This article was written by Bob Wood
There was bad blood between the second-place Atlanta Braves (51-39) and fourth-place Cincinnati Reds (45-39) as they prepared to open a four-game, three-day series with a doubleheader on Tuesday, July 15, 1969, at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field. The teams were fighting it out in a four-team Western Division scramble and beginning their final week of action before the All-Star break, each having had an offday on Monday the 14th.
Atlanta had won seven of the previous nine games between the teams, including a 9-4 victory on July 2 in Atlanta when five Braves batters were beaned by Cincinnati pitchers Gerry Arrigo and Pedro Ramos.1
Cincinnati was missing catcher Johnny Bench and outfielder Alex Johnson, both of whom had left the club on the 11th to begin two weeks of service in the Army Reserve.2 The Reds had activated 38-year-old bullpen catcher Hal Smith and recalled shortstop Darrel Chaney from Indianapolis to fill the vacancies on their roster.3
The doubleheader drew a crowd of 25,088, the biggest at Crosley Field in a month4 and the fourth largest crowd of the season.5 The Reds had just completed a 14-game road trip, and the hometown fans were happy to see them again.
Muscular first baseman Lee May batted fifth in the Reds lineup in the opener. He was riding an eight-game hitting streak (12-for-38) and maintaining a .313 batting average. He had 23 home runs already in the season, but had not hit one since July 3, a 10-game stretch. Things would change in a hurry.
In the opener, Atlanta gave right-hander Jim Britton (3-1, 4.20 ERA) his fifth start of the season against Clay Carroll. It was the third start and 45th appearance of the season for Carroll (12-4, 2.59), pressed into a starting role by manager Dave Bristol. With umpire Ken Burkhart, a former big-league pitcher himself, calling balls and strikes, the game got underway.
May wasted little time making his presence felt. Britton struggled with his control, walking three of the first four Reds he faced and fanning the other, loading the bases with one out. May, up next, smashed the ball over the scoreboard for a grand slam, the first of his career and his 24th home run of the season.
Britton was still on the mound in the third inning when May hit a solo homer off the top of the scoreboard. That ended Britton’s efforts for the afternoon and gave Cincinnati a 6-0 lead. Atlanta pecked away, and thanks in part to a homer by Henry Aaron (number 24 of the season), reduced the lead to 6-3.
May faced reliever Paul Doyle to lead off the bottom of the sixth inning. May crushed the ball, but the liner landed in the glove of shortstop Gil Garrido. Atlanta continued to chip away at the Reds’ lead and trailed 6-5 when Cecil Upshaw took the mound to pitch the bottom of the eighth inning.
Tony Perez hit a one-out home run (number 21 of the season) before May came to the plate. The fans booed when Upshaw walked May on four pitches. The Braves then completed their comeback in the top of the ninth inning, scoring on a single by Bob Tillman and then taking the lead 9-7 on a three-run home run by Bob Aspromonte (number 2 of the season). Cincinnati got one run back when supersub Jimmy Stewart tripled with two outs against Claude Raymond. With the tying run 90 feet away, George Stone came on in relief and retired Bobby Tolan on a fly ball to center field, earning a save.
Cincinnati turned to Jim Maloney to start the nightcap. Maloney had not won a game since he pitched a no-hitter against Houston on April 30 and had not pitched more than five innings in any of his six starts or nine appearances overall since that spring day. Braves skipper Lum Harris gave the ball to Ron Reed (7-6, 4.22) for his 19th start of the season. Reed had defeated the Reds 6-4 on April 11 in his first start of the season.
Atlanta took an early lead with a pair of second-inning runs. After Perez led off the Cincinnati second with a double, Reed fanned May (again batting fifth in the lineup) before yielding an RBI single to Tommy Helms (who had served Marine Reserve duty the previous weekend).6 It was still a 2-1 game when May strode to the plate with two on and two out in the bottom of the third inning. May belted his third homer of the day (26th of the season) to put the Reds ahead to stay.
In the bottom of the fifth, May came to the plate with one out and a runner on against reliever Gary Neibauer, who had faced eight batters in the opener (everyone but May). This time, May drove the ball out of the park, a two-run shot, his fourth four-bagger of the afternoon (number 27) and his 10th RBI of the day (five in each game). May had one more at-bat, in the seventh inning, but with two outs and the bases empty, reliever Claude Raymond didn’t give the slugger anything to hit, walking him in his final appearance of a sparkling afternoon. The final score was 10-4 in Cincinnati’s favor, giving the Reds a doubleheader split.
The author attended these games with Newton Local (Ohio) high-school buddies Kevin Work, Jim Beeman, and Dennis Oburn.
1 Wayne Minshew, “Road Is Full of Pot-Holes for Braves and Lum,” The Sporting News, August 2, 1969: 12.
2 Earl Lawson, “Reds Hitch Pennant Wagon to Their Workhorse Carroll,” The Sporting News, July 26, 1969: 27.
4 The East Division-leading Chicago Cubs had drawn 26,511 to Crosley Field for a Sunday doubleheader on June 15.
5 Opening Day had drawn 30,111 (a 1-0 loss to Don Drysdale and the Los Angeles Dodgers), while the Braves had drawn 29,163 on Sunday, April 20 (a 7-1 Atlanta victory).
6 The Sporting News, July 26, 1969: 27.