Wednesday, May 16, 2018

When Queen was the King
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TRIVIA QUESTION:  Which major league pitcher was Mel Queen's high school teammate and later his brother-in-law?  

When Sandy Koufax tossed his fourth no-hitter, he broke the record set previously by Bob Feller. Nolan Ryan would eventually surpass Koufax.

Before Rick Ankiel and before Shohei Ohtani, pitching and hitting, there was Mel Queen. Not to be confused with his father, Mel Queen Sr., who played in the big leagues in the 1950's for a couple of clubs, the younger Queen made his own major league mark.

Queen was signed by the Reds and played both third base and the outfield in the minor leagues. The Reds brought him up in 1964 and he made his debut as a pinch-hitter but lined out. A week later he got his first hit off Hall of Famer, Juan Marichal. In his rookie year he batted 99 times, and stroked a pair of home runs but only batted .200. He was sent back to the minors and at some point asked if he could try his hand at pitching.
Cincinnati had a bevy of good outfielders about to emerge including Tommy Harper and Art Shamsky along with the aging Vada Pinson. Perhaps Queen thought he had a better chance breaking into the majors as a pitcher. He was right.

In 1967 he had a break out year, winning 14 of 22 decisions and clocking an ERA of 2.76, starting 24 games. It looked like he was on his way with teammate Gary Nolan who also emerged with 14 wins. Jim Maloney and Milt Pappas won 31 more between them. It looked as if the Reds were about to emerge once again. 

On April 16th Queen shut down the powerful Giants 6-0, tossing a six-hitter and walking two while striking out 8 in out-dueling Mike McCormick. A week later he pitched five hitless innings in relief of Maloney to pick up his second win in two decisions. A few days later he got his second start against San Francisco and out did Gaylord Perry. He went seven strong innings giving up two runs, one earned and just three hits. He was 3-0!

Then when Sammy Ellis couldn't get past the fourth inning, Queen came in and took over. He got the win to run his record to 4-0 (two as a starter and two in relief) as the Reds pounded the Braves 14-7. Four games later he finally lost. In relief of Nolan, Queen gave up a homer to Tommy Davis of the Mets in the 11th to fall to 4-1.

Nine days later he started again and went the distance in beating Pittsburgh 6-3 with a six-hitter. He didn't walk a batter and struck out nine Pirates on his way to 5-1. He didn't get his next decision until June third when he picked up for Billy McCool and ran his record to 6-1. Win no. 7 came seven days later and number 8 on June 16th against the Dodgers, 3-2 over Bill Singer. It was a 4-hitter and again it was a complete game.

Queen lost his next three decisions before picking up win number 9 with a distance going six-hitter to run his mark to 9-4. His final win came on September 18th when he failed to yield a run against the Braves but was relieved by Ted Abernathy. He finished the season 14-8. 

It looked like Mel Queen had found his niche but he developed arm trouble the following year  and things began to falter. The next two seasons he pitched in only seven more games and when the decade of the 1970's came he was traded to the Angels where he found new life as a reliever for three more years, where he went 5-8 with 13 Saves before hanging up his glove.

While he came to The Show as a hitter it wasn't going to be enough to make him hang around after his pitching days were through. His career totals, including much of it as a pinch-hitter, left him at .179 and a pair of home runs which he blasted in his first year. He would later say of his pitching career "I just went to the mound and threw as hard as I could."

Queen would eventually move into coaching and then the front office where he had good success not only as a pitching coach but in player development. He passed away due to cancer in Morro Bay, California at age 69 in 2011.

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