On Monday, former Reds pitcher Pedro Borbon died after a long battle with cancer, Our thoughts go out to his family during this time of loss. We’d also like to take this moment to celebrate his life, for Borbon was a pertinent piece of the Big Red Machine. His career as a Red was memorable, from the beginning to the end, starting with a trade made on November 25th 1969 when the Reds traded the highly-talented and yet clearly enigmatic Alex Johnson to the Angels along with Chico Ruiz.

In return, they received veteran Jim McGlothlin, throw-in Vern Geishert, and a young Dominican pitcher named Pedro Borbon, who was one week shy of his 23rd birthday.

In 1970, Alex Johnson won the batting title in the American League. Jim McGlothlin went 14-10 with a 3.59 era and Pedro Borbon pitched 17.1 innings, but it started out with a bang.

On May 26th of the 1970 season Borbon made his Cincinnati Reds debut against the San Diego Padres. In this appearance, he plunked Padre slugger Nate Colbert and was drilled himself hit while he batted the following inning. This retaliation caused a small rift between Pedro and the Padres catcher, and the 23 year old was pulled away by Pete Rose from the scuffle before it could escalate. This was the Reds fans introduction to Pedro Borbon, and one thing was certain: he was ready to take on the world. Unfortunately for Borbon, he wasn’t prepared to take on the National League, and it would be two more years before he burst on the scene for good. When he did he became a Reds legend.

First: What did he throw?

In the Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers, it states that Borbon was known for his “live” Fastball, but no other pitches or deliveries are mentioned. Not that he didn’t have any other pitches, adds Neyer, they just don’t seem to get mentioned.

 Second: What was his role?

During the era of smaller pitching staffs, relievers were expected to (and did) pitch more than an inning, often arriving in a danger situation in one inning and book ending that with another inning or two. Some even emergency-started now and then. In short, they tended to be what the game called Firemen, for they were generally called on when a fire needed to be snuffed. One of the reasons that Sparky Anderson was called Captain Hook was his tendency to yank a pitcher in any inning and in any situation. Often the man getting the call was Pedro Borbon and in the years between 1972-1978 he was one of the premier relief pitchers in the game, compiling unreal inning totals, numerous games finished, double digit saves and multiple inning appearances. In short, he was a bullpen stud.

 Third: What and How did he do?

Leads the Reds in batters faced for a reliever by 1036 batters.

BATTERS FACED                    BFP   IP          G
Pedro Borbon                     3851  920.2      531
Scott Sullivan                   2815  662.2      494
John Franco                      2196  528        393
Rob Dibble                       1836  450.2      354
Doug Bair                        1397  318.2      220
Wayne Granger                    1375  330        227
Hersh Freeman                    1229  292.2      171
Hector Carrasco                  1190  269.1      203
Francisco Corder                 1173  279.1      283
Bill Henry                       1106  267        225
Rawly Eastwick                   1049  258.2      160
Manny Sarmiento                  1037  250        132

The Reds have had 9 pitchers who have had over 120 innings pitched, 60 games appeared in and less than 2 starts. Borbon has 6 of them.

GAMES                         YEAR      G       IP
1    Wayne Granger            1969       90    145
2    Pedro Borbon             1973       80    121
T3   Tom Hume                 1980       78    137
T3   Ted Abernathy            1968       78    135
T5   Pedro Borbon             1977       73    127
T5   Pedro Borbon             1974       73    139
7    Pedro Borbon             1976       69    121
8    Pedro Borbon             1975       67    125
9    Pedro Borbon             1972       62    122    

The amazing thing about this was that Borbon achieved this feat in six straight seasons, which is a baseball record.

1    Pedro Borbon             1972-77    6
T2   Dick Radatz              1962-65    4
T2   Dan Quisenberry          1982-85    4
T4   Wilbur Wood              1968-70    3
T4   Rollie Fingers           1975-77    3
T6   Hoyt Wilhelm             1952-53    2
T6   Ron Perranoski           1963-64    2
T6   Hoyt Wilhelm             1964-65    2
T6   Lindy McDaniel           1965-66    2
T6   Mike Marshall            1973-74    2
T6   Charlie Hough            1976-77    2
T6   Bill Campbell            1976-77    2
T6   Goose Gossage            1977-78    2
T6   Kent Tekulve             1978-79    2
T6   Enrique Romo             1979-80    2
T6   Aurelio Lopez            1979-80    2
T6   Roger McDowell           1985-86    2
T6   Mark Eichhorn            1986-87    2
T6   Jeff Robinson            1987-88    2

Borbon would regularly pitch multiple innings in back to back games and was known for having one of the strongest arms on the staff. He once hit the fence in CF at Fenway with a throw from home plate.

He leads the Reds  in appearances as a pitcher.

GAMES                            G       IP
1    Pedro Borbon                531    920.2
2    Scott Sullivan              494    662.2
3    Clay Carroll                486    856.2
4    Joe Nuxhall                 484   2171
5    Danny Graves                465    733
6    Tom Hume                    457    921
7    Eppa Rixey                  440   2890
8    Dolf Luque                  395   2669
T9   Paul Derringer              393   2616
T9   John Franco                 393    528

PLUS…. he finished 47.6% of the games entered!

After the sixth season of 120 plus innings, Borbon scaled back and only tossed 99.1.

The next season he threw 44 innings as a Red and was traded to the Giants where he topped 90 for the 8th straight season. This too is another record.

1    Pedro Borbon             1972-79    8
T2   Eddie Fisher             1964-70    7
T2   Rollie Fingers           1972-78    7
T4   Stu Miller               1961-66    6
T4   Mike Marshall            1971-76    6
T6   Ron Perranoski           1961-65    5
T6   Jack Baldschun           1961-65    5
T6   Bob Locker               1965-69    5
T6   Dale Murray              1975-79    5
T6   Gene Garber              1975-79    5
T6   Sparky Lyle              1976-80    5
T6   Gary Lavelle             1976-80    5
T6   Kent Tekulve             1976-80    5
T6   Duane Ward               1988-92    5
T6   Scott Sullivan           1997-01    5

 Fourth: How did it end?

Well let’s start with 1980; Borbon pitched 19 innings and retired. Facing 4326 batters can do that to a guy

Lore has it that when the Reds traded Pedro Borbon for the infamous Hector Cruz that Borbon had placed a curse on the Reds that they would never win a World Series again. Cincinnati’s loss in three games in the division playoffs later that season gave credence to that tale and by the end of several disappointing seasons in the 80’s, the memory of winning seemed quite faded. My brother and his roommates were the typical college students in late 80’s, living on the bare minimum during the summer months, and they bonded pretty heavy with the Reds for evening entertainment. As the 1990 season was underway, they decided to break the “Borbon Curse” Their theory was that a “reverse curse” must be applied to take on the original one. Their solution was they would break the curse by carrying this card in their wallets all year in deference to the great reliever

By the end of the World Series they were convinced their metaphysical experiment had worked.

In the end  it was just a rumor and a tale, as Pedro himself confirmed in 2002 that no such curse had ever occurred. In 2010 he was inducted in the Reds Hall of Fame where a number of his records will likely stand for awhile.

8 Responses

  1. Bill Lack

    Great post, Brian…but not mention of his scuffling with Willie Mays in the ’73 brawl or taking a bite out of the bill of his hat?

    But John Erardi covers some of that in his article.

  2. preach

    Any mention of Pedro Borbon has to mention the blooper pitch. It was amazing how many batters would swing at it.

  3. Brian Erts

    All fine points, often a players personality gets in the way of his accomplishments, I was certain that others would cover his cap eating escapade, I also failed to mention his attempt to be a replacement player on the Reds in the spring of 1995, two pitches and he was done.

  4. Steve Price

    I’m trying to find more about the story of Borbon’s first game and the knockdown incidents because it all sounds like pure-Borbon.

    According to baseball-reference.com’s play by play (http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/SDN/SDN197005262.shtml) Borbon was the starting pitcher and hit Padres slugger Nate Colbert with a pitch in the first inning forcing Colbert to leave the game. Clarence Gaston had just homered for the Padres after the first two runners had reached base on an error and a hit. Borbon then recorded three outs on a line-out double play (liner was to Borbon) and then a ground out (grounder also to Borbon).

    Borbon batted in the top of the third inning and grounded out to the second baseman in his only at bat of the day. I have to wonder if it was a knockdown pitch that missed Borbon that caused the scuffle between Borbon and the catcher before Borbon grounded out to second base.

    Irony to the story–the Padres catcher for the day was Bob Barton. Pat Corrales was catching for the Reds that day (Johnny Bench started in CF before moving to 3b later in the game). Barton and Corrales were later traded for each other in June of 1972. However, Barton did not play for the Reds in 1972 nor did he play in the minors (according to baseball-reference.com…http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/b/bartobo01.shtml).

    In fact, it also does not show him playing in the minors in 1973, yet he only made three appearances for the Reds before they released him on June 18, 1973, one year and one week after receiving him in the trade. He caught three innings (Don Gullett pitching, two strike outs with Barton catching) in an April win over the Giants (walked in his only plate appearance). Barton also flied out in an April pinch hitting appearance, and he caught Ed Sprague for two innings in a May game (did not bat, recorded three put outs all on strikeouts).

    I don’t know about DL stints–they aren’t listed there…but, how’s that for a third-sting catcher’s job on the Big Red Machine? One year plus one week….five innings in the field and two plate appearances (one walk and one fly out).

    And he didn’t catch Borbon during a game–no doubt, he caught him often warming him up in the bullpen.

  5. BloodyHo

    One of my all time favorite players, a fiery competitor. Pedro was a fireman’s fireman and an absolute cog on a great bullpen supporting a somewhat maligned starting staff. His passing reminds me how much I miss his presence on the mound. Thank-you Pedro for the marvelous memories and supreme effort you provided.

  6. The Singing Bush

    It’s a sad day. I’ve heard that Manny Mota is inconsolable.

  7. MikeC

    Borbon was one of my favorites from the BRM era also. Another story I read about him was that he and Cesar Geronimo were standing at home plate in some stadium before the game and having a contest seeing who couold throw the ball over the centerfield fence. One of the coaches caught them doing it and made them stop.