Ask Reds fans who the greatest Reds’ pitcher of the modern age is and you may get a few different answers: Eppa Rixey is in the Hall of Fame and his best years came as a Red. Tom Seaver is in the HOF, had great years with the Reds, but his best years came as a Met. Dolf Luque had the greatest year ever for a Reds pitcher (1923); Jose Rijo is a favorite of the late century Reds’ followers; Noodles Hahn is a favorite from the early years of the 20th century. Johnny Vander Meer is known for his two consecutive no-hitters; Jim Maloney was a strikeout king from the 60’s; Ewell Blackwell was said to have been nearly impossible to hit by some of baseball’s greatest hitters and pitched 11 consecutive scoreless all-star inninigs; Gary Nolan and Don Gullett (and Wayne Simpson) all had exceptional talent, but had their careers shortened by injuries; the Reds have had a host of all-star relievers. Paul Derringer won 25 one year and was a World Series hero. Hod Eller was a World Series hero, too, Fred Toney had no-hit stuff, and Joe Nuxhall may be the all-time fan favorite.
On any given day, or year, however, Bucky Walters may have been the best Reds pitcher ever.
Walters, a converted third baseman, was selected as 1939 Most Valuable Player. He finished third in MVP voting in 1940 and 5th in 1944. He was best NL pitcher of the World War II years, even winning the “pitcher’s triple crown” in 1939 when he was 27-11, leading the league with the 27 wins, a 2.29 ERA, and in strikeouts with 137. He even batted .325 that year (with a 790 OPS) in 131 plate appearances.. He followed up 1939 winning two legs of the triple crown with 22 wins and a 2.48 ERA. He finished fifth in strikeouts with 115 (22 behind the leader). He also led the league in wins in 1944 with 23. His complete game totals from 1939-41 were 31, 29, and 27, leading the league each year…and he could hit. A lifetime .243 hitter, he had 23 lifetime home runs. He converted back to the mound in 1935, and led the league in losses with 21 and shut outs with four in 1936.
The Reds acquired Walters from the Phillies in a minor trade as Vander Meer was the big news with his double no-hit performances. He was 4-8 with a 5.23 ERA when the Reds offered the Phillies $50,000 and two players, left handed starting pitcher Al Hollingsworth and catcher Spud Davis. Davis was never an all-star, but he was a good hitting catcher who had a lifetime batting average of .308 over 16 major league seasons. After the trade, he spent 4 1/2 seasons as a reserve catcher with the Phillies and Pirates. Hollingsworth was a quality lefty who had 69 games over the previous three seasons with the Reds, but who had gotten to a very poor start in 1938, having a 2-2 record with a 7.18 ERA at the time of the trade. He went on to play a total of 11 seasons and winning 70 big league games. He hit double figures twice in wins with the St. Louis Browns, winning 10 in 1942 and 12 in 1944….which is five less than Walters alone won in 1939.
Walters played 11 years with the Reds, going 160-107 with a 2.93 ERA. He finished almost 2/3 of his starts with the Reds and hurled 32 shut outs. He was a five time all-star. He did not win a game in the 1939 World Series (0-2), but did hurl two complete game victories (and hit a homer) against the Tigers in the 1940 World Championship season.
Walters and Derringer were a tremendous 1-2 punch for the Reds at the top of their rotation. From 1939-44, Walters won 121 games, 20 more than his closest competitor. His ERA during this time was 2.67, the best of any pitcher with more than 1000 innings pitched. My pick as the Reds all-time starting pitcher is Walters when considering both single season and career performance. Here’s an amazing stat: of his career 198 wins…42 were shutouts…that is, one of every five Walters’s wins was a whitewash. He was plucked from the Phillies….who needed $50,000.