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?