Archive for the ‘Milwaukee Braves’ Category

John, Paul, George, Ringo . . . And Jim

Saturday, June 12th, 2010

Oddly (but not unreasonably), the name Jim Maloney has always been associated in my mind with “The Dave Clark Five” — the North London rock band that, for a short time, gave “The Beatles” a run for their money. The DC5, as they were called, had a number of hits (“Glad All Over,” “Bits and Pieces,” “Anyway You Want It”) and a solid following, particularly among those (and there were some) who thought “The Beatles” were over hyped, over exposed, foppish and a tad too popular. Maloney was that way: the big Cincinnati right hander was one of the best pitchers in baseball during the same year (1964) that the DC5 reached the peak of their popularity, though he was bound to be left out among all the oohing and ahhing reserved for the big four of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Bob Gibson and Juan Marichal. History is the best judge: Big Jim could never compete for space against Sandy, Don, Bob and Juan any more than Dave Clark could garner the same attention as John, Paul, George and Ringo. Tsk. Tsk.

I remember watching Maloney pitch the front end of a double header in Milwaukee in the deep summer of ’64. It was the week following the Tonkin Gulf Resolution was passed in the Congress, and two weeks after the bodies of three civil rights workers were discovered in Mississippi. But while at least some of the country was focused on war and civil rights, a large number of people in Milwaukee were focused on the August Braves-Reds match-up. The Braves-Reds tilt, it was thought, would determine whether the Braves would contend for the pennant. All of Milwaukee was atwitter with talk about how the Braves front four would match-up perfectly against the mighty Reds — and for good reason. The Braves front four consisted of a legend (Warren Spahn) and three savvy nose-in-the-dirt youngsters: Tony Cloninger, Denny LeMaster and Hank Fischer. Spahn was faltering then, but never mind: Wade Blasingame could come in to spell him in odd starts, and the 20-year-old was something to behold.

The only problem was that Cincinnati’s front four was even more formidable. Jim Maloney anchored the staff, which consisted of Jim O’Toole, Bob Purkey and Joey Jay. If that wasn’t enough, Joe Nuxhall was still kicking around (at the age of 35) and Sammy Ellis was an intimidating presence in the bullpen. The Redlegs’ starting nine was a terrifying mix of heavy lumber and hit-em-to-all-fields stars that included the underrated Vada Pinson, the man-for-all-seasons Frank Robinson and a young Pete Rose. But the real deal on the mound for the Reds was Jim Maloney, a brute of a pitcher whose up-and-in 95-plus fastball was nearly unhittable. Maloney, then all of 24, had just come off a 23-win season, with a sparkling ERA of 2.77. His ’64 season looked like much the same, though he wasn’t as well-supported as he had been the year before. While Maloney’s best games were still a year away (he pitched three no hitters in his career — and won only two of them), he was the one guy who could sink the Braves’ hopes for a World Series match-up. Which is exactly what he did.

But not with his arm.

Memories are strange things, allowing us snapshots of the past — and rarely a comprehensive account, or anything resembling a “film.” So it is that I recall that back in the deep summer of 1964 (and as I sat on the first base side of Milwaukee County Stadium) the great Cloninger-Maloney duel to decide the National League Pennant wasn’t a duel at all. It was an artillery barrage, led by none other than Maloney, a hulking presence, a converted Fresno, California shortstop whom the Reds transformed into a fastball ace because he couldn’t hit a lick. Except (of course) for that day in Milwaukee. And here’s the snapshot: in the sixth inning of the first game, with the bases loaded, Maloney came to the plate (a sure out) and swung his bat through the strike zone (click) and sent the ball sailing high and deep (I can see it still) into the bleachers in left field. It was a Jim Maloney grand slam — the only home run he hit that year and it sent all of Milwaukee into mourning (I swear, I thought Cloninger was going to have a stroke). Suddenly (but certainly, for that is how these things are) and though it was only the first game of the double header, the Braves were d-e-a-d Dead, Dead, Dead for 1964. The second game (as I recall) was all Vada Pinson and ended up a Reds win, but it hardly mattered. By then, Milwaukee fans knew for sure that at least for 1964 (which saw a legendary Phillies collapse) the Braves would not win the pennant.

Jim Maloney is one of those great forgotten pitchers. In June of 1965 he threw a ten inning no hitter and lost, giving up a home run in the 11th. He struck out 18 — still a Reds record — but he took the loss. In August of 1965, Maloney did it again, throwing another 10 inning no hitter, while striking out eight. This time he won. He wasn’t finished; after successive one hitters through ’65, ’66 and ’67 — years in which he battled an increasingly sore arm — he pitched a no hitter on May 13 of 1969 against the Astros. It might have been his best game. In 1970, Sparky Anderson took over as Cincinnati’s manager and inaugurated an era of Red baseball victories. But by then Maloney’s shoulder (and achilles tendon) had exploded. He was shipped to California, in an attempt to revive his career as an Angel, but it was too late, and in 1971 he retired. Maloney — the Dave Clark of pitchers — was only 31.