The National League boasted some of the hardest-throwing and most intimidating starting pitchers in baseball history during the 1960s, from Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale to Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, and Jim Bunning. But one pitcher has faded from our collective memory of the great ones from that era: Jim Maloney. Troubled by chronic shoulder and arm problems, Maloney's career ended prematurely, ironically, after tearing his Achilles tendon while running out a hit.
A threat to no-hit the opposition every time he went to the mound, Maloney tossed a 9-inning no-hitter and a 10-inning no-hitter, lost a no-hitter in the 11th inning, and was forced to leave two no-hitters in the 7th inning due to injuries. "That fellow could throw as hard as anybody," said Roberto Clemente about Maloney.1
James William Maloney was born on June 2, 1940, in Fresno, California, to Earl and Marjorie (nee Kickashear) Maloney, both of Irish descent. His father, nicknamed "Hands" due to his ability to field a baseball, was a sandlot and semi-professional baseball player on the west coast in the 1930s, who later opened one of the largest used-car dealerships in Fresno. Jim and his sister Jeanne lived a typical middle-class life in post-World War II America. A sturdily built youngster, Jim was a natural athlete. After playing Little League and Babe Ruth baseball, Jim built a reputation as one of the finest athletes in the history of Fresno High School.
Though he starred on the basketball and football teams, Jim's passion was baseball. As a shortstop, he batted .310, .340, and .500 in his sophomore through senior seasons while leading the team to three consecutive undefeated seasons and Northern Yosemite League championships from 1956 to 1958. The team boasted at least five players who signed professional baseball contracts, including Dick Ellsworth, Lynn Rube, Mike Urrizola, and Pat Corrales. Jim also played American Legion ball for Fresno Post Four and led them to the finals in 1956 and 1957; he was named "outstanding player" with a .485 batting average in the latter season. Ollie Bidwell, coached both teams.2
Jim was scouted as a shortstop by all 16 major leagues clubs in 1958. He received numerous contract offers with large bonuses after graduating high school, but he was in no hurry to commit. He was invited to Cincinnati to work out at Crosley Field, where he displayed his hitting prowess; however Reds west coast scout Bobby Mattick, who had previously signed Frank Robinson and Vada Pinson, thought Maloney could develop into a great pitcher. Maloney had pitched twice in high school, striking out 16 in a 7-inning game and 25 in 9 innings, but with pitching phenom Ellsworth on his team, Maloney had little opportunity to showcase his pitching potential.
Despite their reluctance to pass up many lucrative offers, Jim and his father heeded Mattick's advice and decided to pursue pitching. After an abbreviated semester at the University of California, Jim enrolled at Fresno City College where his performance justified Mattick's faith in him. At one point, Jim tossed 19 consecutive no-hit, no-run innings.
"He's an outstanding major league candidate. Without a doubt he's the finest pitching prospect on the west coast," said Mattick. On April 1, 1959, Maloney signed with the Reds for "the biggest bonus ever paid to a player in the area," a reported $100,000.3
Immediately after signing, Maloney joined the Reds for a week at their spring training site in Florida before being assigned to the Topeka Hawks in the Class B Illinois-Indiana-Iowa (Three-I) League. With less than one year of pitching experience, Jim was not prepared for the minor leagues. He struggled initially, lost weight and was homesick, but he eventually found his groove.
"Jim found himself the last month of the season," said Hawks manager Johnny Vander Meer. "He was letting go of his fastball too quick and he had numerous faults which was natural for a kid who had such limited experience."4 He finished with a 6-7 record and 83 bases on balls in 124 innings.5
"I didn't have a clue how to pitch," Jim recalled. "I was just trying to throw my fastball past the hitters. They were rocking me around. I got a sore arm."6
After spring training with the Reds in 1960, Jim was optioned to the Nashville Volunteers in the Class AA Southern Association, where "Milkman" Jim Turner tutored him. "Turner started working with me from the day I reported for spring training [with the Reds]," Maloney said. "He talked about nothing but pitching and never stopped."7
Turner helped him relax on the mound, develop a curve, and hone his control. After Maloney's sixth straight complete game to start the season (an 11-inning masterpiece with 16 strikeouts), Turner said. "This boy has a great chance and it may not be long until he gets it."8
Turner was right. Jim was promoted to the parent club on July 23 after being named to the Southern Association all-star team with a stellar 14-5 record and 2.80 ERA.
"I was caught off guard," Maloney said about his promotion. "I pitched a game in Chattanooga a couple of weeks before I got called up. Gabe Paul was the general manager [of the Reds] 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."9
Maloney made his major league debut on July 27 against the reigning World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers. He pitched seven innings of one-run ball, and was tagged for the loss, but he impressed Dodger skipper Walter Alston. "Maloney will be real tough when he learns to get his curveball over consistently," Alston said.10
Maloney earned his first major league victory against the Milwaukee Braves in his fifth start, giving up nine hits and striking out four in 8.1 innings. He struggled with control in his 10 starts, but he also displayed his potential by striking out 11 in a four-hit shutout of the Phillies on September 24.
Maloney’s sophomore season was frustrating and disappointing. He developed arm and shoulder problems during spring training that plagued him the rest of his career. He began the season in the bullpen and worked his way into the starting rotation after giving up just two hits in eight innings of relief, only to return to the bullpen after 11 mostly ineffective starts. He lacked the velocity and stamina from the previous year, reaching the seventh inning in just four of his outings.
While the Reds won their first NL pennant since 1940, Maloney limped to a 6-7 record and a 4.37 ERA in 94.2 innings. Maloney only saw mop-up duty in the deciding Game 5 of the World Series, after the Yankees chased Reds starter John Jay in the first inning. He surrendered four hits, one walk and two earned runs in just 0.2 innings in his only career appearance in the Fall Classic.
After pitching in the Florida Instructional League in the offseason, Maloney began spring training in 1962 with optimism. That soon faded when he was optioned to the San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League after a poor start caused by shoulder pain and flights of wildness. He pitched well in San Diego (4-1, 2.20 ERA) and was recalled in June. Pitching in the starting rotation the rest of the season, Maloney finally hit stride at the end of the year, giving up just one earned run in his last 25 innings while striking out 24.
"Maloney's more relaxed," said Jim Turner, now the Reds pitching coach. "That's one of the biggest changes that I've noticed since he's come back from San Diego."11
Beginning a season in the starting rotation for the first time in his career in 1963, Maloney established himself as one of the premier pitchers in baseball. He put together the best year of his career and one of the best in Reds history. He registered at least 10 strikeouts in 11 of his 33 starts. He tossed a career-high six shutouts, including his first of five career one-hitters and 10 career two-hitters. Maloney finished with a 23-7 record, set a new club record with 265 strikeouts and gained a reputation as one of the hardest throwers in the game. His 9.53 strikeouts per nine innings led the major leagues. While pitching 8 1/3/ innings of 2-hit shutout ball against Milwaukee on May 21, he tied a modern major league record by striking out eight consecutive Braves on his way to a Reds record 16 strikeouts in one game.
"Maloney's fastball was really jumping around," said Hank Aaron. “He was faster than anyone I've seen this season."12
Maloney wasn't surprised by his success, which he attributed to experience and trust from his managers. "When I first came up, I wasn't ready," Maloney said. "I just wasn't mature enough to pitch in the big leagues."13
With the help of good coaching he transformed himself from a thrower into a pitcher. "Jim's fastball is his big pitch and it will be for years," said his roommate and batterymate John Edwards." "But now he can get the curve ball over and it is giving him more confidence in his changeup."14
Opposing batters considered him to be one of the toughest pitchers to hit. "Even when you know he's going to throw hard," said Bill Virdon, "he can throw the ball past you . . . he's mixing up his pitches and getting them over the plate."15
Maloney was a victim of poor run support (the Reds scored just 13 runs in his losses) and bad luck early in 1964. On April 18, he suffered a muscle strain while pitching a no-hitter through six innings against Sandy Koufax and the Dodgers. "When a fellow has an arm like that," said Reds manager Fred Hutchinson about removing a pitcher working on a no-hitter, "you don't take any chances."16
The next time he faced the Dodgers on May 28, he pitched a career-high 11.1 innings of 2-run ball, faced 48 batters, struck out 12, and received a no-decision in a game that was called after 17 innings.
He was sporting a 3-7 record after the season’s 50th game and already had as many losses as he did the entire previous year, even though he was pitching as well or better. The tide turned at that point and Maloney went 12-3 over the last three months of what became an emotionally charged season for the Reds after Hutchinson was diagnosed with cancer. He relinquished his position with 53 games to go in the campaign.
The last day of the 1964 regular season marked the conclusion of a remarkable two-week period in the National League. With Philadelphia's historic "Phold," the Phillies, Cardinals, and Reds could have finished in an unprecedented three-way tie for first place. The Reds were in control of their destiny at home against the Phillies; a win assured them of a tie with the Cardinals. With a loss, however, they needed the Cardinals to lose to the hapless New York Mets for the third consecutive game to force a playoff. Dick Sisler, who had replaced Hutchinson, decided to skip Maloney's scheduled start in favor of journeyman John Tsitouris (9-12 at the time) against the Phillies in the Reds' most important game of the year. Maloney was the Reds' hottest pitcher and had not allowed a run in his last 20 innings, however, Sisler claimed Maloney was still exhausted from his 11-inning no-decision against the Pirates on September 30. Sisler's decision has been debated by Reds fans for generations. Tsitouris was chased in the third inning, the Reds were shut out 10-0, and the Cardinals beat the Mets to secure the NL pennant.
Maloney had a disastrous spring training in 1965, giving up 28 earned runs and 40 hits in 30 innings.17 "Maloney hasn't been in the groove all spring," said pitching coach Turner. "He can't stay ahead of hitters."
He missed his first start of the regular season in order to work on mechanics18, and when he finally took the hill on April 19, he responded by pitching a one-hitter against the Braves surrendering just an eighth-inning single. He won his first five decisions of the year.
The 1965 season marked two of the most unusual games of Maloney's career. He had one of his most dominating performances on June 14 facing the lowly Mets in front of less than 6,000 fans in Crosley Field. He had a no-hitter through ten full innings; however he gave up an 11th-inning home run to Johnny Lewis and lost 2-0, but finished with 18 strikeouts, tying an NL record for most strikeouts in an extra-inning game. According to the official scoring at that time, Maloney was credited with a no-hitter and joined Harvey Haddix (1959) and Harry McIntyre (1906) as the only pitchers to have no-hitters through 10 innings and lose the game. Major League Baseball's Committee for Statistical Accuracy amended its definition of a no-hitter in 1991, and Maloney no longer had credit for the gem.
He had a true 10-inning no-hitter on August 19 against the Cubs, but was in trouble most of the game, issuing a career-high 10 bases on balls. Fortunately for Maloney, the Reds won on a Leo Cardenas home run in the tenth. Maloney faced 40 batters and threw 187 pitches while tossing the first extra-inning no-hitter in the major leagues since 1917.
Maloney finished the season with 20 wins and a career-low 2.54 ERA. He issued 110 walks and had 19 wild pitches, both career highs, and was named to the National League All-Star team for the first and only time in his career.
Maloney battled the Reds over his salary throughout his career, often signing a contract shortly before or during spring training, which the Reds contended limited his participation and effectiveness at the beginning of the season. His typical slow starts (either poor outings or missed scheduled starts), constant complaints of arm miseries, and holdouts created a contentious relationship between him and Reds management which often played out in the local press.
"If the Reds can't pay me what I think I am worth," Maloney said in 1966, the year of the infamous Koufax-Drysdale holdout, "then let them trade me to a club which will."19 When learning of Maloney's decision to remain in Fresno, his off-season home, until his demands were met, the Reds issued a public statement that they are prepared to play the season without him. Ultimately, Maloney signed for a reported $48,000, a 50% increase over his salary from the previous year.20
Having traded Frank Robinson in the offseason, the Reds were in transition in 1966 and on their way to their first losing season since 1960. Maloney shut out the Phillies to begin the season despite having missed most of spring training, however, he was plagued by arm and shoulder stiffness and was dropped from the rotation in early May and missed two starts. Maloney finished with a 16-8 record - the Reds scored a total of just six runs in the eight losses - posted a 2.80 ERA, had his fourth consecutive (and last) season with more than 200 strikeouts, and led the National League with five shutouts. It ended a four-year stretch during which he averaged 18 wins and 235 strikeouts while holding batters to a .210 batting average. Maloney was never as dominant again.
By 1969 Maloney was increasingly worn down by chronic arm problems which required regular cortisone shots and extra time between starts. In the previous two seasons he won 15 and 16 games, but he witnessed a precipitous decrease in innings pitched and strikeouts, averaging 202 and 167 respectively. His ERA gradually rose to over 3.00, including a 3.61 mark in 1968, the so-called "Year of the Pitcher." His status as staff ace was even questioned with the rise of the team's new flamethrower, 19-year old Gary Nolan, who burst on the scene in 1967. Maloney still had games when he exhibited his customary velocity and command, but they were tempered with shorter or less effective outings. He had just five games in two years with 10 or more strikeouts compared to 31 in the previous four years.
Bad luck and fluke injuries haunted him as well. Against the Pirates on August 16, 1967, he removed himself after 6.1innngs of no-hit ball when the ankle he injured in the top of the inning running the bases made it impossible to pitch. This marked the second time in his career that he left a game while throwing a no-hitter.
Maloney had a full training camp in 1969 and felt better at the start of the season than he had in years. Pitching consistently on five days' rest, Maloney posted two complete game victories in his first four starts and became the 47th pitcher to record 1,500 strikeouts. He pitched a no-hitter on April 30 at home against the Astros, striking out 13 and walking five, which served as a reminder of what he was capable of doing when healthy. Maloney severely pulled a groin muscle running out an RBI-double in the 8th-inning, and could barely walk. This time he refused to depart yet again from a game in which he was working on a no-hitter. He returned to the mound in the 9th inning and ended the game by striking out Doug Rader. The 13 strikeouts were his highest total in three years, but also the last time in his career where his strikeout total hit double digits.
Maloney didn't win another game for two-and-a-half months after the no-hitter. In his next five starts he lasted just 14 2/3 innings, yielded eight earned runs, and was relegated to the bullpen with an assortment of ailments. Reds' trainer Bill Cooper remarked that Maloney was muscular and required vigorous pre- and post-game arm treatments.
"Instead of stretching his muscles when he pitches, he rips them. That was okay when he was younger and the muscles healed quickly," Cooper said. "But at 29-30, they don't heal that fast anymore."21
With an explosive offense, the Reds battled the Giants and Braves for first place in the newly established NL West for most of the season, but their pitching, once a team strength, floundered.
Some teammates, most of whom were not around during Maloney's dominant seasons from 1963 to 1966, began to question his injuries and even resented the extra time he needed between starts. "It's not the pain that bothers Jim . . . it's the mental strain that's wearing him down," an anonymous player told sportswriter Pat Jordan, "You think it don't bother him knowing he's starting each game with only 50 percent of his stuff; or not knowing which pitch will be his last; or knowing the team's fighting for a pennant and he's not contributing like he used to? Hell, that kind of anxiety can ruin a guy."22
Maloney exhibited frustration with his teammates, too. "If some of them want to think my arm isn't sore, okay. I can't help that. They'll just have to take my word."23
Maloney pitched courageously the last two months of the season, including a one-hit shutout over the Astros, thereby establishing an NL record with five career one-hitters. He finished the season with a 12-5 record and a team-low 2.77 ERA. However, Maloney and the Reds were no match for the streaking Braves, who won 17 of their last 21 to win the division.
Resentment toward Maloney intensified in the 1969 offseason when he held out yet again. This strained his relationship with new Reds' manager George "Sparky" Anderson, for whom he had not yet pitched. Maloney blamed Reds' general manager Bob Howsam for inflaming fan and teammate opinion of him by questioning his durability, injuries and commitment to baseball in media reports. For the first time in his career, he doubted that he had a future with the team.
Refusing to sign a novel (for the time) incentive-laden contract, Maloney finally agreed to a slight pay cut and joined the Reds already in camp.
"You know what makes this game really tough?" Maloney asked rhetorically. "There's no security and no friendships. Hell, if my arm goes tomorrow, you think I'll still be with the Cincinnati Reds?"24 Maloney could not have known how prescient those words were. In his second start of the 1970 season, he ruptured his Achilles tendon in his left ankle running out a ground ball. "I felt that it might be the end of my career," Maloney said.25
While Sparky Anderson and the Reds inaugurated the "Big Red Machine" in 1970, Maloney rehabilitated his injury and finally rejoined the team in September. After five mostly ineffective relief appearances, Anderson left him off the post-season roster in favor of rookie Milt Wilcox.
"It was a big disappointment," Maloney said about not having the chance to play in the World Series. "I was ready, but there was some doubt."26 Maloney was not surprised when the Reds shipped him to the California Angels for five-game winner Greg Garret during the 1970 winter meetings.
Baseball can be cruel. Once regarded as one of the hardest-throwing and most-feared pitchers in the game, Maloney struggled through three final torturous years with four different major league clubs and a trip to the minors. He appeared in his final 13 games as a major leaguer during an injury-plagued season for the Angels in 1971. Incapable of pitching long innings and ineffective as a reliever, the Angels released him in the off-season.
After the Cardinals signed and released him before the season started in 1972, Maloney agreed to a minor league contract with the Giants’ Pacific Coast League affiliate in Phoenix. "I'm like a rookie looking forward to his first win," Maloney said about his attempt to make it back to the Major Leagues. "I'm 0-for-2 years."27 He pitched well for the Phoenix Giants (5-1 with a 2.67 ERA in 39 innings), but when no team inquired about him by the June 15 trading deadline, he retired at the age of 32.
Maloney had an impressive career, winning 134 and losing just 84 games, striking out 1,605 batters in 1,849 innings, tossing two no-hitters, five one-hitters, and 30 shutouts, and compiling a 3.19 ERA. He had great success against Willie Mays, holding him to a .172 batting average in 66 at bats, Billy Williams (.185 in 95 AB), and Ernie Banks (.216 in 96 AB); however, he had problems with Tony Taylor (.409 in 47 AB), Don Kessinger (.372 in 48 AB), and Tom Haller (.340 in 57 AB). As with the career of Sandy Koufax, Dizzy Dean, Mickey Mantle, and many others, the question remains: "What could he have achieved, had he been healthy?"
Maloney looked forward to life after baseball. He moved back to Fresno with his wife Carolyn, (nee Daugherty) whom he met when he pitched in Topeka and married in 1961, and their three children and sold cars at his father's business. However, the retreat and transition into suburban bliss was not easy for Maloney.
"I had a hard time sliding into the real world," Maloney revealed. "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."28 Ever the competitor, Maloney pulled his life back together, overcame his alcohol dependency, and remarried. As of 2012 he resides with his second wife, Lyn, in Fresno, where he is the retired former director of the city's Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Council.
Photos are published courtesy of the Topps Company.
1 The Sporting News, August 28, 1971, 9.
2 The Sporting News, April 15, 1959, 14.
4 Hank Zureick, Publicity Director, Cincinnati Reds Press Release, November 2, 1959. Hall of Fame file.
6 Roy McHugh, "Square Deal Maloney of the Reds," Sport. December, 1963, 67.
8 The Sporting News, May 18, 1960, 35.
9 Bill Traughber, "Looking Back: Jim Maloney was a Nashville Vol," The Official Site of the Nashville Sounds. http://www.milb.com/news/article.jsp? ymd=20120430&content_id=30037194&vkey=news_t556&fext=.jsp&sid=t556
10 Hank Zureick, Publicity Director Cincinnati Reds Press Release, August 8, 1960. Hall of Fame file.
11 The Sporting News, October 13, 21.
12 The Sporting News, June 8, 1963, 15.
13 Jim Maloney, Hall of Fame file.
14 Hank Zureick, Publicity Director Cincinnati Reds Press Release, July 9, 1963. Hall of Fame file.
15 Roy McHugh, "Square Deal Maloney of the Reds," Sport. December, 1963, 35. xvi The Sporting News, May 2, 1964. 12.
16 The Sporting News, May 2, 1964. 12.
17 The Sporting News, May 1, 1965, 6.
18 The Sporting News, April 24, 1965, 8.
19 Earl Lawson, "Jim Maloney to be Holdout Over Pay," Cincinnati Post, February, 23, 1966. Hall of Fame file.
20 The Sporting News, April 2, 1966, 2.
21 Pat Jordan, "The Trials of Jim Maloney," Sport, November 1969, 39.
25 The Sporting News, December 12, 1970, 55.
27 The Sporting News, March 11, 1972, 12.
28 Bill Traughber, "Looking Back: Jim Maloney was a Nashville Vol," The Official Site of the Nashville Sounds. http://www.milb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20120430&content_id=30037194&vkey=news_t556&fext=.jsp&sid=t556