September 3, 1969: Jim Maloney hurls his 9th career two-hitter as the Reds beat the Cubs, 2-0. The loss cuts the Cubs lead over the eventual World Champion Miracle Mets to four games.
The Cubs had led the newly formed National League Eastern Division by as much as nine games as last as August 16 when they were 75-44, but would finish the season 17-26 and finish eight games behind the New York Mets.
The Reds’ only runs come on a fifth inning home run by Alex Johnson with Bobby Tolan on base. Tolan had led off the inning with a bunt single. The win kept the third place Reds 1 1/2 games behind the division leading San Francisco Giants and only a half-game behind the Los Angeles Dodgers. The fourth place (and eventual division champion) Atlanta Braves were three games behind at the time.
The Reds would actually move back into first place within the week, moving a half game ahead of the Giants after sweeping the Giants in a doubleheader on September 8 by identical 5-4 scores. However, the lead was short-lived and Reds finished third in the division, four games behind the Braves.
For his career, Maloney hurls nine two-hitters, five one-hitters, and three no-hitters. During his career, Maloney’s best months were at the start of the season (April) and the end of the season (Sept-Oct). We’ve already mentioned him now for September 1st, 2nd, and 3rd for having standout performances on those dates. Splitting out the months, Maloney’s record for September was 28-19 with a 2.76 ERA, an opponents’ batting average of .194, and his highest K/rate by month at 8.8 (opponent OPS+ of 76). For April, he was 13-4 with a 2.19 ERA, an opponents’ batting average of .190, a K/rate of 7.6 (opponent OPS+ of 74). His worst month was June, when he was 23-19 with a 4.03 ERA, an opponents’ batting average of .244, and a K/rate of 7.5 (opponents OPS+ of 125). Overall for his career, Maloney was 134-84 with a 3.19 ERA with 30 career shutouts.
1969 was Alex Johnson’s last year with the Reds. After being acquired from the Cardinals for Dick Simpson (the failed outfield prospect from the Frank Robinson trade), Johnson twice contended for the National League batting crown. He finished fourth in 1968 with a .312 average (Pete Rose won with .335) and Johnson finished sixth in 1969 with .315 (Rose won again, this time with .348). Johnson won the 1970 American League batting title with a .329 after being traded to the California Angels along with Chico Ruiz for Jim McGlothlin, Pedro Borbon, and Vern Geishert.
For his career, Johnson batted .288 in 13 seasons. His best three seasons were 1968-70 with OPS+ ratings those seasons of 116, 122, and 132 (career 105). Johnson, though, had issues with his teammates. While they didn’t seem to surface in Cincinnati, they definitely did while with the Angels. From baseball-reference.com’s bullpen section on Chico Ruiz, Johnson’s teammate both with the Reds and the Angels:
Chico Ruiz was involved in a celebrated dispute with Alex Johnson while both were teammates on the California Angels. Ruiz brought a gun to the clubhouse, and Johnson said Ruiz threatened him. Ruiz reportedly told Johnson that while “white guys” on the Angels disliked him, “I’m as black as you are , and I hate you! I hate you so much I could kill you!”
There is some dispute to the story above. The Society of American Baseball Researchers (SABR) has a biography about Johnson’s career and his inability to get along with others. The SABR article expounds a bit on the above story:
Chico Ruiz, a popular utility infielder for the Angels, had been great friends with Johnson while they were teammates in Cincinnati, and Ruiz was the godfather to Johnson’s daughter. At some point during the previous 12 months, Johnson had begun to torment and abuse Ruiz, screaming vile profanities at him whenever they crossed paths. Ruiz and his teammates claimed complete ignorance as to what had caused the rift. Oddly, (Angels General Manager) Dick Walsh thought Ruiz was good for Johnson: “If Ruiz were not there for him to kick around, I don’t know what he’d do.”
On June 13, Johnson accused Ruiz of pulling a gun on him in the clubhouse during a game. (Both players had been used as pinch hitters and removed from the contest.) According to Johnson, Ruiz had a gun in his locker and waved it threateningly. Ruiz denied the story and said he did not even own a gun. Nonetheless, a teammate was heard to comment, “If Chico did anything wrong, it was that he didn’t pull the trigger.” The next day, Walsh held a press conference to let everyone know that there was no evidence of a gun. The national media, already decidedly anti-Johnson, ridiculed him further.
Johnson ran into more and more trouble and the Angels eventually suspended him without pay, leading to the Players’ Union filing a grievance, which became one of the more important cases that involved Players’ Union representative Marvin Miller and the Players’ Union itself. The gun story turned out to be true (it was apparently unloaded), but there’s several other stories about how this great talent felt alienated and alienated others. You can read all about the details in the SABR article. It’s truly fascinating stuff; for those who don’t think chemistry matters, extreme as it may be, people do need to get along.
Oh, and as serendipity would have it, Maloney final major league games of his career came with the Angels while being teammates with Johnson. Maloney’s last big year for the Reds was 1969, finishing the season 12-5 with a 2.77 ERA. He tore his Achilles heel running the bases in 1970 (0-1, 11.34, 16 innings pitched) and the Reds traded him to the Angels for pitcher Greg Garrett (0-1, 1.04, 8 innings pitched for 1971 Reds). With the Angels, Maloney was 0-3, 5.04 ERA in 30 innings pitched before being released. He attempted comebacks with both the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants, even pitching in the minor leagues in 1972, before retiring.