This week at Redleg Nation, we’re running a series of posts celebrating this year’s inductees into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame: Adam Dunn, Dave Bristol, and Fred Norman.
On June 11, 1973, the defending National League Champion Cincinnati Reds were routed by the St. Louis Cardinals by a score of 11-5. Their record had slipped to 31-27. They were in 4th place in the National League West, 5 and ½ games behind the San Francisco Giants.
Sparky Anderson’s Big Red Machine was sputtering. Denis Menke was clearly not the answer at third base. The Reds brought up Dan Driessen and while his bat was impressive, his play at third base wasn’t. Bobby Tolan was in a deep slump and a big crisis over him was brewing at Riverfront Stadium. And worst of all, Reds starting pitchers weren’t getting the job done and the bullpen was getting overworked.
Ross Grimsley and Jack Billingham started off fast that season, but both pitchers were struggling in June. Gary Nolan was injured and out for the season. Jim McGlothlin was still pitching but nagged with injuries. Roger Nelson, acquired from the Kansas City Royals for Hal McRae and Wayne Simpson, was hurt and would pitch just 54 innings that year and post a 3-2 record.
Cincinnati was desperate for a starting pitcher.
And so General Manager Bob Howsam made yet another trade. The Reds sent Gene Locklear — a reserve outfielder who we talked with last month — minor league pitcher Mike Johnson, and $150,000 to the San Diego Padres for Fred Norman.
Fred Norman, at the time of that trade, had a record of 1-7 and a 4.26 earned run average. Drafted in 1961 by the Kansas City Athletics, Norman had spent most of the ’60s in the minor leagues for several organizations and was considered a “journeyman” pitcher.
Reds fans were stunned. Fred Norman? A guy with a 1-7 record?
But Howsam and Reds super scout Ray Shore knew what they were getting. Norman was what you’d call a “crafty lefthander.” At 5’8” tall, Norman wasn’t physically intimidating or overpowering but Howsam understood a few things when he made this trade.
First, Norman pitched for a bad team; the Padres were one of the worst teams in the National League at that time. But after the trade, he was pitching for The Big Red Machine. Second, Norman was durable. He would take the ball every fifth day and could chew up some innings. Howsam gambled that Norman could work out well for the Reds.
It paid both immediate and long-term dividends. In his first start for Cincinnati, Fred Norman hurled a five-hit shutout over the Pirates in a 6-0 Reds win. In his second start against the Giants, he threw another shutout, allowing just three hits in a 4-0 Reds victory.
Talk about a shot in the arm. Norman provided it.
For the rest of that ’73 season, Fred Norman had a 12-6 record for the Reds and his ERA was a run lower (3.30) than it had been for the Padres. The Reds turned things around and erased an 11-game deficit to LA on July 4th to win the NL West.
And they couldn’t have done it without Norman. (Although Hal King’s legendary home run against the Dodgers on July 1 helped spark the turnaround.) This was one of Howsam’s best trades, a conservative gamble that paid off in a huge way.
Norman’s best pitch was a screwball. It was considered one of the best in baseball, similar to what Mike Cueller of the Baltimore Orioles threw. The trade that brought Fred to the Reds seemed to rejuvenate him. It was a change of scenery, a fresh start.
Norman’s bulldog pitching in 1973 resulted in a National League West title. He pitched well in the Pete Rose War against the Mets in the playoffs. He was a reliable starter in the back to back World Championships for the Big Red Machine in 1975 and 1976.
For that and the six seasons of excellent pitching for Cincinnati, Fred Norman will be inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame this week. It’s a long overdue honor.
Norman averaged 191 innings per year from 1974-1979, winning 13, 12, 12, 14, 11 and 11 games each of those seasons. He’s the last of the “core” starters of The Big Red Machine to reach the Reds Hall of Fame. The others are Don Gullett, Jack Billingham, and Gary Nolan.
Everything that Bob Howsam envisioned — the innings of work, the consistency, the durability — came through for the Reds. The lefthander kept Cincinnati in the games he started and was a consistent, reliable starter for the Reds.
At times, he drove Sparky crazy. “He’s inventing again!” Anderson would yell to pitching coach Larry Shepard from time to time on Norman’s pitching. But both Sparky and Shepard were smart enough to let Norman improvise from time to time. He was that reliable for the Reds.
The induction of Fred Norman closes a chapter for the Big Red Machine. The underrated Reds pitching staff of that era now has four starters enshrined in Cincinnati Reds history, as they should be.
Jack Billingham, the workhorse. The guy who pitched 25 1/3 innings in World Series competition and allowed just one earned run.
Don Gullett, the young phenom who was plagued by injuries during his career yet was sensational when healthy.
Gary Nolan, an incredible young talent who once fanned Willie Mays four times in a game but transformed himself due to injuries to become what Cincinnati Post sportswriter Earl Lawson called a “magician” on the mound.
And now, Fred Norman, the savvy lefthander who was incredibly consistent during his time with the Big Red Machine.
Congratulations Fred, from all of the staff and readers of Redleg Nation.
John lives in Galesburg, Illinois and has been a Reds fan all of his life. He is a retired firefighter and a Veteran who served for 32 years but stays active at the local Humane Society. His favorite Reds players include Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, Tony Perez, Eric Davis, and Bronson Arroyo. While writing, he frequently listens to the music of Led Zeppelin and Steely Dan. He is flanked in the photo by ever-loyal “Reptar.”