Earlier this week, the National Baseball Hall of Fame released the list of ten finalists that are going to be considered by the veteran’s committee for election next year. Included on that list is Reds great Vada Pinson.

America’s Best Sportswriter (TM) Joe Posnanski has reviewed the candidates here, and here’s what he has to say about Pinson in particular:

Major achievements: Led league in hits twice and runs once … Cracked 2,757 hits in his career, which places him in the Top 50 all-time … Two-time All-Star (though he played in both All-Star Games in 1959 and 1960 … that was back when they had two All-Star Games each year). … Twice led league in doubles and triples … Won Gold Glove in 1961.

What has kept him out: Like Oliver, he did not quite get to 3,000 hits; career tailed off pretty badly after he turned 30.

The case: I realize that I’m supposed to make the case for Pinson here — quickly, he was a terrific combination of power and speed as a young player, he hit .343 in 1960 and posted a 142 OPS+ in 1963 — but I have to share with you quickly the story of how legendary Cincinnati sportswriter Earl Lawson got punched by Pinson and actually put out a warrant to have him arrested for assault. I run across these stories in research (DId I mention I’m writing a book about the 1975 Cincinnati Reds) and I have no place for them in the book.

It began in 1962, and Lawson wrote a scathing column about the Reds. I know it’s popular to say that decorum has really fallen off, but I’ll tell you I think sportswriters could be plenty vicious long before Al invented the Internets and John came up with the Blackberry. From Lawson’s column — this section is about Gordy Coleman.

“The way first baseman Gordy Coleman is fielding his position he might just as well be wearing the glove on his foot. Then again, more balls might wind up in it if he had id dangling from the back of his belt. Coleman doesn’t figure to pick up any ”shiners“ from bad hops, but he may wind up with a few knots on the back of the head.

”And the way he shies away from fences going after pop fouls balls, you’d think they were rigged with high tension wire.“

It is worth pointing out here that Gordy Coleman was NOT the one who hit Lawson. It was Vada Pinson.

”Pinson, gifted with extraordinary speed, should be one of the loops standout defensive players. He’s far from it. The Red centerfielder, first looking over toward Frank Robinson in right field, as if awaiting an OK to chase the ball, permitted a towering fifth inning drive by Sievers to drop into right center for a triple. Result — another Philly run.“

Apparently, Coleman took it hard and did consider going after Lawson — at least according to Lawson’s own account in ”Cincinnati Seasons“ — but he decided to move on. Pinson did not.

”You gutless bleep-bleeper,“ he said to Lawson.

”Vada, if you want a piece of me, then come and get it. I’m not going to run from you,“ Lawson replied.

Again, this is Lawson’s account. Still, nobody really denies what happened after that. In the clubhouse, Pinson said to Lawson: ”That story you wrote, were you kidding or were you series (sic)?“

Lawson said: ”Of course I was serious.“

And Pinson clocked him. Lawson then got up and went after Pinson, though he was not entirely sure what he could do when he got there, but the whole thing got broken up. Lawson went upstairs to write a column which led:

”I got punched again.“

Yeah. Again. Johnny Temple had hit Lawson five years earlier. Popular guy. But believe it or not we STILL have not gotten to the part where Pinson got arrested. That happened late in 1963, when Lawson wrote a column saying, ”Bunts could make champ of Pinson.“ It’s hard to imagine that there was much to complain about Vada Pinson in 1963, his best year. Still, Lawson wrote that Pinson’s ”stubborn refusal to capitalize on his tremendous speed by dragging an occasional bunt probably would cost him the National League batting crown.“

Pinson was so upset — though really, in Lawson terms, that seems pretty tame — that he grabbed Lawson the next day, cocked his fist, ripped his shirt. Lawson burst into the managers office, asked to use the phone, and called the police while, he says, Frank Robinson and Leo Cardenas screamed obscenities at him.

I cannot believe I had never heard this story. The case actually went to trial, and a hung jury was declared. It was going to trial again when Lawson, figuring he had proved his point, dropped the charges.

I can’t believe I had never heard that story either, but this type of stuff is why I love Posnanski’s blog.

Anyway, I’m really not sure that Pinson is deserving of enshrinement in Cooperstown, but I’m always in favor of adding more Reds. Thoughts?

13 Responses

  1. justcorbly

    Like you, I’m not really sure Pinson deserves to be in the Hall. Players with similar numbers are not in Cooperstown and I can’t think of anything that sets Pinson apart from them. As you said, he lost his edge after 30. Obviously one of the great Reds players, though.

    Thinking about the Hall of Fame… if you accept that worthy players make it into the Hall at a greater rate than worthy players build their careers (admittedly, I’ve no way to assess that assertion), then as time goes by it the number of players inducted ought to decrease noticeably.

  2. Ryan

    I’m not entirely sure it should be a crime to punch a reporter.

  3. Mr. Redlegs

    Then it should not be a crime to shoot some lawyers. You know, flesh wounds. Just wing ’em. 🙂

  4. Chad

    Hey, I used to be a lawyer. I like lawyers much more than I like reporters. 🙂

  5. Kevin

    As much as I’d like to see the Reds legacy and the great Reds players honored and remembered, I personally want the hall of fame to be as exclusive as is reasonably possible. The truth is, maybe this makes me a poser Reds fan, but I’d never even heard of this guy until today. I think people like this should be left for the Reds Hall of Fame, which is also a great place to be honored, and that we should leave the baseball Hall of Fame to the true greats who go down in history as household names (Ruth, Mantle, Cobb as classic examples, Ripken, Griffey, Johnson, and Pete Rose as recent examples)

  6. Mike

    Pinson, Robbie and Big Klu were my idols in the 50’s. Vada was an exciting player but his career is not Hall of Fame. The Vet. Committee can pencil in Pete Rose instead of Pinson.

  7. Phill

    Agreed that I don’t think Pinson had HoF numbers but man that story was funny.

  8. pinson343

    Pinson is my all-time favorite player, and perhaps some of you know by now the significance of 343.

    I heard many times of Pinson assaulting
    Lawson after the “he should bunt more often” statement. Pinson reportedly said that you don’t drive in 100 runs bunting. Vada was an angry young man, largely due to the difficulties black players faced back then. He could only socialize with Frank Robinson (until Pete Rose came along). He mellowed a lot as he got older.

    The two reasons discussed here for his not being in the Hall are bogus. Lawson’s saying: ” Vada, if you want a piece of me, then come and get it. I’m not going to run from you“ tells me that he was looking for a punch in the mouth. In any case Hall of Famers have done a lot worse than that, Ty Cobb nearly killed several people (reporters and players) on the basis of only a paranoid imagined provocation.

    The “household” name argument really gets to me. The media decides who the household names are. Pinson consistently got more Hall of Fame votes from the writers than Curt Flood, Maury Wills, Roger Maris, Joe Torre, etc. And he’s consistently gotten more votes from the Veteran’s Committee than those people. But when an article summarizes who got votes, Pinson’s name is rarely mentioned, instead those and others are. This week when I heard the list of veterans named on the radio, Pinson was the only name excluded !

    From 1959-1965 he was a great all around player, one of the greatest ever. But all the publicity was about Mays and Mantle. Even Aaron wasn’t mentioned much, and was terribly underrated until late in his career.

    The only valid argument against Pinson in the Hall is that after Frank Robinson was traded following the 1965 season, and he didn’t have Robby following him in the batting order, his offensive production tailed off. And after breaking his leg playing with St. Louis in 1969, he lost some of his speed and was never the same player again, although he was described as “aging gracefully” in his 30’s, which was true. Everything he did on the field was graceful.

  9. pinson343

    A good Pete Rose story relates to Pinson. When Pete joined the Reds, he thought it was cool to hang out with Pinson and Robby. Management was appalled, white players weren’t supposed to do that in those days. Johnny Temple was brought back to the Reds (briefly) to “groom” Rose, show how him to dress, what restaurants to go to, who to hang with. As an outstanding 2nd baseman for the Reds in the 50’s, Temple had been an idol of Rose’s. Anyway the Reds quickly learned that Temple could have no influence on Rose’s life style, he continued to do as he pleased. Pete Rose is a very flawed man, but when people say he’s lacking in character, they should know this story.

  10. Bill

    I can’t believe that anyone that’s a Reds fan would not have heard of Vada Pinson…you must be very young. That said, he’s not a HOFer.

    I heard Tracy Jones say yesterday on WLW that Vada Pinson was his hitting coach in Detroit and was the nicest person he met in baseball.

  11. Kevin

    Yup, I’m 21…I was 3 the last time we won the world series!

  12. Kaptain28

    Vada Pinson was underrated. From 1959- 1967 he was in the top 10 of all of baseball.

    The boneheaded trade of Frank Robinson by the Reds , didnt help Pinsons stats.

    Traded for Bobby Tolan who had only 2 good years for the Reds, Vada and Frank Robinson had a hard way being in Cincy, i think Cincinnati was a good place to live for them, i heard that Frank Robinson lived year round in Cincy until 66.