June 23, 1973–Fred Norman wins his third consecutive complete game since joining the Reds with a 4-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ron Cey’s two-out ninth inning home run prevented Norman from winning his third consecutive shutout.
The 1973 Reds were defending National League champions, having won the 1972 National League Western Division by 10.5 games over the runner-up Los Angeles Dodgers. They defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates in the League Championship Series, before losing to the Oakland Athletics, four games to three, in one of the closest World Series ever played. Every game but one in the Series was decided by one run, with the Reds outscoring the Athletics in the World Series, 21-16, due to an 8-1 Game 6 offensive explosion (a five-run seventh providing the fireworks).
However, the 1973 Reds got off to slow start. Slow, that is, compared to the Western Division leaders. On June 12, the day Fred Norman was acquired from the San Diego Padres for young outfielder Gene Locklear, minor league catcher Mike Johnson, and cash, the Reds were in fourth place, 5.5 games behind the division leading San Francisco Giants. The Reds lost their fourth consecutive game on June 13, leaving them three games over .500 at 31-28 and they needed pitching help.
Staff ace Gary Nolan, coming off a 15-5 season with a 1.99 ERA, was injured after two starts and was done–not just for 1973, but for all of 1974 as well. Newly acquired Roger Nelson, the prize of the Hal McRae trade with the Kansas City Royals (Nelson was 11-6 with a 2.08 ERA in 1972) redeveloped the arm injuries that had plagued him with the Royals. Nelson had been the Royals first selection in the 1968 expansion draft, but had only been able to make 51 starts in the four seasons after his selection. Jim McGlothlin had been consistently effective through his first eight major league seasons (64-73 with a 3.45 ERA) became alarmingly ineffective during the first part of 1973 (finished the season 3-4 with a 6.06 ERA). The Reds needed starting pitching help to go with the three young men who were holding their own, Jack Billingham (finished 19-10, 3.04, 16 complete games), Ross Grimsley (13-10, 3.23), and Don Gullett (18-8, 3.51). Eventually, relief pitchers Clay Carroll and Tom Hall were called to make five and seven starts, respectively. Even a former Seattle Pilot, Dick Baney, made a start for Sparky Anderson’s Reds.
Reds General Manager Bob Howsam went to work. Using the Reds scouting network led by “super scout” Ray Shore, Howsam decided to trade for a 27-year old nine-year major league veteran lefty with a lifetime record of 15-35 to solve his starting pitching problem. Despite being only 5-8 and 155 pounds, Fred Norman was talented enough to make his major league debut as a 19-year-old for the Kansas City Athletics back in 1962. However, he did not have enough control or command to stick in the majors. Norman received trials with the Athletics, the Chicago Cubs, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the St. Louis Cardinals, before landing a rotation job with the lowly San Diego Padres. He had been traded straight up over the years for such no-names as Nelson Mathews and Dick Calmus, claimed off waivers, and dealt with Cardinal outfield prospect Leron Lee to the Padres (in tandem) for Al Santorini and Santorini’s career 9-24 record and 4.46 ERA. In other words, Norman was a no-name himself, who was sporting a 1-7 record with a 4.26 ERA at the time of the trade, or purchase, as it were, since the cash strapped Padres were more interested in helping their cash flow at the time of the Norman deal. Even Norman’s minor league record wasn’t overly impressive (76-81, 3.97 ERA over 10 seasons).
Yes, Fred Norman was 1-7 when Howsam traded for him, but the “1” was a six-hit complete game victory over the Reds back on May 20. And in 1972, when Norman (unknown to most) finished third in the National League with six shutouts, he had twice shutout the Reds, and also pitched a complete game in beating them another time, 5-1. These performances had not gone unnoticed by Bob Howsam who jumped at the opportunity to nab him when the Padres said they needed some help paying their bills (from the book “Making the Big Red Machine: Bob Howsam and the Cincinnati Reds of the 1970’s” by Daryl Raymond Smith).
So, on June 15, Fred Norman made his Cincinnati Reds pitching debut and promptly threw a five-hit shutout (of course) against the defending Eastern Division champs Pittsburgh Pirates. Norman and the Reds stopped a Cincinnati four-game losing streak with the 6-0 victory. A five-run third inning gave Norman the run support he wasn’t used to having as he scattered five hits while walking five in the game. Tony Perez had three hits to lead the Reds’ attack. Manager Anderson called on him again four days later, and he responded by shutting out the division leading Giants, 4-0, on a three-hitter and walking only one. Pete Rose had four hits to lead the Reds’ attack that netted 21 baserunners against the Giants and eventual 1973 National League Cy Young Award candidate Ron Bryant and two relievers. Bryant allowed 15 baserunners (nine hits and six walks) in 5 2/3 innings on this day, but finished the season 24-12 with a 3.53 ERA and placing third in Cy Young Award voting (his career record was 57-56 before retiring two seasons later).
Four days later, super Norman got the call again and hurled 8 2/3 innings of five-hit shut out baseball against the Dodgers before returning to earth to allow a ninth inning home run to Ron Cey and a double to Manny Mota before striking out Willie Crawford to end the game. Since joining the Reds, Norman was 3-0 with an 0.33 ERA, three complete games, and two shutouts. It didn’t end there. Norman did lose his fourth Reds start (to the Astros, 10-2), but he bounced back for another complete game win over the Dodgers (4-3), followed by a 3-2 complete game win over the Philadelphia Phillies, a 4-3 loss to the Montreal Expos, then a 1-0 complete game shutout of the Phillies, eight innings of shutout baseball in a 4-0 win over the Expos, then 8 1/3 innings of four-hit baseball in a 5-3 win over the Atlanta Braves. Fred Norman had found his groove.
Overall, in 1973 with the Reds, Fred Norman started 24 games, and finished with a 12-6 record with a 3.30 ERA, and three shutouts. Counting his final two appearances with the Padres (a start and a relief appearance), Norman pitched 29 consecutive scoreless innings. He was sixth in the Cy Young Award voting despite having a seasonal record of 13-13 with a 3.60 ERA.
Over his seven seasons with the Reds, Norman was 85-64 with a 3.43 ERA and nine shutouts. He never pitched in an all-star game and his postseason record isn’t really that great (1-1, 5.01 ERA, six appearances, four starts). He became the epitome of the Big Red Machine six inning pitcher as a starter for Captain Hook (Sparky Anderson), but he was amazing reliable (180-220 innings each year for the next six seasons) and definitely made a HUGE first impression with the Cincinnati Reds. Norman was a vital cog of an underrated Reds pitching staff.