Jim Maloney always wanted to pitch in the Major Leagues and when he reached that goal as a 20-year-old in 1960 he couldn’t have been more thrilled.
When the 81-year-old Maloney looks back on his introduction to the big leagues all those years ago, however, he realizes that it all came a bit too quickly. While he went on to have a splendid career in Cincinnati, who knows what the hard-throwing right-hander could have done with just a bit more seasoning.
Maloney had less than two years of professional ball on his resume before Cincinnati called him up in the summer of 1960. He showed promise and ultimately that promise would be fulfilled as he went on to become one of the decade’s most dominating though underrated pitchers.
“They did rush me and I didn’t know how to react,” said the California native who would go on to post a 134-80 record in the 1960s. “They didn’t have all the publicity they have today when kids sign. These kids have been around other players and ballparks. I had never stepped into a Major League ballpark before. They didn’t have a team out here [California] until the year I graduated high school .”
Maloney had the seventh-most victories in the 1960s but remains in the shadow of other hurlers such as Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal and Tom Seaver. Though it took Maloney some time to get his big league footing, he would average 17 wins a season from 1963 to 1969, twice winning 20 while receiving MVP votes on three occasions. He tossed a pair of no-hitters and remains in the top-10 in several categories among Cincinnati’s all-time pitching leaders. He is first in club history in strikeouts [1,592], second in shutouts , third in strikeouts per nine innings [7.8], tied for fifth in winning percentage [.623] and seventh in victories for a franchise that began play in 1882.
Maloney’s career, however, came to a crashing halt in 1970 when he suffered a torn Achilles tendon. He has remained involved in the game when possible, though, but doesn’t give much thought to his place in baseball history or how his career is viewed by pundits, writers or historians.
“I don’t even think about it to be honest,” he said. “Stuff like that never bothered me. I’m just glad I played. When I was a kid growing up, I wanted to be a Major League player. I started with the Reds and I had some goals. I got to be on one team for 10 years and was able to have success. I had goals of winning 20 games, which I did, and pitch in an All-Star game, which I did. I had a goal of winning 200 and of course I didn’t reach that one.
“I don’t know if I could have played in New York either with all the different writers and the fast-paced life. Cincinnati was a lot like the town I grew up in [Fresno].”
[On his torn Achilles:] “Bob Howsam I had no pain tolerance. He said I have to learn how to pitch with pain. That Bob Gibson pitches with pain. You think that would fly today?”
Maloney was a three-sport star at Fresno High School but was one of several standouts on the baseball team. That he was recruited and scouted as much, if not more, to play shortstop rather than pitch said something about his ability on the field.
He batted .500 as a senior and led his team to a third consecutive league championship. Maloney was also one of the stars on a powerful Fresno Post 4 American Legion team that would also see Dick Ellsworth [Cubs], Lynn Rube [Cardinals] and Mike Urrizola [Phillies] sign professional contracts.
When it came time to sign, though, Maloney wasn’t sure about what he wanted to do. He visited several clubs after high school graduation, including the Reds, Orioles and Dodgers. Bobby Mattick, who was one of Cincinnati’s West Coast scouts, suggested he work on his pitching and perhaps that would be a more viable route to the big leagues.
There were reports that Maloney was leaning toward Baltimore but in the end, he opted for college and headed off to Berkeley to play ball. He stayed there for a semester before transferring to Fresno City College, where he began the season by running off 19 consecutive scoreless innings. Maloney then signed with the Reds in April of 1959 for $100,000. Reports were that he had been offered $60,000 the year before by an unknown team that many suspected was Baltimore.
“The night after I graduated from high school my dad talked to all 16 teams within a couple of days,” Maloney said. “We scheduled meetings, had guys over the house. Half of them wanted me as a pitcher and half wanted me to start as an infielder and after two or three years if I wasn’t making progress, I could switch to pitching.
“The Reds wanted me at that moment and at the time they needed pitching so I had a good chance to get through the system in a hurry. I had only thrown 25 innings as a pitcher, though, before I signed so I felt they rushed me a little bit.”
Pitcher Jim Maloney #46 of the Cincinnati Reds poses for a portrait circa 1960's. (Photo by Louis Requena/MLB via Getty Images)
The Reds sent Maloney to Topeka of the Class-B Three-I [Indiana-Illinois-Iowa] League, where he appeared in 25 games [14 starts]. He went 6-7 with a 4.50 ERA while striking out 131 in 124 innings.
“I had never really pitched before and that was a pretty fast league,” Maloney said. “You were allowed to have six or seven veterans on your team in that league but I still went 6-7. I pitched a lot of innings. I signed a Major League contract so they had some money in me. In those days they didn’t think about pitch counts.
“They had over $100,000 invested in me, which was quite a lot. The next year I went to Nashville [of the Double-A Southern Association], I pitched 160 innings , won 14 games [with 162 strikeouts and a 2.72 ERA] and got called up to the Major Leagues.”
So after not really pitching in high school, only throwing a handful of innings in college and going 285 1/3 innings in the minors, Maloney found himself in the big leagues, where he would stay for the better part of the next decade.
Maloney made his Major League debut on July 27, 1960 at Dodger Stadium. He allowed one run on six hits and struck out five over seven innings against the defending champs but took the loss. The first batter he faced was Jim Gilliam, who flew out to center while Frank Howard was his first career strikeout. He kept the Dodgers off the board until the seventh when he surrendered three consecutive singles, the last of which was to Maury Wills, who drove in what would be the winning run.
He lost two of his next three appearances [two starts] before picking up his first win against Milwaukee on Aug. 15. He allowed three runs over 8 1/3 innings for the win.
Maloney’s performance would be up and down for the remainder of the season, the highlight of which was a complete-game shutout against the Phillies on Sept. 24. He struck out 11 and scattered four hits. He finished his rookie year at 2-6 with a 4.66 ERA in 11 games [10 starts].
While Maloney spent all of 1961 with the Reds, he bounced between the rotation and the bullpen and never got his footing, going 6-7 with a 4.37 ERA in 27 games [11 starts]. Maloney did, however, see some action in the World Series as the Reds lost to the Yankees. He pitched 2/3 of an inning in New York’s Game-Five, Series-clinching win, allowing two runs on four hits and a walk.
“I was so nervous [in the World Series], I couldn’t see straight or stand on the rubber,” Maloney said. “I was really out of my element. I think I got one guy out. Hector Lopez hit one down the line [for a triple] that he swung late on and [Clete] Boyer hit one off the scoreboard [for a double] so I just put more gas on the fire. But I got in a World Series game.”
Maloney was on his way to solidifying his place in Cincinnati’s rotation, but it wouldn’t be easy. He began experiencing the shoulder problems that would impact him for the remainder of his career.
“It was an irritation in the deltoid area where muscles attach,” Maloney said. “Somewhere around the rotator cuff but the rotator cuff never came up [in the discussion]. They gave me a shot of cortisone and that took care of the issue. If they hit the spot, I was good for another 65-75-85 innings.
“You’re going to have problems with your shoulder or arm if throw a baseball. It’s not a natural movement. If you throw underhanded, like softball pitchers, you can pitch a couple of games in a row.”
September 2, 1963: Cincinnati Reds pitcher Jim Maloney and teammate Pete Rose celebrate in the dressing room after winning the second game and splitting a doubleheader with the New York Mets at the Polo Grounds. Rose's first inning homer provided the winning margin as Maloney went on to pitch a shutout and notch his 20th victory of the year, 1-0. The Mets won the first game.
THE DECADE UNFOLDS
Maloney began 1962 with the idea he would be a big part of the Reds’ rotation. The situation quickly turned sour, though, as he was assigned to San Diego of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League for the start of the season.
He fared well in the PCL, going 4-1 with a 2.40 ERA in seven starts and returned to the Reds near the end of June. He would stay in the Queen City until the end of the 1970 season. Maloney showed flashes of brilliance upon his return to the Reds, going 9-7 with a 3.51 ERA in 22 games [17 starts]. He finished strong, allowing only one run in his final 25 innings, setting him up for what would be a monstrous 1963.
“I was healthy and strong,” Maloney said. “The year before I was 6-7 but they sent me out in spring training because I had one option left and they couldn’t get rid of a couple other guys. I had to go to San Diego and I missed about a month and a half and they called me right back.”
Maloney’s career-best 1963 season started off with a bang. He went 11-2 with a 2.98 ERA after 14 starts. That included going 9-1 in a 10-game stretch. It was one brilliant effort after another early on, particularly on May 21 at Milwaukee when he allowed only two hits in 8 1/3 innings while striking out 16. Maloney struck out eight in a row that game, which was, at the time, a record that has since been broken. He also pitched complete-game shutouts against St. Louis and Houston before he lost his last June start to finish the first half of the season at 11-3.
The taste of that loss didn’t linger because he went 5-0 in six July starts, including tossing a one-hit shutout at Wrigley Field in a game that he fanned 13. The only down month Maloney had, if you could even call it that, was August when he went 3-3 despite pitching a pair of complete-game shutouts.
“1963 was a real big year for me,” Maloney said. “That’s when I knew I belonged. I knew I was going to be a decent pitcher if I stayed healthy. [Chicago starter] Dick Ellsworth and I went to school together and Pat Corrales was our catcher. I played shortstop behind Ellsworth and he would overpower people with his curveball and fastball in high school. I got two balls hit to me in a game it was a big day.
“Watching him pitch and knowing how I threw the ball, I thought I could do the same but I had no clue. When I signed I didn’t know if I belonged at the Major League level. But after a couple of years, I knew I was going to be okay.”
CHICAGO - UNDATED: Pitcher Jim Maloney #45 of the Cincinnati Reds pitches at Wrigley Field circa the 1960's during a game. (Photo by Focus on Sport via Getty Images)
September would prove to be a big month for Maloney for a variety of reasons. He opened the month by picking up his 20th win on Sept. 2, a complete-game, three-hit shutout of the Mets at the Polo Grounds in which he struck out 13. Four thousand miles away, his high school teammate [Ellsworth] also won his 20th game by defeating the Giants in San Francisco.
“I beat the Mets, 1-0,” Maloney said. “Pete Rose hit the first pitch of the game from Jay Hook for a home run. Later in the day Ellsworth beat the Giants. Two kids from the same school winning their 20th game on the same date.”
Maloney went 4-1 in six September starts but it was his final start [Sept. 29] in which he received a no-decision that would prove to be the most emotional. He allowed two runs and struck out 11 in seven innings at St. Louis in what was Hall-of-Famer Stan Musial’s last game.
“Stan Musial was my idol when I was a kid,” Maloney said. “We only got the game of the week on Saturdays with Dizzy Dean and whatever game was on we would watch. Sometimes we’d get the Cards or the Phillies. I watched the Yankees because I was interested in [Mickey] Mantle and those players, but Stan Musial, he was my idol.
“I was a left-handed hitter and I liked his stance so I tried to mimic it. That didn’t work. There was only one guy that could hit like that guy. This was the last game Stan Musial was playing and I was the starting pitcher, the last pitcher he faced in the Major Leagues. It was quite a thrill. He was 42 and I was 23 and going for my 24th win.”
Maloney wasn’t too kind to his idol when he struck him out looking to end the first inning. Musial returned the favor with a single in the fourth and an RBI single in the sixth before getting lifted for a pinch-runner to end his career.
“The writers at the time were asking me if I was going to let Stan get a hit,” Maloney said. “At the time I was tough to get hits off of. At Sportsman’s Park, the clubhouses were pretty close and everyone had cleared out. I went over to their clubhouse and Stan was still there and he waved me over. I said I’d like to get a picture with you and I got a picture with him. That was a special day. It was really neat.”
The final line on Maloney in 1963 was a 23-7 record, a 2.77 ERA and what was, at the time, a club record 265 strikeouts. That mark would stand for 19 years until Mario Soto fanned 274 in 1982. He didn’t, however, receive any votes for the Cy Young, which was given out to only one pitcher in both leagues prior to 1967. Sandy Koufax picked up the first of his three Cy Young Awards, going 25-5 with a 1.88 ERA for the Dodgers.
“I was also an All-Star in 1963,” Maloney said. “I made the team and Hutch [manager Fred Hutchinson] called me into the office with Jim O’Toole before a game to tell us. I was so happy, I had made an All-Star team. At the end of the game he called us back into the office and said that the Cubs didn’t have a representative from their pitching staff so [National League manager] Walt Alston took Larry Jackson instead. I was an All-Star for three-and-a-half hours and it’s not in the record books.”
Jim Maloney pitches against the New York Mets on June 14, 1965. He had a no-hitter through 10 innings before giving up a home run to Johnny Lewis in the 11th inning of a 1-0 loss. (PHOTO: Fred Straub)
THE MIDDLE YEARS
While Maloney didn’t follow up 1963 with another 20-win effort in ’64 he was still effective, going 15-10 with a 271 ERA. He pitched complete games in 11 of his 31 starts, tossing a pair of shutouts while averaging nearly a strikeout per inning.
Some unfortunate events hurt him early in the year, though. Consider his April 18 outing at Dodger Stadium. Maloney was as sharp as he had ever been and was throwing a no-hitter through six innings. He had fanned six and allowed just three walks but was removed after suffering a muscle injury. While he got the win – he beat Koufax – it was a bit of a disappointing victory. He faced the Dodgers again a month later at Crosley Field and pitched a career-high 11 1/3 innings but didn’t get the win. The game was called with the score tied at 2-2 after 17 innings. He pitched shutout ball for the first 11 innings before allowing two runs in the 12th.
Maloney would rebound after a sluggish first half and went 12-3 over his final 20 starts to keep the Reds in what had become a tight pennant race by September. The Phillies were undergoing their epic collapse and the Reds and Cardinals were poised to steal the pennant from them. Cincinnati was hosting Philly on the final day of the season and a win would give them at least a tie for first place and result in a playoff. A loss meant that St. Louis would have to lose to the Mets.
The Reds wound up losing, though, and the Cards ended up winning to take the pennant. There has been much speculation as to why interim manager Dick Sisler started John Tsitouris, who was 2-3 against the Phillies that year, in the finale and not Maloney. Sisler had taken over for Hutchinson during the season after the latter was diagnosed with cancer and his decision had Reds fans furious for years but Maloney backed him up.
“John Tsitouris would throw his glove out there and mow down the Phillies and my record against Philadelphia was only so-so,” Maloney said. “We were all in Sisler’s office and we talked about it. I had just pitched four days before and went 11 innings and got beat by Pittsburgh. I had a real tough game and threw quite a few pitches. Anyway, they wanted Tsitouris and I’d lead off against St. Louis and Gibson. It didn’t make a difference who pitched because we didn’t score and lost 10-0.”
The sour ending to 1964 did little to hamper Maloney in 1965. He would win 20 games for a second [20-9], have a career-low 2.54 ERA, make his only All-Star appearance and get some votes in the National League MVP race. While he once again didn’t factor into the Cy Young voting – Koufax won again with another landslide – he did throw one or two no-hitters depending upon how you view it.
Manager Gil Hodges of the New York Mets wears the uniform of Cincinnati Reds pitcher Jim Maloney while speaking to reporters during a workout before the 1970 MLB All Star Game at Riverfront Stadium on July 13, 1970 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Hodges wore Maloney's jersey because his own hadn't arrived.
The first took place on June 14 at Crosley Field when he no-hit the Mets through 10 innings before giving up an 11th-inning homer to Johnny Lewis en route to a 2-0 loss. While he did whiff 18, tying an NL record for most strikeouts in an extra-inning game, his no-hitter would be wiped off the books 16 years later. Official scoring rules in 1965 allowed for a no-hitter to be considered a no-hitter even if the pitcher allowed a hit in extra innings. Major League Baseball changed the rules in 1991 and Maloney’s no-no was stricken from the books.
The one no-hitter that has survived was another extra-inning affair, this one coming on Aug. 19 at Wrigley Field. He went 10 innings against the Cubs and struck out 12 in a 1-0 victory. He did issue a mind-boggling 10 walks, though, which accounted for his pitch count .
“To be honest, I felt like I could throw a no-hitter every time I went,” Maloney said. “If I gave up a hit, then I was going to throw a one-hit shutout, then if it was two hits or three hits … If someone hit a home homer then it would be a three-hit one-run game. I concentrated on every hitter pitch by pitch. I knew exactly where I was pitch by pitch. I may not have known how many strikeouts I had but I knew exactly how many runs and hits I had given up. It wasn’t one of those deals where you looked at the scoreboard and said, ‘Whoa’.
“We never kept track of pitch counts. I talked to Tom Seaver and he said he always averaged between 135 and 150 for nine innings. If he had a real good game it would be between 120 and 130. That was the same as me. If I pitched a nine-inning game I would average 130 and I still had a 10-year career. If I had been on a 100-pitch count, I would haven’t as won as many games. They would have had me out of there.”
COMING DOWN TO THE END
Maloney dealt with injuries and/or battles with management over contracts often during the second half of his career. Still, he managed to win 47 games between 1966 and 1968 despite missing some starts because of the injuries.
The start of the 1969 season looked as if it would bring with it a return to the vintage Maloney of 1963 and 65. He began the year going 3-0 through five starts, tossing three consecutive complete games to close out the month. The last of those games was his second official no-hitter, which came on April 30 at home against Houston.
Maloney struck out 13 [including his 1,500th career strikeout] and finished the month with a 1.42 ERA but he injured his groin while running the bases in the eighth inning. He pitched the ninth to complete the no-no but was clearly impacted by the injury. He pitched a combined 21 1/3 innings in May and June while missing several weeks because of the injury. Maloney didn’t win again until July 15.
He righted himself midway through August and went 7-2 over his final 10 starts to finish the year at 12-5 with a team-leading 2.77 ERA.
CINCINNATI, OH - CIRCA 1975: Johnny Bench #5 of the Cincinnati Reds talks with former teammate Jim Maloney #46 prior to the start of a Major League Baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers circa 1975 at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio. Bench played for the Reds from 1967-83. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
“Things happen,” Maloney said. “In 1969, nobody knew that I had something wrong with my heel. I was complaining that I had a sore heel and when I ran it bothered me. They x-rayed it and didn’t see anything and general manager Bob Howsam I had no pain tolerance. He said I have to learn how to pitch with pain that Bob Gibson pitches with pain.
“You think that would fly today? I also had a bit of a sore arm in 1969. I was 3-0 and I started to develop some problems. My heel started bothering me and it was affecting me and they wrote it off that I had no pain tolerance. They were paying me a lot of money so I bit the bullet and built a cushion up in my shoe. The shoes were hard-backed kangaroo leather and I had it built up to where my heel was almost out of my shoe. I played two and a half months over the last part of the season that way. I had the lowest ERA on the team but I missed a lot of starts.”
Maloney would miss almost all of the 1970 season after he tore his Achilles tendon running to first during his second start of the year. He would return in September and throw 11 1/3 ineffective innings in relief and was then left off the World Series roster. Cincinnati lost the Fall Classic to Baltimore as Maloney watched his time with the Reds come to an end. He was traded to the Angels that December for Greg Garrett.
“They wanted me to take a $2,000 pay cut in 1970,” Maloney said. “I was holding out and Howsam told me to go home, we don’t need you. He took my name off the board and threw it in the trash can right in front of me. I walked out but I ended up taking the cut.
“Spring training had already started when I got there and when I started running, my heel acted up again. I didn’t say anything; I just continued to work. In the second game of the season I hit a ball up the middle and when I was running to first, my Achilles tendon snapped. I thought the bat had come back and hit my heel. My foot was dangling like a horse with a broken leg.”
Injuries had gotten the best of Maloney by the time he joined the Angels. He appeared in only 13 games [four starts] and finished 0-3 with a 5.04 ERA. He pitched a scoreless inning against Kansas City on Sept. 21 in his final big-league appearance.
Maloney signed with the Cardinals as a free agent in January of 1972 and was released that April. He signed with the Giants two weeks later. This all happened under the cloud of a work stoppage that shut down baseball for several weeks that spring.
“St. Louis signed me and I went to Spring Training with them,” Maloney said. “At the end of Spring Training the players voted to strike. [General Manager] Bing Devine came down to the clubhouse and said we’re not going to pay you [the players] one more penny, pack up and get out of here, this clubhouse is closed. I drove to Cincinnati and a couple of days later he called me and said I was close to making the club but because of the strike, they released me.”
The Giants sent Maloney to Phoenix of the PCL, where he went 5-1 with a 2.61 ERA in seven games. Maloney was not patient enough to wait for a call back to the Majors so he left and retired.
“I have no regrets,” he said.
Maloney, by his own admission had a hard time adjusting to life away from the game. He began drinking and eventually became an alcoholic. He tried to get back into baseball with the Giants but says he was fired because of his drinking.
“I had a hard time sliding back into society,” Maloney said. “I stumbled around for several years before I finally threw in the towel and got help at a treatment program in Arizona. I got there because of [former Cincinnati teammate] Jim Merritt. He was a full-blown alcoholic and I lockered next to him. I always said I was never going to be like that. But here I was in Fresno, I had moved out and my wife was filing for divorce.
“My phone rang one day and it was Jim Merritt. He told me he hadn’t had a drink in five years. He gave me the number of a guy out in L.A. to call. I called and we talked and he told me about [Dodgers pitcher] Bob Welch and the program and how it helped him. He arranged everything and it was the best move I ever made in my whole life. I was there for 42 days, I got plugged into AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] and I’m still plugged in. I don’t drink one day at a time. That’s how it is. I haven’t had a drink in 36 years.”
Maloney went on to become a drug and alcohol counselor as well as the director of Fresno’s Substance Abuse Council. He would also remarry. He remains in Fresno and continues to do work with the Reds, including participating in fantasy camps every year. He also remains one of the greatest pitchers in Cincinnati history.
“I would just say that I was a very good Major League pitcher,” Maloney said. “I don’t rate myself. I was just fortunate enough and grateful that I got to play at the Major-League level against some great players. I had some success, made some nice friends and have a lot of wonderful memories.”