[The quotes in this post from George Culver are from an interview he gave John Ring recently.]
For a franchise that has never produced a Cy Young Award winner, the Reds have a lot of history with no-hitters.
You can start with Johnny Vander Meer, the only hurler in the history of baseball to throw back to back no-hitters, which he did in 1938 against the Boston Braves and the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The only pitcher to come close to matching that feat was another Reds hurler– Ewell Blackwell who lost the second no-hitter in the 9th inning.
Then there was Jim Maloney, the best Reds pitcher in the decade of the 1960s. Maloney pitched two of them and lost a third one in the 11th inning against the New York Mets.
Tom Browning pitched a perfect game in 1988. Tom Seaver’s lone no-hitter of his fabulous career came when he wore a Reds uniform in 1978 against the Cardinals. And Homer Bailey has pitched two no-hitters so far in his career with Cincinnati.
But a no-hitter many Reds fans forget about happened on July 29, 1968. That was when George Culver no-hit the Philadelphia Phillies in the second game of a doubleheader at Connie Mack Stadium in front of 14,083 fans.
It was far from perfect — Culver walked four batters and the Reds made three errors in Cincinnati’s 6-1 win. But still, it was a no-hitter.
Culver came to the Reds in November 1967 when Cincinnati traded outfielder Tommy Harper to the Cleveland Indians for the right-handed pitcher and two other players. A 6’2Ã¢â‚¬Â, 185 pound sinkerball hurler, Culver went on to have the best season ofÃ‚Â his career in 1968. He pitched a career-high 226 innings, posted an 11-16 record with an ERA of 3.22. He gave up a lot of hits — 229 — but allowed only 8 home runs and struck out 114 batters.
He was what you could call a workhorse. An innings eater. And Reds Manager Dave Bristol used him. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Dave would tell us, ‘You had to earn a spot on the staff’ and that’s what I tried to do,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Culver during an interview last week from his home in Bakersfield, California.
During that 1968 season, Culver was a starter that could justifiably claim a lack of support from the offense. The Reds just couldn’t generate a lot of offense for him. His won-loss record could have easily been reversed.
The start before his no-hitter, Culver and relief pitcher Clay Carroll combined on a 13-hit shutout against the Pittsburgh Pirates. George pitched the first 7 innings, allowing 9 hits and Carroll was touched for four more. But the Reds won.
The start after his no-hitter, Culver lost a 1-0 pitchers duel to Ron Reed and the Atlanta Braves.
And in Philadelphia that JulyÃ‚Â 29th, George Culver didn’t feel good. He was slated to start Game 2 that night. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I was sick in bed at the hotel, I didn’t feel good and didn’t eat a lot. I took a cab to the ballpark after the team left.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The Reds won the first game of the twinbill 7-6. Gary Nolan started and left the game in the 6th inning with a 6-3 lead but reliever Ted Abernathy was shelled for nine hits. He blew the save but got the win. Culver started Game 2 against Phillies lefthander Chris Short.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The game didn’t start until 10:30 that night because the first game went so long. I really wasn’t feeling good that day. I didn’t eat much. Then my big right toe started to hurt. The trainer gave me a nova cane shot in the toe so I didn’t warm up very much. I threw maybe twenty pitches or soÃ¢â‚¬Â
In the second inning, Tony Perez had a ground ball hit from Dick Allen skip off him for an error. Shortstop Woody Woodward got the ball and threw wildly trying to get Allen at first base for another error. Allen eventually scored on a Cookie Rojas sacrifice fly and the Phillies led 1-0. So it was an unearned run without a hit. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The ball Allen hit, I assumed it was going to be ruled a hit. So I look at the scoreboard in the third inning and it was still an error it hadn’t been overturned,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Culver.
Led by Alex Johnson’s three hits, the Reds came back. Johnson knocked in a pair of runs as did catcher Pat Corrales— his first two RBI’s of the season– and Don Pavletich. Since Johnny Bench caught Nolan in Game 1 of the twinbill, Corrales got the start to catch Culver and a bit of history too.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I pitched pretty good that night,Ã¢â‚¬Â said the Reds hurler. Ã¢â‚¬Å“They never really hit a ball hard. About the hardest one hit was by Allen in the 8th inning. I could have pitched around him but I wanted to challenge him. I didn’t want to walk him. I went after him. He hit it hard, but right to Tommy Helms at second base.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The Reds led 6-1 in the 9th inning when Culver knew he had just three outs to go for his no-hitter. He had never thrown one before. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I did once for five innings against a prison team, but that was in amateur ball,Ã¢â‚¬Â laughed Culver.
George knew he had a no-hitter throughout the game.Ã‚Â Ã¢â‚¬Å“I remember Chico Ruiz in the dugout. He needed to go to the bathroom but Bristol wouldn’t let him go until after I gave up the first hit and this was like in the second inning. So Chico late in the game really had to go.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Culver retired the first two Phillies in the 9th. He then faced Cookie Rojas. Ã¢â‚¬Å“That final inning, there weren’t a lot of fans left in the ballpark. But they gathered by the Reds dugout. They were cheering me on. I’ll never forget that.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Then Cookie comes up and I’m one out away. Cookie and I were good friends. He was a smart player and a terrific hitter. I had a lot of respect for him. But I got him to pop it up and a no-hitter.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It was a gift from the Big Man upstairs. It was like He said ‘this is your day, don’t screw things up.’ It was a wonderful thrill to me.Ã¢â‚¬Â
And Chico Ruiz got to go to the bathroom.
George Culver’s 1968 Reds were a team on the cusp. They were close to some great things and becoming what’s known now as the Big Red Machine. And Culver, making a grand total of $12,500 that season, realized what a lot of people knew– the Reds didn’t have much pitching.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I liked Dave Bristol. He gave me a chance. He said I would have to earn a spot and I did. But I pitched too much that year in 1968. I started 35 games and relieved in seven more. I would tell Dave that I could pitch if he needed me. We had a lot of injuries on the staff. Jim Maloney was hurt, so was Gerry Arrigo and Nolan. We had some great guys on the staff but they were older and the Reds weren’t getting any pitching out of their farm system, that didn’t happen until 1970. I was at the beginning of the Big Red Machine but we just didn’t have the pitching. So that year affected me a lot and I eventually had elbow surgery in 1970.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“One day I started the first game of a twinbill at San Diego and we got in trouble during the second game. I went up to Dave and said if you need me, get me in there and he did. That was my fault, it wasn’t on Dave. We respected him and he was under pressure to win.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Culver pitched just one more year for the Reds before being traded to St. Louis for Ray Washburn. After the elbow surgery, he was out of baseball four years later. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I played for a lot of teams but if I ever had a second chance to play, it would be for the Cincinnati Reds. I loved Cincinnati, I loved the fans, there were great people in Cincinnati. I liked St. Louis a lot, but Cincinnati was always special to me. It was a special baseball town for me.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Culver received a thousand dollar bonus from the Reds for his no-hitter but he had some future cantankerous negotiations with Bob Howsam and Dick Wagner after the season. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The Reds were known to be kind of a tight team financially then. It wasn’t just me. But it was hard to deal with them on a salary.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The toughest hitters he ever faced?Ã‚Â Ã¢â‚¬Å“I was asked one time who the three toughest hitters I ever faced were. I think I faced 40 eventual Hall of Famers during my career who hit against me. There were so many good ones, so many I respected. But I would have to say the toughest were Willie McCovey, Roberto Clemente and Carl Yasztremski. Lou Brock was tough too.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Culver said he still receives about five letters a week requesting autographs. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I sign them all. I like to do that.Ã¢â‚¬Â
George said that the players he was closest to on that 1968 Reds team were Pat Corrales and Tommy Helms. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Pete Rose was the by far the most driven baseball player I ever played with. Alex Johnson didn’t like the media, but we got along. Johnny Bench was a rookie that year and he was cocky but he sure could back it up. He really could. He would challenge a guy like Lou Brock to try and steal on him. One thing about Johnny, you never had to worry about holding a runner on first base. You never did. He would throw them out. And like I said, we all respected Dave Bristol. We wanted to win for him.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We just didn’t have the pitching that year or in 1969. we had some injuries and guys like Don Gullett and Wayne Simpson didn’t come up to 1970.Ã¢â‚¬Â
One last thing about George Culver. He had 20 hits in his major league career. Ã¢â‚¬Å“And I remember them all,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Culver with a laugh.
Spoken like a true pitcher. A pitcher who threw a no-hitter for the Cincinnati Reds in 1968. A pitcher that didn’t have overpowering stuff or a hundred mile an hour fastball. A pitcher who gave his heart and soul to a team on the brink of making some history.
That’s George Culver. So when you talk about Homer, Vandy and Jim Maloney tossing their no-nos, remember what he did in 1968 despite a bad toe and a tortured stomach in front of cheering Phillie fans.