Billy McCool. Now you have to admit, that’s a cool name.
Billy McCool was a relief pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds. He had good stuff. He was lefthanded. And he had the cool name.
He broke in with the Reds in the 1964 season. Fred Hutchinson saw something in the 19-year old McCool he liked. And the Reds manager wasn’t afraid to take a chance on a young player. He did just that in 1964 and McCool didn’t let him down..
McCool teamed with righthander Sammy Ellis– who was only 21 years old– to give the Reds the best righty-lefty combination out of the bullpen in the National League. Cincinnati was a contender that season but fell behind quickly, thanks to a strong start by the Philadelphia Phillies.
Cool Billy– that’s what the Cincinnati sportswriters called him– had two great seasons in the minor leagues for the Reds– one in Macon, Georgia and the other at their Triple A club in San Diego, where he dominated and had an ERA of 1.04 for the season. McCool came from Batesville, Indiana just 20 miles from Crosley Field where he was a two-sport athlete and had known nothing but success.
Billy McCool went north with the Reds in 1964 after spring training and made his major league debut on April 24, 1964 against the San Francisco Giants. Hutch put him in a lopsided game, one the Reds eventually lost 15-5 at Crosley Field. McCool came in and faced Jesus Alou and gave up a single. He pitched two innings in relief of Reds starter Al Worthington that day.
Hutch nursed McCool along. He found out quickly that for a 19-year old, McCool didn’t get nervous. The 6’2Ã¢â‚¬Â, 195 pound southpaw had a smooth delivery and what’s best described as a Ã¢â‚¬Å“sneakyÃ¢â‚¬Â fastball. He had great control and a good deal of confidence. And he didn’t flinch or back down.
Hutch did what a good manager does. He kept going with the kid, just like Sparky Anderson would do six years later with a kid named Don Gullett. McCool got his first win of the season when the Reds rallied against Warren Spahn and defeated the Braves.
Billy McCool kept going. He had never faced failure before. On his 20th birthday, he threw two perfect innings against Houston and got the win that pulled Cincy within 5 and Ã‚Â½ games of the Phillies. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I’d rather get the win than a birthday cake,Ã¢â‚¬Â was his quote in the Cincinnati Post.
He became one of the best relievers in baseball. Ellis and McCool were important relievers for the Reds and were a big part of their pennant drive in 1964. In a crucial four-game series against St. Louis in September, McCool made his first start in the majors in the second game of a twinbill. McCool and the Reds lost 2-0 but the only Cardinal runs scored on a wild throw by catcher Don Pavletich.
In the third game of a five-game sweep of the Mets in New York City, McCool came on in relief in the 7th inning, one out, two runners aboard and the Reds ahead 3-1. He retired all eight batters he faced, striking out five to get the save. That was part of a nine-game winning streak that put the Reds in first place before they lost the pennant on the final day of the 1964 season.
McCool finished 1964 with a 9-10 record, a 2.42 ERA and 7 saves and just missed getting named to the All-Star team in 1965.
McCool– called ‘McGoo’ by his teammates– never talked a lot. Dayton sportswriter Si Burek wrote that Ã¢â‚¬Å“McCool would not make eye contact, would look down when speaking to you. He would never initiate a conversation.Ã¢â‚¬Â
1966 was the year Cool Billy did make it to the All-Star Game and his stats were consistent; Under Don Heffner, his third Reds manager in three seasons, McCool was 8-8 with 18 saves and only 76 hits allowed in his 105 innings of work and he fanned another 104 batters.
Things were going to change for McCool in 1967. The Reds were short on starters– Jim O’Toole had been traded, Joe Nuxhall retired and Milt Pappas had a bad back. McCool had been working on a slider and new Manager Dave Bristol was looking at McCool, converted outfielder Mel Queen and 18-year old Gary Nolan as a fourth starter.
But McCool tore a cartilage in his left knee while pitching early that year It affected his mechanics, which led to an arm injury. Cool Billy was never the same. The Reds left him unprotected in the expansion draft and the Padres grabbed him for the 1969 season. A year later he was traded to St. Louis. Finally, at the age of 25, Billy McCool was out of baseball, a victim of injuries.
He worked in the steel industry in Cincinnati for years before moving to Florida. He was inducted in the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame and was difficult to reach for the induction ceremonies. And last June 8, 2014, Billy McCool passed away at the age of 69 in Summerfield, Florida.
Billy McCool has a place in Reds history. The combination of him and Sammy Ellis was just as good as Jim Brosnan and Bill Henry (1961) and Rawly Eastwick and Will McEnany (1975-176) out of the bullpen. Some would rate them higher because they were more power pitchers and performed in the heat of a pennant race under difficult circumstances (Hutchinson’s battle with cancer.). And unfortunately, McCool’s fate was similar to that of other phenom young relief pitchers like Eastwick, McEnaney and Scott Williamson.
McCool wasn’t as fast as Gullett. Or as crafty as John Franco. But he was better than McEnaney and a slew of other Reds relievers over the years.
McCool was respected by his teammates, despite his young age. And he earned the trust of Fred Hutchinson, the most beloved manager in the history of the Reds. Of McCool’s performance in 1964, Hutch said, Ã¢â‚¬Å“He’s not doing anything I didn’t expect. He’s got a good arm and he’s not afraid of a hitter.Ã¢â‚¬Â
And he had that cool name.