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TRIVIA QUESTION: What do Vada Pinson, Curt Flood, Frank Robinson and Celtic Bill Russell all have in common?
ANSWER TO TRIVIA QUESTION IN THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: Ray Oyler, Bud Harrelson, Dal Maxvil and Roy McMillan were all slightly built shortstops who weighed in the 170 pound range. The ONE physical attribute they all shared however was they were all 5'11" tall. While they were all know mostly for their glove and the fact they were terrible hitters, if they all stood side by side they would all measure the same height.
It may have been providence, it may have been dumb luck but when the St. Louis Cardinals replaced a retired great for an aging but still lots-left-in-the-tank great, they should have stuck with their first thought. At the end of the 1968 season and a World Series loss to the Detroit Tigers, Roger Maris decided to call it a career.
The Cards went in search of a new right fielder. Or perhaps they should not have gone outside the organization at all and stuck with what they had. The Cards chose to go outside and sent pitcher Wayne Granger and blossoming outfielder Bobby Tolan to the Reds for long time standout, Vada Pinson. At 29 Pinson was still playing at a high level. His five home runs matched Maris in 1968 but he did hit .271 or better than Maris' .255.
Two seasons earlier he led the league in triples, the second time he'd done that and his career featured four times getting 200 or more hits in a season. He twice led the league in that category and twice led the senior circuit in doubles. He averaged nearly 30 a season. He was also a strong defensive outfielder and looked just like what the Cardinals needed.
Teaming him with Lou Brock and Curt Flood and recently acquired Joe Torre seemed like a way to return to the series in 1969. It would not be a three peat for St. Louis as they fell into fourth place in the newly set up divisional structure.
The highlight of the season for Pinson came on September 18th against the Pirates. With the Pirates ahead 7-4 in the seventh Pinson came to the plate to face lefty Joe Gibbon with Flood on base. The Cardinal outfielder promptly smacked a Gibbon pitch into the seats for a two run homer, putting the Card's right behind Pittsburgh 7-6. Just as important it was Pinson's 2000th hit of his career. St. Louis would eventually win the game 8-7 making the homer so much sweeter for Pinson.
Ironically, Pinson matched Maris batting average .255 and home run total (5) from the previous season. Despite having his best ever defensive year and leading the entire NL in fielding percentage, at the end of the season St. Louis management felt the experiment did not work and sent Pinson to Cleveland for Jose Cardenal. Not the best move as Pinson went on to record some strong seasons with the Indians and the Angels. In 1970, the year after he was traded he belted 24 homers and hit .286. Four more good years followed before he retired after the next five seasons with 2757 hits, just short of the magic 3000 mark.
For his part Cardenal hit only .243 in his only year as a Cardinal before moving on to several teams and registering around the .300 mark the next six seasons. Perhaps the Cardinals should have stuck with Tolan. Over the next two years for the Reds Tolan played in 152 games each season, collected 380 hits, averaged .310, hit 37 homers, drove in 173 runs and stole 83 bases. They were the only really good seasons in his career.
For Pinson it certainly looks like a HOF career although he was overshadowed by some of the best outfielders in game during his playing time. It would be too much to compare him to Mays, Aaron, Robinson, Clemente, Kaline, Brock, Billy Williams, and Yaz. Most believe he should be there anyway.
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