(This is the first in a series of articles about Cincinnati Reds pitchers who have thrown no-hitters. Twelve Red hurlers have thrown no-hitters, including Homer Bailey’s gem against the Pittsburgh Pirates last season. Bailey’s no-hitter was the first thrown since Mr. Perfect, Tom Browning, beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 1-0 in 1989, retiring all 27 hitters he faced.)
George Culver, a 6’2” 185 pound righthander, was what you would call a journeyman pitcher in the major leagues. He pitched for six different teams in a career that spanned from 1966 to 1974. He then pitched in Japan for a year.
His career numbers were a win-loss record of 48-49 and a 3.62 earned run average. Culver’s best season came in 1968 as a Red pitcher, when he posted an 11-16 record, pitching 226 innings, striking out 114 batters and posting a 3.22 ERA. He pitched in 42 games for manager Dave Bristol that year, starting 35 of them. He led the National League in one category: hitting batters (14.) Culver explained that this was because hitters hung over the plate waiting for his slider and an inside fastball would hit them.
On July 29, 1968 the Reds found themselves in third place in the National League but a whopping 14 games behind first-place St. Louis. They were playing a twinbill against the Phillies at Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia. Gary Nolan started the first game but was knocked out in the 5th inning. Reliever Ted Abernathy got the win after the Reds held on for a 7-6 victory. Abernathy wasn’t exactly stellar, allowing nine hits and three runs in the win, but boosted his record to 8-1.
In Game Two, Culver was the starting pitcher against lefthander Chris Short of the Phillies. Rookie sensation Johnny Bench caught Nolan in the first game so backup Pat Corrales was the starting catcher for Culver.
In the second inning, Ritchie Allen reached first base on a Tony Perez error. Allen moved to second base on an error by shortstop Woody Woodward, advanced to third on a ground out and scored on Cookie Rojas’ sacrifice fly to give Philly a 1-0 lead.
The Reds rallied for six runs in the 3rd and 4th innings, the big hits coming from Corrales and first baseman Don Pavletich. Culver took over from there. He walked four batters and Corrales made an error but the Phillies not only didn’t score again but never got a hit. In the 9th inning, Culver retired the side in order with Pavletich making all the putouts. Rojas ended the game by popping out to the Reds first baseman.
Culver, who wore #39 for the Reds, was acquired from the Cleveland Indians when the Reds traded outfielder Tommy Harper for him, Fred Whitfield and Bob Raudman. Culver was swapped after the 1969 season in a one for one trade with the Cardinals for Ray Washburn.
If you will recall, 1968 was the Year of the Pitcher. Denny McLain won 31 games. Bob Gibson posted an unbelievable ERA of 1.12, in 304 innings of work. He struck out 268 batters, completed 28 games and won 22. Don Drysdale broke the record for consecutive scoreless innings. Scoring was down, the pitchers mound was high.
Unfortunately, the Reds didn’t share in this pitching wealth. Seven NL teams had ERAs of below 3.00, yet Cincinnati’s was 3.56. Bristol’s Big Three in 1968 were Jim Maloney (16-10), Gerry Arrigo (12-10) and Culver. The Reds finished with an 83-79 record and in 4th place. Milt Pappas, the big return for the disastrous trade of Frank Robinson with Baltimore two years earlier, finished with a 2-6 record and an ERA of 5.60.
But on July 29, 1968, George Culver gave the Reds a highlight in the Year of the Pitcher. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t perfect, but it was a no-hitter.