and he was in Chattanooga. I didn't know he was in the stands. I won the game, had a bunch of strikeouts and a couple of hits. After the game, Turner grabbed me and said Gabe wanted to see me. I shook his hand and he said nice job. I said something like I think I'm ready. I was being cocky.

"When I got called up, we were in Little Rock. It was raining and we were in a delay. I wasn't pitching and Turner came over to say you are going to the big leagues. I couldn't believe it. He sat me down and said I needed to pitch the same way I'm doing here. He talked to me like a father and gave me some advice. I came up with Cliff Cook.

Maloney made his major league debut on July 27, 1960 against the Los Angles Dodgers. He pitched seven innings in a 2-0 loss to Don Drysdale. The game was played in the Los Angles Coliseum since Dodger Stadium was under construction. Since the coliseum was not built for baseball, the left field fence was about 200 feet from home plate.

Just over one week later, Maloney would be sitting in Chicago's Wrigley Field's visitor's bullpen enjoying the company of his new teammates. Then former New York Yankee Billy Martin, now with the Reds, put on a show during a plate appearance.

"Fred Hutchinson, our manager, wanted me to sit in the bullpen," said Maloney. "He said if we got ahead with a few runs he'd put me in for an inning. I sat out there and took it all in. In about the fourth or fifth inning, we had a guy named Cal McLish, who was pitching for us. Jim Brewer was pitching for the Cubs.

"We had Billy Martin from the Yankees and he was finishing his career playing second base. My locker was next to Billy. They had the lockers in alphabetical order in the little clubhouse in Wrigley Field. During the game, in his second at-bat, a pitch knocked Martin down. I was sitting out there minding my own business and all of a sudden Martin throws the bat at Brewer. He wheeled the bat where it rolled out to the mound. Brewer picked up the bat to hand it to Brewer and Martin slugged him. Martin and Brewer got into a fight. All the players from both clubs ran onto the field.

"There was a big fight. Brewer got his cheekbone broken. They threw Martin out of the game. After the game, in the clubhouse, the sportswriters were there around my locker talking to Martin. I couldn't get in there. I was just standing back listening to them. One of the writers came into the clubhouse and said, 'hey Billy, Brewer says he is going to sue you for a million dollars for breaking his cheekbone. Martin looked around and said, 'how does he want it, cash or check?'"

Brewer was hospitalized and missed two months of the season. Martin was suspended for five games while Brewer and the Cubs did sue for 1 million dollars. Later the Cubs dropped out of the lawsuit, but Brewer kept pursuing the issue. Eventually a jury awarded Brewer a $10,000 judgment.

Maloney appeared in 11 games that season (10 starts) and was 2-6 with a 4.66 ERA. He collected 48 strikeouts in 63.2 innings pitched. Cincinnati won the National League pennant in 1961 and faced the powerful Yankees in the World Series. New York won the Series, 4 games to 1.

"In 1961, I was a spot starter and a reliever," said Maloney. "I ended up winning six games and lost seven, but we went to the World Series. I was 21 years old and got to pitch in the World Series. In Game Five, Joey Jay started and gave up about five runs and I came in and threw some more gas on the fire. I didn't do very well. I faced Clete Boyer and he hit a double. Hector Lopez was a right-handed hitter and he hit a shot over the second baseman's head that went for a double. I gave up a couple up runs in two-thirds of an inning. I do remember getting Bobby Richardson out."

Maloney was 9-7 with a 3.51 ERA in 22 games (17 starts) for the 1962 Reds. The next season he had a breakout year with a 23-7 record. His stats included a 2.77 ERA in 33 games, all starts in 250.1 innings pitched, six shutouts and totaled 265 strikeouts.

"Toward the end of the 1962 season, I started to really believe in myself and have confidence that I belonged on the major league level," Maloney said. "If I made my pitches, I could get guys out regularly. When I started the 1963 season, I pitched a lot of innings with a lot of strikeouts. I had some shutouts and several low hit games. When I didn't do well my team scored enough runs to offset it and I still got a win. When I didn't get many runs, I kept the other team down. Shut them out or give up one run would be just enough to win a ball game."

Maloney was 15-10 in 1964 and 20-9 for the 1965 season. In the latter season he was 10-4 at the all-star break and selected to participate in "The Mid-Summer Classic." Though this was his first official all-star game, it could be said it was Maloney's second selection. The National League would defeat the AL, 6-5 in Metropolitan Stadium in Minneapolis.

"I didn't do very well in that game," said Maloney. "Harmon Killebrew hit a home run off me. Every time I saw him at card shows and stuff he always had this photo in some book where he was finishing his swing hitting the home run. He'd always say, 'go down there and have that guy sign it. He threw the pitch.' In 1963, I was 12-3 at the all-star break. We were in Houston and Hutch told me I was on the all-star team.

"Now this is in 1963. He said you and Jim O'Toole [former Nashville Vol] have made the all-star team. Houston had a pitcher named Hal Woodeschick who made the all-star team too. I was told they wanted a photo of the three of us. We went out and got our photos done. When I came back into the dugout, Hutch said he'd just received a telephone call. He said there was no representation for the Cubs and they have to take one pitcher. So the Cubs took Larry Jackson. He had losing record and I got bumped off the all-star team. I was on for about two hours then I was off."

Maloney became the ace of the Reds' staff. In 1966-69 his records were 16-8, 15-11, 16-10 and 12-5. He has been considered of the greatest pitchers not to become a Cy Young recipient. He would be overshadowed by the top National League pitchers of the day in Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Don Drysdale and Juan Marichal. From 1963-66 Maloney averaged 19 wins and 235 strikeouts. As a major league career batter Maloney hit .201 (126-for-628) with seven home runs and 53 RBIs.

"I got to pinch hit several times when we ran out of hitters in extra inning ball games," said Maloney. "In one game, somebody got thrown out while I was in the bullpen in Forbes Field. It was the last inning and Hutch called me from the bullpen. I didn't pitch, but finished the game in left field. Bob Skinner hit a line drive out there. I didn't have to move and caught it to end the ball game. As time went on, and you are bunting all the time, you lose your stroke a little bit. I always liked to hit. I won some of my own games with my bat. By being able to swing the bat and to bunt, the manager kept me in there."

In 1970, Sparky Anderson became manager of the Reds, which was the beginning of the "Big Red Machine." The Cincinnati players included Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, Dave Concepcion and Bernie Carbo. Maloney only appeared in seven games with three starts and 16.2 innings pitched.

"I ruptured my Achilles tendon early in the season against the Los Angeles Dodgers," said Maloney. "That was the first year Sparky was there. I was on the disabled list most of that year except for the last month and a half. I had to get back into shape because they were going to win the National League pennant. They didn't get me ready for the World Series so they got somebody else. I never won another game and had just turned 30 years old."

In 1971, Maloney was pitching for the California Angeles. That season he only pitched in 30.1 innings and was 0-3 with 13 appearances and four starts. Maloney's ERA was 5.04. His career was nearly over.

"I was a fifth starter for the Angles," said Maloney. "I started well in the spring. I was getting over that injury and starting to throw well. Then all of a sudden I was having problems with my groin that set me back a week. Then I pulled a hamstring in my leg. I never had problems with my legs. It just seemed like I couldn't stay healthy. I will say one thing about the Angels and owner Gene Autry; they should have released me in the middle of the year. But they kept me the whole year. I was on the disabled list most of it. They paid me and didn't have to since I wasn't holding up my end of the bargain.

"Then the next year [1972] I hooked up with St. Louis and went to spring training. I was doing okay, but it was questionable whether I was going to make the club or not. That was the year of a baseball strike. Everybody voted to strike so we got out of St. Petersburg and went home. The Cardinals said I was on the bubble and they released me. That was it. I went to San Francisco's Triple-A club in Phoenix and for the first month I won five games, but I wasn't throwing the ball right. I told Jim Davenport, the manager, that if they weren't going to bring me up I wasn't going to waste my time. He said no so that was it. I retired."

A highlight for any pitcher is pitching a no-hitter. Maloney had three such games in his career, but one was taken away from him many years later. Major League baseball formed a committee several years ago to renew and establish scoring rules, in particularly the definition of a no-hitter. If a pitcher tossed a nine-inning no-hitter and lost it in extra innings, it was not considered a no-hitter. Maloney's first hitless game occurred against the New York Mets in June 1965.

"That was probably one of the best games I had stat-wise ever," said Maloney. "I had 18 strikeouts. I was sitting on the bench after nine innings with a no-hitter and in the 10th inning I shut them out. Then I go out in the 11th inning and Johnny Lewis hit a home run off me and we got beat 1-0. They counted it as a 10-inning no-hitter for a long time or that would have been my third no-hitter. Two months later I am in Chicago in Wrigley Field and it is the same deal. I've got a no-hitter going, but it is an entirely different no-hitter. I was wild; guys weren't hanging in there with me. They weren't hitting the ball at all. I struck out some guys. I hit some guys. I walked some guys.

"I'm sitting on the bench after nine innings and I've got a no-hitter. I'm thinking to myself that in two months I've pitched two no-hit games in 10 innings. This is a rough league. I could pitch two 10 inning no-hitters and get beat in both games. As it turned out Leo Cardenas hit a home run in the top of the 10th inning when I was in the on deck circle. He hit the foul pole down the left field line for a home run. In the bottom of the 10th I got them out. Within two months I lost a 10-inning no-hitter 1-0 and won a 10-inning no-hitter 1-0."

The 18 strikeouts by Maloney is a Cincinnati Reds pitching record. While one of his no-hitters was taken away from him, Maloney's third no-hitter (second official) on April 30, 1969 was solid. Maloney and the Reds defeated the Astros, 10-0 at Crosley Field. That was the only career no-hitter that Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench caught.

So who were the toughest batters that Maloney faced?

"There were two Willie's, and one of them wasn't Willie Mays," Maloney said. "It was Willie McCovey and Willie Stargel. They were both left-handed power hitters. Rusty Staub was another left-hand hitter. He didn't have the power those guys had, but was a good line drive type hitter and a tough out for me. Hank Aaron, Mays and [Roberto] Clemente those right-handed hitters got their hits, but they never hit me like those others.

In 12 major league seasons, Maloney appeared in 302 games as a pitcher (262 starts) and posted a 134-84 record. Maloney pitched in 1, 849 innings with a 3.19 ERA collecting 1, 605 strikeouts, and 30 shutouts. He was inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame in 1973. Maloney was manager for Fresno in the California League in 1982 and compiled a 40-90 record.

"Since I retired, my life has gone around the world in 60 days or 60 years," said Maloney. "Within a year and a half after I ruptured my Achilles tendon and was out of baseball. I had gotten into it with the general manager of the Reds, Bob Howsam. I really had a lot of resentment about what he told me about pain. I was having problems with my heel and they thought I was jaking. He told me I didn't have any pain tolerance. I bit the bullet, went out and ruptured my Achilles tendon and my career was over in less than two years. I came back to Fresno with my family where I was born, raised and live today. I had two daughters and my wife was pregnant with my son in 1972.

"I was going to take over my dad's car business and live happily ever after. I had a hard time sliding into the real world. I got into alcohol and drank as a player. When I got out of baseball, I became an alcoholic. By 1985, I was out of my house and my wife was filing for divorce. I had a nice home and three children. I ended up in a treatment center in Arizona. In February of 1985, I went through that program in 42 days, came back to Fresno and went back to school. I became a drug and alcohol counselor. I reconnected with my high school sweetheart after a 40th high school reunion and we've been married for 11 years. I've been sober for 27 years."

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