Imagine, for a minute, that you make it to the major leagues and you’re just 19 years old.

Imagine you hit a grand slam home run in your second game. Imagine you win a starting position as a 20-year old and put together a WAR of 6.5 and only one other player in baseball history — Mike Trout — has accomplished that particular feat.

That’s how Vada Pinson broke in with the Cincinnati Reds. At 19, he was the Reds Opening Day center fielder on April 17, 1958. He went 1 for 4 that day, getting his first hit off Philadelphia’s Robin Roberts in the third inning. The next day in Pittsburgh, he hit a grand slam off Ron Kleine to give Bob Purkey a 4-1 win over the Pirates.

Vada Pinson. The name is still magic to a generation of baseball fans that followed his career with the Reds from 1958 to 1968.

Vada Pinson, just one of two baseball players in history to have 2700 hits, 250 home runs, 300 stolen bases, 450 doubles and 100 triples, The other one is Willie Mays. And in the 149 year history of the Cincinnati Reds, not another player has matched that.

Vada Pinson, who patrolled center field for a decade at Crosley Field. A Gold Glover, a four-time All-Star, arguably one of the best players in baseball from 1961-1963 who combined speed with power while anchoring a critical defensive position for a decade in Cincinnati.

Vada Pinson is in the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame. He never came close to making it into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, despite borderline numbers. The highest percentage of votes he ever received was 15.7% in 1988; 75 percent is needed for induction.

There are theories as to why Pinson never came close to getting selected. He was overshadowed by Frank Robinson. He was overshadowed by a glut of great outfielders of his era. He didn’t have 3000 hits. He didn’t hit more home runs. He had a skirmish with sportswriter Earl Lawson (although Lawson voted for him to make the HOF). His only post-season World Series was a bad one against the Yankees in 1961 (two hits in five games.) His statistics aren’t SABR-friendly.

I can effectively counter most of these arguments. Vada Pinson was a pure center fielder. He was a much better defensive outfielder than say, Robinson, Hank Aaron or Al Kaline. He was faster and stole more bases than Orlando Cepeda, Joe Torre, Willie Stargell or Willie McCovey. He was durable.

But this article isn’t about Vada Pinson’s Hall of Fame credentials. Being realistic, that’s not going to happen. I think Pinson should be in the Hall, but I also believe Dave Concepcion should be in there as well. And neither, unfortunately, are going to make it.

However, I’d like to see the Cincinnati Reds honor Vada Pinson by retiring his number 28.

The Reds organization is inherently resistant to retiring numbers. I get that. I understand that it shouldn’t be done haphazardly, that a lot of thought should go into it. The Reds only have retired ten numbers (I omit the 11th, Jackie Robinson, as mandated by MLB).

Of the ten retired numbers, none belonged to a pitcher. Of the ten, the player going furthest back in Reds history is Ted Kluszewski. Of the ten, all are in the National Baseball Hall of Fame except for Kluszewski and Dave Concepcion. Of the 10, three never played or managed for a Reds World Championship team (Fred Hutchinson, Kluszewski, Frank Robinson– although Big Klu was a coach when the Big Red Machine won two World Championships.)

But of all these players, not one of them put together the all-around offensive numbers that Vada Pinson did – 2700 hits, 250 home runs, 300 stolen bases, 450 doubles and 100 triples. Not a single one. Not Johnny Bench (the best catcher of all-time), Pete Rose (the all-time leader in hits), Tony Perez, Barry Larkin, Joe Morgan (the best second baseman of all time), or Ken Griffey Junior.

Not even Frank Robinson, the best player I ever saw play for the Cincinnati Reds.

I could use quotes from dozens of baseball people on Vada Pinson’s character, ability, and playing career. But I’ll use just one. Vada coached for Sparky Anderson in Detroit for seven seasons. This is what Sparky had to say about Vada Pinson. And he can say it a lot better than I ever could.

“He’s one of those guys who came up in the deal of the cards from the bottom of the deck. Vada never got the recognition, he never got any recognition at all. But not one time did I ever hear Vada badmouth anybody about it. He never said a bad word about it. . . . He would spit shine those shoes of his every day. And he was one of the nicest men I’ve ever known. I never heard Vada Pinson bad-mouth anyone.”

“He looked like his feet never touched the ground. He was so fast, had so many doubles, all his numbers, 2,700 hits, he was such a player. And a gentleman. If there is one word I’d use to describe him, it’s that: He was a gentleman.”

“Vada never got near the recognition he deserved. Whether it was from being on the same team as Robby and Big Klu. I don’t know.”

“But when it comes to retiring numbers, you have to now look at him. It’s too bad we wait until after he’s gone to do these things. But when you talk about what a player does for a city, for a franchise, he’s a Cincinnati Red. He obviously didn’t have the power of a guy like [Mickey] Mantle, but in every other way he was like Mantle. He was idolized by a generation of kids in Cincinnati.”

Now’s the time Mr. Castellini.

You can make this happen. You can do the right thing. We at Redleg Nation know that retiring a player’s number for the Cincinnati Reds is a big deal. It shouldn’t be done on a whim or in an emotional moment. But in this case, it should happen.

The numbers are there, plainly. History demands it. Include teammates Frank Robinson, Pete Rose, and Jim Maloney in the ceremony. They need to be there. So does Vada’s family.

Retire that classic, vested #28 worn by Vada Pinson during a special time in Cincinnati Reds history.

20 Responses

  1. Todd Powers

    When Robin Yount was inducted into Cooperstown, ESPN was comparing his stats to other players in history. One of those was Pinson. Only thing Yount had on Pinson was 2 MVP’s ( SS & CF) and 3,000 hits. Otherwise they were identical.

    • Dewey Roberts

      Vada Pindin was my favorite player when I started pulling for the Reds in 1961. He was so smooth and could do everything. I have always considered him an overlooked player.

  2. Redsfan4life

    I never got to see Vada play. I do however have a Vada story.
    Several years ago at riverfront I sat beside a elderly lady. She was in a wheel chair. She told me when she attended games at Crosley Vada used to wheel her from the playing field to the stands and help her to her seat. Every single time.
    That told me Vada was a gentleman.

  3. Bill

    I remember his 1st home run in spring training, there was a man on first & Vada was so excited he passed the runner between 1st & 2nd. What a great player!!

  4. Jeff Reed

    The Red’s great outfield duo of Pinson and Robinson. Combining offense, defense and speed, they brought a lot of excitement to fans for eight years from 1958 to 1965. #28 should be retired.

  5. jazzmanbbfan

    I didn’t grow up a Reds fan but Vada Pinson was my favorite Red from the first baseball card of him I got (1961). Got to meet him when he was a coach with the Tigers and he was a true gentleman. I was so relieved that my favorite Red wasn’t a jerk!! It would be fitting to retire his number. I hope it happens but I won’t hold my breath.

  6. Jack

    Beautiful story John. I just missed out on Vada, for I was born in 64. It is amazing to me that everybody talks of what a great player he was. But yet he isn’t in the hall. The Hall needs to get over the magical numbers to get in. If 300 wins is the so called criteria for pitchers to get in, then not many are going to get in . That’s 15 years at 20 wins a season. That’s a tight window. They have to quit holding it against these guys for being on great teams with great players. Concepcion should be in as well.

    • jazzmanbbfan

      Maybe it’s more of a guarantee of getting in if a pitcher wins 300 games but there are a lot of people with well under that in the HOF, some of whom took much longer to get in than I thought it should have (Morris, Blylevin). But people like Pedro Martinez, Jim Palmer, Jim Bunning, Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Catfish Hunter, Juan Marichal all had well under 300 wins and were selected. In this day and age, 300 wins will be very infrequent and many say that wins isn’t a good barometer of the effectiveness of a starting pitcher anyway. Hopefully that isn’t going to keep otherwise obviously deserving players out of the HOF.

      • Jack

        Well that’s what I mean. Look at Pinsons numbers. Those are tremendous numbers.

  7. Jim Walker

    Count me on board the #28 train. Pinson was my first real Reds hero. More than that although I didn’t fully realize it until a couple or even several decades later, he and #21 for the Pirates, Roberto Clemente, helped open the eyes of this rural white boy to the world beyond populated by people who didn’t look like me.

    • jazzmanbbfan

      I grew up in rural upstate NY with literally 0 people of color in my school. However, interestingly, when it came to my baseball heroes, while Mickey Mantle was at the top of the list,Clemente, Aaron, Vada, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, Leon Wagner, and Tony Gonzalez were favorites as well. Until I went to college I had no experience with other races. My two favorite all time Reds remain Pinson and Eric Davis. Thankfully skin color never factored in for me in terms of who I liked. Sounds like it didn’t for you either Jim.

      • Jim Walker

        I hope it didn’t ever for me either. And at this time of year between Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day, I’d be remiss not to add that my folks both set a strong positive example in such matters in what they said (and didn’t say) and even more importantly how they related to others.

      • Jack

        I grew up as well in upstate NY and had 2 families in town that weren’t white. Swans and Washington’s. Both were friends of the family and worked with my dad. Very funny but I never had a favorite player on the BRM. I loved them all. Probably a little more partial to Foster and Concepcion. Love Clemente and Aaron though. Never forget watching Aaron hit thst homer off of Downing. I was totally mesmerized. Wonderful memories of my childhood. Mom and Dad were incredible.

  8. gusnwally

    One great stat: Vada the only player with more than 1 season with 200 hits 20 hr’s and 20 steals. Not being snarky, but 1 little correction Big Klu and Vada never played together. Great article about a truly great plater. Thanks

  9. sezwhom

    Wasn’t this 1960 VP card but he was my first baseball card in 1964! Bought the pack at a Pony Key in Finneytown. A few years ago. *cough-cough*

  10. Scott Carter

    I don’t have a vote but if I did I would vote to retire Pinson’s Number. He was a smooth player, one of the great ones.

  11. Jerry Higgins

    I was 10 years old and a Seattle Rainiers’ fan. Seattle was the Redlegs’ AAA farm team. Vada Pinson was September call up for the Reds in 1958, but that summer in Seattle was a summer of hero worship for me for the young centerfielder: 124 games,475 ABs, 92 runs,163 hits, 28 doubles, 8 triples, 11 homers, 77RBIs, BA of.343. Because of Vada Pinson, I was an exclusive Reds’ fan until the Mariners came to Seattle in1977. He later coached for the Mariners, and as he has been described, he was positive spokesman for baseball. He always was with a smile and spoke lovingly of the sport of baseball. He was my hero, not Mickey or Willie, Vada Pinson!