Reds History

Remembering Jim O’Toole

An already dismal, depressing off-season for Reds fans got worse the day after Christmas.

Our family– Redleg Nation– lost Jim O’Toole. He passed away at the age of 78 after a long bout with cancer.

Most of you know about the former Reds left-handed starting pitcher. How he spent just one season in the minor leagues with the Nashville Vols and led the league in wins, innings pitched, strikeouts and walks. How he and Bob Purkey and Joey Jay were “The Big Three” of the Reds pitching staff that propelled Cincinnati to a National league pennant in 1961. And how he had his best earned run average (2.66) and a WAR of 5.4 in the heated, tragic pennant race of 1964.

But some of you may not know how he was one of the greatest ambassadors for the Cincinnati Reds. Jim O’Toole was a constant presence at Redsfest, at the Reds Hall of Fame and at baseball gatherings around the Tri-State region. He could be seen talking to Dusty Baker, to an ordinary fan like you or me or young children.

I was fortunate enough to visit with him several times. He loved to tell the story of how he witnessed two of Babe Ruth’s records vanquished within a week. The first was when the Reds sent him and reserve catcher Darrell Johnson to Yankee Stadium after the Reds clinched the pennant to scout the Yanks. It was at that game that Roger Maris hit his 61st home run.

And during the World Series, O’Toole saw New York pitcher Whitey Ford break Ruth’s scoreless inning streak in World Series play when Ford shutout the Reds 2-0 in Game 1 and then again in Game 4. “I saw that one broke up close because I pitched against Whitey Ford in both of those games,” said O’Toole.

Jim had fond memories of playing for Manager Fred Hutchinson. When speaking about Hutch, O’Toole would smile and relate not only stories about Hutchinson’s sometimes-famous temper but how the Reds respected him and how Hutch was out of the John Wayne mold. “We really wanted to win for Hutch in 1964,” said O’Toole about when the Reds skipper had to resign during his fight with cancer. “It really hurt a lot when we lost. We wanted it for him. We didn’t talk about it. We saw him dying before our eyes.”

Born and raised in Chicago, Jim O’Toole quickly became a Cincinnati guy. One of his favorite days of the year was Opening Day in Cincinnati. O’Toole started three of those games, winning two in 1961 and 1963. He pitched in relief for the Opener in 1960, throwing six shutout innings but the 9-4 Reds win over Philadelphia awarded to him by the Official Scorer was taken away by NL President Warren Giles and given instead to Brooks Lawrence who pitched one-third of an inning. After throwing a complete game 7-1 victory over the Cubs in Opening Day of ’61, O’Toole said after the game, “I’d like to see Giles or anyone else take it away!”

Now that was vintage Jim O’Toole.

He came close, but was never a 20-game winner with the Reds. The closest was in 1961, when he was 19-9. In two other years, he won 17 games. In his only All-Star appearance (1963) he started the game for the National League.

More than that, Jim O’Toole was a fiery competitor. If the Reds got into a fight in the field, you could bet that O’Toole and Frank Robinson were involved in it. Once during the 1961 season, O’Toole was on second base and tried to score on a hit to centerfield. He tripped on the third base bag and fell down. O’Toole went back for the bag but got tangled up with Braves third baseman Eddie Mathews and the brawl was on.

The last time I spoke to him was at the Reds Hall of Fame. Jim O’Toole was inducted to that HOF in 1970. He was sitting at a table, wearing a Reds jacket as he usually did, and by himself. I wandered over, asked if I could join him for a minute and O’Toole broke out in that grin and nodded. We talked baseball for 20 minutes. One of the subjects that came up was Joey Votto. So, I asked, how would you pitch Joey? What would be your approach?

Jim smiled again and laughed. “Very, very carefully,” he replied.

Jim O’Toole was a great Cincinnati Red. Actually, he was always a Cincinnati Red. I wish Reds pitchers would take Jim O’Toole’s attitude and competitiveness to the mound with them.

After Joe Nuxhall died, I would always think about him when attending a Reds function and he wasn’t there. It will be the same with Jim O’Toole.

He’s with Joe now. He’s in a better place.

14 thoughts on “Remembering Jim O’Toole

  1. Thanks as always for this, John. O’Toole was just a few years before my baseball fan time, so it’s nice to hear this appreciation!!!

  2. A fond remembrance: Arguing with my grandfather about who would be the best pitcher between the two youngsters. Speaking of Jay Hook and Jim O’Toole. I was a fan of Jim. grandpa said I was just a kid who didn’t know what he was talking about. A good natured baseball session with grandpa, I still remember it almost 60 years later. Good Bye Jim.

  3. A nice memory is on recent Red Reporter thread, about a chance meeting with Jim on one of the first RR burger tour stops a half dozen years ago.

    Mr O’Toole was pure class personified. .

  4. John, thanks for this article. Growing up in the ’60’s watching baseball on TV and at Crosley Field, I will always remember O’toole’s windup.

  5. Rest in Peace, Jim O’Toole. One of my all-time favorite Reds. I lived In NYC in 1961 and, being young, had no money for a ticket to the WS. But I did see the Reds get off their bus at Yankee Stadium, and from the elevated subway stop I could see some of the playing field. The Reds managed just one win over the Yankees, but Jim O’Toole and Joey Jay both had a great season with each pitcher winning 19 and 21 games.

  6. Another very good from the heart article by Mr. Ring. I have tried for years to get the Reds Organization to put on a “day” for that 1961 team. 2011 was 50th anniversary–would have been perfect. Now O’Toole-Purkey-Coleman-Freese-Post-Pinson-Henry-Brosnan ( the last two last year with no mention by Cincinnati media). I only named a few who are now gone and pretty soon none will be around—what a shame–many were great talkers and story tellers. The new generation of Reds fans need to know more about the Reds history. It doesn’t just start with the 1970s. If the posters above really feel the way they say—call the Reds office and tell them—get in the fight just like the 61 team always did.

    • Very interesting that you mention Henry (the lefty) and Brosnan (the righty). They were keys to the Reds winning the 1961 NL pennant – 16 saves each for a total of 32, unusually high for that period. Hutch used them very flexibly, he would sometimes use Brosnan like a long man.

    • Pete Rose is one guy who loves to talk about the 1960’s Reds. He says correctly that the 1965 Reds were the best hitting team he ever played for.

      • John posted an article a couple a days ago about Dave Bristol’s time as Reds manager. (I just checked and on my devices at least, it seems to have disappeared, not on the posts list or the rolling banner and comments to it have aged off the recents comments list).

        That post sparked quite a discussion of those teams. Tom Gray and Doug Wilson put up a lot of comments and facts about Vada Pinson that probably would have been up your alley.

        One of the Tom’s comments included a listing of the position starters, starting rotation, and key relievers by season for 1966-69. I noticed that for 1968, everyone of the starting position players is now in the Reds HoF except for Alex Johnson (who almost certainly would have been if he had been a Red long enough) and that two of them are in the National HoF (Bench, Perez) plus of course Rose who would be also be in the National HoF but for his special circumstances. So now I am racking my brain trying to recall who was there in 65 that would have made that a better hitting team than 68. Off to BBRef…..

        • Per BBRef:

          Guys in 1965 line up not in 1968 line up:
          Johnny Edwards, C (Johnny Bench in ’68)
          Gordy Coleman, 1B (Lee May)
          Deron Johnson, 3B (Tony Perez)
          Tommy Harper, LF (Alex Johnson)
          Frank Robinson, RF (Pete Rose (moved from 2B to RF;Tommy Helms in @ 2B))

          If Pete says 1965 was better hitting, who am I to question anything he says about the play of baseball on the field in that era.

  7. Given my age at the time, the early 1960’s Reds will always be my favorite team. O’Toole, Purkey, and Jay, now that was a trio.

    Never met him but everyone seemed to love Jim O’Toole. Thanks, John.

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